Happy 25th Birthday, CFL! Will there be another 25?

April 21, 2010
The compact fluorescent lamp is 25 years old, as Osram Sylvania has announced, but what does the future hold, asks Brian Owen.
At the recent Solid-State Lighting Network Workshop at the University of Toronto (News), a panel of both market transformation and technology experts from the industry discussed the state of both inorganic and organic technology, and what the future holds in terms of market development, penetration and transformation. LEDs Magazine will shortly bring you more news from this event.
On the panel was Tung Yang (TY) Wang, Manager of Product Marketing with Osram Sylvania, who indicated that 17% of company revenue is currently derived from LED-related sales and added a prediction that by 2015 this will climb to 50%.

On the panel with Dr. Wang, I mentioned that, after 25 years, CFL market penetration had not reached 25%. Marci Sanders, the DOE Lighting Facts Program Manager from D&R International, commented that in fact it was just announced that CFLs had reached 20% of penetration of light-bulb sales.

In fact, coinciding with Light+Building in Germany, Osram Sylvania issued a press release on the 25th birthday of the modern CFL. Born on April 17, 1985 in Hannover, Germany, the first CFL was eight-inches tall and consumed 20 watt. The stick-shaped CFL was the first screw-in, energy-saving replacement for a standard incandescent light bulb that featured an integrated electronic ballast.

"The CFL has only improved with age," said Alfred LaSpina, Osram Sylvania marketing manager for CFLs. "Today, the Sylvania Living Spaces(TM) CFL is half the size of our 1985 model, provides better light quality and lasts twice as long, while still delivering a 75-percent energy saving [compared with incandescents]."

While the CFL currently enjoys broad popularity in North America, it was slow to gain acceptance in the late 1980s and 1990s, when energy prices were low. The lighting industry began tracking sales of integrated CFLs in the United States in 1997, when just 13.3 million units were sold, compared to 2.8 billion incandescent bulbs.

When energy costs began to rise in the early 2000s, so did the CFL's popularity with businesses and homeowners. Integrated CFL sales in the United States increased from 57 million bulbs in 2001 to over 273 million in 2009. In Canada, the number of CFLs sold went from just under 1 million pieces in 2001 to a high of over 46 million pieces in 2007. The 2009 Sylvania Socket Survey found more than 70 percent of American households now have at least one CFL.

"Developing the first CFL with an integrated electronic ballast was a phenomenal experience," recalls Alfred Wacker, one of the bulb's inventors. "Being able to save up to 75 percent of the energy of a standard bulb was a revolution in lighting."

So Happy 25th Birthday? Maybe yes, but will we see another 25? With the ongoing controversy surrounding mercury content and disposal, rumors that the "majors" might be planning to release "high-efficiency" incandescents, and the impressive and ongoing progress of LED technology, will we see a 50th? Instead, as recently overheard, should we make plans for the "wake" hopefully saying "Rest in Peace.”