A bright idea for EWEB: Promote LEDs.
How to picture George W. Bush having a good idea? Perhaps a portrait of him with that quizzical look and a light bulb overhead?
It was indeed a bright idea to ban the standard incandescent light bulb back in 2007. The real ly clever part was delaying the full ban until 2014.
Well, it's 2014. The ban is here, we're just waiting for stores' inventories of the old incandescent bulbs to run out.
Surely it is time for the energy- squandering incandescent bulb to go. Tom Edison would recognize these bulbs, and he invented them in 1879.
Luckily, there has been a lot of invention recently. There is no need to stock up on bulbs to avoid having to use the fluorescent option, lighting that provides the ambiance of a morgue. Fluorescent bulbs are hard to use and require special disposal that is problematic, resulting in yet another cost of pollution.
The good news now is that light-emitting diode, or LED, bulbs are ready to replace incandescent bulbs. They are, on all counts, a better energy-saving option. LED bulbs are like regular bulbs in shape, now have a range of colors and hues, last 20 or 30 years, and use one quarter or less the electricity of incandescent bulbs - a huge savings on lighting costs.
The only downside has been cost. The LED was called "the $25 light bulb" not long ago, but costs have been rapidly falling. Now it's "the $10 light bulb."
It is time for everyone to adopt this technology. In the climate change war on greenhouse gases, the best option is to simply not use electricity. Rather than paying more for green energy, we can pay less, produce less and use less, all while getting the same amount of light.
Bringing this issue home, I counted about 30 light bulbs of different wattages in the house. Some were for occasional use (the garage or a hall); only about 10 were used each night for an average of about three hours.
According to the Eugene Water & Electric Board, I could reduce the lighting part of my bill by 75 percent by changing these 10 bulbs over to LEDs. Lighting a home accounts for about 25 percent of the bill. I am not sure yet how it would work out, not having factored the occasional-use bulbs, but I hope to save $6 to $10 per month.
So how many will join me and spend $100 up front on bulbs right now? I know the answer: Relatively few. So here is a better idea in the spirit of acting locally:
EWEB contracts to buy LED bulbs in bulk. Bill stuffers inform customers that they can choose 10 LED bulbs in various wattages and colors. The bulbs are sent to homes by the supplier. Customers pay for the bulbs monthly with their energy savings. Thus, EWEB runs an inexpensive program to reduce pollution while reducing electric bills in tens of thousands of homes.
That's it: Eugene homes fitted with LED lighting, paid for by customers over time, helped by EWEB billing system. If 70,000 customers save $10 per month, that's $8.4 million a year. All of that savings represents electricity that is not used, which is pollution that is not produced.
And what about the potential in a country with 4 billion light bulb sockets?
The program may require giving up on $300 smart meters, a program that is on hold due to customer opposition. Recent research indicates smart meters are a very poor way to reduce electric usage. They reduce privacy, involve unknown risks and allow time-of-day metering so that customers can be charged more for power used during peak times. It is the stick part of a carrot-and-stick operation.
A large, risk-free LED light bulb replacement program would cost a small fraction of the expenditure proposed for invasive meters. Eugene homes should be illuminated with efficient LED bulbs immediately. It is low-hanging fruit - easily plucked and good for everyone.
When an efficient light bulb program has been shown to be a success, the next logical step would be to install distributed solar power systems on homes, financed in the same way. Small-scale solar would reduce an individual bill by 15 percent or 20 percent, with a corresponding reduction in pollution.
LED bulbs and solar might well cut a home's future power bill by nearly 50 percent, but it cannot be left to individuals. Publicly owned institutions need to make these things happen.
Climate change is getting more real each day, so aggressive action is needed. This is Eugene: "Just do it!" we should say.
Michael Lee is a consultant in Eugene who has worked as a research scientist on National Institutes of Health grants involving utilities and risk assessment.