"If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars."
This dramatic quote leads the Energy Star web site with respect to CFLs or Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs. I have replaced about 80% of the incandescent bulbs in my home with CFLs. It's too soon too assess the impact on my electric bill, but I had to do something after paying $300 for electricity in December. My average bill here in the expensive Northeast ranges between $180 and $200 and I'm optimistic I can that at least a quarter or more.
On paper, the savings are dramatic. For 100 watts of incandescent light, a GE CFL only consumes 26-29 watts. And not all CFLs are created equal. An n:vision spotlight promises 120 watts of light for just 23 watts!
If a million incandescent bulbs get switched out this year, a calculation from the Environmental Defense non-profit organization claims that's 203,556,404 fewer pounds of CO2 would go into the atmosphere. In six ceiling cans in my kitchen alone, I went from 450 watts to 111 watts without sacrificing the amount of light. The only thing I gave up was the variable lighting, which frankly, isn't much to give up. My wife doesn't like some of the white light, but I don't find it that different from incandescents and some bulbs come in soft white now. I'm looking for variable CFLs and ones that mimic chandelier bulbs so I can go 100% CFL.
Rule of thumb is that CFLs consume about a quarter of the energy for the same amount of light.
The only environmental downside to using CFLs is that they contain mercury and must be recycled. Clearly, the sale of CFLs is outpacing our ability to easily recycle. For instance, I have to drive 20 miles to Portsmouth, N.H. to Uniwaste and still have no idea of the cost since its web site is incomplete. I'll put more on recycling cost up here later, but no doubt some CFLs will tossed into the waste basket and their mercury released into the environment. That said, the time for CFLs is now.
For other alternative energy observations at Design News, see Matt Traum's I Have the Power! blog.