The electron stimulated luminescence (ESL) lightbulb is a serious contender to replace incandescent bulbs in coming years. Our writer tests the R-30 model to see what the fuss is all about.
Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services
Still using incandescent lightbulbs? Don't get too used to them. According to Earth 911
, those old-fashioned, energy-zapping lightbulbs will be phased out by 2014 as a result of the CLEAN Energy Act. Their elimination will save billions in energy costs.
I, for one, am dreading the day when incandescent bulbs are no longer sold in the U.S. In fact, I'm thinking about buying a closet full of them. Why? Well, currently the most feasible alternatives to "regular" lightbulbs are compact flourescent lightbulbs (CFLs)
and light-emitting diode lightbulbs (LEDs). The thought of having to light my home with CFLs and LEDs for the rest of my days (and nights) makes me shudder.
In late 2010, good news surfaced for me and for others with the same mindset. Vu1 Coporation
(pronounced "view one"), a New York City-based company, is shipping its first electron stimulated luminescence -- or ESL -- lightbulbs to market in early 2011.
With this new type of energy-saving bulb
, electrons are fired at a phosphor coating at the front of the bulb, causing it to glow brightly. If all goes according to plan, ESL bulbs will replace incandescent bulbs in the years ahead.
But ESL bulbs sound too good to be true: The company claims that the light emitted by an ESL bulb is very similar to that of a traditional incandescent bulb (poor light quality is the biggest drawback of CFLs and LEDs). According to Vu1 director Bill Smith, ESLs are super-efficient at conserving energy and will last for at least 10,000 hours. Unlike CFLs, ESL bulbs are made without mercury
, a substance that is toxic enough to warrant all sorts of EPA cautions about fluorescent bulb breakage (evacuate the room first!) and bulb disposal (treat it as hazardous waste!).
Vu1 recently sent me its R-30 type lightbulb
The ESL bulb glows with a warm, incandescent-like light. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services
-- the type used in recessed lighting fixtures
-- to evaluate. Although still a test unit, the bulb was close to being a final product; the one I tried is slightly longer than the final version.
The bulb had its pros and its cons. On the bright side, the light was very much like an incandescent (as promised), with the warmth I miss in whiter bulbs. There was none of the annoying vibration (or "flicker")
that I sometimes sense with fluorescent lights. And unlike many fluorescents, the bulb was fully dimmable.
And then there were the drawbacks. The bulb was promoted as "instant-on," but it had a slight delay before reaching full illumination. And even in its final incarnation, the bulb is longer and heavier that equivalent R-30 type bulbs. This means that it may protrude from some fixtures. In track-lighting fixtures, its weight may cause the bulb to "lean" and rest against the baffle.
Furthermore, the base of the lightbulb is quite large: about 2 1/4 inches in diameter versus 1 3/4 inches for a typical CFL bulb made for recessed fixtures. The larger ESL bulb base does not fit in all older fixtures (including mine, where bulb height adjustment clips get in the way). They do, however, fit in newer vintage cans -- the kind in which bulb height adjustment is done with a wingnut. If your fixtures are older, check to be sure the Vu1 bulbs will fit before purchasing them.
As for cost, the ESL bulbs is less expensive ($20) than an equivalent LED bulb ($75) but twice as much as an equivalent R-30 CFL bulb ($10).
The ESL bulb is significantly longer and heavier than incandescent and CFL bulbs. In addition, the large diameter base may preclude its use in some fixtures. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services
Want to test out an ESL for yourself? The R-30 ESL lightbulb can be ordered from the company's website. Smith says they will be available at retail outlets in the near future. Even better, the A-19 ESL bulb -- a direct replacement for the ubiquitous Edison style incandescent bulb -- will be available by mid-year, according to Smith.
So do you think ESL light bulbs will be the light of future? And what are your thoughts on CFL and LED bulbs? Let us know in the comments below!