The compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) lightbulb, a much-discussed technology ‘round these parts circa 2010/2011, isn’t quite the tried and true token of household energy efficiency that it once was.

First, in 2012, came the announcement that the lingonberry-scented shelves of IKEA would be cleared of CFL bulbs as part of a company-wide push to go LED-only by 2016.

Now, a major manufacturer of CFL lightbulbs, General Electric Lighting, has announced that it will stop producing and selling the once-ubiquitous-ish bulbs in the U.S. by the end of this year. The announcement was made via a bittersweet, Dear John-style missive written to the CFL. It opens:

I find myself starting at the paper, not sure what to say. Maybe that’s the problem. Over the years, time has changed us; the light flickered but we kept our issues in the dark.

Like IKEA, the East Cleveland-based lighting division of the Thomas Edison-cofounded conglomerate is phasing out CFLs to further the advancement of LED bulbs as they continue to emerge as a more viable, in terms of both cost and lighting quality, incandescent alternative.

GE will continue to manufacturer and sell CFL bulbs in markets outside the U.S. including in Europe and Latin America.

“These LED lightbulbs are starting to replicate what the electrical filament has done for over 100 years — providing that look and warm ambience that people are used to,” explains John Strainic, GE Lighting’s chief operating officer of consumer and conventional lighting. “The time for LED is now.”

GE bids adieu to the CFL bulbBreaking up is hard to do .... (Image: GE)

Alongside Cree, Philips, Osram Sylvania and others, GE is at the front of the pack in the race to bring better, brighter and cheaper LEDs to the masses. The company currently offers a full range of LED lighting options for the home. In 2014, GE introduced the world’s “fist commercially viable connected bulb” with the Link LED.

Like the bulbs themselves, Americans were notoriously slow to warm up to CFLs when first introduced. Their curlicue shape, such a deviation from the smooth and familiar contours of A-type incandescent bulbs, freaked many folks — politicians, included — out while the presence of mercury in the bulbs, even though a trace amount, resulted in a whole lot of consumer hand-wringing. The mercury aspect also provided consumers — that is, consumers accustomed to throwing old lightbulbs straight in the trash — with a new challenge on the waste disposal front. And in addition to being weird-looking and requiring special attention when they burned out, early CFLs cast a harsh and incredibly unflattering light. Also, they weren't dimmable.

Basically, they were kind of the worst.

Yet CFLs eventually improved: the light quality got dramatically better and the mercury fears largely subsided as many Americans finally began to let go of the energy-guzzling incandescent bulb. Yet, as GE Reports points out, consumers were never truly in love with the CFL:

Few people will mourn the end of the CFL era. Introduced in the mid-1980s, CFLs enjoyed a spurt of popularity after Oprah Winfrey endorsed them in 2007. The bulbs briefly accounted for about 30 percent of U.S. light bulb sales. But the bulbs, which heat gas rather than a filament, were never really beloved, and last year accounted for just 15 percent of sales. Consumers complained CFL light was too harsh, didn’t work with dimmers, flickered and took too long to warm up and light a room.

And as CLFs struggled to gain greater acceptance, advances with LED lighting technology kicked into high gear. Once deemed wildly too expensive to serve as a proper replacement for on-their-way-out incandescent bulbs, LEDs — significantly more efficient and projecting light that more closely resembled that of an incandescent — experienced both technological advances and steady drops in price. Now only slightly more spendy than CFLs with price points that will likely continue to drop, the love affair with long-lasting LEDs has only gotten stronger.

And so, GE Lighting has decided to bid adieu to the CFL and completely lavish its attention on the LED.

As GE notes, LED bulbs represent 15 percent of the 1.7 billion lightbulbs sold each year in the U.S. The company, which plans to work closely with retailers such as Walmart to further the LED revolution, expects that figure to rise to 50 percent by 2020. GE predicts that sales of CFLs will steadily decline over the next four years.

GE’s breakup with the CFL is also a well-timed one considering the new, tougher Energy Star regulations for lighting to take effect next year. Many CFLs, as they stand today, won’t make the cut when it comes to the new lumen-per-watt standards and, furthermore, won't be eligible for federal rebates.

As with the conclusion of any long-term romance, there’s no avoiding hurt feelings. But GE has broken the news to the CFL in the most big-hearted way possible, noting that: “I’ll always remember that first time I saw your sweet spiral shape and the way you could light up a room.” However, technology, much like people, change and “ …. I can see clearly now that LED is my future, and my future couldn’t be better.”

Via [GE Reports], [New York Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Ahead of Valentine's Day, GE calls it quits with the CFL bulb
Don't let the door hit you on the way out, pigtail.