Flashback: The old Thomas Edison-like stalwart for more than a century, is inefficient. Starting in 2012, this bulb will change or be phased out. (Photo by Robert Durell)

Lighting is changing fast. Incandescents as we know them are on the way out.

It may be confusing for a while. But in the end, your wallet will thank you. And so will the planet.

Walk down today's lighting aisle, and it's intimidating.

Incandescents. Halogens. CFLs. LEDs. All sizes. All shapes. All colors, from warm white to a crisp bluish tint. And more to come.

So read on for a tour of the ever-burgeoning bulb-land.

"There's a tremendous amount of development," said Brian Fortenbery, an energy efficiency lighting expert with the Electric Power Research Institute, a national nonprofit. "It's not a one-technology game, by any stretch."

Driving the change is a provision in the Energy Independence and Security Act that Congress passed in 2007, during the George W. Bush administration.

It set energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs, which will begin to phase in come Jan. 1, 2012.

A wide misconception is that the law "bans" incandescents and "mandates" CFLs.

It's more of a required tune-up, supporters say. The act requires new bulbs to put out the same light with 30 percent less energy.

But in reality, incandescents as we know them will not meet the standard.

Recently, some influential critics have surfaced. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) and a dozen other Republicans introduced legislation they're calling the BULB Act, for Better Use of Light Bulbs. It would repeal the bulb portion of the 2007 act.

"It is about personal freedom," Barton said. "These are the kinds of regulations that make American people roll their eyes."

The energy efficiency community is aghast. Isn't conservation part of being a conservative?

With about four billion screw-based sockets to fill in the United States, it matters what we put in them. Lighting accounts for about 15 percent of the energy use of a typical household.

Efficiency advocates say the new standards ultimately will save consumers more than $10 billion annually -- $143 per household -- and avert the need for 30 new power plants.

They point out the act isn't telling people what kinds of bulbs to put in their homes. It's more like increasing the gas mileage of cars.

Moreover, the market is already responding. At the beginning of January, Ikea stopped selling incandescents altogether.

The energy efficiency world has taken on our fridges, our water heaters, our washers and dryers. But the incandescent lightbulb has remained "the least efficient piece of equipment in our homes," said Noah Horowitz, a lighting expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national nonprofit.