General Electric announced on Sunday it will no longer make or sell compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) lightbulbs in the United States. The company is expected to completely phase out production of the lightbulbs by the end of 2016. The industrial giant plans to start manufacturing newer and more energy-efficient LED models.
“Now is the right time to transition from CFL to LED,” John Strainic, chief operating officer of lighting at GE Lighting, said to the New York Times. “There are so many choices that a consumer has for one socket in their home that it’s overwhelming. This will help simplify that.”
This move by GE may signal a shift by retailers and manufacturers, including big players like IKEA, Walmart, and Sam’s Club, in the direction of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, for homes. The incandescent vs. fluorescent debate is a difficult quandary for consumers — incandescent bulbs are cheaper but don’t last as long, and fluorescent bulbs were synonymous with energy-efficiency and last longer, but contain poisonous chemicals such as mercury and are more expensive.
In recent years, however, the light quality of LED bulbs have improved, while the price of manufacture has dropped dramatically. The price for a basic LED bulb has dropped from $30 to $5 in the past five years, in part due to government subsidies designed to make them more available. Compact fluorescents also no longer meet the standards for energy-saving in many countries, and the harsh, unflattering light of the fluorescent bulb has more than its share of critics.
Though LEDs still remain more expensive than either fluorescent or incandescent, General Electric sees the benefits as outweighing the costs, according to Gizmodo.
“GE said that the LED’s instant brightness, ability to change colors, and connectivity are a few other reasons why it will no longer produce CFL lightbulbs.”
General Electric’s global commercial marketing manager, Steve Pepe, is also optimistic about LED lightbulbs, which are made with circuit boards, leading to a “smart home” revolution and being used to power Wi-Fi antennas, Bluetooth accessories, and in the near future a network of sensors around the home that could adjust the light level to the time of day.
“We’re going to make LEDs more accessible, and we’ll start using lightbulbs for more than just lighting,” he said to Gizmodo. “We think that lightbulbs will be able to sense or hear. They can be nodes throughout your house.”
As computer technology grows ever more powerful, LEDs may play an important role in powering the home of the future.
Not everyone is thrilled with General Electric’s announcement, however. Bloomberg Business author Rick Clough voiced criticism of the decision, saying it represents a larger trend of General Electric moving away from satisfying the needs of everyday people towards more commercial/industrial interests, calling GE “bullish” in pushing LEDs.
“The company founded by Thomas Edison doesn’t have much interest in selling old-fashioned lightbulbs — or much of anything for that matter — to everyday folks anymore. After agreeing to jettison its century-old home-appliances division this month, General Electric Co. is open to shedding the legacy business that sells lighting to retail customers, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking. While GE continues to make bulbs for consumers, it’s concentrating on technologically advanced industrial and commercial lighting products — like a streetlamp that calls authorities when a gun is fired.”
These concerns are not without merit. Customer purchases of lightbulbs are still overwhelmingly dominated by halogens and CFLs, whereas commercial applications currently lead the LED market because of the lower electricity consumption in places like factories, office buildings, warehouses, and parking lots. Despite the drop in price, using LED bulbs for household lighting is also still too expensive for most consumers.
For now, General Electric’s decision will only apply to the United States — it will continue to make CFLs in countries where they’re still popular, including Europe and parts of Latin America.
[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]