VIEWS: Government Policy Spurs Innovation – The Case of the Incandescent Bulb

Dispatch from SSC Intern Paul Turaew

Two years ago, Congress mandated new energy efficient standards that would require light bulbs to produce more light for less energy by 2012. No one thought that the incandescent bulb (originally invented by Thomas Edison) would survive – fluorescent bulbs were thought to become the new standard. This may not prove to be the case.

Thanks primarily to the tougher standards set forth by the government; incandescent bulb producing companies are scrambling to better technology in order to save their market shares. The problem with incandescent is that they produce light inefficiently - converting much of the energy they take in to heat. Thanks to government mandated standards, companies now have a reason to spend money on R & D.

One of these new “energy saver” 70 watt bulbs produces as much light as a 100 watt bulb and can last three times as long. This is progress. Currently, despite their higher costs and still less-efficient status when compared to fluorescents, these new bulbs are being sold at major retailers across the country. A light bulb is not necessarily just another light bulb. Those who purchase the new incandescent bulbs do pay more because they prefer their color, quicker start up times and ability to dim.

The new incandescent manufactures do not need to succeed for the public to benefit. What is crystal clear is the positive impact that responsible government policy (with or without a corresponding handout) can have - it produces innovation, spurs market growth, enhances competition and improves our standard of living. So long as all the bulbs being produced in 2012 meet the government energy efficiency guidelines – we win. In the meantime, the new standards help ensure our bulb manufacturers do not grow lazy and remain stagnant, competition will be enhanced among the various manufactures that will help drive price down for consumers.

Read more about the energy-saving bulbs here.