Is a Bulb Shortage In Our Future?

The changeover from incandescent to high-efficiency lighting products may have one notable side effect that the public is not anticipating – a shortage of supply of the new, more energy-efficient alternatives.

The current light bulb market – measured in units — is about 80 percent incandescent and about 20 percent high efficiency – with the latter almost completely dominated by CFL. Over a longer time frame, the conversion from incandescents to the longer-lasting high-efficiency bulbs (which will have about five times the life) will add, analysts say, no more than 15 percent more demand to the high-efficiency market — meaning the new market for bulbs will top out at about 35 percent of what it is today, in units.

This additional growth capacity of 15 percent of the market will be filled by the increasing consumer demand for emerging technologies — LED bulbs, higher efficiency halogen and, of course, ESL bulbs – and over time start displacing the CFL market as well.

However, the industry as a whole has no incentive to create manufacturing facilities for high efficiency bulbs capable of producing more than about 35 percent of the current units produced. Even though initially all bulbs have to be replaced, bulb capacity takes several years to build and then pay for itself — and it doesn’t make economic sense to gear up for a short-term problem.

This means that in 2014, when all bulbs, by mandate, have to be replaced, the industrial capacity for bulb manufacture will not be able to meet demand and there will be a bulb shortage. I am sure that this will not be as dramatic as an abrupt change because people will stock up on incandescent bulbs, existing factories will extend hours, etc., but nevertheless, this is a large hole to fill.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Thank you,
Scott Blackstone
CEO, Vu1® Corporation

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