The Hidden Energy Use of Fluorescent “Energy Saving” Bulbs


dim cfl bulb idea

Common fluorescent “energy saving” bulbs, the CFLs, use more energy than might first be apparent.

This is because of their so-called “power factor”.
This is not the same as their power rating – and does not show up on home electricity meters.
Typical CFLs have a power factor of around 0.55.
That means they – effectively – use twice the energy that you see,
although the actual effect on power plant and grid depends on other factors too.

As an online search of “CFL” and “power factor” will show,
it is a complex issue of current and voltage phase differences,
and industrial users – unlike domestic users – are penalized for it.

The overall point, however defined, is that it is an extra, hidden, resource waste and an extra cost for utility companies to deal with, that users have to pay for in some form or other.


As in the Wikipedia explanation:
“The significance of power factor lies in the fact that utility companies supply customers with volt-amperes, but bill them for watts. Power factors below 1.0 require a utility to generate more than the minimum volt-amperes necessary to supply the real power (watts). This increases generation and transmission costs”

Also see the US Dept of Energy example illustrated with a horse pulling a load!


To put into an overall context of light bulb usage, from The Deception behind the Arguments used to ban Light Bulbs and other Products from the Freedom Light Bulb website

8. “But at least home consumers will see great savings on their electricity meters!”

Politicians like to emphasize how consumers save in running costs from buying more expensive bulbs.
Common switchover examples only use main household lighting.
Not only is the main kitchen lighting often already a fluorescent tube, there are many light bulbs that are rarely used in 20+ (Europe) or 40+ (North America) lighting point households, giving minimal or no savings in such situations when using expensive bulbs, that might also get lost or break before use, or be seen to be “dud”.

The mentioned energy savings section ( includes why consumer savings are less than expected.
A longer rundown can be seen from onwards.

A general point, as covered by research references from the above link, is that if electricity effectively becomes cheaper to use, more will be used (and wasted).


More specifically, the so-called “power factor” (not the same as power rating) of ordinary “energy saving” fluorescent bulbs means that they in layman terms use twice the energy compared to what the CFL bulb or your meter says., with references, including Sylvania/Osram factsheet admission about the energy usage of common CFLs.
[Strictly speaking, about VoltAmperes, “apparent power”… utilities do not charge residential customers for apparent power, as they do industrial customers. However, apparent power requires additional current flowing across the grid, and thus creates distribution losses in transformers and power lines in the form of heat]
That is not all, since many cheap LEDs for domestic use also have power factor issues (and LEDs have their own issues affecting usage savings).
Electricity consumers of course have to pay for this “hidden cost” in higher bills – especially in large scale pushed transitions to the alternative bulbs, which also require alterations to the domestic grids.

Electrical Construction & Maintenance Magazine: The Hidden Costs of CFLs.

Not only do incandescents often usefully release around 95% of their energy as heat:
Proponents conveniently “forget” to add that CFLs and LEDs really waste energy as heat, CFLs 80% and LEDs 70%.
That is because the CFL/LED heat is internalized, to give a greater, unseen, unpredictable fire risk, particularly with CFLs (incandescent heat being more noticeable, to warn users).


With any electricity saving the electricity companies make less money, and they simply raise the electricity bills, or receive state subsidies (out of citizens pockets) to compensate, as already seen in several countries and states
( and onwards)

Heads we lose – Tails they win!



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