OP-ED: GE’s move to discontinue CFLs is watershed moment for lighting industry

Here at Lighting Answers, we can’t help but raise a glass in a toast to GE Lighting’s decision to “say goodbye” to compact fluorescent bulbs. We’ve been singing the praises of LED technology for years and our light bulbs are “fully brightened” with the news from General Electric.

A GE compact fluorescent light bulb

A GE compact fluorescent light bulb

While CFL (and standard fluorescent) technology began the move to more energy-efficient lighting many years ago, it never fully became (in this journalist’s opinion) a truly beautiful light source. Fluorescent lamps became synonymous with cold white light and office buildings. While more natural, and warmer, shades of light were developed—especially with CFL bulbs—fluorescent light always felt artificial in some way. I can’t help but still mistake many “soft white” CFL bulbs as more pink in color than a true soft white light.

While I have to admit that I was personally excited by the introduction of CFL bulbs in the early 1990s, I always felt that certain “standard” features that seemed missing, like dimming, from fluorescent lamps. The industry worked through challenges like the long warm-up time and flicker, but CFL bulbs never seemed to be a “real solution”, they just seemed “good enough”. I could continue being critical, but aside from halogen bulbs, there really wasn’t another efficient lighting technology ready for mass adoption until LED lamps came around several years ago.

Oh yes, some might argue with my above statement. “But there are many other energy-efficient lighting technologies! What about arc lamps and high-pressure sodium and the like?!” I’m really focusing on the more common light bulbs that we’re all quite familiar with.

When I first saw LEDs that were brighter than little indicator lights on stereos and other electronics, I absolutely knew that they would become the dominant technology for the lighting world one day. But, how long would it be? At that time, in the 1990s, those bright LEDs were generally only found in some “advanced” flashlights and newer or retrofitted traffic signals. Before LEDs made their way into general illumination, they began to appear in stage lighting and architectural lighting applicaitons, greatly reducing heat output and energy consumption and offering a palette of rich, vivid colors not seen before.

Of course, the rest is history. The invention of blue LEDs paved the way for white LEDs, to go mainstream, with cooler white (more blue-like) LEDs emerging first. In the early part of this decade, warm white LED technology was perfected by Cree and other lighting manufacturers, leading to affordable LED-based light bulbs with pleasing light output.

While GE’s decision might seem like a voluntary move based purely on market conditions, it’s nicely timed with a new Energy Star specification due to land in 2017. The new specification makes it more difficult for CFL bulbs to qualify for the Energy Star designation. The Energy Star designation can help light bulbs qualify for rebates, along with being more attractive to consumers.

But whatever the exact reason for GE to phase out its CFL bulbs during 2016, we think it will send a strong signal to the rest of the industry that it’s time to lower the curtain on CFL light bulbs, and perhaps eventually on general fluorescent lamps as well. Consumers are now embracing LED-based lighting and our world is better for it with the energy savings and reduction in electricity generation.

As LEDs can be made into nearly any type of lamp or luminaire, the future is bright for new types of lighting fixtures and lamps that we’ve never seen before. And, with the roll-out of OLED-based lighting in the next several years, our world is going to be brilliantly and uniquely lit by energy-efficient, pleasing light like we’ve only seen in science-fiction.

Click here to read the official GE Lighting press release.