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Bye-bye, incandescent bulb?

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If the move to dim the ubiquitous incandescent bulb is sweeping enough, it could represent a coup for efforts to curb climate change via greater energy efficiency, he and other experts say.

"Lighting is ... one of the areas where we can achieve significant energy gains," says Claudia Chandler of the California Energy Commission. "We expect incandescent to yield to other technologies as energy-efficiency standards get tougher."

The incandescent bulb is an energy hog. Just 5 percent of the electricity it uses goes to light the bulb; the other 95 percent is heat. Improving light output and lowering heat output would reduce demand for electricity from coal-fired power plants, which emit carbon dioxide. CO2, most climate scientists say, is the single largest contributor to global warming.

Incandescent bulbs are burning in most of the 3 billion to 4 billion screw-in sockets in US homes and businesses – swallowing about 10 percent of all US electricity use, the US Department of Energy reports. Retail giant Wal-Mart has said it wants to sell 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) by 2008.

If all homes and businesses used bulbs that are 35 to 75 percent more efficient – such as CFLs and advanced halogen lamps – they would collectively save almost $10 billion a year in energy bills. The switch would also cut energy demand enough to eliminate the need to build dozens of coal-fired power plants, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. That would prevent tens of millions of tons of carbon-dioxide emissions every year for decades, and would help stabilize the climate, says NRDC.

"We should no longer be selling the least-efficient light bulb," says Noah Horowitz, a NRDC senior scientist. "We have the technology today."

But the venerable incandescent may have life in it yet. General Electric Co. said Friday that by 2010 it would make an incandescent bulb twice as efficient as today's – and by 2012 produce one that is four times more efficient, on par with CFLs.

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