Incandescent light bulbs are now being phased out in many countries. In practice, the replacements are mostly compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). In many cases, the energy savings created by CFLs justify this change.

The used energy in incandescent light bulbs is turned almost entirely into heat. In many countries, heating is needed almost year round because of a cold climate. In some areas (the polar region), the sun shines through the night during the warmer months. Thus when heating isn't needed, neither is artificial light.

CFLs are much more complicated and cost more than incandescent bulbs, so I figure their production might be more taxing on the environment. Is it?

Are CFLs an ecological choice in polar regions? Are there other environmental benefits to them besides the lower energy consumption?

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    Define "ecological". CFLs may consume less energy, and last longer (caveat, they last longer mainly when left burning for prolonged periods rather than being switched all the time, which means using more energy) but they're full of hazmats, toxic substances
    – jwenting
    Apr 22, 2011 at 7:27
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    @jwenting: Of course CFLs have both pros and cons when it comes to environmental issues. In the situation I describe, I can't easily find any real benefits to using CFLs as opposed to incandescent bulbs. I'd like to hear about all the environmental benefits that I couldn't think of -- or that there are none. So when answering, use any definition of ecological that you can think of. Apr 22, 2011 at 17:23
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    Possible duplicate: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/2031/…
    – ProdigySim
    Apr 22, 2011 at 20:19
  • A complete answer to that question would fill a book, but this youtube video has a pretty detailed analysis of several of the more frequent arguments against fluorescent bulbs: youtube.com/watch?v=cA2E14uKyZY
    – user2093
    Apr 23, 2011 at 9:24
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    @Warren, yes, solarenergyfactsblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/…
    – Job
    Apr 26, 2011 at 3:02

2 Answers 2


Using electricity for heat is a bad idea if you get your electricity from burning fossil fuels. For example, the efficiency of a combined cycle natural gas turbine is at best around 60% (this is the best commonly used technology available). Natural gas space heaters are over 80% efficient (see e.g. here). So even if you have a use for the waste heat from your lighting, it's inefficient to generate heat from electricity.

If all your energy comes from nuclear power, wind, hydro, or solar, then it is reasonable to simply use incandescent bulbs. Otherwise, you should preferentially use fossil fuels for heating.

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    +1 Good analysis. I hadn't thought of that (though where I live we have nuclear power). Apr 22, 2011 at 15:24
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    It is interesting why effectiveness of gas heaters is not 100%? I always thought that spend energy = produced energy + dissipated heat. If only useful application is dissipate heat so where does that 20% go?
    – Andrey
    Apr 22, 2011 at 18:00
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    @Andrey - That 20% escapes outside. You can make it 100% by having a heater that does not vent to the outside, but then you have to worry about combustion byproducts like carbon monoxide.
    – Rex Kerr
    Apr 22, 2011 at 18:29
  • so you can burn it inside metal box and then use excessive CO2 to pump piston, so while expanding and cooling down it would produce energy that we could use to produce more heat... ok, that's became offtopic :)
    – Andrey
    Apr 22, 2011 at 18:32
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    -1 I don't see why an answer about the source of electricity answers a question about the eco-friendliness of CFL bulbs.
    – matt_black
    Oct 30, 2011 at 23:32

Arguably, incandescents are the green bulbs...

Efficient in making bright light using few components and earth minerals. Sustainable in being easily locally made as simple safe generic patent-expired products without needing long transport and without needing recycling. Long lasting up to 20 000 hours (eg for mining, when major manufacturers don't control the markets.

Re lifespan of incandescents, see Aerotech and other manufacturers also see Phoebus Cartel = the 1000 hr fixed standard by GE, Philips, Osram cartel eg http://ceolas.net/#phoebuspol

Also see answer on phase-out of incandescents saving energy or not

The manufacture process of complex fluorescents involves more (mercury) mining, component manufacture, product assembly, recycling etc (when not dumped leeching mercury) and more transport in all stages

Re Heat value of incandescents, Finnish, Canadian, UK etc references as per http://ceolas.net/#li6x

Incandescents don't burn coal and they don't give out CO2 or other emissions. Power plants might and might not. But even if they do, those power plants would mostly be burning the same coal anyway in their base level night output covering the low demand when incandescents are mainly used.

A 14 point referenced rundown of why switchover arguments make no sense http://freedomlightbulb.org/p/how-bans-are-wrongly-justified.html


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