We take electricity and gas for granted. They power our every-day life. Our houses, offices, hair salons, dental practices, car dealerships, hotels, bars restaurants are all powered by the magnificent power of the electrical current and gas.
The Business of Electricity
Electricity, and the light bulb specifically, are some of the greatest innovations of the 19th century. The arrival of the internet is elementary compared to the power unleashed by a few clever folks when the first light bulb was switched on. Today, we are all concerned with energy efficiency. Businesses want electricity and gas in a way that is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. At the same time, households are keen to spend less on changing light bulbs. As the old joke goes – “How many …. does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
It is hard to imagine today that for most of human history the world did not benefit from electricity or gas usage. In fact, most people had a different relationship with darkness and light in the past than we do today. When you walk into a Cathedral or a Church, particularly the really old ones, you often think that it is very dark inside. These would have been some of the brightest indoor places you could find around because of magnificent windows as well a ceiling level lighting.
The Business of Electricity and the lightbulb
How did we get from darkness to light? The history of the light bulb innovation is fascinating. The business of energy, energy efficiency, the price we pay today to replace the lightbulbs can all be traced to that period of time.
Those who remember their history would likely associate the light bulb with Thomas Edison. Indeed, Mr. Edison got the lightbulb patent and had a lot to do with commercialising the lightbulb innovation, but many came before him. He stood on the proverbial shoulders of giants.
Alessandro Volta (that of the electricity ‘volt’) built the first electricity-generating plate called the voltaic pile in 1800. Amazingly part of the apparatus was cardboard dipped in saltwater. He used copper wire to conduct electricity. The core ingredients were Zinc and Copper, that eventually would give birth to a modern battery. The Volta battery is considered to be the first demonstration of incandescent light generation. Volta made a magnificent and grand presentation of his innovation at the Royal Society in London.
Electricity Business in the UK
An Englishman by the name of Humphry Davy built the first electric lamp (that is right folks, it was not Thomas Edison). He did it in 1802- way before Mr Edison was kicking about. The only problem with Mr Davy’s innovation was that is was not of much use at generating regular lighting. It was not very bright and burned out exceptionally quickly.
The next attempt came from an Englishman, with an appropriately sounding French name, Warren de la Rue. He created a lightbulb using platinum- one of the most expensive materials one could possibly use. It was incredibly expensive to build and was a commercial failure.
Another Englishman, William Staite attempted to improve on Mr. Davy’s design with rather expensive batteries to power the lamp for longer. Again, the attempt to commercialise the light bulb did not succeed.
There are white swans and there are black swans. Then there is an inventor called Joseph Swan. He revisited the platinum-based lamps and decided to replace platinum with carbonized paper filaments. The problem was that, yet again, the light bulb could not generate light for long enough. Mr. Swan presented his discovery in Newcastle but did not get very far, even after getting a UK patent.
The Business of Electricity gets serious with a lightbulb
Thomas Edison realised that there must be a way to build a cheaper lightbulb. Edison, just like Elon Musk or Bill Gates, realised that he could improve on the work of others. The trick was to find a cheaper material for the lamp. He was the first to come up with a commercially promising solution. It happened in Menlo Park in 1879. It was New Year’s eve. Edison’s lightbulb was visible for over 20 miles. The modern electricity era was born. Edison predicted that in the future electricity would be so cheap that ‘only the rich will burn candles”.
Edison tested literally hundreds of materials (to substitute for platinum etc…). In the end, it was a thin carbon strip (filament) that did the trick. By 1881, a standard light bulb took its shape and has barely changed since. The Edison bulb could now be screwed into an electrical socket and connected to the on/off switches.
Amazingly, the original light bulbs could last a very long time. The most famous lightbulb has been on for 119 years in Livermore, California. You can see it here. In the 21st century, we are deeply concerned with the environment. We are encouraged to buy lightbulbs that last years. Manufacturers hail new longevity records. Yet, the original design was pretty long. The lightbulb gave birth to another modern phenomenon, the planned obsolescence. That means companies want you to constantly buy new products and deliberately design new products in a way that they stop working after a while. That story is for another blog.
UK Business Renewable energy, long-lasting lightbulbs
Today, we are all keen to be green. Renewable energy is all the rage. In the UK, business renewable electricity is now often cheaper than traditional energy. In 2019 and 2020, the majority of the UK energy production came from renewable sources for extended periods of time.
The lightbulb remains at the centre of the energy efficiency drive. Longer lasting and more energy-efficient light bulbs can save a lot of money for businesses and households that depend on electricity.
Cheaper business electricity with more efficient lightbulbs
Here is a brief refresher on the different types of lightbulbs that you can use to save business electricity and energy costs.
|Halogen Incandescents||Halogen incandescent lamps use gas to increase bulb efficiency. You can get many shapes and colours. They can be used with dimmers. Halogens are no longer the most efficient option.|
|CFL- Compact fluorescent lamps||CFLs are simplified versions of the long tube fluorescent lights. These lamps use less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs. CFLs can start saving you money within 9-months of installation according to the US department of energy. CFLs use approximately 25% of the energy and lasts 10 times more than traditional incandescent lightbulbs. A CFL uses approximately a third of the energy of a halogen incandescent.|
|LEDs||LEDs are the closest bulbs to computers. They are solid-state lights. LEDs use semiconductors to convert electricity into light. LEDs became popular as indicators and traffic lights. Today they are used in households and businesses across the world. LEDs use up to 25% energy and last up to 25 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs use 25%–30% of the energy and last 8 to 25 times longer than halogen incandescents.|
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