The New York Times says that CFL purchases have been falling off. People don't like the color, the price, that the bulbs contain mercury, that they often can't be dimmed, that they take a while to come up to full brightness....
Well. I've been using Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) since the early 1990's, and I have a bit of trouble understanding what all the fuss is about. When I first started buying them, they were around $12-$15 apiece. I put them in all the major lights in our house that were on often. Lights in closets and such that rarely were on stayed as incandescents. In the late '90's, I had a guy come in and look at my electric consumption to install solar. He told me our house was one of the lowest consumption houses he had seen, and that it didn't make sense for us to get solar (we did a bunch of other stuff to save electricity too). The CFLs I bought around 1994-1995 lasted until we moved into the new house in 2003. I don't recall ever having replaced any. I did replace some of the CFLs I bought in 2003 last year though, since they were getting dimmer.
Nowadays, CFLs run about $1.50, and most of the problems people seem all worked up about are solved. The light quality is definitely different than incandescents, but it is quite acceptable. The picture below, from Wikipedia, shows a group of 4 bulbs. The second from the left is an incandescent bulb, the rest are all CFLs. The only CFL that looks "cold" is the one on the far left. That's a 6000 Kelvin bulb. The other two on the right are around 3000 Kelvins and are indistingushible from the incandescent to my eyes.
Most CFLs these days come up to full luminosity within around a minute, some even right away. As for dimming, well, do you really need to dim all the lights in your house? Use incandescents in the bedroom or dining room if you must. My chandelier has incandescents, as do the hall lights, but they are low wattage (around 20 watts) and we rarely use them anyway.
The mercury is a problem, but it is manageable. I put my used CFLs into a box for toxic waste disposal. We did have a CFL break, but it was cleaned up and the room aired out. It broke on a tile floor so there was no problem with the mercury being absorbed into a carpet. Fortunately, because CFLs wear out so infrequently, they rarely are thrown away. All that said, I think the manufacturers and local municpalities could do more, for example, have recycling bags specifically for CFLs like they do in my town for batteries. And fluorescent tube lights have been in use for years without mercury being a problem.
So what about LED lights? The blogs and green news sites are all aflutter with reports about how LEDs are going to replace CFLs.
I had looked at LEDs a couple years ago when we remodeled our kitchen, but had decided in favor of fluorescents (tube model) because the amount of energy savings was not up to what fluroescents provide, and the cost was about 40x as much. A couple weeks ago, I saw a news item about a new LED light, the Pharox from Lemis Lighting. They were offering a 60 watt bulb replacement for $40. Admittedly, this is still 26x the price of a CFL, but I consider myself an early adopter, and one of the tasks of an early adopter is to try new things out despite the price (as long as it isn't too exorbitant). So I ponied up $90-odd (including tax and shipping) and got back two bulbs. Here's a Lemis bulb in front of it's widget-like packaging (which I think is supposed to make you feel good about the price):
What a disappointment. The light was much too dim for reading in the living room. I had to put them into a nightstand table in the bedroom and in our hall bathroom. These are areas where we don't have the lights on much and fine details (like 10 point type) are not important. If I had to rate the wattage, I'd say it was more like 40 watts. Of course, these LED lamps could be dimmed, but so could CFLs at 1/20 the price.
In the New York Times Green, Inc. blog article, Lemis conceded that the light output might not be equivalent to 60 watts after all. They gave a typical, weasel-worded marketing explanation that "it depends on how the bulb is used" (sure, and if I put a mirror behind it, it will look like a 100 watt bulb). Their ostensible 60 watt bulb puts out 336 lumens, a 60 watt-equivalent CFL puts out 800 lumens. A 40 watt incandescent puts out 400 lumens, so the Pharonx is actually about equivalent to 40 watt bulb. Not only that, but if you look at the energy efficiency, it's around 60 lumens per watt. That is exactly the energy efficiency of the CFLs that you can get today, at 1/20th the price!
So I guess LED lighting has made some progress in the last couple years. Now the efficiency in terms of lumens per watt is about the same as CFLs instead of less. The price is still way out of line. The lifetime of the LEDs is much longer, something like 20 years, but if CFLs last 5 years, as mine have, then I would buy only 4 in that time and still save over the cost of an LED light. Plus the fact that the light output from the LEDs is too low for reading. I wonder how much a decent LED for reading would cost, probably over $100.
Anyway, I guess I'll just stick with CFLs for now, and deal with the mercury by recycling my bulbs back to the toxic waste pickup.