Energy-Hogging Halogen Bulbs Subject of Redesign Effort

October 25, 1996

By Antonio Reaves

At 40 million and growing, halogen torchieres are now the biggest energy user in the lighting industry. A halogen torchiere is a floor lamp topped with a halogen-gas-filled bulb sitting in a bowl-shaped reflector that projects light towards the ceiling.

Part of the attraction of halogen torchieres are manufacturer's claims of energy efficiency. Researchers in the Energy & Environment Division's Lighting Laboratory have discovered, however, that these claims are often overstated and misleading. In fact, results of tests performed at the Lighting Laboratory raise questions as to whether halogen torchieres are even as energy-efficient as table lamps using incandescents.

A halogen torchiere left on an average of four hours a day probably costs a PG&E customer as much as $60 a year in electricity. This cost is about three times as much as table lamps using incandescent sources. Standard torchieres use high wattage halogen lamps in the 300-600 watt range. Table lamps, on the other hand, typically use incandescents in the 60-100 watt range, or compact fluorescents in the 18-26 watt range.

Halogen torchieres have other disadvantages. When they are dimmed, for example, power quality drops significantly, a concern to electric utilities since drops in power quality have to be made up by costly adjustments to the power grid. In addition, according to E Source, a company specializing in energy-efficiency information, both Underwriters' Laboratory and the Consumer Products Safety Commission are reviewing halogen torchieres for fire hazard potential. The torchieres have been banned in several U.S. college dormitories.

The hazards and inefficiencies of halogen torchieres have long been a concern for Lighting Laboratory researchers Michael Siminovitch and Erik Page. Recently, E Source estimated that the explosive growth of halogen torchiere use has essentially wiped out the energy savings of all compact fluorescent lighting. This spurred Siminovitch and Page to pursue design and testing of an energy-efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) version of the torchiere.

First, they redesigned a standard halogen torchiere to accept a 38-watt CFL and electronic ballast. Next, they tested both a standard halogen torchiere and their CFL torchiere prototype using the lab's photogoniometer, a device that measures the intensity and direction of light exiting from a lamp and fixture. Test results from the photogoniometer demonstrate that the 38-watt CFL torchiere prototype nearly produces a light output equivalent to a 300-watt halogen torchiere.

To hasten production of a marketable CFL torchiere, the Lighting Laboratory formed a consortium with General Electric and Emess Lighting, one of the largest portable fixtures manufacturers in the United States. The consortium hopes to market an energy-efficient CFL torchiere costing under $50 by next spring. Emess Lighting engineers are working exclusively on a 55-watt CFL torchiere prototype that will generate more light output than the 300-watt halogen torchiere.

Instead of dimming, the CFL torchieres will utilize two to three power levels. Power quality will be better for the CFL torchiere generally, and will remain steady at different power settings. The cooler operating temperatures of CFLs greatly reduce fire risk. Because they last last five times as long and are so much more energy-efficient, the new CFL torchiere could save PG&E customers more than $350 in electricity and lamp replacement costs over the life of the CFL (about seven years).

Page estimates that replacing all halogen torchieres in the United States with CFL torchieres could save electricity ratepayers more than $1.5 billion annually and reduce CO2 emissions by more than 11.5 million tons a year.

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