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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saving energy

So often we hear that government should not intervene in the economy or that government regulations kill jobs -- the long-time argument of laissez-faire. My desk is illuminated by a compact fluorescent bulb this morning. Energy-wasting incandescent bulbs are disappearing exactly as the government has planned, and I say the program is a great success. Phase-out would have taken decades without regulation.

I was an early adopter of CFLs and, as I expected, lived through the product's unstable years. Early CFLs died prematurely, especially if they were placed into an enclosed fixture. I had one CFL actually catch fire -- and I reported it to UL, who disappointed me by their apparent lack of concern. Early CFLs took too long to produce full lighting. Gradually these problems disappeared, and prices of CFLs came down too. I haven't had to replace a dead CFL in a long time. Even the CFLs that I've placed in outside fixtures are performing well.

It is true that CFLs contain mercury. However, so does the coal that produces roughly half of North Carolina's electricity. The combination of conservation measures such as CFLs and low prices for natural gas are substantially reducing the consumption of metal-bearing coal in power plants. Over the long run I expect mercury-bearing CFLs will themselves be replaced by LEDs, but I have no experience with LEDs yet to offer you. By the way, the phase-out of incandescent bulbs has exceptions and does not apply to halogens.

Another successful experiment has been dropping print delivery of the News & Observer in favor of a paid subscription to electronic delivery. I am thankful that electronic delivery of the N&O uses neither a regular website nor a PDF version. Instead, the N&O uses an electronic delivery system from Olive Software. Like PDF, it provides WYSIWYG delivery of each full page as formatted for print, including advertisements, but it's more convenient to use than the Acrobat Reader. Dropping print delivery to my house has eliminated about a foot of newsprint that went into the city's recycling stream every week. Moreover, electronic-only is less expensive than print, is easily accessed from anywhere I travel in the world, and has a delivery variant for tablets. The only disadvantage of changing to electronic delivery is that the plop of the print paper in my driveway doesn't wake me up at 5:00 am anymore. If you live in Raleigh or another city where the newspaper has adopted Olive Software, I recommend dropping print.