The new lights
Incandescent bulbs are being phased out in Australia, Brazil, Venezuela, Switzerland and the European Union, with Argentina, Russia, Canada and the U.S. following suit. The U.S. passed legislation in 2007 to increase the efficiency of light bulbs sold in the U.S. by 25 percent or more by 2014, and then by as much as 60 percent more by 2020.
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use one-fifth of the electricity of incandescents to generate the same amount of light, and they can last six to 10 times longer. But CFLs' cooler color and inability to be dimmed make them less desirable to some consumers. And they cost more, though you will save energy costs over the life of a bulb. Also, CFLs contain a tiny bit of mercury and must be disposed of properly.
LEDs (light emitting diodes) are highly efficient bulbs that don't generate heat like incandescents and can last five times longer than CFLs and 40 times longer than incandescents. Tiny LED bulbs have been around for years in specialized applications (such as stadium scoreboards), but lighting engineers got the idea to cluster them and use reflective casings to harness and concentrate their light for residential use. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) set up a special "solid-state" (LED) lighting R&D program to hasten the advance of the technology.
In comparing the total cost to run three different types of 60-watt equivalent bulbs for 50,000 hours (factoring in the cost of both the bulbs and electricity), the EarthEasy website found that LEDs would cost $95.95, CFLs $159.75 and incandescents $652.50. The 42 incandescent bulbs tested used up to 3,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity compared to 700 and 300 for CFLs and LEDs respectively. Despite the savings, most consumers are slow to spend $35 and up for an LED bulb (even though it will save more than $500 in the long run).
Seattle-based Vu1 sells highly efficient bulbs based on its Electron Stimulated Luminescence (ESL) technology, whereby accelerated electrons stimulate a phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb, making the surface glow. One of Vu1's 65-watt equivalent bulbs retails for under $20 and uses a similar amount of energy as an equivalent CFL. Also, top bulb makers recently released new versions of the incandescent bulb that use as much as a third less electricity to operate (complying with 2012's new federal standards) and are promising newer models still that will run on even less energy.