Power-hungry incandescent bulbs have been glowing since 1879, and they still provide 90 percent of home lighting in the U.S. But with a measly average of 15 lumens per watt, or 5 percent energy efficiency, incandescents squander money and suck energy from carbon-dioxide-spewing power plants. To cap emissions, Australia and the European Union are phasing in bans on Edison's antiquated technology, and other governments are likely to follow—just as low-power alternatives are starting to shine.
Philips Energy Saver 60
Compact fluorescent lights are about four times as efficient as incandescent bulbs and, at 10,000 hours, last 10 times as long. Now they finally look as great in real life as they do on paper. Gone is the sickly green hue of old-time bulbs—manufacturers replaced single-color "halo" phosphors with tricolor (red, green and blue) rare-earth phosphors, creating near-full-spectrum lights with much the same warm glow of incandescents. One downside: Each bulb contains around three milligrams of mercury. But Philips's upcoming Alto II lights cut that to 1.7 milligrams. $4; nam.lighting.philips.comm
Osram Ostar LEDs
New light-emitting diodes (LEDs) from Osram produce up to 75 lumens per watt, making them a little more efficient than fluorescents (scientists are testing LEDs that emit up to 150 lumens per watt). Osram's secret is a mirror layer that directs photons out of the top of the chip. The lights are mercury-free (like all LEDs) and glow for up to 60,000 hours. Ostar LEDs go on sale this summer in Journe's pricey Lotus track lights (each lamp costs $300, and the LED units inside them run $125 apiece). But they will be widely available in other fixtures in 2008, and for less: LED prices are dropping by 15 percent every year. $300; journeelighting.com
LATER: 2010 AND BEYOND
GE and Konica Minolta OLED panels
Glowing walls lit by sheets of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) have been a long-standing future-tech fantasy. GE and Konica Minolta say that they will be a reality in three years. The companies are developing a plastic encasement to protect the moisture-sensitive OLEDs so they will glow for at least five years (current OLEDs last about three years). Mixing red, green and blue OLEDs will allow the walls to shine virtually any color, on demand. Later, GE and Konica plan to set OLEDs in a pixelated grid that switches between a single-color light source and a high-resolution, full-color video display. ge.com
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.