Ever since government regulations began phasing out the traditional light bulb in 2012, the once-simple visit to the lighting aisle has become an exercise in navigating a dizzying array of choices and terminologies, especially for new kinds of compact fluorescents and LEDs.
Now, those choices are about to become even more complicated. Two start-up companies are poised to begin selling bulbs that use entirely different technologies — one borrowed from heavy industry and the other from old-fashioned televisions — but meet the new energy standards.
Whether they can capture customers who remain stubbornly wedded to incandescent light is anybody's guess. But that both have come this far is an indication of how unsettled the consumer lighting market remains, despite years of promotion for the new energy-saving options.
"It's going to be a really long putt to try to replace the incandescent," said Mark Rea, director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "People hate change of any kind. We make light sources today that are better than incandescent by any metric at delivering the benefits you're expecting from lighting. But it's different."
Indeed, incandescent bulbs — whether leftover store inventory of standard lights or halogen models that meet the new regulations, which went fully into effect in January — outsell other types by far at big-box stores like Home Depot and Lowe's, lighting executives there say. In the last quarter of 2013, according to statistics from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, incandescent bulbs accounted for 65 percent of shipments from manufacturers, with the remainder consisting of mainly compact fluorescents.
Even as government officials, manufacturers and retailers focus their efforts on improving and marketing LED technology, researchers and entrepreneurs have been pursuing others, convinced that none of the options on the market offer consumers a close enough match to the familiar light quality at a low enough price. LED bulbs, for example, offer light quality that many experts say is equal to or better than the traditional incandescent bulbs, but their price — often $10 a bulb or less after starting out several years ago at about twice that — has scared off consumers.