Much ado about lighting

Well, tomorrow heralds a historic day in the long, century-old history of the traditional, incandescent light bulb.  As of the 1st September 2012, the last stage of the EU-wide gradual incandescent bulb phaseout will begin.

This all started back in the late 2000s, with the EU announcing its intention to remove these inefficient products from the shelves of Europe.  For once the UK was ahead of the game, grandly pronouncing it would be launching a voluntary phaseout of the high wattage bulbs a whole twelve months before the official ban came into play.

The first to disappear off our shelves was the 100Watt (and above) bulb, the official timeline started in 2009; then came the 60Watt and above a year later and now the 40Watt and above has been banned.

So, what does this mean in practice?  It does not mean that all 40Watt bulbs will be cleared off the shelves come the 1st September.  Retailers are allowed to continue selling their existing stock until they run out.  But they will not be able to buy new stock of any incandescent bulb 40Watt or higher.  To all intents and purposes the reign of the traditional light bulb is over!

I’ve been, largely unintentionally, pretty close to this piece of legislation over the years.  As a main spokesperson for EST I was regularly wheeled out to talk to the press about the various stages of the ban and to try to influence opinion on the virtues of the new efficient range of bulbs.  I even ventured into the ‘lair of the dragon’, the dread Daily Mail offices (a very grand old Art Deco building in off High St Ken), to try to convince the journos there that compact fluorescent light bulbs were not, in fact, the spawn of the devil and that the new generation of them worked very well.  I’m not sure I succeeded in that one I’m sorry to say!

And just today I was interviewed on the radio again, to explain this last piece of the EU lighting efficiency jigsaw.  And still, like a broken record, I was again defending the quality of energy efficient light bulbs.  It’s so depressing that there continues the mis-conception that they take forever to warm up, the colour is drab and cold; they are big, stick-like and ugly – it’s simply not true.

OK, some facts, to hopefully help dissolve this misplaced nostalgia for old fashioned incandescent light bulbs.

Do you know of any other product out there that would still be for sale in the marketplace if it was only 10% efficient at doing the job it was made for? It seems hardly credible when you think of it that way. But it’s a fact that the incandescent bulb, for all of its 100+ year lifetime, has only been around 10% efficient at converting the electricity it consumes into light!  The other 90% is wasted as heat!

Ah, I hear the ‘disgruntled of Tonbridge Wells’ claim – but that heat is useful, it helps heat up your home!  Without it you need to heat your house more!  Well, consider the facts, in the main light bulbs are positioned close to the ceiling, and heat rises.  You mostly want heat at ground level, where you are!  Also, electricity is three times as expensive as gas per unit, so if you have a gas central heating system, even if the boiler is old and only 60-70% efficient, surely you will want to be heating your home with gas rather than with electricity?

Ah they cry, but they take forever to warm up.  Not any more, there modern varieties have a very quick warm up phase, a matter of seconds.  And anyway I have always thought the gentle warm up of the CFL was a bonus.  Before I converted to CFLs, and had to turn a light on in the middle of the night, I would be incapacitated for a minute or so as the sharp, viciously bright light of the incandescent bore into my eyelids, so much so that I laid blinded and immobilised until my eyes had gotten accustomed to the harshness. The gentle warm up of the CFL cuts out that effect completely and so is a time saver in my eyes (if you’ll excuse the pun).

The lack of shapes and sizes argument doesn’t wash any more either.  They come in every size and type feasible nowadays.  You can get dimmables, you can get ‘looky likeys’ that have the familiar bulb type shape, you can get various colour tones.  The emergence of LED varieties in recent years has increased the variety available even more -albeit at a premium cost at present, but since the LED varieties last up to 25,000 hours, and save up to £6 per year in high use areas, the payback is quick and prices will tumble as they become more popular.

Basically, the hoary old arguments against efficient light bulbs can be best illustrated by analogy.  Imagine if people were still talking about mobile phones as if they had not evolved since their first emergence in the 1990s?  Heavy, brick like constructions which cost a fortune, took forever to charge, short lifetimes and  limited coverage.  That would be a nonsense wouldn’t it?  Given how far we have come since then!  Well, you can think in the same way about energy efficient light bulbs – we’ve come a long way in the last decade, it’s just some people – and I’m talking about you Daily Mail journos, will simply not recognise this fact.

And we must be doing something right.  The USA have started to implement their own ban; with 100Watt bulbs now off the market and lower wattages to follow. And China, eager to make efficiency savings where they can, will be implementing a 100Watt bulb ban in October 2012, and will have all bulbs over 15Watts banned by 2016.



1 comment… add one
  • Richard October 26, 2012, 1:51 pm

    Long-lived low eficiency product? The steam locomotive is a good example – generally 6-10% efficient.


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