One More Energy Story, If You Please

 

We’ve already had a lot of energy talk on Ricochet this week, but this nugget was too good not to pass along. From the Washington Post:

The U.S. government last year announced a $10 million award, dubbed the “L Prize,” for any manufacturer that could create a “green” but affordable light bulb.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the prize would spur industry to offer the costly bulbs, known as LEDs, at prices “affordable for American families.” There was also a “Buy America” component. Portions of the bulb would have to be made in the United States.

Now the winning bulb is on the market.

The price is $50.

Wait, what? The $50 bulb was the winner? What lost? A bulb powered by the hoofbeats of unicorns?

Newt Gingrich has been big on this idea of the federal government using prizes to spur innovation for several years (he took the inspiration largely from the X Prize Foundation here in the Los Angeles area). I’m generally sympathetic insofar as they reward outcomes instead of process (in stark contrast to a lot of government research funding). That being said, there’s one perhaps insuperable difficulty, as this instance proves: there’s still a government bureaucrat picking a winner at the end of the process.

There are 21 comments.

  1. tabula rasa Member

    This will rejuvenate the second mortgage industry as Americans begin to buy these dogs.

    • #1
    • March 9, 2012, at 11:16 AM PDT
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  2. David Williamson Inactive

    I’m waiting for the price to come down, as it has with all other electronics – amazingly, this happens without Federal Government prizes.

    I think it used to be called Capitalism.

    • #2
    • March 9, 2012, at 11:21 AM PDT
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  3. Duane Oyen Member

    There is always a production learning curve, and prices should decline over time. But they won’t get near the target price without competition.

    And the need is for 100 watt-plus equivalent, not 60. 13 watt CFLs are already pretty cheap.

    • #3
    • March 9, 2012, at 11:34 AM PDT
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  4. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Is it the liquid cooled LED bulb?

    • #4
    • March 9, 2012, at 11:38 AM PDT
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  5. Johnny Dubya Inactive

    They should offer a $10 million dollar prize to the federal government bureaucracy that is most efficient at wasting taxpayer dollars. That would be so “meta”. They could call it the F-Prize.

    • #5
    • March 9, 2012, at 11:46 AM PDT
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  6. ctlaw Coolidge

    “Newt Gingrich has been big on this idea of the federal government using prizes to spur innovation for several years (he took the inspiration largely from the X Prize Foundation here in the Los Angeles area). ”

    That’s data point number 6 in the diagnosis of Newt as clinically insane, clinically stupid, or clinically cynical.

    Does he believe that there is not already a sufficient market incentive to develop (and patent) such a thing?

    IMHO, Newt and his ilk are just big government Republicans who want to ride the backs of private industry to champion their socialism over the more marxist form of the Democrats’ while taking credit for things that would have been produced anyway.

    He and Ron Paul are the Republican candidates who most emphatically claim historic knowledge of the Constitution. Perhaps Paul should remind Newt about Article I, Section 8, Clause 8: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Nothing here about prizes.

    • #6
    • March 9, 2012, at 11:56 AM PDT
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  7. James Lileks Contributor

    How many governments does it take to screw up a lightbulb?

    One.

    • #7
    • March 9, 2012, at 11:57 AM PDT
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  8. raycon and lindacon Inactive

    C.U Douglas is correct at the moment. LED lights are expensive and point source instruments. The television industry, which consumes vast amounts of electricity for lighting, both on the stage and on location have been driving the development of “light panels” which are far superior to incandescent “quartz” controlled temperature fixtures.

    For many location designs where accommodation of news and interview cameras are needed, we no longer have to install large power panels and secondary air conditioning systems.

    Now many TV stages are using LED panels, and the price of the instruments is more than covered by the power distribution and HVAC savings. Even for home use, I am using a 19W LED replacement bulb here in my office. It is color accurate and is a flood variety.

    The whole “green prize”, is, of course, a boondoggle and a taxpayer ripoff. But the LED, as in the lighting package in most new cars, is way into the successful development stage. All done on the consumers dime, and the capitalists enterprise. 

    Time to hijack a successful development effort now, so the Feral government can claim it as their own idea.

    • #8
    • March 10, 2012, at 1:04 AM PDT
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  9. raycon and lindacon Inactive
    Stuart Creque
    The King Prawn: Is it the liquid cooled LED bulb? · 40 minutes ago

    That’s fascinating. Why is a bulb that draws 1/4 the current just as hot as the 40-W bulb it replaces? Still, seems like a good design, if they can bring the price down and the lumens up. · 24 minutes ago

    Lumens are way up and prices are getting into the realistic area for new installations where HVAC and power distribution costs can be reduced. The LED is practical right now, just not for every application, and probably never will be. But it is already advancing the state of the art.

    Regarding the heat sink at the base of the fixture, it conveys the heat away from the LED cluster. Note, however, that the lens, that is the face of the lamp, is cool compared to incandescent.

    Great idea, and the Feral government has had nothing to do with it except for the current hijacking attempt.

    • #9
    • March 10, 2012, at 1:09 AM PDT
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  10. C. U. Douglas Thatcher

    LED technology is improving. For example, my department often recommends LED lighting for exterior applications. The outdoor LED has advanced quickly — and most notably while the federal government was fawning over CFLs. A roadway LED fixtures cost is still more expensive than a typical, but now we’re looking at two or three times as expensive. That’s enough where I can get a client to nod and say, “That’s workable.”

    • #10
    • March 10, 2012, at 1:31 AM PDT
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  11. Valiuth Member
    Troy Senik, Ed.: I’m generally sympathetic insofar as they reward outcomes instead of process (in stark contrast to a lot of government research funding). 

    But Troy, research is a process. You can’t know the out come of research before you do it, by definition. Thus you can not fund research with the expectation of certain results. The main problems with government research is not that it funds a process, it is that great chunks of the money for it is lost to Universities for non-research purposes. You’d get more bang for your buck if you took out the University from the equation, which adds little in research and a lot in overhead. 

    • #11
    • March 10, 2012, at 1:50 AM PDT
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  12. raycon and lindacon Inactive

    Regarding the prize idea. When politicians had less power, and therefore were less corrupt, prizes were a great idea. Thomas Edison was financed largely by prize money.

    Nowadays, however, I would not even trust Thomas Edison or Thomas Aquinas to be uncorrupted by the process. Dump the prize idea entirely. If we REALLY wan successful innovation, get out of the way of people with ideas and drive, and then don’t punish them when they succeed.

    • #12
    • March 10, 2012, at 1:55 AM PDT
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  13. flownover Inactive

    In other news, the US government today committed four billion dollars to equip all government buildings with the new $50 light bulb.

    The spokesman, dressed in an eleven million dollar suit, made the announcement from Detroit.

    • #13
    • March 10, 2012, at 4:06 AM PDT
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  14. Larry3435 Member

    The $50 light bulb really is green, if by green you mean that the person who buys them can’t afford to fill up his gas tank.

    • #14
    • March 10, 2012, at 5:57 AM PDT
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  15. David Foster Member

    Prizes may make sense in some situations…but given the cost to Philips of putting this product into production and distribution, $10 million is probably a pretty trivial number. It’s hard to believe that the prize influenced the decision, unless Philips is counting on a lot of marketing leverage from the publicity, which seems unlikely.

    • #15
    • March 10, 2012, at 8:17 AM PDT
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  16. John Murdoch Inactive

    I think you will find that the Energy Department prize is backed up by a hemi-demi-semi-commitment to require their use in federal buildings. 

    • #16
    • March 10, 2012, at 9:18 AM PDT
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  17. C. U. Douglas Thatcher

    Here’s the thing, speaking as a Man on the Inside:

    LED is just not well designed for interiors yet. It’s the nature of the light. Your typical incandescent, fluorescent, or high intensity discharge bulb throws light in every direction, and light fixture design centers on sending that light where it’s needed. LEDs are focused, point-directional lights and so even though they are incredibly efficient, you don’t get even distribution of light as you would with any other lamp.

    At present, the cost-to-quality of LED light fixtures is so off that clients just don’t want to deal with them, and I don’t blame them. If you say, “Hey! This light costs 10 times as much as your usual and works a fourth as well …” Wel, people get a bit testy.

    Now industries keep designing around it, and will find uses for it, because it is an incredibly efficient light source. The light just isn’t where it needs to be yet. No amount of governmental wishful thinking will make it so.

    • #17
    • March 10, 2012, at 12:03 PM PDT
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  18. ctlaw Coolidge

    Perhaps we’re underestimating Newt.

    He would scold us for thinking inside the box and then propose a prize for the first person to come up with a gene therapy that would give humans night vision and thereby eliminate the need for lightbulbs.

    • #18
    • March 10, 2012, at 12:11 PM PDT
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  19. George Savage Contributor

    Our betters in the Imperial City have decreed that $0.49 incandescent light-bulbs are “wasteful.” We must instead purchase flickering slow-to-warm-up $4 compact fluorescents. And when we complain, we are gifted the fifty-buck bulb of tomorrow.

    Tell me again about the evil 1 percenters and their toxic loathing of the common man and woman.

    • #19
    • March 10, 2012, at 12:29 PM PDT
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  20. C. U. Douglas Thatcher

    Sadly, out of all the fluorescent lights out there, CFLs have the worst operation. They don’t last as long as a typical fluorescent tube, and deliver less light. In lighting design, I typically use those for hallways. Definitely not for a work place or place of residency.

    Sorry everyone. I think I’m going a bit much into inside baseball.

    • #20
    • March 10, 2012, at 12:35 PM PDT
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  21. Stuart Creque Member
    The King Prawn: Is it the liquid cooled LED bulb? · 40 minutes ago

    That’s fascinating. Why is a bulb that draws 1/4 the current just as hot as the 40-W bulb it replaces? Still, seems like a good design, if they can bring the price down and the lumens up.

    • #21
    • March 10, 2012, at 12:40 PM PDT
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