This article was originally published in the November/December 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online November/December 1993



Trends in Energy is a bulletin of residential energy conservation issues. It covers items ranging from the latest policy issues to the newest energy technologies. If you have items that would be of interest, please send them to: Trends Department, Home Energy, 2124 Kittredge St., No. 95, Berkeley, CA 94704.



Consumers and Compact Fluorescents

How do you convince people to abandon cheap incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents lamps (CFLs) which can cost 12-15 times more and offer the same results--light? Why don't consumers purchase more CFLs?

Electric utilities face these questions daily. For the past two years I've analyzed consumer CFL use for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). We surveyed participants in a direct mail rebate program who purchased CFLs in late 1991 or early 1992, asking questions about usage and satisfaction.

Results showed customers were happy with the color of the bulbs, their brightness, and their long life. Yet, only about one third of the participants had since acquired new CFLs, despite the fact that CFLs have since improved technically. This figure was surprising because in a previous survey of the same customer group, 52% of the respondents said they had fixtures suitable for additional CFLs. We also found that when people replaced their incandescent bulbs with CFLs, only about 30% replaced them with the correct equivalent wattage. Of those remaining, about half installed too much wattage and the other half installed too little.

Utilities continue to move the market with rebates and incentives through demand-side management programs, but manufacturers, retailers, utility managers and consultants all seem to agree that there is a need for more education and national marketing of CFLs. Price is obviously another key factor.

Almost 400,000 CFLs were purchased in 1993 through PG&E. The effort was unique because for the first time, rebates were transferred directly to the manufacturer. Susan Fischer, program manager at PG&E, says costs are lower throughout the distribution chain with the program structured this way. Previously customers had to mail in rebate coupons and never saw the discounts until much later. Now they see lower retail prices.

Consumer education is critical, yet no manufacturer promotes CFLs on radio or television. Mike Gorman, president of Save Energy, a retailer that participated in the PG&E coupon program, says people need to hear about CFLs in a number of different places. Once somebody purchases a bulb through a utility program, they need to see other ads and other stores carrying the bulbs. Exposure in several media reinforces a customer's awareness.

Manufacturers recognize the need for more education. Dick Dallin, spokesman for Osram Sylvania Incorporated says more information must be offered at the point of purchase, regarding the long-run aggregate savings and the replacement savings associated with their longer life.

New education and marketing tools may help. Green Seal, a national environmental labeling organization, has set specific standards for CFLs for energy efficiency, performance, levels of mercury, and packaging requirements. Green Seal's standards have been accepted by the Northwest Residential Efficient Appliance Lighting Group, PG&E, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Manufacturers are seeking Green Seal's approval, in hopes that people will be more inclined to purchase approved CFLs.

Multimedia kiosks are another development. The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology in Washington D.C. is producing multimedia systems that offer information on CFLs for utility information centers, state energy offices, and educational institutions. Michael Totten, who directs the group, hopes to have at least one system available by 1994.

According to a recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), 80% of household lighting in Japan is provided by fluorescent lamps. However most of the original fixtures were designed to use either circular or straight fluorescent tubes, and the majority still use traditional magnetic ballasts rather than the new solid-state technology.

United States figures are difficult to find, but the percentage of compacts sold relative to incandescents is around 1%. It's still a niche market. In its study, EPRI, which has been promoting CFLs for more than a decade, drew some harsh conclusions about why the lamps are less than popular in the United States.

Complaints expressed by consumers to EPRI were that CFLs are expensive, don't fit into all existing light fixtures, can't be used in conjunction with dimmers, and often don't provide adequate light levels for reading. EPRI's survey revealed that 43% of consumers who have used CFLs, and 53% who have not, were least likely to purchase a CFL in the future. (EPRI cites high electricity costs, energy shortages, and wide availability of sophisticated fixtures as the primary reasons for the popularity in Japan.) EPRI pointed to additional barriers to CFL market growth in the U.S., as a segmented lighting industry, lack of product performance standards, and lack of coordination among manufacturers, utilities, and retailers. EPRI concluded that in addition to solving these technical problems, prices must be reduced to $10 or less, and CFLs must be available in retail stores to be widely accepted.

With more education, greater national advertising, and continued work by utilities, CFLs may become available for under $10. Reaching more consumers will also require greater coordination between the lamp and fixture manufacturers as well as retailers. Perhaps then the CFL market in the United States will finally take off.

-- Louis Rasky


Louis Rasky heads the Nightingale Group, an energy consulting firm in San Franciso, California.


Figure 1. Is consumer education the answer? Some professionals dealing with the lack of consumer acceptance of compact fluorescent lamps believe that multimedia kiosks are one way to make the public aware of the advantages of the bulbs. This screen is from a computer program being developed for a kiosk.


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