Note to Self:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Let There Be Light...but it'll cost you

This image was found here.

I love that old sign (above). "Do not attempt to light with a match." "The use of electric lights is in no way harmful to health." 
While the invention of electric lights goes back farther, their use as a common form of lighting is only a little over 100 years old...but look how far we've come. Imagine how odd (and a bit scary) it must have been for our great grandparents to walk into a room and flip a light switch for the first time. How odd it must have probably felt limitless; a candle or oil lamp would eventually run out of fuel or burn down, but the light bulb kept burning. 

It's a little known fact that the city in which I was raised and continue to reside, Buffalo, was once called the City of Light. This was popularized during the Pan-American Exposition of 1901. While many link this particular event with the murder of the then US President, William McKinley, it was during this exposition that electricity was first showcased on a grand scale. With our proximity to Niagara Falls (and it's hydro generators) Buffalo at the time was thought of as the most lighted city in the world.

Like many people, I try to turn off lights as I leave a room and don't turn them on if I don't have to. And sometimes, but not always, I light candles or oil lamps to supplement electric lights in certain rooms (I get used candles for free, left over from parties and weddings I cater). While it's not especially conducive lighting to read by, I actually prefer the light from a flame to a bulb...more of a gentle hue than a bright light. Sometimes I try to imagine what my house was like when it was built (circa 1860, the best I can figure); surely there was no electricity in it then. And being a simply designed house the original inhabitants were most likely working folk, like I am now...they may not have had electricity well into the 20th century, maybe the 1920's or even 1930's. I can't even imagine what they would think of the Internet.

Anyhow, I started thinking about this after reading a short article on Treehugger about the cost of operating a light bulb for a year. While monetarily to the consumer it is nominal, to the environment it is huge (I think). 

Copied from Treehugger:
For starters, it takes 714 pounds of coal to power a single light bulb for a year. Or, 143 pounds of natural gas. Or nearly 9 days' worth of sunlight hitting a 100 square meter solar array. Or 0.035 pounds of uranium. Or over two and a half hours of a hydroelectric plant operating at 80% capacity.

Yow! I would never have thought it would take so much fuel to power so little light.  The below image was copied from Treehugger as well, and they originally copied it from GOOD which is where they also received their info. The image was reduced in size for easy uploading, to see it in it's original size (where it will be easier to read) click here.  To read a short but interesting history of lighting, click here. I think I'll go light a few candles.


Mr Colostomy said...

You had me worried for a moment there. Luckily the figures are for a 100W bulb rather than the ~10W compact fluorescent bulbs we use nowadays.

Being ethical in my use of energy is a concern for me. I don't tend to restrict my use of lighting too heavily but I do restrict my use of heating due to the huge amount of energy used. I also try not to eat too much meat because although tasty it is quite energy-intensive to produce (plus it isn't great for me). On top of that I travel almost exclusively by bike or train and recently I have been converting my bike lighting to dynamo systems.

Thankfully for most of these choices the environmental benefit wasn't the only (or sometimes even primary) consideration. If it were I would get much more depressed every time I see a story about the people opposing the phasing out of filament bulbs or someone drive past me in a Pimpmobile.

Pangolin said...

It's far easier for people to understand the energy that goes into lighting when they power it themselves; say, with a bicycle generator.

One-hundred watts is about the limit of sustained output for the average person on a bicycle generator. Lance Armstrong puts out about 450 watts when he's climbing a hill. He could power an oven if he had a flywheel attached to a generator.

By comparison a very bright 17 watt compact fluorescent bulb could easily be powered by an 11 year old and the standard 13 watt bulb is probably within the power output of a seven year old.

So even leaving a few efficient lightbulbs going is like having a slave in the corner cranking away on a generator. If you don't need them; turn them off.