GE "ship in a bottle" CFL reinvents the compact flourescent lightbulb

Posted by: Adam Aston on December 19, 2008

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) have improved so much in the past few years. Yet much as I know about how wasteful old-school incandescents are, I’m one of those folks who has only grudgingly changed over.

It’s about the quality of light, mostly. Maybe it’s because I live in NYC’s urban canyons where I don’t get to see the sky as much as I’d like. I’m just not eager to fill my living spaces with the harsh, cold light of first-generation CFLs.

There are other problems, too. Many CFLs are a bit big bigger than the bulbs they replace, and don’t fit in some ceiling fixtures or lamps. And I’ve found CFLs can take longer than to fully warm up, so if you’re using them in a room you zip and out of — say a bathroom or quick kitchen stop — it can mean you don’t get full light before you turn them off again.

All the same, I’ve kept an eye on CFLs in recent few years, watching for when they get good enough to end my ambivalence. CFLs are getting smaller, faster to start, and with better light quality so fast that it seems every few months my Home Depot is showing something better, and closer to my ideal.

With it’s latest entry, GE may have answered my lingering complaints. I’ve been trying out one their Energy Smart CFLs for the past few days and have found it to be the closet option yet to an old-school incandescent bulb. Most obvious is the form factor: GE has shrunk the control electronics that typically make up a clunky base in most of today’s CFLs such that it all fits snugly in the confines of a standard bulb shape. The tell-tail spiral glass tubing is invisible too, tucked behind a regular-looking frosted glass bulb that’s manufactured, according to the engineer in the company video below, “like building a ship in a bottle.” The bulb fires up to full brightness instantly and is very close to the warm white of an old fashioned bulb.

The bulbs go on sale at Target on Dec 28 and at Sam’s Club and Walmart and other retail outlets by next Earthday, around April 22.

Check out a bit more about how this works below:

Reader Comments

Jonathan chelseagreen.com

December 20, 2008 9:27 PM

I don't get why they have to have frosted glass around them. After all, the fluorescent tube itself is frosted. The only reason would seem to be "aesthetic"--to hide the fact that it is a fluorescent bulb. That's something that's never made any sense to me. Sure, I understand that some people (but not all!) dislike the quality of traditional fluorescent bulbs, but if the light quality now matches incandescent, the problem is solved. Swirly fluorescent bulbs actually look pretty dang cool to me--I want to see the swirl, not have it hidden behind a frosted glass casing. But more importantly, I fear that the frosting will reduce the amount of light emerging from the thing, in other words, that this foolish aesthetic will reduce the efficiency of a bulb whose existence is based on the premise of the need for improved efficiency. Personally, I'd really rather not lose even a couple watts-worth of usable light to some fool's notion of what a light bulb is supposed to look like.

PS: Next, it would be nice if GE could engineer a truly high-quality, dimmable compact fluorescent. I've looked for some online, but all that I've come across have always come with tons of negative reviews from users, usually regarding lots of noise and a too-small range of dimmability.

Adam Aston at BusinessWeek

December 22, 2008 10:54 AM

Jonathan, I guess it's all about "swirly" aesthetics. I don't like the swirl, perhaps for the association I formed early-on that the shape equals harsh, low grade light. That's changing, but I guess the conventionally shaped bulb is just enough to make me break my negative association with the form. On dimmables, that's a bit a holy grail for the bulb makers. It's hard to do, I hazily recall, because the plasma that generates the light in a CFL has to have a minimum voltage to fluoresce, so if the voltage falls, the light just goes off or flickers weakly. Might have to wait for LEDs or OLEDs to fill that niche.

Sam Dean

January 22, 2009 11:04 AM

Why is a person who has a notion of what a light bulb looks like a "fool"?

Douglas Clements

March 9, 2009 1:33 PM

I'm with Johnathon on the aesthetics remark for the home. However, businesses waste too much energy and usually will prefer to please the customer rather than save a few bucks. For my company though, this is a life saver. Going from a 300W incandescent to a 28W CFL will be great for all 200 bulbs on our entertainment facility. The ceiling is too high for the spiral shaped bulbs because their shape makes it impossible not to break with a bulb retriever. This design will improve efficiency and make it very possible to grab.

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About

BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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