Toy Story: The Easy-Bake Oven Rises to the Clean Energy Challenge

I grew up in the 1960s, an era when many young girls still tended to play with toys with a homemaking theme.  I had a lot of dolls, a play kitchen, even a toy ironing board (my interest in ironing has waned since then, I’ll admit). But my favorite toy in this category was my very own Easy-Bake Oven – the mini-oven that actually baked tiny cookies and cakes. I loved preparing the mixes in the little pans, baking and frosting the miniature goodies, and then eating every last crumb. The Easy-Bake Oven was and still is powered by an old-fashioned 100 watt incandescent light bulb – an energy hog so inefficient that it actually produces enough waste heat to cook with.

Fast forward forty some years, and the Easy-Bake Oven is on my mind again. As the energy counsel at NRDC, I’ve dedicated much of my life to promoting clean energy. We’ve made a lot of strides, pushing successfully for household products like refrigerators and air-conditioners to become more energy efficient while providing the same level of comfort and service. One huge accomplishment was when President George Bush signed a law in 2007 that requires light bulbs to be more efficient.

As my colleague Noah Horowitz has written, these standards, which will go into effect in 2012, will produce huge consumer benefits totaling $10 billion annually (a savings of $100-$200 per household), and will avoid the need to build 30 new power plants. These standards will increase lighting choices for consumers, who can choose between a growing number of different types of energy saving light bulbs, including bulbs on the market now that look just like the old-fashioned light bulb, and have the same brightness but use a third less energy.  

While Tea Party politicians rant and rave in a misguided effort to repeal these new lighting efficiency standards, most Americans are already using the new, more energy saving bulbs and overwhelmingly support the standards, according to a recent USA Today poll.

But with more efficient light bulbs that waste less heat, will a new generation of children still be able to cook little cakes in the Easy-Bake Oven?

Fear not, kids of all ages. As we see so often, American companies have the ingenuity to meet new challenges through innovation. Easy-Bake Oven manufacturer Hasbro recently announced:

We are aware that the 100-watt incandescent light bulb will no longer be available beginning in 2012. In Fall 2011, Hasbro will launch the Easy Bake Ultimate Oven, introducing a new way to bake for the next generation of chefs. This new oven features a heating element that does not use a light bulb and offers an extensive assortment of mixes reflective of the hottest baking trends for today.

Kudos to Hasbro for an innovation that will help ease the transition to the new clean energy future and allow today’s kids to bake their own mini-goodies in a new, improved Easy-Bake Oven.