Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Compact Fluorescents Face Tough Competition

Energy-efficient lighting¹s flagship product ‹ the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) ‹ has always had competitors, but the field is becoming more crowded.

Based on a study of the US marketplace, the increasing number of competitors stand to capture about two thirds of the incandescent-replacement market potential in the residential sector. The CFL's competitors fall into four groups:

(1) those that have been on the scene for a very long time, e.g. the standard incandescent GLS (general lighting service) lamp, known as the A-lamp in North America),
(2) those that represent recent, but incremental, innovations based on established products (e.g. the halogen infrared PAR lamp), and

(3) those that represent dramatic innovations, often bringing a whole new category of lighting into competition with the CFL (e.g. small, high-performance metal-halide lamps), and

(4) fundamental breakthroughs in technology (e.g. electrodeless induction lighting), some of which have been unveiled but are not yet in the catalogs.

One way to estimate the market potential for the CFL is through ³top-down² methods, in which current growth rates, population, and other factors are extrapolated to the future. A complementary method is a ³bottom-up² look at the technical potential for cost-effective energy savings through increased use of the products. One such study has been recently completed by one of us (Vorsatz) for the US residential and commercial sectors. The study examines the potential for indoor lighting in the year 2010. We summarize the results for CFLs in the remainder of this section.

In terms of energy use, the total US commercial-sector energy savings potential is divided as follows: Incandescent replacements account for 57%, while corresponding figures for fluorescent and high-intensity discharge replacements are 39 and 4% respectively. CFLs and halogen infrared reflector (HIR) accounts for most of the incandecent replacement potential.

For the residential market, the vast majority ofthe savings potential is from incandescent lamp replacements, as very few linear fluorescent or HID sources are used there today. Choosing the most energy-saving incandescent replacements results in an applicable stock of 2.9 billion incandescent lamps that can be replaced cost-effectively by energy-efficient lamps by the year 2010, apportioned 27% to more efficient incandescents (including the installation of lighting controls in some cases), 35% to halogen infrared, and 35% to CFLs. These market shares were obtained by systematically comparing and ranking competing retrofit options in order of decreasing cost-effectiveness.

Although CFLs end up facing significant competition from other incandescent replacement lamps, the quantity of CFLs called for is, nonetheless, considerable and represents a market for the residential sector. If it is assumed that the average burn time of a CFL is four hours per day, then the present annual sales would need to be about 150 million units in order to maintain a stock of just over 1 billion lamps. This sales volume is several times the size of the current market.


No application is the exclusive domain of the CFL, i.e. where no other light source can compete. (One exception is a trend towards what are called ³dedicated fixtures², wherein the base is designed to accommodate only the pin-based CFL). There are, of course, also market niches that are not currently available to CFLs. These include fixtures operated with motion sensors or conventional incandescent dimmers.

The main factors driving consumer interest in the CFL are energy savings and long service life. From an energy standpoint, this means that the most attractive applications are those with a large number of burning hours in a given year (thus creating a faster payback time on the incremental investment in the up-front cost of the CFL versus the competing incandescent lamp). For the commercial sector, this represents the vast majority of incandescent sockets, especially ultra-high-use applications such as Exit signs (of which there are tens of millions in the US). However, in the residential sector there are on average 30 or so sockets in a given US home, and only 5­10 are typically cost-effective applications for the CFL.


On the one hand, CFL innovations resulting in entire new lamp shapes (e.g. the flat 2D or F-lamp technologies) and a proliferation of sizes and improved performance characteristics have helped the CFL capture an increasing market share. However, competitors to the CFL can be found now in virtually every light source family (incandescent, fluorescent, HID, induction, and LED). While not all are superior or even equal in terms of efficiency, many will be more attractive to consumers owing to other attributes such as longer service life, brilliance, better color rendering, ease of dimming, or environmental attributes.

Standard incandescent lamps have the distinct advantages of low first cost, no mercury, and sometimes smaller size, compared to the CFL. Color rendering is superior and lumen depreciation is lower than that of CFLs. For no other technology is dimming as problem-free and inexpensive, although incandescent dimming, in many cases, results in color shift (towards warmer color) and an audible buzzing sound. Their prime disadvantages are high operating cost (energy inefficiency) and short life. A relatively new generation of ³energy-saving² incandescents are marginally more efficient than standard incandescents, and have longer service lives.

Tungsten-halogen lamps have the same advantages (even more so in most cases) and disadvantages as standard incandescents. Additional disadvantages are the adverse impacts of dimming on life and efficiency and high operating temperature. Halogen reflector lamps perform much better than CFL reflector lamps. A new line of dichroic low-voltage halogen lamps, with infrared coatings on the capsule, is a step forward in efficiency (IAEEL 2/97). Important to the equation, the transformers that run the low-voltage lamps have about doubled in efficiency in recent years.

Full-size fluorescent lamps excel in almost every aspect over CFLs, although not all full-size fluorescents have performance attributes that rival the CFL. Their prime disadvantages are large size, difficulty in directing light towards a specific area, and difficulty in achieving aesthetic applications in residential settings. The narrow T5 and super-narrow T2 technologies overcome these disadvantages rather effectively (although the high brightness of the T5 lamps can be a problem in residential applications). The T5 will be available in the future in a circular format, making it an interesting competitor for torchiere applications among others (IAEEL 2/97). Dimming technology is more established and widely available for full-size fluorescents than for CFLs.

The electrodeless induction lamps are neck-in-neck competitors with the CFL in several respects, but are extremely new in the US market and have not as yet caused a large upset. Electromagnetic interference is a main disadvantage, although manufacturers claim to have overcome it. The reflector-type design of some of the electrodeless lamps limits their field of application slightly. It is not yet clear whether the mature market price will compete with the CFL. A newcomer to this field is Osram's Inductively Coupled Electrodeless Lamp (I.C.E., formerly called the ³Endura² lamp), with a high-lumen package that would only compete with CFLs in indirect illumination applications (IAEEL 2/97). The I.C.E lamp is supposed to be on the market in 1998.

Until recently, two classes of HID light sources (metal halide and high-pressure sodium) were not threats to the CFL, except perhaps for certain outdoor applications. Significant strides in technology have resulted in smaller lamps with color-rendering performance similar or better to that of CFLs. In many cases, these lamps are longer-lived and more energy-efficient than CFLs, and have far more stable color rendering, color temperature, and efficacy over a range of operating positions. Some of the emerging metal halide products are shaped like familiar PAR lamps and are superior in terms of color performance. Especially severe competition may be seen in the newly emerging ³torchiere² (halogen uplighter) market, where double-ended halogens currently pose a considerable fire hazard and consume excessive amounts of energy. HID sources will probably compete most strongly in outdoor lighting (residential) and downlighting (commercial) ‹ both important market niches for the CFL. HID sources, however, do not have good dimming performance.

The new low-wattage ceramic-burner metal halide technology overcomes much of the color instability problems of the last generation of metal halides (IAEEL 2/97). Their relatively small lumen packages, the availability of both pin and screw bases, good depreciation characteristics, lower UV emissions, and superb efficacy and color rendering make them formidable emerging competitors to the CFL. Even high-pressure sodium lamps, e.g. Philips' White SON, stand to compete with the CFL in some applications. Osram's hybrid sodium-xenon lamps (e.g. the Colorstar DSX2) are potential CFL competitors in terms of lumen output, life, and efficacy, but only in applications where color rendering is less critical. Two-step light output for the DSX2 adds to its appeal.

The sulfur lamp and other relatively high-light-output sources have similar or superior performance characteristics, although they sometimes require sophisticated light-distribution systems, such as light guides, mirror-based distribution, fiber optics, or large indirect fixtures. These applications would be limited to the non-residential sector, probably even in the case of lower-wattage sulfur lamp products that may emerge in the future.

Lastly, Exit signs are a very promising market for CFLs, especially given their long life compared to incandescents. No other application offers such large energy-cost savings as the 24-hour Exit sign. Light-emitting diode (LED) Exit signs may displace CFLs, although their costs are significantly higher. In Europe, however, the call for green exit signs has slowed the penetration of LED signs. In Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands, for example, CFLs had captured virtually the entire exit sign market more than four years ago (IAEEL 3/93).

While competition is getting stiffer, we hope that the CFL will always find its rightful socket. It is certainly more incumbent on lighting manufacturers, and their allies, than ever before to innovate and bring to market new CFL products that help to maintain, if not expand, the CFL's market prominence.

Evan Mills
Diana Vorsatz

Evan Mills, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US
Tel: +1 510 486-6784
Fax +1 510 486-5394

Diana Urge-Vorsatz,Central European University, Hungary
Tel: +36 1 327-3095
Fax: +36 1 327-3031

For more information on the market potential of competing lamp types, see D. Vorsatz. 1996. ²Exploring U.S. Residential and Commercial Electricity Conservation Potentials: Analysis of the Lighting Sector². Ph.D. Dissertation, U.C. Los Angeles.

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