We are two years out from the federally mandated switch away from incandescent light bulbs. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that retail stores are already beginning work on the swap to new compact fluorescents (CFL's) or light-emitting diodes (LED's). According to the article, "the goal [of the switch] is to reduce energy usage by U.S. households. The United States is following in the footsteps of the European Union and Australia, which have already implemented tougher light bulb standards."

Which all sounds great in theory. Unfortunately, many consumers are thwarted by the higher cost of the CFL and LED bulbs (the AJC found a two-pack was about $11), too impatient to wait for the bulbs to warm up, or else they find the light harsh or strangely colored. According to the article, shoppers found some of the choices to be too blue, green, or yellow. They did find that the Philips EnergySaver Automatic On/Off light emitted a light output similar to the familiar incandescent bulbs. However, the article additionally reports that consumers are wary of CFL bulbs because they contain mercury and are hard to recycle when they burn out.

Because of these issues, the major retailers are leading the charge in encouraging manufacturers to improve and innovate their bulbs. The AJC quotes Jorge Fernandez, lighting buyer for Home Depot, who is interested in LED bulbs because they produce highly efficient and satisfying light. Fernandez is waiting for the price of these bulbs to go down, even while he encourages customers to remember that they will make up the price difference in energy savings.

Retailers need to worry now about the state of the bulb market in 2012 because it takes a long time for stores to supply their inventory. Fernandez has already begun planning for 2,000 U.S. Home Depot stores, which sell hundreds of millions of bulbs per year. They need to predict now what the trends might be in the industry so they can place high volume orders with their suppliers. Fernandez feels the LED's will “knock people's socks off,” when they give them a chance.

For now, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association fears people will start hoarding their old-fashioned Edison-style bulbs, says Government Relations Manager Craig Updyke. His group calls for more publicity about the upcoming switch so customers can be as prepared as retailers. In the meantime, the search for an inexpensive, innovative incandescent bulb that meets energy standards continues.

Also on MNN: Learn more about bulbs with our incandescent vs. CFL explainer.