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A Student Research Project: Myth And Facts On Inrush Power Consumption And Mercury Content Of Incandescent Versus Compact Fluorescent Lights

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Learning about Power Systems and Power Consumption

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.116.1 - 14.116.10



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Paper Authors


Mike Hay University of Northern Iowa

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Mr. Mike Hay holds a BT in Industrial Technology/Mechanical Design from the University of Northern Iowa and an MA in Industrial Technology from the University of Northern Iowa. Mr. Hay has over 30 years of professional work experience in various Engineering positions and is listed on seven US patents. His graduate research was in planning optimum small-scale wind-electric systems. He has worked on several renewable energy and electric vehicle projects as well.

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Recayi 'Reg' Pecen

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Student Research Project – Myth and Facts on inrush power consumption and mercury content of incandescent versus compact fluorescent lights

Abstract Green is now a new buzz word for many industries as well as on university campuses. The right amount and quality of light needed for the application is the first consideration in any lighting project. For over thirty years that authors know of, there have been stories - possibly "urban legends" - that someone has calculated that fluorescent lights consume more power in start-up than it takes to run them for up to an hour. For one able to understand the implications of these statements, they are absurd. However the stories and myths have circulated for many years. One way to combat these stories is to conduct a well-constructed experimental study to measure and compare the actual power consumed during the starting phase of these devices compared to steady state operation after the inrush has occurred, then publish the results appropriately.

The power consumed should be compared for incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs, T8 fluorescent tubes and possibly comparable (Light Emitting Diode) LED devices. Voltage and current, and thus power, would be measured during starting and running phases for each type of device. From that data, the time that it is more economical to leave the lights on or turn them off can be calculated to a fraction of a second for each type of device. A research team consisting of graduate and undergraduate students has investigated power consumption amount for incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs during the inrush operation.

This paper reports a number of case studies on inrush power consumption of incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs. It also includes a brief study of another misconception – mercury content and environmental impacts. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes that a typical compact fluorescent light (CFL) over the course of its life will put less mercury in to the environment than using incandescent light to produce equivalent lighting. Since coal is currently a major source of energy and a byproduct of its burning is mercury, therefore by requiring more energy to operate use of incandescent bulbs, is actually responsible for releasing more mercury into the environment than using CFL bulbs. It is expected that this student project results may help to clear the misconceptions about using more CFLs in our daily lives of residential and commercial lighting needs. This specific student project is adopted as a laboratory activity for 330:166g Advanced Electrical Power Systems class in the EET program.

Inrush power issues in lighting electrical systems

As the world experiences the lack of sustainable energy resources and steadily increasing demand on energy, the need for energy savings as well as the reduction of purchase cost and maintenance of all electric systems has become imperative. One of the potential areas of energy conservation is the efficient lighting practices in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Since electricity is a relatively expensive energy source, lighting systems cost more to operate than other building energy systems, such as heating, that use natural gas or other fossil fuels. The business sector of the economy, citizens and companies producing lighting systems of all kinds are involved in this effort. According to Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance1 (MEEA), lighting constitute approximately 30% of the energy use in US commercial buildings

Hay, M., & Pecen, R. R. (2009, June), A Student Research Project: Myth And Facts On Inrush Power Consumption And Mercury Content Of Incandescent Versus Compact Fluorescent Lights Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5821

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015