Two researchers at Sandia National Lab suggest their research shows, historically, that improvements in lighting from candles to gas lamps to electric bulbs have led to increased light consumption rather than lower overall energy use.

Jeff Tsao at Sandia. Click image for more info,

Back in 2010 Jeff Tsao at Sandia and Harry Saunders of The Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, Calif., authored an article titled “Solid-State Lighting: an Energy-Economics Perspective,” in the journal Energy Policy, predicted that the same phenomenon might apply to the light-emitting diode technology (LEDs) setting up to take over from the incandescent light bulb as the next more efficient light source.

The studies main point, shown by three centuries of experience, was that increased light availability leads to increased productivity. Workers are no longer forced to stop shortly after nightfall, as they had in primitive, candle-illuminated huts, but instead could continue producing through the night in homes, offices, factories, and even at outdoor locations not serviced by power lines.

The original paper drew attention to the increased productivity made possible by better lighting, rather than societal energy-savings mistakenly cited as a feature of improved lighting technologies.

Then misinterpretations of the original paper by two widely read international media outlets led to the confusion that Tsao and his co-authors had shown that lighting efficiency improvements were no improvements at all. This is because reductions in neither overall energy usage nor overall lighting costs would occur.  The ‘journalists’ missed by a mile.

The team writes in the new paper, titled “Rebound Effects for Lighting,” the 2010 article generated both interest and confusion in the popular press and in the blogosphere. “This communication seeks to clarify some of this confusion for the particular benefit of energy economists and energy policy specialists,” they wrote.

Tsao explains, “We were motivated to publish something, even if short, in Energy Policy, because that journal serves a community very different from that served by the Journal of Physics, where our original article was published. We thought that many in the energy economics community were still unaware of the work, and of the benefit – even when there is no direct energy-use savings – of energy efficiency and other welfare enhancing technologies.”

The abstract of the paper clears it up succinctly, “We clarify confusion about our 2010 Journal of Physics article on lighting. Over 3 centuries, increases in lighting energy efficiency have led to 100% rebound. Such gains create economic benefits despite the nominal absence of climate benefits. We argue that improved lighting technologies should be pursued vigorously.”

The other authors of the 2010 article included Sandia researchers Mike Coltrin, Jerry Simmons and Randy Creighton (retired). Harry Saunders is also associated with Decision Processes Inc. in Danville, Calif.

One has to wonder how journalists can miss so far.  It seems obvious that if the lights run only from dusk to dawn all year long – about half the total hours would be using power.  When fluorescents gained market the energy savings would more than keep the lights on 24 hours a day.  It’s a “can’t fail to save”, and LEDs will only take the saving further.

Compact fluorescents tackle off about 60% of the energy needed and LEDs will take that further.  The effect is more well lighted time to work or play, educate or recreate as the case may be for everyone.

Maybe the journalists didn’t want to pay for the earlier paper that had already been paid up by the taxpayers.

That’s why we’re here, trying to get to the meaning of the news.  Lower power requirements are a good thing when long-lived and very efficient.  Still, most of us will turn out the lights and use the darkest hours for rest

Yes, more efficient lighting will payoff.


1 Comment so far

  1. Matt Musson on August 7, 2012 7:50 AM

    The Hawthorn Study – 2012!

    Interestingly enough – I met a little old man at a retirement home here in Charlotte – who participated in the original Hawthorn Study. It’s a small world, but I would not want to have to paint it.

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