Lighting pioneers wish the CFL a happy 25th birthday

This weekend marks 25 years since the first modern compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) flickered to life, dramatically changing the world of lighting.

That stick-shaped CFL was the first screw-in, energy-saving replacement for a standard incandescent light bulb that featured an integrated electronic ballast, claimed its developer Osram. It was eight inches (20cm) tall and consumed 20W of energy, and flickered to life on 17th April 1985 in Hannover, Germany.

"Developing the first CFL with an integrated electronic ballast was a phenomenal experience," recalled Alfred Wacker, one of the bulb's inventors. "Being able to save up to 75 per cent of the energy of a standard bulb was a revolution in lighting."

The first CFLs required heavy magnetic ballasts to operate, or only worked in specialised fixtures. Osram engineers created the modern CFL by miniaturising electronic ballast technology and integrating it into the light bulb itself.

Although the CFL was slow to gain acceptance in the late 1980s, when lamps were expensive and energy relatively cheap, its popularity soared as prices fell and users warmed to the idea of saving energy. By the first decade of the 21st century, authorities all around the world – including the EU - had brought in rules to phase out the older incandescent lamp.

"The CFL has only improved with age," said Alfred LaSpina, marketing manager for CFLs at Osram in the US. "Today, the CFL is half the size of our 1985 model, provides better light quality and lasts twice as long, while still delivering 75 percent energy savings."

In recent years though, the CFL has come under attack, both from newer LED technology and from research showing that some CFLs could be up to 40 per cent dimmer than their manufacturers claimed. Whether it will still be around to celebrate its 50th birthday remains to be seen.

Further information: 
UK transition to energy saving light bulbs is rocky

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