Sigh: DOE announces another lightbulb efficiency rollback

IMG_20191217_182721_122 More broken logic. Well, not really even an attempt at logic. The story from The Hill via Twatter:
In its latest move to roll back energy efficiency measures, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced Friday that it would block a measure designed to require more efficient lightbulbs, arguing the policy would be too expensive for consumers.  The announcement applies to widely-used, pear-shaped incandescent lightbulbs. Coupled with another controversial rule finalized in September, the move cements two remarkable decisions taken by the department this year to hamstring efficiency requirements for nearly every type of bulb used in America. The announcement follows earlier messaging from the department that market forces, and not the government, should guide consumer choices.
And so on. The lack of logic is:
consumer protection groups and environmentalists have widely panned the measures, saying consumers will be stuck with a higher electric bill spurred by inefficient bulbs... This law should have saved U.S. households more than $100 annually... You wouldn’t use a phone from the 1870s, so why use Edison’s 1870s light bulb?
But of course the change merely allows people to choose their own bulbs. If they value saving $100 per year, then they'll do that, and the law will have no effect. But they have the choice not to, if that's what they prefer. Those who think that the entire populace are feckless incompetents will argue that people should not have the choice, but I can't support that. As to phones, people migrate to modern phones with no coercion from the govt, so if that's your analogy, it argues against the regs.


* Ra ra: If you like your lightbulbs, you can keep your lightbulbs! The Obama Admin tried to limit Americans to buying more-expensive LED bulbs for their homes—but thanks to President
@realDonaldTrump, go ahead and decorate your house with whatever lights you want


thefordprefect said...

Unfortunately people are not logical

Why for instance do you need a sub 25mpg SUV to drive little johnny to school. Suitable vehicle exist that do more than 58mpg.

why use incandescent light bulbs costing 10 times as much as leds to run? (there are sensible reasons)

In general it is because they can afford to (and possibly status). How many people think about the energy a light bulb uses?

EU legislation requires the vampire power of standby devices to be less than 0.5 watt. This limits the manufacturers but certainly has no effect financially on the consumers (who have no choice anyway). Older devices would consume a few watts in standby and wall-warts sat there plugged in and consumed more than 1 watt.
our house has 5 wall-warts serving no useful purpose 90% of the time. The cost is insignificant but multiply the power loss by the number of households and you need an extra 250MW power station just to supply old vampire power to the UK

Consumers do not always make decisions that are sensible and unfortunately need to be steered in the right direction by legislation or very high financial costs.

William M. Connolley said...

I'm happy for them to be steered in the right direction by broad abstract motives like carbon taxes. But not by micro-management by bureaucracy. It's not for you or I to second-guess what people consider "sensible".

crandles said...

One of the assumptions of 'efficient markets' is that everyone has all available knowledge costlessly, so no cost or time involved in reaching any decisions.

Lets relax that somewhat and assume some consumers aren't sure if LED bulb are as good in every way (remember CFL taking ages to provide much light?) but know that incandescent bulbs have worked ok for them. Also the cost of time to research the matter is more than the difference in cost of a couple of bulbs.

So what do you expect these knowledge-deficient consumers to buy?

William, do you accept this a market failure and how should it be rectified?

Better education / public service announcement might be one way. Is this the most efficient way? No, it likely costs much more than simply banning incandescent light bulbs. If there are benefits to incandescent in some special situations then perhaps objecting to outright ban might be seen as having reasonable basis for a desire for an exception to the ban in those special cases.

Can you name any special cases that are used much or any ways in which LED are not better? I suggest use of incandescent bulbs for heat eg slow cooker or bed warmer are pretty rare, and the usage is not for lighting. Should we only ban them 'for lighting purposes' rather than for any use? Maybe, but you know what would happen, the volume bought would drop so much that they increase to a very high price or cease to be made. So that brings back a denying a choice problem in a different way.

If LEDs are better in pretty much every way with very few special cases, the ban seems a suitable way to fix an information market failure.

Mainly denying a bad choice is a good thing. There may be other effects and these need to be assessed, but it may well be that the good from denying a bad choice outweighs those other effects. I am inclined to think that is the case with incandescent light bulbs. How important and widespread those other effects are should be assessed before bringing in a ban, but this doesn't mean there aren't any cases where a ban should be brought in.

You will note that I am not assuming "the entire populace are feckless incompetents", just that there are some people lacking some knowledge which seems much more realistic that efficient market assumptions.

Denying a bad choice seems like a good idea in many situations to me. Do you honestly believe there are no circumstance where denying people a bad choice is sensible?

William M. Connolley said...

> the ban seems a suitable way to fix an information market failure

I don't think there is such a failure. And I think your idea proves too much.

Not everyone knows everything about LEDs vs incandescents. But the number of people who don't know that they're more energy efficient, and longer-lasting, are few; there's no need to legislate for such people.

But what your thought experiment does show is how ready people are to pick up and wield the ban stick in pursuit of what they know to be right and to be for people's good.

> there are no circumstance where denying people a bad choice is sensible?

The one I struggle with most (in the sense of finding the argument for most compelling) is safety belts in cars. I can well recall the teenage me railing against them, and submitting because I had no choice.

crandles said...

If I was in a rush but knew what socket type I wanted, I may well grab the first one I saw with the right socket type. For me/such a customer, a ban on the bad ones would be a good thing. Maybe you find that more compelling than calling people information-deficient (though it is only part of the same thing)?

Sam said...

It always seemed to me that the best argument against the lightbulb regulations came from the fact that all the waste energy is given off as heat, and that some significant percentage of the time when you've got the lights on you'll also want the heating on, so the efficiency numbers were probably way understated since they're running at 100% efficiency a lot of the time.

William M. Connolley said...

> rush but knew what socket type

This too is possible, but too much of a corner case to be worth legislating for. You already know the result you've decided on; you're just propping up that decision with whatever argument you can think of. But you're treating all this regulation as free, which it isn't.

> waste energy is given off as heat

This is true, and I recall discussing it back in the old days of compact fluorescents. I think the answer is that it's not as good as you think; that there's a lot of the year when you don't want it (and might have to remove it using AC) and anyway it's near the ceiling where it is less useful; but then again, I never saw any actual numbers one way or another.

crandles said...

> too much of a corner case to be worth legislating for

I would say it is exactly the case I started with, information disparity.

> too much of a corner case
> how ready people are to pick up and wield the ban stick
> you're treating all this regulation as free, which it isn't.

Perhaps there is a reason for this, that we can all see how cheap and efficient a ban is while you are the one out of step.

You might note that I did say "There may be other effects and these need to be assessed" and only that "I am inclined to think that is the case with incandescent light bulbs", rather than I think this therefore it must be correct and everyone must think the same. I agree it isn't free, but I think it is relatively low cost compared to alternative solutions as previously indicated. If you disagree, are you going to put some numbers up to demonstrate your case?

Sam said...

Efficiency aside, the way I prefer to phrase the argument against the lightbulb ban is that it's fundamentally illiberal.

LED bulbs, to my eyes, have a fairly unpleasant emissions spectrum, which is too weighted towards lower wavelengths. Incandescent's have more red in them, and I find this a more pleasant light to read by. So long as the price of electricity internalises externalities (big if) then it should be my choice if I wish to spend extra on the electricity. Other people might leave some of their lights on all night, or keep their house much warmer than I do or blow dry their hair (which is wildly inefficient), but the state doesn't get involved there. Besides which, if I spend more money on electricity for lightbulbs I'll end up having to cut back some other form of consumption elsewhere.

The state's involvement in regulating lightbulbs, then, doesn't just infringe on liberty but also on equality.

William M. Connolley said...

> disagree, are you going to put some numbers

I feel no urge to put up any numbers; why would I; and you haven't. See my first answer to TFP; and I largely agree with Sam's last para.

> we can all see how cheap and efficient a ban is

Who is this "we" of which you speak? And, why do you totally dismiss the "don't apply coercion without overwhelmingly good reason" argument?

thefordprefect said...

William M. Connolley said...
I'm happy for them to be steered in the right direction by broad abstract motives like carbon taxes. But not by micro-management by bureaucracy. It's not for you or I to second-guess what people consider "sensible".
If I can convince 10 neighbours that LEDs are a good idea this will make no difference to the energy required for lighting in the UK. You need a nation wide adoption of low energy lighting to make a difference. And of course if the UK bans incandescents the this will make very little difference to global energy requirements.
Individual adoption of low energy low emission life style is totally pointless it has to be global. It is no good telling people nicely to adopt low energy lifestyle those than can afford the wasteful route will take it saying this is my choice and I can afford it.
How many times do you read about China's building of xxxGWatts of new coal fuelled power stations - why should I cut back, or I want my SUV, I can afford to run it, and I will not do what some jerk of a scientist says I need to do.
If CO2 is really a problem the answer must be global regulation nothing else will work!

If you want to convince people they should be reducing their footprint you need to have 100% convincing argument for the damage that will occur decades in the future (good luck with that! - perhaps you also have next weeks lottery number winners?)

Very few people will accept the precautionary principal if it impinges on their lifestyle.

Phil. said...

My major complaint about incandescents (in the US) is their extremely short life. Replacing them every year and therefore having to keep a box of spares in the house was a nuisance. When my friend moved into a new house three years ago we replaced all of the incandescents with LEDs, the hard part was persuading her that she didn't need lots of spares (the habit of a lifetime). So far none have needed replacing. Regarding the color balance, it is possible to chose different color temperature LEDs to suit the use, it's certainly not the reason why Trump has an orange face!

William M. Connolley said...

I don't think you need to convince anyone here that incandescents are bad. We're on a mix of LEDs and compact fluorescents, with the CFs getting replaced with LEDs as they die, very slowly.

Sam said...

This is an argument for a carbon tax, not for lightbulb regulations. Let the price of electricity do the work, and let people figure out how they'd like to use the electricity.

And I still loathe LED bulbs. I don't like their emission spectrum and it's next to impossible to get the dammed things to work with a dimmer, you just get flickering or bulbs which never turn off due to residual current. They're horrendous to read by. Compact fluorescents have a much nicer spectrum if you're willing to pay more to get a full spectrum bulb.

crandles said...

>"don't apply coercion without overwhelmingly good reason"

Why? As opposed to applying a suitable penal value to the loss of choice and other estimated values for other effects and then deciding on the balance of values?

Sam loathes LEDs. The spectrum was designed to be pleasing to most people and I like them but obviously not everyone is going to agree. A ban on incandescents doesn't stop Sam buying CFL which he likes so he hasn't persuaded me that a high penal value is needed, but some penal value for reduction in choice is appropriate. If there are people who get headaches from either LED or CFL then this would persuade me a high penal value would be appropriate (assuming some exception to the ban won't work). Banning one type to leave a choice of two types obviously does not attract as high a penal value for limiting choice as banning one type and leaving only one type available.

Not liking the spectrum: is this just an issue that should be left to the market? If there is enough demand for different spectrum lights will LEDs offer this in due course? Or is it just not (yet?) possible to provide enough of certain wavelengths?

If CFL offer such choices, why care enough to put a high penal value on lack of choice an incandescent ban would cause.

crandles said...

Who is this "we" of which you speak?

Me, the consumer protection groups and environmentalists that widely panned the measures, and anyone else supporting my/their views.

Of course, they could be widely panning the measures because the last thing you want is bureaucrats first banning then unbanning then .... but that doesn't seem to be the explanation given.

Nor does that explanation really support the more nuanced view I am trying to give but if the views are as long as I am maintaining above then they are quite likely to get shortened to something like written. This is difficient reasoning as you point out but only if you assume it hasn't been shortened to that from a more extensive version.

William M. Connolley said...

>>"don't apply coercion without overwhelmingly good reason"

> Why?

Because freedom is a basic good. I sometimes wonder if I should write a bog post just saying that, since so many people seem to disagree.

> As opposed to applying a suitable penal value to

I'm not sure what you mean by that. If you mean, a carbon tax is ultimately some kind of coercion then yes, but if you can't tell the difference between that and a ban then I can't help.

crandles said...

No I didn't mean a carbon tax. I meant that in deciding whether to apply a ban some suitable value should be placed on this. i.e. I want a 'suitable value' not a requirement to have "overwhelmingly good reason". Was that so hard to understand?

Phil said...

Tragedy of the Commons. If everyone is free, the outcome is worse, perhaps even fatally so.

William M. Connolley said...

No, it's not a TotC. TotC is where there's an incentive to over-graze. That's not true in the case of lights; the incentives are to do the Right Thing (with the possible exception of those with such high effective discount rates that the lower upfront cost of incandescents is significant).

crandles said...

Are you enraged by not having the choice to buy a fridge with a chloroflorobromide as the refrigerant?

If not, why place a high value on the lack of choice? (let alone an overwhelming requirement)

J C Brookes said...

Bring back leaded petrol.

William M. Connolley said...

> enraged

There's some balance to be struck (and your use of "enraged" does it's best to hide the idea of balance; I'm not sure if you're deliberately smearing truth with rhetoric) between various freedoms for different people in a modern complex society. Some people might insist on individual freedom enough to want CFCs in refrigerants; I don't. I don't think in the end that it's an argument of a different kind; just a different result, which I'd justify by various arguments, including the much smaller units of light bulbs hence greater switchability.

> leaded

I think that's a joke, but if not: it is an argument of a different kind, since the lead is of itself harmful.

crandles said...

You are reacting to my use of "enraged" saying "does it's best to hide the idea of balance" but this is exactly what I was reacting to with your use of 'overwhelmingly' in 'overwhelmingly good reason'.

Nor do I think this is the first time in this discussion. For example earlier you said " But you're treating all this regulation as free, which it isn't." My first post included "There may be other effects and these need to be assessed" does that sound like I am ignoring such obvious things as the cost of the bureaucracy?

So it appears to me that you rather than me is the one that is guilty of "You already know the result you've decided on; you're just propping up that decision with whatever argument you can think of".

>just a different result, which I'd justify by various arguments

Certainly there are various arguments, and the pro and cons need to be balanced is what I am arguing.

It might be interesting to see a full list of these arguments because the fridge is more expensive and people are more likely to consider carefully whereas the lightbulbs being cheap items may well be grabbed with little thought. So smaller units of light bulb may well be high on my list of reason for intervention.

Other items to put on list might include:
Number of people that buy/use them,
How badly affected by lack of choice those people might be,
How likely to make a bad choice in buying such items,
Cost of bureaucracy in creating, monitoring and enforcing the rules,
How bad the effects if item is not banned.

I gave example of chloroflorobromide, I believe effects are much worse than CFCs so the result of the decision is obvious. People only care about the refrigerant for its environmental effects, for the product they just want a refrigerant that works. You argue through greater switchability but we are only banning at the point of sale, not for those in use. Installing one fridge rather than another has no effect so I would say there is no noticeable increase in barrier to switching to different refrigerant type fridge whereas with light bulbs people might be more inclined to stick with what they know. So it appears to me that you have this argument backwards and I can only attribute this to you knowing your position and trying to justify it with any argument you can think of without really thinking it through.

Phil said...

ToC isn't just grazing.
Not all Commons are grasslands.

Nosmo said...

1) From wikipedia: "A report published in January 2008 found that in Los Angeles, where incandescent lighting results in increased air conditioning, electricity savings would pay for the initial cost of CFLs four times faster than in Vancouver, where incandescent lighting contributes to space heating.[165] In all climates, there is a net cost saving from changing to compact fluorescent lighting.[165] The cost of CFL and LED bulbs has decreased greatly since 2008, which shortens the time needed to pay off their initial cost."

2)I tried getting some numbers on the percentage of LEDs vs incandescent and didn't get very far with brief searches (found market reports that cost $). Don't know about the rest of the country, but here LEDs fill the shelves and have been for quite some time. Revoking the rule may not have as big of an effect as one may fear. In any case, the policy I'm sure was taken just to piss off environmentalists and liberals.

3) The Wikipedia pages list of countries that ban LEDs is really long.

4) 89:43-- we are getting older but not bad. PM5s are relatively cheap these days...

William M. Connolley said...

Ah yes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_incandescent_light_bulbs#Heating_and_cooling; interesting.

William M. Connolley said...

A stolen opinion from a friend on fb:

TIL: I was wrong, and mass-market household LED lamps generally have better (flatter) spectra than fluorescent (including CFL) or (most) incandescent lamps.

Long ago some "white" LEDs were a combination of R, G, and B diodes with some sort of filter to blend the colours, which resulted in many objects looking just wrong (for instance, objects with sharp reflectance peaks away from the diode emission lines). This is still true of those colour-changing LED ribbons, which is why those can make things look a bit weird. But apparently for the last decade or so "white" LEDs have been blue or UV diodes with a phosphor coat, which generally gives a nice flat spectrum ("warm white" has a dip in the blues, "cool white" has a dip in the reds).

CFLs, which are garbage and have always been garbage, have much worse phosphor mixes so tend to have a few sharp peaks. Incandescents are, of course, skewed red.

My research was prompted by some of the things I've noticed since replacing all the lamps in my house with LEDs, which had been baffling me (and which I'd been putting down to the fact that I just have a lot more lumens than previously).

If anyone has a handy lighting spectrometer or colorimeter I could borrow, I'd be interested to see what my various actual LED lamps do.