We need a light bulb to go off on energy

With the continuing emphasis on energy efficiency, the move toward CFL bulbs has intensified, and the final U.S. manufacturing plant that made incandescent bulbs closed last September


When Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, did a light bulb go off over his head? Or did the light bulb go off, Edison see it and say, “You know, I ought to make that…”? (This is one of those chicken-and-egg debates.)  

You have to sympathize with guys like DaVinci, Galileo and Newton. They have all of these great ideas throughout history, and not one of them benefitted from a light bulb going off over their head. Newton came closest when he got bopped by the apple.

And speaking of gravity – of the lack thereof – there is, floating around in the periphery of our lives, a debate over whether Americans will be able to choose the traditional incandescent light bulb, or whether they will be banned in 2014, as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The rhetorical debate has overwhelmed perhaps a question that no one has considered yet:

What will be our new symbol for a good idea?

With the continuing emphasis on energy efficiency, the move toward CFL bulbs has intensified, and the final U.S. manufacturing plant that made incandescent bulbs closed last September. With the U.S. ban less than three years away, it must have seemed like a good time to get out of the light bulb business.

Which is a shame on several fronts, but that certainly is the evolution of manufacturing, and of consumer products. There are not a lot of Hula Hoops being made these days. The Walkman is a thing of the past. If anyone can find a 2011 version of a Pet Rock, let me know. But you just know the people who gave us the Hula Hoop, the Walkman and the Pet Rock all had that ‘AHA!” moment of discovery.

Today, if you have a good idea and that light bulb goes off, it’s a pretty good bet someone is monitoring the bulb’s energy output and calculating whether it would be better to have that good idea later in the day when there is less stress on the electric grid and the idea would be available at a lower cost.

The way we look at everything we consume has changed. We are far more thoughtful about every bit of energy these days. For those who have yet to have the energy management light bulb go off over their heads, the cost is mounting and the time to benefit from the savings is slipping away. It has become a competitive advantage to manage your energy consumption effectively. That process now encompasses everything from occupany sensors in the far reaches of the plant to whether the CEO really needs that electric pencil sharpener.

Ford took that concept to the limit. According to the Website Greener Idea, they replaced 50,000 light fixtures so that they all run on the CFLs. They also are using more natural light in the plant. Now the greener world benefits, because it is estimated the company is taking 11,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions out of the environment. But Ford also saves $1.3 million in cash, and that makes Ford’s world greener in more ways than one.

As Mark Wylie of Cisco Systems notes in this month’s cover story, that management process also now includes not just the component parts of manufacturing, but the costs at every spot of the supply chain, and at every corner of the enterprise. You may care about energy management as a way to control costs; do your suppliers share that concern? And if they don’t, is it important enough to you to chance suppliers? As we begin to build intensity on the concept of energy management as a profit driver and not just an environmental one, perhaps that is the bigger question.

Energy management is a bright idea. Examining that idea at every stage of your operation is energy well-expended.

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