The End of the Lightbulb as We Know It

New energy standards paving the way for compact fluorescent bulbs.

ByABC News
September 19, 2010, 5:53 PM

Sept. 19, 2010 -- The bright idea that illuminated the world is reaching a less-than-glowing end.

On September 24, General Electric will close its lamp plant in Winchester, Virginia. It's the company's last U.S. factory producing plain, old incandescent light bulbs.

New energy standards will phase out the old bulbs by 2014, and eventually they'll be all but banned in this country. Millions of Americans will be forced to switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFL's, most of which are made overseas.

Seems the invention Thomas Edison perfected and patented 130 years ago is flickering and fading. What would the famous inventor think about that?

"I think Edison would have had two reactions," said Paul Isreal, a professor at Rutgers University who has devoted his life to studying Edison. "I think on the one hand he would have been disappointed that we were losing the incandescent light as the primary lighting in the United States. "

"On the other hand, Edison was always somebody that was looking forward," Isreal added.

The incandescent bulb might be Edison's most important innovation. Notorious for getting by on just a few hours sleep, he wanted to transform the world into a 24-hour culture by lighting up the night. His bulb also became the enduring symbol of creative thinking.

"It was such a revolutionary technology, and that became a symbol of creativity. The light bulb going off over your head that really is representing Edison and his accomplishment," Isreal said.

But the old, incandescent bulb is inefficient. Compact fluorescents use nearly 75 percent less energy -- and last 10 times longer.

And even CFL's could soon be obsolete. The future is in low voltage light emitting diodes, or LEDs. The LED bulbs are expensive --they can cost up to $100 each -- but they barely use any energy and can last 20 years. And they don't need a traditional fixture in order to work.

Imagine your entire wall as a light source. Installing LED panels can transform your coffee table, or even your entire floor, into a high-tech light fixture. It's the future of mood lighting.