Molokai residents see the light; swap out incandescent bulbs for CFLs

| by John Johnson
Molokai residents see the light; swap out incandescent bulbs for CFLs

Energy efficiency is going viral on the tiny Hawaiian island of Molokai.

A community-based project sponsored by the Blue Planet Foundation motivated residents there to replace 36,000 incandescent lightbulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) in just three months.

Beginning in 2012, incandescent bulbs will start to be phased out in the United States. A fixture in homes for generations, the incandescent bulb will likely be unavailable on store shelves after 2014.

But Molokai residents have no worries. By engaging students and youth centers to get involved in the “Go Green and Carbon Clean” project, residents of Molokai got a jumpstart on replacing their soon-to-be-extinct bulbs. The 36,000-bulb swap-out will save residents more than $6 million in electricity charges over the next 10 years, the approximate life cycle for each new CFL bulb.

The entire campaign was executed with just $23,000 from fundraising. The group spent only $64 on a single newspaper advertisement. Most of the light bulbs were provided at a discounted cost by Pico Rivera, Calif.-based Feit Electric, a pioneer in the CFL segment. Trade-ins occurred at numerous locations throughout the island, such as the local drug store and community centers. Residents were allowed one CFL bulb for each incandescent bulb traded in.

“The campaign was completely viral and word of mouth,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director for the Blue Planet Foundation, a non-profit group founded in 2007 to help Hawaii replace its dependence on oil, coal and gas with clean, indigenous renewable energy.

“There wasn’t a significant marketing push. It was simply word of mouth, and at the end of three months we had exchanged 36,000 light bulbs.”

Molokai’s 7,200 residents are accustomed to paying high prices for fuel and utilities. Gasoline costs well over $4 a gallon, and residents pay in the area of 37 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, one of the highest rates in the United States. Most homes don’t require HVAC systems, so lighting typically makes up about 10-12 percent of the average electric utility bill. Hot water heating accounts for the majority of each electric bill.

Therefore, residents jumped at the opportunity to install CFLs and lower their utility bills, all the while helping the environment. The average home traded in 15 inefficient lightbulbs for CFLs.

The Energy Star CFL available for the project was a 13-watt bulb that is equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent bulb. If all bulbs were replaced with CFLs, homeowners would reduce energy usage by 75 percent, representing roughly a $15 savings each month.

Given Molokai’s high electricity rates and the average life of 10,000 hours for a CFL lightbulb, an average household could save more than $200 per bulb over the 10-year lifespan for the bulb. If all 90,000 incandescent lightbulbs on the island were exchanged, the Molokai community would save more than $18 million over 10 years.

While the ultimate goal of the ongoing program is to have 100 percent of Molokai’s homes install energy and cost-saving CFLs, a wider objective is to draw greater awareness to energy efficiency and help to make more Hawaii sustainable.

Given the results of a post bulb-swap survey, that appears to be happening. Sixty-eight percent of the homeowners involved in the swap-out say they are interested in pursuing further energy efficiency gains. The biggest potential lies with solar hot water heaters, currently in use by about only 25 percent of the homes on Molokai.

Mikulina believes that the program could easily be replicated throughout the United States.

“Whether it’s an island in the Pacific or a small town in Massachusetts, usually the same dynamics are at work, with strong social networks and peer pressure because your neighbor is doing it,” Mikulina said. “With our energy costs, the program’s finances made sense. It’s an attractive and fun way to get people to adopt energy efficiency.”

Topics: Lighting

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