LIGHT BULB CLARITY:|
NEW ELECTRIC POLITICS
Dr. Peter Thornes
peter.thornes at gmail.com
click on headlines in the text to return up to the top
About the Websites
A New Electric America [EU, Canada, Australia...]
Positive, dynamic, efficient policies from generation to consumption,
rather than negative, restrictive and inefficient policies,
with their costly subsidies and regulations, and doubtful future savings.
Introduction: Energy Supply, Waste and Efficiency
Achieving overall efficiency, including in public and private administration
Efficient Electricity Generation: Raising or not the price of electricity
Achieving energy efficiency from stimulated competition and new technology
Karl Marx comes to Town: A Different take on Distribution in Society
How public distribution control is best in stimulating fair and efficient private service competition
Transmission and Interconnection Changes
Smart Grids and Meters
Electricity savings throughout the energy usage chain
Comparing policies and making the right decision
Budget Saving: Tax not Ban Products based on Energy Use
A tax on otherwise banned but popular and safe Buildings, Cars, Electrical Goods etc gives Government direct big income, albeit that free market competition is preferable.
Energy Use: Why Regulate It?
In using energy, efficiency is best achieved by the stimulation of competition,
rather than by regulatory restrictions on services and products, which tend to backfire,
taxation then being preferable.
Moreover, future energy availability does not warrant choice restrictions for paying consumers, and any shortage of an energy source
raises its price, reduces its use, and increases the use anyway of alternative energy sources and of energy saving products - without any regulations.
What energy efficency regulations are, and what they seek to achieve
Listing the reasons against energy efficiency regulations
Also replies to the 8 main reasons held to justify regulations
Standards and Markets
Creativity, choice and planned obsolescence related to energy and lifespan standards
The Manufacturer and Consumer Sides
How Regulations affect Buildings, Cars, Washing Machines/White Goods, TV sets and Computers:
Construction and Appearance
Lack of Supposed Savings: Money, Energy or Emissions
Regulation versus Free Markets to achieve Desired Sales
The Energy Side
Cars and Oil Dependence
The Emission Side
Climate Change and CO2 Emissions
Beyond Market Competition: Regulation versus Taxation, if fuel use or emissions still need a targeted reduction
The Light Bulb Ban
How and why regulations that ban cheap, simple, safe, and popular light bulbs
This includes the small overall energy savings as referenced, savings more relevantly achieved in other ways,
if politically needed in the first place.
Choice, savings, safety, markets and jobs.
What is Banned and When
USA, Canada, EU and Australia regulation overview, with dates
Links to regulations, to Canada delay proposal, and to US federal and state repeal bills
The strange logic behind light bulb regulations
The "Similar bulbs will still be allowed" deceit
Replacement incandescents, like Halogens, will also be banned in the USA and EU.
Post-ban EU already lacks touted Halogen availability, CFL retail sales being pushed.
The Politics behind banning Light Bulbs
The involvement of manufacturers and other vested interests,
as seen by official US and EU documentation and communication
The Push to use CFLs, CFL programs
Fun and Games in the European Union
Light Bulb Basics
Old ain't Bad
Proven Heat Benefit
Ban on 100W+ Bulbs
All Lights are Different
Using Lights at Home
Lighting Energy, Emissions and Cost
Emissions not justify a ban
Money savings not justify a ban
Energy/Emission/Cost savings rundown
Energy Efficient Incandescent usage
Cost -- Complexity -- Brightness -- Light Quality -- Lifespan
Switchover cost factors
Canada and similar countries or states
Smaller savings, no energy shortage, low emissions, cold conditions, more time indoors in varied surroundings
The Overall Small Energy Savings
USA Dept of Energy data, less than 1% of society energy usage saved
Why Power Plants are not saved in any case
Lighting and the Local Environment
Lighting Choice: Light Quality and Esthetics
Home Safety (Fire Risk etc)
The CFL Mercury Issue
LEDs: Safety and Environmental Issues
Fire Risk, Toxicity, Breakage and Disposal, Mineral Depletion
Light Radiation Issues
What is the hurry to ban now?
Additional comments on the EU legislation
Light Bulb Policies Compared
Free Markets or Taxation or Regulation:
How does one stimulate the manufacture of good - including energy efficient - lighting?
The original website (before February 2011) covered energy and emissions on a wider scale,
with a particular focus on electricity generation and distribution as well as consumption.
It is being reorganized, split up, edited and updated,
beginning here with energy efficiency policies and light bulbs.
However, to keep a coherence without too much cross-referral,
salient points will be summarized also here, when appropriate.
This is about positive politics.
Positively supplying energy as needed by businesses and consumers,
rather than forcing them to make choices they would not otherwise make.
Does freedom of choice not mean the waste of energy?
On the contrary, it is also the best way to promote energy efficiency,
making it desirable of itself -
rather than forced against the wishes of businesses and consumers.
This is done by looking at the whole chain of energy use, from production to consumption,
as with the electricity sector:
How power plants use less fuel, say coal, in supplying electricity,
how grids have less transmission losses,
how businesses and consumers use less electricity,
how manufacturers use less electricity in making products,
and - yes - how they also make energy efficient products, that people want to buy and use.
This is achieved by making markets more effective by competition,
not less effective by regulation:
Promoting competition, that ensures that profit-seeking utilities, industries and businesses
themselves want to keep their costs down, including their energy costs, without being told how to do so.
Regulations, on the other hand, are not only less efficient in the energy savings stipulated
(does a Government bureacrat know better than a business owner, how he or she should run their businesses?)
but the coercion involved means that they are less likely to be followed too.
Under competitive pressure, manufacturers are also forced into market research of what people want.
People have always wanted products that can save energy and money.
Indeed, such products have to already exist when energy usage standards are being set:
or else, as with light bulbs, people might literally be "left in the dark"!.
Free markets therefore already delivered such products, free markets will continue to deliver them,
and they will be bought to the extent that they deserve to be bought.
Regulation proponents and regulation-lobbying manufacturers emphasize how good today's energy saving products already are.
Then let the manufacturers get off their backsides and market those products accordingly,
rather than look for the easy way out, a ban on popular cheap unprofitable alternatives.
"Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run"?
Battery and washing up liquid manufacturers can imaginatively advertise and sell such products.
So can light bulb and other manufacturers.
How to deal with - and how not to deal with - Energy, Emissions and Electricity
Efficient energy and emission politics, with a focus on electricity:
How the stimulation of competition, rather than regulation, drives energy efficiency,
both in industrial processes and in the manufacture of energy efficient products desirable by consumers.
How, in the case of the electricity sector,
efficiency is further fostered by neutral publically administered smart grids with private service provider competition,
so that any electricity desired by consumers is generated and distributed with whatever environmental criteria is deemed
necessary, rather than telling businesses and consumers what they can or can't do with the electricity provision that they
Simple light bulbs are safe and popular products.
They don't burn coal and they don't release CO2 gas.
How the need to force consumers to save energy that they themselves pay for is itself unjustified by any society energy
shortage, particularly for electricity generation, such that any shortage of finite oil/coal/gas sources simply increases their price and leads to the reduced usage of such energy anyway - without political interference.
How the need to reduce true and local emission pollutants is clearer than the need to reduce atmospheric CO2 -and to have to do it by industrial emission reduction-
notwithstanding that any need to reduce CO2 emissions can be done through real market mechanisms,
and through other ways that actually focus on the CO2 emissions,
compared to current emission trading (cap and trade) schemes, or indeed energy efficiency regulations:
If there is a problem - deal with the problem.
If emissions are a problem - deal with the emissions themselves.
Turning it around...
How energy efficiency regulations reduce the choice of buildings, cars, washing machines, TV sets, computers and other
products, since it changes many characteristics of those products apart from their price,
and why such regulations are wrong even if society needs to save energy or CO2 emissions, not least exemplified by
the irony of banning the world's most popular form of home lighting for environmental reasons:
Given the problems of the main fluorescent replacements, and that electrical appliances themselves don't give out any CO2 gas.
In turn thereby, the unnecessary forced replacement of simple, cheap, bright, easily and often locally made and transported light bulbs that use well known, safe and proven technology,
a product ban that delivers large profits to global multinational complex light bulb manufacturers and distributors in the
name of saving energy, energy which -as it happens- is actually hardly saved overall, as shown by unpublicised official data from several sources,
including the US Department of Energy.
About the websites
At one level, this is about
light bulbs, energy efficiency regulations, and energy and emission policies.
At a deeper level, it's about challenging accepted truths.
Few challenge accepted truths - that's why they stay accepted.
Repeat supposed "facts" often enough, and many will believe them.
Of course, if the supposed facts support a belief, so much the better:
Rather than to have an open-minded attitude in dealing with issues,
most politicians seem to look for evidence to support pre-determined policies,
be it with energy provision, with emissions, or with anything else.
Underlying this text is something called essence ideology.
More than seeking to provide the right answers,
it is first of all about seeking to ask the right questions.
Essence ideology is a way, through questions, to seek the value and purpose of what is created,
rather than the value of destroying what is created.
While in that sense obviously directly applicable here to light bulbs and other products subjected to bans
unrelated to their safety in usage,
it goes beyond such material considerations, into the policies behind them.
An open minded stance thereby looks at all the alternatives,
including seeking any value that rejected ideas nevertheless might have:
For example, though today's energy saving policies are here considered to be misguided,
nonetheless the efficiency ideas behind them are also looked at for their value.
On a larger scale, the traditional left-right ideological divide is therefore also ignored.
Public and private ownership are each considered for the distinct, separate, advantages they may have
- and kept that way, rather than having the currently popular "third way" mish-mashes.
This will in the text be illustrated for example with
neutral publically controlled electricity grids, within which private service providers compete.
In the public sphere, regulation rather than competition:
Public services never compete,
thereby maintaining freedom of information and insight for citizens whose active participation
and criticism is sought, with a special recognition of those in society who are not served
by private markets.
In the private sphere, competition rather than regulation:
Private for-profit services must compete,
as distinct independent entities,
within the public whole of society.
Governmental support for new privately owned market entrants is maximal.
Governmental support for existing private enterprise is minimal.
The stimulation of competition, kept as fair as possible.
Today it is also common to place importance on the extent of public versus private ownership in society.
With essence ideology, the importance is not the extent of each, but therefore their different advantages in serving society.
In fact, the extent of either would vary according to circumstance:
Always beginning with an overall view of what is possible,
the population count and population density is taken into account.
As population count and/or density increases, essence politics moves from left to right on the traditional
ideological scale, in the sense of making market competition more viable in applicable sectors.
When I originally heard about the light bulb ban, I naturally assumed,
like others, that it meant that there was something wrong with the light bulbs:
After all, until now, the reason for banning products -such as lead paint- is that they are dangerous in some way.
So are simple regular light bulbs unsafe to use?
Do they have any radiation concerns?
Are they poisonous when broken?
No - that turns out to be the other lot!
In beautiful irony, the logic of banning anything is turned on its head:
The more I have investigated, the stranger it has got,
as gradually the fog clears on profit-seeking global multinational light company executives
hand-in-hand with non-global environmental activists to secure bans on a simple, appreciated,
overwhelmingly popular and safe product, often locally made with local jobs
and with a lack of transport emissions, compared to the complex alternatives.
Certainly: Energy saving standards are logically enough defended on the grounds of saving energy,
but as will be shown - whatever your electricity meter says - in overall energy usage terms the savings are negligible.
Even if the savings were there,
there is the question of who is paying for the energy you use (you or the regulation legislators?),
and the question if there is a society energy shortage that justifies regulations (there isn't),
and how to actually deal with CO2 emissions (do light bulbs themselves give off any CO2 gas?).
Even if specific lighting policies were held to be needed,
there is the question of what policy is best at energy efficiency:
how competition-based policies are better at delivering both choice and energy efficiency,
and even if that was not accepted, how direct taxation on relevant light bulbs with pre-ban
2 billion US (and 2 billion EU) annual sales would give a massive government income for pro-ban satisfying energy/emission projects in coming years,
more than offsetting any negative effects of those bulbs that remained.
As said: Before finding the right answers, the right questions need to be asked.
There is a moral that "energy should not be wasted".
However, not everyone's idea of energy waste is the same:
Consumers, not regulating politicians, pay for the energy supply,
and while neutral, factual advice on how to save energy is surely welcome,
that is not the same as one-sided governmental information campaigns that
extol products purely on the basis of their energy consumption,
or worse still, regulatory or taxation measures that seek to enforce energy savings.
Regulating politicians continually forget - or choose to forget - that
enforcing a lower energy usage of buildings, cars, washing machines, TV sets or light bulbs
also changes their characteristics in different ways, which people might like, apart from making them more expensive
(or they would use less energy in the first place).
Besides, actual energy savings from regulations tend to be less than supposed,
for many reasons, including that if energy efficiency effectively lowers the product usage cost,
consumers tend to unnecessarily waste the product usage, as shown by research references in the text.
The actual need to save energy in society depends on if there is
an energy shortage.
The finger is usually pointed at oil, coal and gas supplies:
Yet, regardless of worldwide reserves, note that any shortage raises prices
and automatically leads to less oil, coal and gas use, without political intervention.
In a similar way, any government worried about imported oil can simply raise its price, by duties or taxation.
They don't have to chase consumers, telling them what cars or other products they are allowed to use.
An overall view means also looking at the supply of alternative energy sources.
Whether as renewable energy or nuclear energy (itself long-lasting and arguably renewable),
such alternatives are hardly lacking, now or in the future, particularly with electricity generation.
But let's turn it around:
Energy efficiency is still worth striving for.
How is energy efficiency best achieved?
Not by "stimulating manufacturers to be energy efficient through regulation",
but by "stimulating manufacturers to be energy efficient through competition".
Energy is a money cost to industry.
Under pressure of competition they'll want to use as little energy as possible
in industrial processes, to maintain profits - no need for finger-wagging regulators!
Similarly, energy is also a cost for consumers.
Energy saving in a product is certainly an advantage to them - among other advantages.
Under pressure of competition, market research will show the energy saving bulbs that people actually want to buy.
People already do buy "expensive but cheap in the long run" alternatives, as described.
Therefore, competition rather than regulation:
Creation through competition, not destruction through regulation.
Products defined by manufacturers and consumers, not products defined by committee bureacrats,
furthered by lobbying, vested commercial interests:
Today's global multinational manufacturers of complex expensive light bulbs are of course delighted with a ban that wipes out cheap local competition of
simply made bright light bulbs, or indeed not to have to make such small-profit bulbs themselves,
as the CEO of Osram and other executives have publically admitted.
Ask yourself this:
Why do so many manufacturers of different products - and their associations - welcome being told what they can make?
Indeed, why do politicians and public officials also welcome it:
It is surprising to see the mounting restrictive regulations in the USA,
the supposed "land of the free", although resistance is now (2011) also increasing.
The less surprising EU regulatory mania in this case involves the suitably Orwellian named
Brussels based "Ecodesign Committee", a small number of bureaucrats
that decide on how 500 million citizens can or can't use the energy and electricity supply that they pay for.
It should be remembered that this is not ordinary consumer legislation that bans unsafe products.
We are not talking about banning lead paint here.
We are breaking new ground, in telling manufacturers what they can make - and consumers what they can use.
Certainly: One can praise the aim of using energy more efficiently.
But then other described measures that reduce energy waste and increase energy efficiency are more appropriate,
such as stimulated market competition.
If there is a problem - deal with the problem.
Don't like the idea of market competition?
Prefer to keep a direct state involvement in reducing energy consumption?
What, at least until now, has been the usual way to reduce consumption but retain choice of safe products
- or even unsafe ones, like tobacco and alcohol?
Taxation - compared to regulation - is preferable as a direct product targeting instrument to reduce consumption,
whether of oil/coal/gas sources, the electricity they produce, or as taxation on individual products
based on energy consumption (buildings, cars, electrical products).
Consumers keep choice, which can include energy saving products being cheaper than today via
tax reduction or subsidies (equilibrating the market),
while governments gain income that can further be used to
lower coal/oil/gas consumption more than remaining taxed products raise it.
For example, the 2 billion current US (and EU) pre-ban sales of relevant cheap
and therefore easily taxable light bulbs
shows the potential great governmental income from taxing them alone.
The California Irony: A bankrupt ban-happy state choosing to ignore all the possible income from energy efficiency taxation
on products from buildings to bulbs.
Taxation can be applied anywhere in the energy usage chain from fuel use onwards,
and while unwarranted for similar reasons to regulations,
clearly has advantages also for those who now favor regulations.
Emission saving is of course also related to energy consumption,
particularly for environmentalists.
Indeed, outside the USA,
in particular in Europe and Australia,
the driving force behind energy efficiency regulations such as on light bulbs
has been to reduce CO2 emissions - not to save energy.
Whatever about CO2 and its global effects, one should certainly also remember
the local effects of soot, sulphur, heavy metal and other oil/coal/gas derived emission pollutants.
However, clean air legislations have largely come to deal with these problems,
and the technology involved is (so far) cheaper than the removal and burial of the carbon in CO2 gas.
Assuming that CO2 emissions indeed need reduction,
there is still a fundamental lack of logic on 2 counts with energy efficiency regulations:
1. What are the regulations about?
Regulations specified to save energy - not emissions.
If emission savings are needed - specify emission savings.
If there is a problem - deal with the problem.
2. Look at your light bulb.
Does it give off any CO2 gas?
Compared to say combustion engine cars, there is a fundamental fact about electrical products:
They themselves don't give out any CO2 gas.
If there is a problem - deal with the problem.
Regardless of policies, electricity can - and will - increasingly be generated with less and less CO2 emissions,
certainly in the usually talked about 2020-2050 time perspectives,
given the finite nature of CO2 emitting fuels, and the
ever-lasting or long-lasting nuclear and renewable alternatives.
Why then alienate businesses and consumers, by telling them what they can - or can't do?
Why should the ever-increasing number of low emission households not be allowed to use what they want?
Nevertheless, specific CO2 emission reduction policies will also be looked at (on an adjoining webpage
in line with the mentioned website re-construction),
again considering market and taxation solutions before regulation,
including how real market based solutions -rather than today's carbon emission markets- can be instigated:
Dealing with emissions themselves, as and when needed
- not chasing businesses and citizens around, telling them what they can or can't do.
A New Electric America [EU, Canada, Australia...]
Efficiency from electricity generation to consumption,
based on competitive stimulation,
maintaining low prices, increasing prosperity
and giving new local employment sustained by markets
with freedom of choice, rather than regulations and subsidies that
give big upfront costs for questionable future savings,
with economic stagnation and restricted freedom.
Submission to the US Senate Energy Committee, slightly edited here with text links
to avoid unnecessary repetition,
a summary will be on the Senate March 2011 Hearing record.
It is about the lack of relevance of energy efficiency regulations
and subsidies as regards efficient electricity supply and consumption,
and how alternative policies are better not only at achieving any energy efficiency desired,
but also to promote a dynamic growing economy.
While covering the issue in an American context, the principles clearly apply also to the EU, Canada, Australia and other regions,
as is the case with the arguments in the Energy Efficiency and Light Bulb sections that follow on.
Some of the main generation and distribution sections are derived from former website content that I may link back to later
(see above website introduction).
Introduction: Energy Supply, Waste and Efficiency
Honorable Chairman, Ranking Member, Members of the Committee.
As we all know, energy issues are important.
Energy, literally, drives America forward:
It grows the American economy and creates wealth.
No-one wants to see the waste of energy,
or the unnecessary importation of oil or other energy sources.
No-one wants to see the unnecessary release of emissions from burning fuels,
emissions that may include soot, sulphur, and heavy metal toxins,
whatever about the CO2 content.
But what should then be the policy focus?
The positive focus on the efficient use of energy,
or the negative focus on cutting down energy use?
Success cannot only be measured in terms of energy and emissions saved:
In that case we could all go and live in caves and use candles (and not bring any cows with us),
to give easier, cheaper and greater savings,
compared to the cost of all the upfront subsidies and regulations for a smaller savings success.
The goal of energy efficiency should therefore not exclude a dynamic America that uses more energy,
but uses it more efficiently.
This brings up the question of energy supply:
Is there a supply shortage, justifying usage restrictions on those paying for the supply?
In turn, overall concepts of waste and efficiency:
Does the personal choice of product use constitute a waste of energy?
What are the most important ways to avoid energy waste?
How does one go about achieving an overall more efficient society?
As will be seen, energy efficiency regulations affect product characteristics,
and therefore reduce people's choices of products, in exchange for limited savings.
Whatever the savings,
people pay for the electricity they use:
there is no present or future shortage of energy sources for electricity
that justifies a supply restriction for those who are paying for the supply.
Oil is not imported for electricity generation, and its use for generation is at most 4% in any distribution region, except in Alaska
if there was any shortage of finite coal/gas sources,
their price rise (and that of the electricity generated from them)
would lower such consumption anyway,
and increase the demand for energy saving electrical products.
No need to legislate for such product usage:
Look at the demand for fuel efficient cars when oil prices are high, regardless of efficiency regulations!
In fact, a coal/gas tax would quickly lower relevant electricity consumption without affecting product choices,
although not recommended here, compared to alternative competition stimulating policies.
Whatever the amount of energy available,
no-one welcomes the wasting of energy.
However, one should be clear about what is, and what is not, a waste of energy.
The energy usage chain of electricity will principally be considered in this text.
One should then first look at the energy waste in power plant generation
and grid distribution.
As will be seen, not all remedies need to be slow or expensive to undertake.
It is not a case of acting on generation and distribution "along with"
It is a case of doing what is relevant, meaningful, and justifiable.
When turning to the energy use of consumers,
the focus should again be on actual energy waste:
Commercial lighting and other electrical equipment left on all the
time is arguably a waste of energy.
The personal choice of what light bulb or other electrical product one
wishes to use is arguably not a "waste of energy".
Efficiency is a relative term:
The energy efficiency of a product is not the same as its performance efficiency!
Certainly everyone wants "efficient products".
But an efficient society - and an energy efficient society - is about a lot more than that.
How is an efficient America achieved that is also a dynamic America,
a positive America that may use more energy but does so wisely in creating growth,
rather than a negative more stagnant America,
that focuses on restricting energy use and freedom for businesses and citizens?
See the introductory
section regarding public and private administration and their different advantages from an efficiency perspective.
Basically, public entities never compete, retaining transparency,
while competition should always be sought for private for profit entities.
This implies neutral publicly controlled electricity grids, within which private service providers compete.
Population sizes and markets were also mentioned.
Again therefore, a large US population allows for good internal market competition between private service providers
while the relatively sparse American distribution of that population necessitates a public involvement
with unduplicated infrastructure such as electricity transmission lines to ensure good federal/state service coverage.
it is therefore important to have a holistic view of electricity usage, from generation to consumption.
In particular, in looking at today's situation, how the re-organization of grids improves efficiency.
Politicians who want consumer product regulations, such as what light bulbs people can or can't use,
will - correctly - say that they are dealing with supply side issues as well,
as indeed shown from several previous Senate and House Hearings.
But the point is to do what is relevant and meaningful in terms of waste reduction and efficient energy use,
not to additionally, and needlessly, try to squeeze the last small drops of possible extra choice-denying savings out of the consumers who are paying for the electricity supply,
a supply of which there is no shortage to justify such action,
a supply of which there will be even less of a shortage in future,
also because of its more efficient use, as described in this section.
Electricity Generation: Raising or not the price of electricity
There is no doubt that energy efficiency in electricity generation could be much
improved - regarding the USA as elsewhere a particular focus is put on coal power plants,
from the perspectives of both energy usage (being a finite fuel)
and the environment (having CO2 and other emissions).
The traditional and common American plant only has a 30-35% efficiency,
and the technology for considerable improvement already exists.
For more on the issue, Wikipedia on relevant power plants (with further references), the World Coal Association on
Coal and Electricity,
and the more comprehensive papers
Energy Efficiency in the Power Grid (pdf) by Asea Brown Boveri, and the National Petroleum Council on
Electric Generation Efficiency (pdf)
and indeed the recent 2011 National Energy Technology Laboratory (US Dept of Energy) study
Improved Efficiency of Fossil Fuel
Generation and Advanced Clean Coal
The point here is simply to raise attention to where energy efficiency policies can usefully be applied, and as seen coal power plants should clearly be considered in that case.
Regarding political policy,
the need to apply energy efficient measures is then dependent on a number of factors:
the ease with which new energy conversion technology can be applied,
and how much it improves on the present conversion efficiency to electricity,
along with the abundance of current and potential new energy sources
and their relative suitability for added electricity generation.
Notice how similar arguments apply with the power plant implementation of
CO2 (or other) emission lowering technology.
Put more bluntly,
it does not matter in this context if say the solar conversion to
electricity is inefficient in a sunny region, since the supply of sunshine is not going to run out (and it does not involve any gas emissions).
On the other hand the efficiency of say coal conversion to electricity may be more critical in terms of the supply,
also because it's often based on a local supply that saves in transport problems (no pipelines for coal, like oil or gas!).
Also, of course, untreated fossil fuel coal/gas/oil/peat sources release CO2 and other emissions.
The path to induce power plant owners to increase energy efficiency and/or emission reduction
via new technology and new practices,
might begin with the sharing of information and best practices,
such that federal/state administration officials and representatives
from utility and efficiency technology companies meet up and discuss
such new and existing implementation.
Clearly it's about justifying upfront cost for any future gain:
The political focus is obviously that the costs are not passed on to the customers.
In the case of increasing the energy efficiency,
the best way of avoiding, or at least reducing, any impact on consumer bills
is through increased competition between electricity providers in the grids.
This ensures a will to keep down energy costs generally, including sourcing new fuel providers or using substitute energy sources,
quite apart from also increasing the desire of power plant owners to look at energy saving technology.
Compare with a dominant inefficient coal power plant in a grid:
What incentive is there to run that business more efficiently, when
the captive electricity customers can be relied on to pay up anyway?
Increased competition of course still does not mean the power plant will be restructured or expensive technology installed,
particularly if it will take a very long time to recoup the cost.
This applies even more in the case of installing CO2 emission saving technology
- no financial benefit to the company in saving emissions, unlike in saving energy
(this of course leads on to Cap and Trade type solutions, false markets with loopholes).
So, if a government feels that power plants need to be run more efficiently (or reduce emissions),
recognizes the reluctance of the main owners and other shareholders to finance it,
and seeks to limit the passing on of costs to customers,
government assistance in the way of long term federal/state guaranteed loans could be provided:
minimizing the raising of electricity bills, while also saving tax payers from subsidy alternatives, in whole or part.
Clearly there is a balance in there,
between government desire and utility company compliance,
the latter achieved either with government carrot (finance) and stick (regulatory enforcement).
The focus here has been on sparing the customers, keeping down the
electricity bills in any changes.
It might be noted that, since the overall goal of pro-regulation politicians
is to reduce electricity consumption,
and in particular to reduce it from finite and polluting sources like
coal (as they see it),
then any electricity price rise from such sources might - on the
contrary - be welcomed:
Whatever about the "low hanging fruit" of product regulations,
such an electricity price rise is the quickest and simplest way of all
to significantly -and relevantly - reduce electricity consumption.
Clearly, any electricity price rise has political implications:
But firstly, it would only involve certain (eg coal power plant) customers,
secondly they might have alternative electricity service provision
(which could be seen to in advance),
thirdly there might be home insulation grants/ tax breaks and other
measures to keep down the energy bills for relevant customers.
The electricity bill price rise could come about from the mentioned
changes forced on power plants via energy efficiency (or emission
But, again, there is a simple alternative: a tax on coal or gas.
(Notice the parallel with cars: an oil/gasolene tax, or import duty,
is much simpler than regulating how much fuel a car can or can't use,
and of course keeps a wider choice in car purchases)
Such a tax directly targets the supposed problem.
Consider how the Light Bulb and Electrical Product regulations are defended:
"Great for saving energy"
"Great for saving CO2 emissions"
But light bulbs don't use the energy that needs be saved:
Power plants might - but not necessarily!
Light bulbs don't give out any CO2 gas:
Power plants might - but not necessarily!
If there is a problem - Deal with the problem
The point about taxation is of course also how it can finance -for
example - the home insulation measures, or go to subsidies for power
plant conversions, and other policies aimed at the appropriate reduction of energy use and emissions.
Consumer product taxation is further covered on the website,
but taxation can therefore also clearly be applied elsewhere along the energy
usage chain of electricity, from the initial fuel use, the electricity produced, the emissions released,
and onwards, to reduce energy use or emissions as judged necessary.
Having seen how electricity generation policies can reduce energy consumption,
and indeed also promote the efficient power plant use of whatever energy is consumed,
let us move on to distribution policies, with the same idea in mind.
Karl Marx comes to Town: A different take on Distribution in Society
In the 19th century, as factories were developing and employing more and more workers,
it was natural to see the control of production as being of key importance in society.
Over the years, as the production of both goods and services has become widespread,
this has shifted so that distribution, the middleman, is now seen as having a key controlling role.
If Karl Marx were around today,
he might therefore be emphasizing the importance of common public ownership of the means of distribution
rather than of the means of production.
this is also what arguably best serves society in terms of free and fair market competition between privately owned producers,
at least when the distribution is defined in terms of wide-ranging infrastructural networks which are costly to set up
and therefore are wastefully set up in parallel competition.
Having examined policies promoting efficiency in terms of private for-profit ownership (through competition),
this will also illustrate how public administration works efficiently, not just here, but anywhere in society:
Neutrality, transparency and accountability replacing the competition norm.
Neither public or private ownership is seen as superior, each being promoted according to its distinct advantages, as based on essence ideology.
Principles behind the organization of energy and communication networks
Consider gas, electricity, fixed line and mobile telephony, internet and broadband communication, cable and terrestrial TV networks.
Properly organized distribution would ensure adequate supply at low prices for both industry and households, and resources - including energy and electricity - would be used more efficiently, reducing waste.
Commonly today around the world, service providers sit in their own networks, the
only price control being through regulators making pronouncements from time to time.
How could the organization be different?
One way of increasing competition between distributors is to build up parallel networks.
Consider mobile telephony for example.
But what you get is:
1. A more expensive total rollout cost than if a single high capacity transmission infrastructure is used,
within which service providers compete.
2. Poor rural coverage, with a profit focus on well populated areas.
3. Poor direct competition between service providers because users
have to switch networks to get at a different service.
That's not all.
For a large relatively sparsely populated country like the United States,
nation-wide competing parallel infrastructure is particularly wasteful.
[As an aside, the way that communication frequencies are allocated is an enormous waste in itself:
The enforced necessity in the use of high frequencies for mobile communications,
requiring many more base stations than would otherwise be the case
- while large amounts of attractive lower terrestrial frequencies are needlessly allocated to TV-watching on large fixed screens,
particularly with high definition digital TV, given the greater capacity of satellite/cable to handle such transmissions.
As an exercise I worked out that most countries could simply hand out free parabolic satellite dish receivers to those who needed them,
remembering the obligatory set top box purchases involved anyway,
and compared to the massive sums spent in building up infrastructure for terrestrial digital TV,
itself of course covered by mobile communication anyway as justified for smaller screens (eg DVB-H standard)
thereby using less bandwidth within those more valuable frequencies.
Resource waste by politicians is everywhere - not just with energy]
However, in avoiding parallel networks, we then face the alternative problem of national distributive monopolies.
The first point, which some politicians are now rightly raising,
is to separate ownership of service provision from ownership of distribution infrastructure
as far as possible, whether of gas, electricity, fixed line telephony, cable TV, or terrestrial TV networks.
One only has to look at the European situation, and all the
contortions involved where distribution infrastructure owners, often the state, have been forced to
open up the networks for other providers while itself still competing with them
- not unheard of in the USA either, with privately owned distribution networks running their own provision against outside competition.
Apart from the separate ownership of distribution,
there is still the need for those owners to be neutral towards all service providers within, or wishing to be within,
There therefore follows the need to be able to publicly monitor a monopoly distribution
to ensure the equal treatment of existing or potential service providers in the network.
But oversight is needed for another reason too, and that is to ensure good national infrastructural coverage,
a coverage therefore including less profitable rural regions (complementary infrastructure, such as satellite
in place of terrestrial communication systems, might also be used).
The distribution should therefore, ideally, be under public ownership.
The idea of federal or state civil servants running (and perhaps monitoring) public networks may not seem like an attractive option,
though - as has been seen - privately and commercially driven snooping monopolies don't necessarily improve on that scenario.
But this is about public ownership under new transparency and accountability criteria,
as covered in the introduction section of the text.
The public role would mainly be to oversee the capacity of and access to the network, with particular respect to new entrants.
Transparency is equally important.
For example, the idea that "bids can't be disclosed for commercial reasons"
disappears - any applying service provider who objects, it's thank you and goodbye.
This in turn cuts down corruption - highest bids are not necessarily the best,
but the public administrator then has to justify why he/she happily awarded access to a lower bidder.
Citizen users would have specific board representation, as would service providers.
Actual network maintenance would also be overseen by the service providers:
No-one is more keen to have efficient networks than the immediate users of those networks.
Annual General Meetings would be open affairs including their transmission in public media and/or online, and including a special
consideration of consumer criticism and suggestions, at such and other times.
What we now get is state/national coverage at unduplicated low cost, with fair and direct competition between
private service providers within the public distribution that is provided to consumers.
For the consumers,
such a system, with new meters where applicable, allows easier, sometimes automatic, price and quality based switching
between providers with simple one-off itemized billing from the neutral public distributors.
The importance is the price transparency along with the direct competition:
Consumers can at any time see how much they are paying, how much they are owing, and what alternatives cost.
Before considering electricity grid administration,
one first has to understand the basics of electricity grids
and the changes needed in a new supply situation.
The American Grid
The United States does not have a national grid, rather a series of
regional and local systems, with three interconnections (Western,
Eastern, and Texas).
The system is generally antiquated, needing both
more capacity in the grids and better connections between them.
Making change more difficult is the fact that are over 520 individual
grid owners, often themselves generating the electricity in their
grids and therefore without interest in opening the grids up for
Operational coordination also need to take into account the existence of 127 control centres,
2 levels of grid planning (regional and utility),
and 2 levels of grid regulation (federal and state).
Some of these problems have been highlighted by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff in a recent House hearing,
predecessor Joseph Kelliher in a previous Senate hearing and by industry insiders like Stephen Burnage of RETCO.
Changes needed to Electricity Grids
There are 3 main categories of changes, namely
transmission alterations and upgrades,
and "smart grid" development.
Notably, all 3 of these changes are involved in accomodating renewable energy sources.
As mentioned, and covered in previous Hearings,
extensive upgrades are needed in grid capacity and in transmission efficiency, to reduce present energy losses.
Many renewable sources are intermittent, like solar or wind,
and therefore need specific transmission changes compared to traditional constant feeds.
Grid interconnections are of obvious value in opening up a given grid to external service provider competition,
but also in turn to allow power plants in such a grid to spread their own generated electricity more widely.
Better competition at all times, with lower prices for consumers.
There are further benefits:
It's usually easier to expand established power plant facilities than to start new ones,
and interconnections therefore help to spread the generated electricity.
Also, nearly all power plants are location dependent to some degree:
Coal power plants near coal deposits (coal as said being more cumbersome to transport than other, and pipelined, fuels),
while nuclear power plants might preferably be located away from earthquake prone fault lines.
Renewable power generation is often particularly location dependent (solar, wind, hydro, wave, tidal)
and, to be more profitable, therefore benefits from a wider dispersal.
Wider distribution of nuclear/renewable electricity also helps bring down CO2 (and other) emission levels on a national scale,
and in turn helps states or countries to meet any such targets without requiring their own generation.
Moreover, given the mentioned intermittent nature of some such sources,
it increases the chance that someone, somewhere wants to use the electricity generated:
Renewable energy storage solutions do exist, for example local battery based or remotely in hydropower dams,
but involve extra cost and energy conversion losses.
The idea with smart grids is basically to match up supply and demand more easily and more effectively,
between interconnected grids, and within a given grid in relation to its business and citizen customers,
who in turn are supplied with "smart meters" for the purpose, more of which shortly.
In a sense, this equates electricity grids with the communication Internet:
As one pathway malfunctions, whether from power plant ot transmission failure,
another pathway can take over.
However, a greater supervisory role is still needed in an energy network,
which in turn means larger grid areas should come under single operational control.
This is particularly true for intermittent renewable energy sources,
both because of their unpredictable on-off status,
and in turn because of the benefit thereby from a wider dispersal of the generated electricity,
so that the demand is more likely when say the wind cares to blow or the sun wants to shine.
Smart meters are associated with smart grids.
Smart meters are usually hailed as being able to tell you "that you have a light bulb switched on".
Certainly, knowing what appliances are (needlessly) left on can of course help cut down electricity bills:
Particularly when combined with remote control of appliances, say over the Internet.
This helps cut down on real energy waste, compared with regulating the choice of appliances.
Particularly from the electricity provider's point of view,
smart metering is also about being able to match demand to true cost of supply.
Constant base-load electricity (eg from coal power plants) is expensively supplemented by quicker responding peak time (early evening) generation
from say gas or hydro-powered plants, which common simple flat rate meters, at least day time flat rate meters, do not account for.
Real-time based charges shift consumers to cheaper off-peak electricity usage - and again saves energy overall,
from the inefficiencies involved in firing up extra turbines.
But also, from the electricity consumer's point of view,
smart metering allows easier switching between providers, in real time as well, depending on meter configuration (and pre-configuration).
Shutdowns can also be sensed by such meters, to allow for switching to another provider.
Such changes and extra choice can of course complicate consumer billing.
But, as will be seen, new grid administration can address such issues.
Electricity Grid Administration
In several European countries, there is publically owned dominance in
electricity service provision as well as in its distribution.
Following from what has been said, public service provision
should be split up and sold off to different privately owned
providers, to ensure good competition.
Such split sales might be according to energy source where applicable.
A country like the USA does not have a tradition of public grid
ownership (though there are exceptions, such as in New York state, and
the publically owned hydropower generation and transmission that
exists in North-Western states).
The Texas ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) system is an example of how grid ownership can be
separate from that of generation, and also how operational control across the system can be more effective.
Similar administration could be aimed for on a more national scale.
The Federal Government and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
should engage in wide ranging consultative talks with grid owners,
operators, and other interested parties, before arriving at the
federal regulation that is justified by the inter-state nature of the changes required.
So, taking in the described changes in grid operation and administration:
Today a typical electricity provider has an effective monopoly in
service provision, with no competitive pressure to operate efficiently or to charge lower rates.
In a turnaround, rather than consumers being dependent on the whims of a single provider,
the new competing providers are dependent on them.
Particularly relevant to the discussion here then, is the easier
switching between suppliers.
That includes longer term subscription options (good block buy deals),
and some meters could have provision for any consumer generated
electricity to feed back to the grid.
Such meters are nowadays not a particularly difficult concept, similar
meters have already been developed for industry. Service quality
(voltage stability) can be monitored both at consumer and distribution
Notice the implication of this for energy security, a continued
service despite a chosen supply line going down, as long as it's not
on the last connection line to the consumer.
Meanwhile, the mentioned neutral public ownership of distribution
networks here facilitates fair monitoring of overall service quality,
when service competition might otherwise sacrifice quality for price.
The subscription options also mean that those who want it can get
"green" energy, to given emission standards.
The advantage of competition within a neutral distribution network is
also seen in the billing procedure:
Regardless of how many different providers are used, and switched
between, the consumer still gets a single itemized bill.
The consumer needn't get particularly involved with who is supplying
what or when, if he or she does not want to, benefiting from lower
prices anyway, and can simply set to constantly receive the cheapest
electricity option as monitored at given times.
Single source billing also means a consumer can easily see how much
they are owing at any given time, and can equally easily see how their
current choice stands up to other options of buying electricity.
Smart metering or not,
all this arises out of having multiple (private) service providers
compete within a single (public) distributive network:
The directness and the transparency of that competition will always
see the price being as low as possible within any set quality
Electricity consumption issues are covered in the sections that follow.
There are, as seen, 2 issues here:
Using energy and electricity efficiently without waste,
and reducing their total consumption.
I consider the efficient use without waste to be more important,
as it in my view is a more positive dynamic approach to America's future,
and any need to restrict the use of an energy source should take into account its abundance and environmental impact.
That said, for those who prefer to focus on reducing American energy and electricity consumption,
regardless of energy source,
then the efficient use of energy without waste still clearly also serves towards a total reduction in energy use.
To recap the many ways in which both energy efficient use and energy saving can occur:
In electricity generation the energy efficiency of power plants can be regulated,
but also pushed via fuel taxation,
or preferably achieved by the voluntary wish to cut down energy costs,
from policies that increase competition with other service providers.
This in turn is is brought about by the inter-connection and
administrative re-organization of electricity grids,
whose upgrades and transmission efficiency are in turn seen to by involving all parties concerned,
the administrator, the service providers, and the consumers.
The efficient use of electricity and its energy sources is then further promoted from the installation of smart meters,
on 4 counts:
The easier switching between service providers that increases the mentioned benefits of competitive pressure,
the encouraged switching of electricity use to cheaper off-peak hours without the peak turbine use,
the facilitation to see what appliance is on at any given time,
and the easier management of appliance use via remote (Internet) access.
That is not all,
because the encouraged competition between profit-seeking consumer product manufacturers
not only, as with utilities, helps keep down their own energy use and costs,
but also, as described, means they become more prone to do market research to fulfil consumer demand,
satisfying such demand with appropriate products at affordable prices,
including energy saving products, whose appearance on the market can be further aided
by specific support for them in the ways mentioned, preferably oriented to new inventors and new businesses
rather than to existing and large manufacturers, so as to promote competition, and keep it as fair as possible.
At this point,
there should be a reasonable perception about what energy efficiency is, and how it is best achieved.
what can be said to constitute energy waste, and how it's best avoided.
It should be fairly clear that energy usage standards affect product characteristics in various ways,
and that therefore the personal choice of what product to use hardly constitutes a waste of energy,
at least not in comparison with alternative ways to save energy,
also because of the greater savings that at least some such alternatives provide.
Moreover, that there is no overall energy shortage warranting such indefinite product restrictions on those who pay for the supply.
Even if all the above was rejected,
taxation is simpler than regulations, can be applied at various stages
of the energy usage chain, and has the several described advantages also for those
now favoring regulations.
Therefore, if the specific need is still felt to target products based
on their electricity consumption, taxation is still superior, in
giving government income at the same time as reducing product sales,
income that also can cross-finance energy saving products to
equilibrate the market yet retain choice.
That said, energy usage based product taxation is of itself not warranted
and is only preferable in comparison to regulation, given the better policy alternatives described.
The Hearing is about light bulbs and washing machines,
but it is about a lot more than that:
On the one hand,
the ideology that reflects a belief in regulations and subsidy schemes,
not just in relation to consumer products,
but also more widely in regulating and subsidizing the supply and use of energy,
that add upfront costs for questionable savings down the line,
and limit the freedom of businesses and consumers to do what they want.
If this ideology seems attractive, then taxation is better on every count along the energy usage chain.
Applied to products, the comparatively easier and more adaptable taxation on cheap products
that in turn can cover subsidy costs in equilibrating markets of for example light bulbs,
while retaining choice.
On the other hand,
the ideology of market based competition to deliver wanted products and services, including energy saving products,
keeping down their cost, creating real jobs sustained by market demand,
while at the same time promoting the efficient use of energy
throughout the energy usage chain, from generation to distribution to consumption,
and keeping freedom of choice for businesses and consumers.
So one can say that it is about big government and small government,
state control and free markets, the right to create and the freedom to choose,
but it's about more than that too.
Because it's not really about saying that "free markets" are better than "state control".
It's about understanding the advantages of both,
of when to apply one policy and when the other,
of how public and private work best together with minimal compromise of the advantages that each have,
as exemplified in the organization of distribution.
In a different era Karl Marx believed in society involvement in the means of production.
That was then, this is now, and the present key role of distribution in society also makes it valuable in terms of public administration,
in situations where it nevertheless also allows for fairer market competition in service provision.
And the regulation of products based on their energy use?
All products have advantages.
That is why they exist for people to choose.
Light bulbs and other electrical products don't burn coal, and they don't release CO2 gas.
If there is a problem - Deal with the problem.
Don't forbid safe and popular products just because they are "low hanging fruit",
legislation that is easier than more relevant alternatives.
Honorable Chairman, Ranking Member, and Members of the Committee:
The right decisions are not always the easy decisions.
But they are the right decisions.
Budget Saving: Tax not Ban Products based on Energy Use
While Stimulated Competition on Free Markets is as seen argued to be the best way
not just to keep Choice but also to efficiently reduce energy use, Taxation is in turn better than Regulation.
Particularly when Budget savings are needed,
the cross-party attraction of Taxation compared to Regulation should become more apparent.
Clearly, unlike a Ban, a Tax on Buildings, Cars, Electrical Goods etc based on energy usage
gives Government a big and direct income, while still reducing relevant energy use.
The case for Car Tax compared to Regulation is further covered here,
while the concluding essay in the Light Bulb section
gives a more detailed rundown of Taxation advantages relative to Regulation
and how it can practically be applied.
A Cross-Party US Budget Saving Proposal
(similarly for states like California, or for other countries)
Energy Efficiency Regulations (Buildings, Cars, TV sets, White Goods,
Light Bulbs etc) are converted into Energy Efficiency Taxation,
with rates as desired by Democrat/Republican administrations,
so that a tax on popular and safe but energy demanding products keeps
them as a choice,
can help finance environmental spending,
and can cross-finance a price reduction on energy saving alternatives,
making them cheaper than today,
so that people are not just "hit by taxes" in keeping product choice.
• Democrats gain massive direct state income that helps cover the 2012 Energy Bill spending and other measures
• Republicans keep Freedom of Choice, and can reduce/eliminate taxes when in administration
• The People not only keep choice, but can also get cheaper cross-financed energy saving choices:
Also, regarding the taxed products, people know (and are informed)
that a ban on certain cars etc is the alternative,
products that have advantages for them, despite a higher energy usage.
• The Environment still gains - both from a sales reduction of relevant products,
as well as from financing that taken together can more than negate any
effects of the fewer remaining taxed products.
Taxation is Flexible:
Democrats can have high rates also to simulate a ban,
Republicans can zero-rate them, as desired.
Rates are also easily changed to suit new market conditions and new
unlike more permanently aimed regulation standards.
It is therefore also a politically fair proposal.
The National Debt Issue is directly addressed by direct Government Income,
based on a more normal liberal state supportive ideology,
yet - if the incentivized purchasing of energy saving alternatives is included -
the supposed regulation savings for individual citizens and businesses
down the line also still applies,
albeit that such savings can be questioned because of rebound effects (cheaper energy use unnecessarily increases use)
and for other reasons as on the Ceolas net website.
This is also clearly relevant for a state like California.
The Government income potential:
Energy demanding products are often cheaper and shorter lasting,
giving a high tax on turnover.
Light bulbs are a timely example, and studied in more detail in this text:
1.5-2 billion current annual US
sales of cheap relevant incandescents show the big income potential - and that is just light bulbs.
The comparative policy relevance:
Unlike with other product regulations, the regulatory bans here are
not because products are unsafe to use in themselves, but simply to
reduce national energy consumption.
Taxation is therefore more apt and relevant to reduce energy consumption.
Notice that this also applies to the "market failure" justification
for banning cheap energy demanding alternatives, since taxation evens
out the purchase price differences.
That is not to say that taxation is itself the best policy measure:
It is the best policy measure in the current
(2011) political and Budget circumstance,
and in any similar situations at other times or in other places.
For the sake of clarity, and for those who do not read the rest of the text,
a summary follows regarding the general applicability of energy saving policies, and why stimulated market competition is a better way to achieve energy efficiency than either regulation or taxation.
Taking a more overall view,
the actual need to reduce energy use can be questioned:
People pay for their energy use, of which there is no shortage,
and any shortage increases the energy price and reduces its use anyway.
Therefore, an oil shortage gives a price rise to reduce its use,
including as has been seen that people voluntarily choose to buy more
fuel efficient cars
- without having to be told what they can buy.
Regulation is therefore particularly unfair in reducing the choice of
that may not be powered by sensitive energy sources in the first place,
and will be so less and less in the future.
In effect, if oil or coal use is still such a worry,
governments can simply simulate a shortage:
An oil import duty, or oil or coal tax,
quicky and simply reduces use,
without telling industry or consumers how they can or can't use such energy,
and can of course again subsidize energy alternatives or "cleaner" coal power, etc.
In the broader and more long-term picture,
stimulated market competition is arguably the best strategy of all:
Opening up competition between utility providers within electricity
grids means the utilities themselves
want to use their energy efficiently to keep down their cost,
without passing the cost on to customers,
and the same goes for increased competition between manufacturers in
their energy use.
Competition between manufacturers forces them into market research of
what consumers want,
which has always included good price-per-quality products that save
them energy in the long run,
and which can of course be advertised as such
(note "Energizer" bunny rabbits, washing up liquid commercials etc,
"expensive to buy but cheap in the long run")
- rather than have manufacturers (often with "green patents") push
for and welcome government regulations
that give them big profits from overly expensive products
that consumers would not otherwise buy in "sufficient" quantities.
One should be deeply suspicious of manufacturers,
who seek or welcome regulations that tell them waht they can or cannot make!
To increase competition - and to increase it with energy saving
products, as desired -
inventors and new manufacturers can be helped to the market,
thereafter cutting any subsidies, to ensure free and fair competition.
America is founded on Freedom, not Regulation:
But with the current need to better balance the Budget,
the flexibility of Taxation means that it can accomodate either options
while simultaneously raising finance as desired, and for as long as desired.
Energy Use: Why Regulate It?
Energy efficiency is best achieved firstly by the stimulation of competition,
secondly by taxation, rather than by regulatory restrictions on services and products,
which tend to backfire.
Moreover, there is no energy shortage justifying regulations, and any shortage of an energy source
raises its price, reduces its use, and increases the use of alternative energy sources anyway.
Energy efficiency regulations aim to reduce energy consumption in society,
by defining how much energy a given process or product can use.
The regulations can be applied at any stage of energy use,
from industrial production to consumption,
which in the case of electricity means from power plant generation to
appliance use by consumers.
While focusing on implications for ordinary citizens,
and thereby mainly using consumer product examples,
the principles here will be seen to apply to all energy efficiency regulations.
One should recognize the good intentions behind the regulations:
"We stimulate the provision of energy saving products and services,
so that society saves energy,
people save money,
and the planet saves on CO2 emissions!"
What can be better?
Certainly, noone welcomes energy waste,
but whether the use of preferred products and services is a "waste" is open to debate.
The actual need for energy savings in society depends on how much energy is available,
and any shortage of a finite energy source raises its price and reduces the use of it anyway.
If emissions are a problem - deal with the emissions.
Don't define emission reduction in terms of allowable energy usage.
Define emission reduction in terms of emissions.
Where there is a problem - deal with the problem.
Many reasons, with references, will be given why the savings are not as great as supposed,
and, of course, whatever energy or money savings there may be,
the "savings" arise from banning what industries and consumers would have bought and used if they could
- little savings from banning what they don't want!
Regulators constantly praise "how good the energy saving product alternatives are".
If a more energy saving product version is good, so people buy it - why ban the alternative?
(no point, little energy is saved)
If a more energy saving product version is not good, so people don't buy it - why ban the alternative?
(no point, since it's better)
Think about it.
Price is not the only purchasing factor, since a product's characteristics vary in accordance with energy usage requirements,
more of which shortly.
Besides, if people prefer cheap products, that is not (yet) a crime.
Manufacturers need to market their expensive products properly - they will be bought (and re-bought) if they are good enough, like other expensive product
Regulators object to the talk of "bans":
"We are not banning any products, just making them more energy efficient!".
This does not hold:
1. If a given product can't be made to a given standard it is banned.
2. If a given product can be modified to meet the required standard, it invariably affects its performance, usability,
construction, weight and appearance as well as price - often all of them.
This is illustrated in the text by the effects of energy efficiency regulation on cars, buildings, washing machines, TV sets, computers and light bulbs.
The next counter-argument is then:
"But our regulations also stimulate innovation, the manufacture of new kinds of energy saving products!".
To begin with, energy saving products to a given standard have to already exist
before bans on alternatives are are implemented.
Historical innovation has always given us energy efficient products - that people want.
Moreover: Clumsy all-or-nothing standards exclude products that might have been invented and liked for their advantages, including
in being more energy saving than today's choices, but without meeting the "magic" energy usage standard.
Moreover: By removing the competition, there is less pressure to
improve existing products that pass the magic standard, or make new ones that go much beyond the standard
- and at a low price, since banned competition is usually cheap competition.
Of course, to reduce the price, enter all the "Green Tech" subsidies so people buy what they otherwise wouldn't
- blissfully ignorant that they are paying via their taxes instead.
Question: Is the well-being of certain manufacturing executives more important than the well-being of the
As for energy supply and CO2 emission reduction issues,
regulators are not blind to the fact that - for example -
a future plentiful and low emission electricity supply lessens the need for
regulations restricting electrity use.
They then say:
"Changes in energy and electricity production
are difficult and expensive to make, and take a long time!
Energy efficiency regulations are the low-hanging fruit
of energy and CO2 emission conservation - easier, quicker, and cheaper to implement!".
This supposition is dealt with at the end of the emission
Firstly, not all changes in for example the electricity sector need be difficult, slow or expensive to implement, as described in
Secondly, regulation proponents define the benefits of energy savings, as well as CO2 emission reduction plans, in a 2020-2050 perspective - in which more of the supply changes are possible.
Thirdly, stimulated market competition at service or product level,
for example with light bulbs, will be seen to be a better option than regulations
also to deliver energy efficiency, and is not particularly difficult, slow or expensive as a policy.
Fourthly, even in more direct product or service targeting,
taxation brings more benefits to all concerned compared to regulations - and is easier, quicker, and cheaper to implement than
the objections to energy efficiency regulations tend to focus on the disadvantages of pushed product replacements.
Protests against the light bulb ban, for example, are mainly about how bad fluorescent "energy saving" light bulbs are.
Since I am anti-regulation, the website does also extensively cover such disadvantages.
However, as made clear in the introduction,
my overall philosophy is how all products have their advantages - and how they should all be allowed to exist because of those advantages, if safe to use.
The main purpose is therefore rather to strike at the core of pro-ban arguments,
arguments emphasizíng the supposed need to save energy and emissions,
arguments holding up regulations as the best way to achieve any such need.
As covered in the introduction,
energy efficiency regulations are about setting standards to enforce
a lower energy use.
A summary of main points why such enforcement is wrong:
1. There is no energy shortage,
and the extensive development of long lasting (potentially renewable) nuclear energy,
and the limitless renewable energy from many sources, which in turn can be spread by electricity grid interconnections,
ensures that this will continue to be the case.
2. Nuclear and renewable energy also happen to be low in CO2 or other emissions,
so their development (and wide spread in grids) by itself significantly lowers the emissions,
much more than energy efficiency regulations do, as will be seen.
3. If there was a shortage of the finite (oil, coal, gas) fuels,
their resulting price rise would limit the use of such energy,
and lead to increased uptake of alternative (and low emitting) energy
- without the need for political intervention, giving pro-regulation politicians what they want anyway.
4. If there was a shortage of the finite (oil, coal, gas) fuels,
it would lead to increased purchases of energy efficient products
like energy efficient cars, or low energy using electrical products that depend on coal power plant supply
- again without the need for political intervention, giving pro-regulation politicians what they want anyway.
5. In contrast, if energy efficiency regulations actually succeed in the stated aim of reducing the use
of fossil fuel oil coal and gas and their emissions, that in turn lowers the price of such fuels, which either
• gives a bounceback effect that increases oil/coal/gas use, their
emissions, and their price, again, or
• makes a switch to renewable energy more uneconomical to make
6. Even if it is seen as necessary to lower the use of oil, coal or gas, or to lower the use of energy in general,
then market-based solutions should be applied where applicable.
Alternatively, taxation is also a superior instrument,
raising government income while achieving the desired effect,
income which in turn can help fund renewable energy (or emission reduction) projects,
energy projects which themselves become more viable through taxation
that increases the cost of finite (oil-coal-gas) fuels and their usage.
The taxation can be applied at any stage in the fuel usage chain:
On the fuel itself, on industry or products relative to fuel use or emissions released,
or on electricity consumption.
7. Moving on from energy sources to consider product use - and energy efficient product use -
the advantages of stimulating competition on free markets compared to reducing competition by regulation,
is illustrated in a comparison of policies for light bulbs, later:
The principles hold for consumer products generally.
8. Again, as detailed in the comparison of policies,
taxation is the second alternative, still better than regulatory bans
in actually reducing energy use and emissions.
Tax income can fund society oil/coal/gas/ and emission reductions more than remaining product use raises them.
Products judged "energy efficent" could have tax reductions or subsidies, making them cheaper than today,
again promoting energy reduction using the pro-ban logic.
That said, taxation is wrong precisely in its similarity to bans,
competition stimulation being superior in delivering energy efficiency.
9. Freedom of choice: Products that might save energy and money are certainly desirable.
But more energy demanding products have advantages too - or noone would want to buy them.
Unfortunately, enforcing lower energy use on a given product compromises it in varying terms of
performance, usability, construction, weight, appearance and price - or it would be less energy using already.
This will be illustrated looking briefly at buildings, washing machines, refrigerators, TV sets, computers and other products,
before the more extensive look at light bulbs.
10. In fact, the advantages of targeted energy demanding products make them particularly popular
No "great savings" from banning what people don't want to buy.
So the regulators stop people from buying what they want,
and then praise the "billions of dollars" (euros, pounds..) that people thereby "save".
11. It is consumers, not regulating politicians, that pay for the energy supply.
People's demand for energy is no better or worse than their demand for a loaf of bread or a nice shirt,
given that the supply is there.
Besides, power plants are not "saved" by banning light bulbs or other electrical products - even accepting supposed energy savings amounts
- for reasons made clear later.
We can live in caves and use candles.
We can also look positively at how to supply any energy that is needed,
with whatever emission criteria is desired.
12. Several reasons will be given why efficiency regulation does not give the energy and emission savings commonly suggested, including the simple reason, as shown by research, that if the use of products does become
cheaper because they use less energy, people just use them more: cars are driven more, electrical products aren't switched off, etc.
Governments keep trying to push people to buy energy saving products.
A good overview of the problems they face - and how they try to overcome them -
is seen in this extensive UK Dept of Environment (DEFRA)
study (4.5 MB pdf document)
The 8 main points used to justify energy efficiency regulations:
With summarized answers why those arguments don't hold up, and links to relevant parts in the text.
1. No product is banned:
The requirement is simply that it should use less energy.
2. Markets fail in convincing consumers to buy expensive energy saving products
instead of cheap energy consuming products.
3. Manufacturers are stimulated by energy usage standards to make
new energy saving products that might otherwise not have been made.
New technology replaces old obsolescent technology.
4. In creating a larger market for energy saving products, their prices come down in the shops.
5. Consumer product regulations are "the low hanging fruit" in
energy and emission savings, easier to implement than electricity supply-side changes.
6. Society saves energy.
7. Consumers save money.
8. The Planet saves on CO2, and other, emissions.
1. "No product is banned:
The requirement is simply that it should use less energy".
Setting allowable standards on products, is the same as banning any product that does not meet those standards.
Unfortunately, there is No Free Lunch:
Usability, construction, weight, appearance and/or performance
characteristics are affected by energy efficiency standards.
The price normally goes up too, or the product would already be saving
energy, since that is a marketable advantage.
A rundown of examples, showing how desirable characteristics of products from buildings to cars to household electrical appliances are affected by energy
efficiency regulations, can be seen here.
Light bulbs are covered in more detail, from here onwards.
2. "Markets fail in convincing consumers to buy expensive energy saving products
instead of cheap energy consuming products".
3. "Manufacturers are stimulated by energy usage standards to make
new energy saving products that might otherwise not have been made.
New technology replaces old obsolescent technology".
Competition and marketing fails, rather than markets themselves:
There are plenty of "expensive to buy but cheap in the long run" products
that are imaginatively advertised and sell well - if they are good enough to begin with.
Competition, rather than regulation, stimulates manufacturers to make products that
people actually want to buy at prices they can afford,
including products that can save them in energy and running costs.
Meanwhile, old, safe and well-known technology is not bad, just because it is old.
The notion that "markets fail" brings up the strange logic of regulations:
The more popular an energy demanding product is, the greater the reason to ban it,
because the greater the supposed energy savings involved, from stopping people buying what they want
(no "big savings" from stopping people buying what they don't want!)
What is worse, the savings are unlikely to be big anyway, see points below.
Why do major manufacturers welcome, and indeed lobby for,
regulations that tell them what they can or can't make?
Standards and Markets,
The Politics behind banning Light Bulbs, and
Competition and Taxation sections.
4. "In creating a larger market for energy saving products, their prices come down in the shops".
More on the market does not necessarily mean cheaper on the market.
Manufacturers charge what they can on the marketplace,
regardless of how much they sell:
they can indeed lower the prices and still make a profit, but only the pressure of competition ensures it.
This supposition that prices will fall, is further dealt with here.
For more on how overall purchase costs increase, see the price section.
5. "Consumer product regulations are 'the low hanging fruit' in
energy and emission savings, easier to implement than electricity supply-side changes".
While some changes in electricity generation and distribution obviously do take time,
that does not apply to all such changes,
besides which the energy and emission savings from regulations are (as in the USA and EU)
anyway projected forwards to 2020-2050 dates, when more supply-side changes have taken effect:
Such savings are not only more significant than savings from product regulations (of which more below),
but are more fair and relevant as well, compared to regulations on electrical products which hit everyone,
irrespective of what electricity energy source they use,
and therefore also ignoring that their electricity use might not be releasing any emissions.
If none of the above was true,
then it would still be more relevant to increase the sale of energy efficient products
by marketplace competition or taxation measures,
the latter which can also equilibrate the market
by cross-financing measures that reduce the price of energy efficient products, although taxation of itself is hardly warranted.
See here for a fuller answer to this supposition.
6. "Society saves energy".
7. "Consumers save money".
8. "The Planet saves on CO2, and other, emissions".
The savings issues are obviously interrelated.
Whatever the savings amounts, initial questions should be asked as to what actually constitutes energy "waste" in society,
and what necessity there is to restrict the energy supply for consumers who choose to pay for it:
There is no energy shortage, especially for electricity, for which imported oil is rarely used anywhere,
and energy "waste" rather arises in generation and distribution, and in the unnecessary use of products,
rather than in the personal choices of the products that people want to use.
The supposed savings are not there anyway, see the savings section.
As for energy supply, see the energy section,
while CO2 emissions are further considered in the emission section.
A detailed account of why the savings arguments don't hold, with references, is provided for light bulbs,
generally applicable also for other products, in particular electrical consumer products.
The overall small savings from banning ordinary simple incandescent light bulbs is covered here.
Standards and Markets
Ever heard of the Eco-design Committee ?
No, that's not something from George Orwell's "1984" or Franz Kafka's "The Castle"
- or maybe it is.
The Eco-design Committee is a part of the European Commission, the unelected
body of the EU which has the sole right to initiate and execute
legislation that covers all the EU countries.
As the name suggests, and as stated in the Directive establishing it, the Eco-design Committee
designs and defines energy using products that 500 million Europeans are allowed to buy
"the Directive applies to all energy using products (except vehicles for transport) and covers all energy sources"
"aspects at a very early stage in the product design"
Recent examples include light bulbs, washing machines, refrigerators and other mainly electrical products
as covered in this text.
In other words:
Not just definitions based on energy usage, but also design specifications,
supposedly environmentally related,
but which may therefore include the appearance that the products are allowed to have
(Example: In the EU, unlike other jurisdictions, and for reasons unrelated to energy use,
all frosted incandescent light bulbs including halogens were
banned with immediate effect, while clear types are still allowed in a gradual phase-out process).
Members of the Eco-design Committee are not publicly disclosed,
supposedly so that they cannot be directly influenced
(Nevertheless the EU has had some publicized cases of EU-wide
standards of great profitability supposedly based on the patents of
local EU manufacturers, and 2 major
European light bulb manufacturers were involved in the drafting of the
recent EU legislation).
The question is, increasingly for Americans as well as for Europeans and others:
Why should a secluded small clique of bureaucrats know better than manufacturers, interior designers, lighting
designers, businesses and citizens, what products - safe products - they are allowed to make, buy, and use?
(Those who believe in Plato's rule by an elite might support such a notion,
though the elite part is also questionable, given how their communications
lack logic both from language and pro-regulatory perspectives)
Clearly I oppose these regulations,
and it is therefore obvious that this text is going to reflect that.
However, as always, one should be open about valid points in opposing ideology,
such as seen in the defence of energy usage standards and indeed product standards in general.
For example, concerning creativity and choice:
What stimulates creativity?
How "free" is really consumer choice?
Beginning with creativity,
a defence of energy efficiency regulations is that the sweeping away
of obsolescent technology (such as represented by ordinary incandescent light bulbs),
and the restriction posed by energy usage standards, stimulate creativity.
Destruction and Restriction stimulating Creativity?
Yes, there is truth in this.
Stimulation via Destruction
In nature, forest and bush fires allow other plants to sprout and thrive,
some fire-resistant seeds even lie dormant for several years waiting
for it to happen.
Earthquakes and wars are unwelcome events,
but can rejuvenate architecture and town planning.
Clearly, in the same way, if a popular product disappears from the market
(and regulations tend to target popular products, to try to give
then one might expect the void to be filled with some new attractive
In practice, the problem is that manufacturers don't necessarily see
it that way:
Their only interest in variety is if it's profitable (or subsidised).
In the case of light bulbs, removing the cheap and popular but unprofitable
simple incandescent bulb also allows previously unpopular and
expensive but profitable alternatives to gain a bigger market share - without bringing new creativity.
Pull up flowers from a flower bed to make room for new flowers - and
watch the weeds alongside move in instead (in an exaggerated analogy!).
After all, why are major manufacturers are so happy to be told what they can make?
Stimulation via Restriction
There is also the argument of stimulation via restriction,
how working within standards can stimulate creativity.
Again, this can be true:
Put a blank sheet of paper in front of someone and then tell them to
"draw something", then to draw a house,
musicians to improvise freely or within a 12 bar blues,
advertisers and moviemakers to work to a certain budget, or, for that
matter, the great creativity in times of war in the use of limited
But again in practice it does not work in the case of manufacturing standards:
Existing alternatives that already pass the "magic" gateway standard may be more profitable,
and having passed the standard there is less pressure to improve them,
since competing alternatives below the standard have been banned.
As noted earlier, energy usage standards also block products that might have been made
and appreciated for their performance or usabilty qualities, without reaching the standard:
the "might have been" that is never known.
While the idea that Ford and Edison would not have seen their products made might be dismissed
on the basis that current less energy using versions are allowed, that doesn't look ahead:
For example, current experimental forms of lighting based on say bio-luminescence
will be forced to sit in labs unless they meet energy usage requirements,
despite the light quality or other advantages they may have in certain applications.
Turning to the consumer:
It's easy to talk about "freedom of choice on free markets"
But how free is really that choice?
The choice can be removed, kept limited, and lifespans can be shortened to force renewed purchases:
One might say "Hard to get, Can't choose, Won't last"
Let's see how that relates to the proposed energy efficiency regulations.
"Hard to get": Manufacturers replacing old with new technology
It is in a sense understandable to talk about "obsolescent light bulbs",
when so much other technology keeps getting replaced:
Radio and TV tubes, vinyl records, audio cassettes, 8-track systems, floppy discs,
with, in general, electronic replacing mechanical and digital replacing analogue.
Not everyone agrees that it is all about improvement:
The "hands on" of mechanical devices can be preferred to electronic equivalents,
sound purists may prefer analogue to digital recordings, and so on.
Nevertheless, there is of course a key difference here compared with energy efficiency regulations:
You are still allowed to buy the products, if you can get them,
or to make them, or give one to a friend ("distribution"), without having to go to jail afterwards.
Notice the similarities,
between an incandescent light bulb and a radio tube: the same original vacuum tube concept.
Also the solid-state similarity between diodes (light emitting diodes, LEDs) and transistors.
regular incandescent light bulbs "need to be phased out" in favor of LEDs and other less energy using
Yet no-one was calling for "a ban on energy guzzling radio tubes" when they were abundant,
and newer transistors were arriving on the market.
The tubes got used less anyway - but are still appreciated for special uses, without breaking down any power plant
(any guitarists out there?).
While the interplay between manufacturers and consumers is never straightforward,
manufacturer profits and consumer satisfaction do tend to go together, at least for most consumers,
if there is sufficient competition between manufacturers to try to satisfy them.
Certainly, in the case of transistors, they gave clear advantages to consumers over the tubes:
Smaller, cheaper, more reliable, less prone to breakage and arguably safer (not using mains electricity) in portable radios and other equipment.
Do LEDs, CFLs or Halogens have the same obvious advantages over the old simple light bulb?
on the contrary, more expensive, often less safe, and sometimes with light quality issues.
there is greater resistance to buy them, the "market fails" and so the simple, safe, and overwhelmingly popular light bulb must be banned
using the logic of regulations:
The defence that "it's only about applying energy usage limitations" does not apply, since applying energy usage limitations alters product characteristics apart from usually increasing the price, and with questionable overall savings, as covered later.
If a new product is preferred to the old one, why ban the old one?
(No point, little savings)
If an old product is preferred to the new one, why ban the old one?
(No point, the old one is better)
Think about it.
Notice therefore how
ban proponents saying
"the energy efficient alternatives are very good!",
surveys indicating that
"consumers like energy efficient products",
or reports from some states that say that
"the increased consumer uptake of CFLs vindicates the ban",
or calls that
"we should wait with a ban until better LEDs arrive!",
rather than support a ban, do the opposite...
The supposed savings justification of a ban,
get less and less
the more and more people buy the "great" alternatives anyway
(or get them subsidised, and handed out, as with CFLs)
"Can't choose": Many other standards limiting choice
Another defence of standards based on energy usage,
is that there are many other standards defining what people can buy
- that "free choice" is an illusion.
Again there is truth in this.
If you are holding a copy of this in your hand,
a "Letter" or "Legal" or A4 standard paper sheet is a certain defined size.
Try buying a sheet of paper 1" longer...
Try buying a 27W or 73W light bulb...
Manufacturers willingly, or sometimes unwillingly (video cassettes, DVDs)
come to accept certain standards to make it easier for people to buy and use their products,
particularly if it involves the use of ancillary equipment, and not just on a small scale (think of shipping, and container standards).
where standardization agreement is not reached (vacuum cleaner bags, inkjet cartridges, camera film in the past)
such accessory products are often costly from a lack of competition,
at least when bought from the manufacturer of the products they are used with.
Classification is closely related to standardization,
such that graded labelling, color coding, "Energy Star" ratings and so on easily can inform consumers.
So certainly: There are many standards, convenient for consumers even though they reduce choice.
The difference with energy usage standards is again in the legality:
There is nothing preventing you from making, or having made for you,
products deviating from such market norms, for whatever purpose.
Electrical products still have to meet safety standards in their wiring and so on,
Which just serves to add to the lack of logic in bans based on energy usage.
Safe and popular products are banned for reasons unrelated to the products themselves,
reasons rather related to the power plant that they might be connected to:
type and availability of energy used,
capacity of the power plant being used,
expansion feasibility of the power plant,
emission release by the power plant, and so on,
in turn made less relevant when competing suppliers in the grid are established.
If there is a problem - deal with the problem....
the "speed and ease" justification of product regulations compared to energy supply based changes does not hold up,
as covered later, including because, in the final analysis, product taxation measures would then be more logical anyway
(and even more "speedy and easy").
"Won't Last": Product lifespan, planned obsolescence, and consumerism
What kind of light bulb, washing machine or dishwasher do consumers want?
Sure - good, cheap and energy saving ones, but long-lasting ones too.
On the other hand, manufacturers, to make a profit, are most likely to
sacrifice on lifespan, for 2 reasons:
It hopefully (for them) brings repeat business,
and it's the least easy quality to spot by consumers, before it's too late...
The price tag is seen in the shop,
the quality, including energy savings, is seen over the time of the warranty (the product guarantee period),
and then, well, and then the party is over....
The idea that manufacturers deliberately limit product lifespan
is called "planned obsolescence" and there is ample evidence that this takes place,
as any online search of the term will show.
Software, tech gadgets, vacuum cleaners, and so on in great variety.
A notorious example was the implanting of "death chips" in inkjet printers, so they simply
stopped working after a certain number of printouts.
Notice how this might be expected to apply to light bulb manufacturers:
In the opposite of what is happening today,
they should, by that logic, prefer selling lots of cheap short-lasting light bulbs,
rather than try to sell a single expensive long-lasting bulb in their place.
Indeed, that is exactly what happened in the past:
Why do you think the standard life of a simple incandescent light bulb is still (at least for 60W types) 1000 hours,
with 1000 hours also being the minimum light bulb lifespan within the American light bulb regulations to apply from 2012 onwards?
Because the Phoebus Light Bulb Cartel,
that started in 1924 and included GEC, Philips and Osram among its participants, said so!
Osram acknowledges (pdf document) the cartel's existence quite openly.
German researchers recently uncovered a lot more about the Phoebus cartel,
as mentioned later, when the cartel and its continuing influence is covered in more detail in the context of the "Politics behind the light bulb ban" section.
A dramatic TV programme about the Phoebus cartel and other "product obsolescence" lifespan shortening policies - including the inkjet printer! - see blog post The Light Bulb Conspiracy, including videos in German and English and a video interview with the director.
The version in English can also directly be seen here.
Yet today the apparent turnaround:
Suddenly all the major light bulb manufacturers seem to want to sell expensive long-lasting light bulbs instead!
What is the logic in that?
cheap ordinary bulbs are relatively unprofitable even with a great turnover:
having simple technology that is easily made by many, often local, manufacturers,
and so competition is greater, and profit margins lower.
this of course also ties in with the energy usage regulations
where the more profitable, if longer lasting, bullbs are the main replacements.
with CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) as the main pushed replacement for reasons seen later,
they tend not to last as long, or maintain brightness as long, as commonly rated lifespans suggest, as will be described and referenced.
So the idea of manufacturers producing products with shorter than expected lifespan,
is not without foundation even here.
How then might longer lasting products find their way onto the market,
for example the mythical "ever-lasting" light bulb?
The fact that communist East Bloc countries may have been making longer lasting
light bulbs and other products than the capitalist West has been taken to give
further support to the idea that "free markets fail" in coming up with the right goods:
Much of the criticism of planned obsolescence, and the "spend-spend consumerism" it entails, therefore involves calling for greater state involvement
and the regulation of markets
(as also seen recently with the banking crisis).
This brings back the notion that somehow a state regulator knows best
what people should want:
"A bulb lasting X hours"
"A bulb using at most Y Watts for Z lumen brightness"
The problem is firstly in lifespan verification,
secondly in what is left undefined,
and what is difficult to define anyway, in terms of general product quality and product characteristics other than life-span
or energy usage,
and there is of course also the question of keeping down the price.
Competition is the best way to orient manufacturers
to provide products with the quality and characteristics that consumers might want, at a low price.
Nearly all calls for market regulation miss the point that competition,
rather than capítalism or market principles, is what has failed,
and that, in fact, free market competition is not welcomed by capitalists,
to the extent that competition reduces their profits.
State involvement should therefore focus on preventing monopolies and cartels,
not keep subsidising existing major businesses or failing businesses,
and aid the entry of new businesses to the market,
with the real and market supported local employment that also can bring.
But does more competition guarantee the appearance of products with longer lifespans?
As seen, a short lifespan is something manufacturers believe they can
get away with.
But what is an essential part of the short lifespan strategy?
That's right - the repurchasing of a product, from the same manufacturer.
If you are unhappy that your washing machine broke down 3 months after
the warranty ran out,
and there is competition for your custom,
then the short lifespan trick does not work - at least not for that company, and word gets around.
Clearly, it is also about information:
An increased awareness of the warranty terms (guarantees) offered by different manufacturers,
of consumer lifespan test reports,
of second-hand prices of some expensive products like cars, and so on.
Turning it around,
a manufacturer wishing to go the route of making expensive but longer lasting products
can highlight such longer warranties and consumer reports that are in its favor,
along with imaginatively highlighting the "expensive to buy but longer lasting" quality in commercials,
as described in criticizing profit-seeking light bulb manufacturers happiness
with the ban that - for them and their political friends - more conveniently just gets rid of the unprofitable cheap alternatives that
the dumb citizens of the world, unfortunately, like to buy instead.
The Manufacturer and Consumer Sides of Energy Efficiency
Performance is affected
For any defined unmodified product, greater energy use means better performance.
To begin with, it may not be possible to modify a product to meet energy usage standards.
That product then becomes obsolete - despite all the other advantages it must have had, for people to want to buy it.
If it is possible to modify a product to use less energy, it might not perform as well as before.
If it is possible to modify a product to give a similar performance,
constructional changes may mean feature changes in delivering that performance, as well as appearance, size or weight changes,
and a likely price increase (or the energy saving qualities might have been incorporated already, to give a competitive advantage).
It sounds good to have an efficient product.
But performance efficiency is not the same as energy efficiency!
So-called inefficient heaters (fan/bar types) may heat a room
more quickly than efficient oil-filled/storage types, inefficient
cars may be fast because of their inefficiency,
inefficient lights (ordinary light bulbs) will nonetheless respond
quickly with bright broad spectrum light, and so on.
Any given computer or TV-set that is forced to use less energy may suffer from worse
response-time, worse memory use and retrieval, worse screen performance (including less screen back-lighting etc),
possibly solved as said by expense-adding component changes - if they are possible that is, to meet the energy efficiency required.
Notice also in this regard the targeting of energy demanding plasma screens,
which may have advantages of contrast, wide angle viewing, and less motion blur, particularly for their price.
As for washing machines and
dishwashers, hot and powerful well performing ones are inefficient in
Even if energy efficiency standards are set for different motor sizes (compare with
cars), it means that the consumer who wants to maintain performance
upgrades to a more energy using product.
Alternatively, poorly performing energy efficient appliances are simply used
longer to achieve the same result, again not saving energy.
Similarly but in reverse, refrigerators and freezers do not necessarily cool as well as before.
The arguments are sometimes dismissed in saying that performance will be maintained with lower energy use,
but performance values are hardly specified in the regulations, and they would be hard to define and adequately measure anyway
(e.g.light bulb performance measurements, dealt with in detail later).
Moreover, as mentioned, if any performance attribute is indeed maintained, it raises the product price,
since energy saving is a marketable advantage, and the product would therefore otherwise be saving energy in the first place
(see price considerations, in a following section).
A good example typifying performance and usage problems follows....
The particular change to washing machines (clothes washers) was highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article (March 17 2011)
by Sam Kazman, a general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Edited extracts, my emphases:
Front-loading washing machines meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders.
Because they don't fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy:
But, as Americans are increasingly learning, front-loaders are expensive, often have mold problems, and don't let you toss in a wayward sock after they've started.
The culprit is the federal government's obsession with energy efficiency:
In their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance,
washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.
In 2007, after the more stringent rules had kicked in, Consumer Reports noted that some top-loaders were leaving its test swatches "nearly as dirty as they were before washing." "For the first time in years," CR said, "we can't call any washer a Best Buy."
Contrast that with the magazine's 1996 report that, "given warm enough water and a good detergent, any washing machine will get clothes clean."
Those were the good old days....
Newer types of [front-load and modified top-load] washers cost about twice as much as conventional top-loaders,
but [in the 2007 test] they didn't clean as well as the 1996 models.
The situation got so bad that the Competitive Enterprise Institute started a YouTube protest campaign,
"Send Your Underwear to the Undersecretary."
With the click of a mouse, you could email your choice of virtual bloomers, boxers or Underoos to the Department of Energy.
Several hundred Americans did so, but it wasn't enough to stop Congress from mandating even stronger standards a few months later.
Now Congress is at it once again.
On March 10 , the Senate Energy Committee held hearings on a bill to make efficiency standards even more stringent.
The bill claims to implement "national consensus appliance agreements," but those in this consensus are the usual suspects:
politicians pushing feel-good generalities, bureaucrats seeking expanded powers, environmentalists with little regard for American pocketbooks, and industries that stand to profit from a de facto ban on low-priced appliances.
And there are green tax goodies for manufacturing high-efficiency models—the kind that already give so many tax credits to Whirlpool, for example, that the company will avoid paying taxes on its $619 million profit in 2010.
Amazingly, the consensus also includes so-called consumer groups such as the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union.
At last week's hearing, the federation touted a survey supposedly showing overwhelming public support for higher efficiency standards.
But not a single question in that survey suggested that these standards might compromise performance.
Consumers Union, meanwhile, which publishes Consumer Reports, claims that "new washers can't be compared to old ones"
— but that's belied by the very language in its articles.
We know that politics can be dirty.
Who'd have guessed how literal a truth this is?
Also by Sam Kazman, an entertaining, if worrying, "Walk around the House"
with a metaphorical Government Inspector banning all sorts of consumer products
according to new regulatory standards,
unnecessarily restricting people's choice and freedom:
"How Many Congressmen Does It Take to Screw the Light Bulb?"
(an illustrated article pdf copy,
plain text version)
Actually it may be worse than that: the US Senate Energy Committee, in passing the S.398 Bill on April 12 2011, are
seeking to tighten standards on a long list of household and other appliances, including washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and lighting, still far from legislation, but showing the prevailing sentiment there at the time.
Notice how product water usage restrictions has similarities with energy usage restrictions:
Toilets that don't flush properly with reduced water use have been added to the growing litany of product problems faced.
As shown with washing machines, the 2 types of savings mandates can cross over, in that less water use also means less heated water use,
and thereby reduced energy (electricity) use.
Also expanding on the above washing machine, toilet and other themes, a July 2011 Energy Tribune
by Dr. H. Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis - more of which in the section below dealing with the lack of supposed savings from regulations.
a a lose-lose situation for all concerned,
given the small eventual savings for society which aren't necessary in the first place,
and which - if they were necessary - could be handled very differently.
Those energy saving dictats just keep on coming.
Thereby the announced EU regulation on heating system pumps and other heating equipment,
or the proposals on buildings, furnaces, catering equipment, lighting etc
in the US Energy Bill,
with more household oriented legislation supposedly also on the way in both jurisdictions....
as indeed reflected now in March 2011 in the mentioned US Senate proposals.
Construction and Appearance are affected
If a product can meet the energy saving requirements in the first place,
it will involve a different, usually more complex construction,
or the product would be likely to be more energy efficient already, since it is an advantage.
For example, through the need for insulation to save energy by keeping heat in (or
out), it makes buildings, refrigerators, computer servers larger, heavier and/or with less internal space and/or more
expensive to construct with different components.
In turn it affects usage.
Notice for example how above mentioned different washing machine front- and top-loading constructions affect usage.
Or, how energy efficient buildings are sealed buildings.
That means windows that can't open, no balconies, no open plan rooftop
communication: not always what people want.
while it doesn't mean that no buildings will have balconies in the future,
it means that to keep within allowable energy usage limits for a given building,
architects no longer have the option to design the buildings as they - and the purchasers and occupiers - might wish.
Complexity tends takes over from simplicity:
aptly seen in how Edison's simple and safe light bulb is sacrificed in the name of
"environmental progress", for complex mercury containing "energy saving" lights, or multimodular LED lamps.
But, ironically, one can also see how energy limitation forces construction constraints to give product simplification
- itself not necessarily a blessing:
for example cars that are made smaller/lighter/flimsier in a given vehicle class, to meet fuel economy regulations,
and therefore less safe to travel in.
So coughing up more money may not get you round the constructional demands.
In fact you are probably going to have to hand over more money anyway....
Price is affected
Assuming that modifications can be made in the first place, to meet the standards required,
then the constructional changes also raises prices: particularly if an attempt is made to maintain performance features.
Otherwise the products would be energy efficient already, since energy efficiency is an advantage on the market.
But there are more reasons why people end up paying more...
Why purchase costs increase:
1. Energy efficiency measures increase cost to consumers.
This is not just due to the constructional changes.
Given, as mentioned, that performance levels are not necessarily maintained when a lower energy use is enforced,
then a consumer may buy a product from a higher class (such as larger/better motors, with cars, washing machines, dishwashers etc)
- paying still more to achieve satisfaction.
2. The real purchase cost for "green technology" is higher than the price tags show:
Manufacturer and retailer, subsidies and tax breaks add to taxpayer costs.
Also, while purchase grants may help some consumers, it is paid for by other citizens.
To get an idea of the massive subsidies involved to keep down prices, see the later section covering light bulbs, also referring to energy efficiency subsidies in general, such as the
autumn 2009 announced
3.1 billion dollar support of energy efficiency
measures in California state alone.
3. Taxpayer subsidies keep down prices in many other ways:
The idea of "cash for clunkers" scrappage schemes for cars,
(which has extended to other products elsewhere eg water heaters in the UK),
scrapping well working products in the name of sustainability,
means the increased manufacture and distribution of new more complex and costly products.
4. It is sometimes suggested that if everyone has to buy "energy saving" products, more will be made so that each product costs
less to make, on economy of scale,
and therefore in turn the product will be cheaper to buy.
This might at first seem a good point.
But this is exactly the sort of thinking that keeps leading politicians and officials around the world (as in the EU) to fill the pant pockets of farmers, house builders, "green tech" businessmen and what-nots in the expectation that they will then be so kind as to provide cheaper agricultural produce, cheaper housing, cheaper "green" energy and energy saving products etc for the people.
But cheap in production does not mean cheap on the market!
And more on the market does not necessarily mean cheap on the market either!
Manufacturers will increasingly have to pay for product collection/recycling,
with, for example, Vermont in May 2011 becoming the third US state requiring CFL manufacturers to pay for such a program. Any financial burden on manufacturers is of course likely to see more expensive products, to cover costs.
In the case of energy saving products:
the manufacturers charge what they can
on the marketplace, regardless of how much they sell:
they can indeed lower the prices and still make a profit, but only the pressure of competition ensures it.
• cheap competition
from "energy demanding" products, which keeps down prices overall, has been removed
there are fewer manufacturers
making the usually more complex products, again reducing
competition. This is particularly the case when lobbying local manufacturers with patented green technology succeed in banning the competition (as in the EU).
• pre-ban subsidies
on "energy saving" products, which keeps down their prices, has likely been removed
, in no longer being seen necessary to shift those products, given that the cheap competition has been removed.
In this regard, in post-ban UK, April 2011, there has been a rebound price increase of CFLs
from subsidy removal, as covered by savethebulb.org
the complexity of energy saving products often being behind their greater expense,
also brings up the point of likelier recycling requirements
In relation to the last point on recycling, one might add the cost to consumers thereof in time and money,
including the transport to recycling collection points (as with properly packaged fluorescent light bulbs, more), a cost factor that should be remembered in the overall price of such products.
Competition of course not only keeps prices down, but also gives variety of choice for consumers,
and one should not ignore product quality, achieved not just through bureacratic standards and inspection,
but also through consumer demand:
With sufficient competition, manufacturers get more interested in doing market research, to make products that satisfy consumers.
5. Any breakage/loss/malfunction of expensive energy saving products involves greater replacement cost,
than of cheaper more energy using alternatives.
6. You don't have to be a left-wing or environmental supporter
to lament the frequency with which manufacturers make products obsolete.
Situations where spare parts become harder to get,
and reparation is more difficult:
The push for people to buy new products with associated profit - rather than fixing the old.
But that doesn't mean having to legislate it too!
In the situation here, since energy inefficient types of products can't be made any longer,
it also applies to parts for, say, washing machine models.
Similarly, side lamps, reading and ornamental lamps and chandeliers that have small/narrow bases that fit currently available light bulbs,
become obsolete when newer bulbs don't fit, taking into account the bulkier base of CFLs, the smaller range of Halogens, and the inadequacy of LEDs for the purpose.
Current accessories become harder to use too (as with dimmers, timers, sensors specifically suited for today's light bulbs).
All these enforced replacements affect household and business purchase costs.
Lack of Money, Energy or Emission Savings from Energy Efficiency
Lab testing of one product against another is one thing, reality is another.
In researching the light bulb ban, as described in detail below, I did not encounter any European government or EU agency
giving truthful figures regarding savings: that is, they were purely based on the usage involved in
sticking one light beside another (still getting the figures wrong, incidentally).
In real life, energy use may end up greater, not less, and emission savings depend on the energy source emitting gases in the first place,
not true when using emission-free electricity, for example.
A much longer rundown of why money/energy/emission savings arguments don't hold, with references,
is given in relation to the light bulb ban, especially with the factor
and the final electricity use analysis:
But much of what is said there applies to other products too,
especially those that are powered by electricity.
Some reasons for the lack of savings:
1. High purchase costs reduce running cost savings - also see last section.
Putting it in a practical context with washing machines (and other products like energy saving lighting, which is however covered later),
a July 2011 Energy Tribune article
by Dr. H. Sterling Burnett a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).
The Federal Government is considering new energy efficiency mandates for icemakers.
Before starting down this path it should carefully examine the differences between the rosy promises and the real results from other household appliance efficiency standards that it has imposed.....
The savings from federally mandated energy efficiency standards for household appliances are often overstated.
The Cato Institute found that U.S. energy efficiency standards will cost consumers up to $56 billion through 2050, excluding the government’s costs.
Energy-saving washing machines, for example, can initially cost twice as much as the machines they replace, but it is argued that they pay for themselves with lower utility bills. These “green” washers use up to 70 percent less water, but optimal results require a specially formulated [low sud] detergent, which can be more expensive.
Even under the best conditions, the benefits are drastically overstated. According to Forbes, it could take an average of nine years to recover through energy savings the high price of an energy-efficient washing machine. Because the average lifespan of a machine is 12 years, by the time the consumer realizes savings, it is nearly time to buy a replacement.
The government that took away our light bulbs and our well-functioning high flow toilets now wants us to use icemakers that use less energy to freeze water.
I fear the result will be higher prices for freezers that often don’t make fully solid ice – you may find water running out of your freezer or food spoiling.
The government should stop dictating to consumers what products they buy and how much energy they use – The feds can’t get their own fiscal house in order, and they should certainly stay out of telling us how to run ours.
2. Compliance issues:
Any forced reduction of choice of the popular products (remember, less savings reason to target unpopular products),
is likely to meet consumer resistance in various ways.
Firstly from hoarding where appropriate (with small cheap products frequently replaced, like light bulbs),
Secondly from smuggling, when possible,
Thirdly, from evasive action to the extent regulations allow
(eg 2 x 60W bulbs in fittings where a 100W bulb was used before,
greater use of side lamps etc with lower wattage bulbs).
One might add unintended consequences:
Such as, in Canada, the reported shifting to basements of phased-out refrigerators as basement beer coolers,
when installing new (subsidised) refrigerators under favorable purchase schemes, increasing rather than decreasing energy usage.
Also see "rebound effect" of increased energy use under point 7 below, from what effectively becomes cheaper energy use.
3. Longer usage: Since the enforced use of less energy can reduce the performance efficiency of a product,
it can lead to a longer usage time to compensate for it.
For example, an energy saving dishwasher operating at lower temperature, or with an inferiorly performing motor,
may be left on longer to clean the dishes - negating the supposed money and energy savings.
Of course, upgrading to a higher product class to maintain performance also negates the supposed money and energy savings,
as mentioned under purchase costs above.
4. Product differences, unrelated to the amount of energy they use, can affect the savings.
For example, the "energy waste" as heat of electrical products (computers, light bulbs) is not necessarily
a waste, in saving room heating costs; while fluorescent "energy saving" lights are supposed to be left on for minimum periods, using energy,
so as not to reduce their lifespan.
5. Short-term/rare usage:
Assuming that any higher than expected purchase costs aren't cancelled by lower than expected usage savings,
and indeed that all desirable product characteristics remain,
that still only applies to continuous use:
What if you hardly use that more expensive purchase?
What if you might actually prefer a cheaper and perhaps shorter lasting alternative?
There are many examples where short-term or rare usage applies, by choice:
An energy efficient building may not be used much,
temporary tenants face high lease/rental charges
without being compensated by the lower heating/cooling costs,
given that the energy efficiency regulation on the building increased its construction cost
(since lower energy use without any extra construction cost would be a marketable advantage).
Also think of appliances that are used in short-stay or second homes.
Even with permanent occupation, products inside a building are not always used much,
as with lighting in rarely used rooms, or lamps,
or for that matter products perhaps outside the building, like a second car.
Those frequently changing say cars/computers/TV-sets for new models, may also
lose rather than save money.
6. Complex energy saving products require more energy, not
only in construction but also in transport from the fewer
manufacturing centra (China) in which they are economical to make, and, being more
complex, may (like "energy saving" lights) require
recycling, with associated energy and emissions.
A likely longer lifespan of energy efficient products helps to compensate,
but again this eats into the savings figures that supporters of energy efficient mandates like to proclaim.
7. Real life use:
Whatever about lab tests, think of what energy efficiency means:
It effectively means cheaper energy use, so people just use more
So cars are driven more - lessening the attraction of using public transport.
So heating, lighting, computers, TV-sets and other appliances are unnecessarily left on....
While that isn't particularly hard to imagine, Scottish research from 2008 actually had such findings, relating to business energy usage.
Cambridge University research (May 2009 report) also confirms the increased energy usage.
Terry Barker, of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, showed that if the International Energy Agency's (IEA) recommendations for efficiency measures are followed in full in the next few decades, results will likely fall far short of expectations:
"The green stimulus packages being implemented to tackle the financial crisis in several countries all include investments in energy
efficiency.....They may be a lot less effective at reducing energy use than expected because of the rebound effect."
As also seen in practice with lighting switch-over policies, covered in more detail later.
"That is potentially important because it will lead to us over-estimating what certain policies will achieve"
adds Steve Sorrell, a researcher at the UK Energy Research Centre and an energy policy expert at the University of Sussex.
For example, quoting a recent 2011
Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) article (pdf, html version here)
by Sam Kazman, "How Many Congressmen Does It Take to Screw the Light Bulb?":
Do CFLs actually reduce our consumption of electricity?
... a problem compunded by the fact that CFLs are meant to be left on for minimum time periods,
so as not to shorten their lifespan, which of course adds to their energy use, even more so because people then forget to turn them off....
Even for this seemingly unquestionable claim, the answer isn’t clear...the town of Traer, Iowa, persuaded most of its residents to turn in their incandescent bulbs for free fluorescents. The results? Electricity use increased by nearly 10 percent. People figured that, because running the new lights was cheaper, they might as well keep them on longer.
8. Market effects:
If energy efficiency does significantly succeed in reducing energy usage,
then, as said earlier, the reduced energy demand reduces the cost of oil, coal and gas sources, which either
• gives bounceback demand increasing their use, their emissions, and their price, again, or
• makes a switch to low emitting and renewable energy more uneconomical to make.
These effects were seen in recent 2009 energy markets, from the initially reduced energy demand of recession.
9. Electricity bills may not go down to give supposed "billion dollar/euro consumer savings",
even if less electricity is used.
One reason is political: the effort (via carbon taxes, emission trading etc) to keep coal/gas/oil prices high
for utility companies, and therefore also for business and household consumers,
in turn to encourage the use of progressively more renewable sources, which is also enforced by legislation in many countries,
but such energy tends to cost more, at least at present, without subsidies.
But that's not all.
The lack of supply competition in grids means that reduced sales for the dominant supplying electricity company
leads to it raising the standing charge or the price per kWhour, to cover its
costs, of which the purchase of fuel is only a small part, compared to plant and grid maintenance, wage bills, and so on: energy regulators are hardly going to deny such a legitimate request.
This is particularly the case for a generalized downturn of demand from energy efficiency legislation
which is not just related to peak (early evening) use,
when utility companies often utilize costlier extra turbine generation.
Regulation versus Free Markets to achieve Desired Sales
"Manufacturers are stimulated to make their products more energy efficient",
the regulation proponents say.
The justification given is that free market conditions do not lead to enough purchases of energy efficient products.
Information campaigns telling
people of great savings they can make are considered insufficient:
Basically, people are considered too stupid to know their own
good, and should be happy to save money from not buying what they otherwise would have bought.
The assumption that keeps being made that a certain product is only made more energy efficient
- but as already seen, the changes in characteristics as well as price
means that it is no longer the same product,
and may not even meet those conditions without becoming obsolete,
despite other advantages it must have had, to have existed in the first place.
Certainly, product changes are sometimes minor, but then the point of the regulation can also be questioned
(for example, similar though much more expensive halogen lights may in some cases be allowed to replace ordinary household light bulbs, but give little
Energy saving is of course a positive quality in a product - and has, as described later,
been regularly welcomed and accepted in product inventions and improvements throughout history,
giving high sales without the need for regulation.
Any rejection by consumers, a rejection in the face of public information campaigns,
should therefore be taken more seriously than to force-feed them with regulation.
Manufacturers, for their part, can clearly advertise and market "expensive but energy saving and long-lasting"
products better than they do (think of imaginative Energizer battery bunnies or washing up liquid commercials),
and not just be happy about political bans on cheap competition,
or bans that mean that the manufacturers themselves don't have to make cheap alternatives that carry lower profits.
who should "stimulate" the manufacturers anyway?
Should it be by political demand or consumer demand?
Should it be through decisions by political administrations,
prepared by their bureacrats as in the
Soviet Union styled EU "Ecodesign Committee"?
Or should free market competition be the dominant factor in
establishing what people can or can't buy,
when it's about products safe to use, regardless of their energy consumption, if the energy supply is there?
The "Car Policies" section below
mentions General Motors.
Probably the last company on this planet that needs energy efficiency regulation, since not making energy efficient cars was
supposedly a reason for them going bankrupt, a lesson as clear as any about satisfying such - or any other - consumer demand.
The EU answer is quality inspection rather than open market competition to see that consumers are satisfied, and the USA
seems to be heading the same way.
Note that inspection of products to make sure not only that they are safe but also that they adhere to labelled consumer information standards such as Energy Star categories, is obviously good and valuable - but so is
freedom for consumers to buy what they want, and a quality reputation thereby gained on the market
Consumers have happily bought energy saving products in the past - and will do so in the future.
If future energy saving light bulbs or cars "will be so great" - as regulators keep saying -
then why ban the energy demanding alternatives?
If a more energy saving product is good, so people buy it - why ban the alternative?
(no point, little energy is saved)
If a more energy saving product is not good, so people don't buy it - why ban the alternative?
(no point, since it's better)...
See the discussion in the Standards and Markets section.
Energy saving transistors came to heavily outsell energy demanding radio tubes - though the latter continue to have special uses,
whether in specialized audio equipment or guitar amps, without breaking down any power plant.
Overall then, poorer markets with fewer more expensive products, a lack of competition and consumer choice but with product
quality supposedly assured by inspectors.
This is very understandable in the EU - for those of us familiar with Brussels love of Soviet bureaucracy.
But the USA? Why the USA? The land-of-the-not-so-free-anymore?
There is a further point about old simple cheap technology
compared to expensive complex and often profitably patented technology:
Simple products like simple light bulbs are more easily locally made and transported,
good for local jobs as well as for the environment.
The EU Commission admits to thousands of local job losses (more), while many US plants have shut.
Yes, the jobs may eventually have gone overseas anyway, but regulations hasten the move,
and it should be noted that any new product manufacture
is made less likely when they must meet standards that make them more complex and difficult to make.
The "creation" of jobs by pumping Government subsidies into Green Tech projects to make products that people would not otherwise voluntarily buy, can perhaps short-term be defended
to bring such product choice alternatives to the market, especially when the aid is to inventors and new businesses.
However, it does not excuse current (US/EU) continuous aid for jobs that are not of themselves sustainable.
As already described, the energy/emission logic for such continuing subsidy does not hold up.
The Energy Side of Energy Efficiency
There is not any energy supply problem in society that justifies energy efficiency regulation:
1. Renewable energy sources already exist, and are increasingly deployed (solar,
wind, wave, tidal, hydro, geothermal, biomass).
2. Nuclear energy is long-lasting and potentially renewable (short-term via
breeder reactors, long-term as nuclear fusion).
3. When used for electricity, renewable/nuclear energy can relatively quickly
be spread to other regions via grid interconnectors.
4. As finite sources become scarcer,
their price rises, reducing such consumption anyway, and the
choice of renewable energy resources becomes more natural on the market place.
Therefore the "peak oil" worries, regarding future oil shortage, is hardly
justifiable in that the price rise from a shortage self-regulates the market.
Motor vehicles, shipping and aircraft are being developed that are not locked in to fossil fuel derived mineral oil,
while the finding of new mineral oil (and other hydrocarbon) reserves has alleviated supply concerns.
5. Taxes or subsidies can of course speed up switchovers, if really desired.
In the electricity sector,
the idea of "saving society the cost of building another power station",
not only does not hold in reality (more),
it does not reflect that it's actually about the paying consumer's demand for energy,
energy of which there is no future shortage, particularly regarding electricity, and as seen including low emission
renewable or nuclear alternatives.
It therefore then becomes a question of "unnecessary consumerism", and some people's personal satisfaction in saving energy - and
why not -
but the question is if such a dogma should be imposed on everyone else.
We can live in caves and use candles, to maximize energy savings,
or deal positively with energy production, with due environmental regard, and leave consumers alone.
Energy security needs to be considered in relation to any need to save energy.
Given that governments can secure control in their own jurisdictions, it's really
about dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Typically it involves questions of reliance on Middle East oil,
or (for the EU) Russian gas.
Energy security concerns do not mean that energy has to be saved:
1. General Dependency
The dependence on fuel imports from any given country or region
can be overcome in several different ways - apart from energy efficiency measures:
• by using alternative supply sources of that particular fuel,
from closer locations (national or regional country sources) and/or from countries more allied politically
• by favouring some suppliers over others, for example by the use of import duties.
• by using alternative energy sources
Overall, it therefore can't be said that a need to reduce fuel imports in turn means that energy saving measures are needed.
2. Electricity Dependency
As for any need to save on electricity, energy security is even more irrelevant.
Firstly, today's electricity generation tends to utilize local energy sources.
Secondly, when fuel is imported, it rarely involves finite fossil fuels:
Most of the world's oil/coal/gas/peat fired power plants use national supplies.
Oil isn't much used in electricity generation anyway:
In North America, Europe or Australia, the principal regions covered in this text,
(along with Canada's Nunavut territory) has a dominant
proportion of oil-fired electricity generation - using local oil supplies.
Natural gas is imported for electricity generation in some European countries.
But current electricity development plans in the relevant countries lessen such dependency,
not just regarding new and alternative local generation, but in grid connections with neigbouring (and alternatively powered) countries,
as described below.
As for coal, it is by its nature cumbersome to export (can't be transported via pipeline like oil or gas),
and is therefore used locally or near-locally in power plants.
If fuel is imported for electricity generation, it is usually uranium for nuclear power plants.
However, not only are the physical amounts required small, and long-lasting, and potentially renewable via breeder reactors:
Canada and Australia alone supply half the world's uranium anyway, so there are no geopolitical import problems for nuclear use
by western countries and allies.
Of course, the current increasing deployment of infinite
renewable (hydropower, wind, solar etc) energy sources also lessen fuel importation concerns.
current plans also envisage the development of large international grids to spread the electricity generated
from renewable, nuclear, or any other energy source.
So electricity importation might be seen as a new energy security concern.
However, at least in North America and Europe, this does not pose the
same geopolitical problem as oil/gas fuel imports
(and it's unlikely that cross-border electricity grids would be developed anyway, between nations that have a risk of questionable
Moreover, any such disadvantage needs to be weighed against the advantages for any participating state,
remembering that local conditions play a big part with renewable energy
(wind, sun, tides, dammable rivers etc) and that the expansion of an existing generating facility,
including of low-emission nuclear power, is usually easier than setting up a new one.
Also, it may help a state adhere to internationally agreed carbon emission levels.
There is the further point that renewable electricity tends to be intermittent (solar, wind),
and thereby more cost-effectively available on demand when spread in larger grids, given the energy storage problems
(in fact the energy storage facility itself may suitably be in a foreign location,
as in Swedish/Norwegian hydroelectric dam storage of Danish wind energy generation).
Another website (see Introduction) deals more in detail with future electricity distribution.
The energy security issue then arises,
that foreign electricity generation - regardless of coming from a friendly neighbour -
might suddenly fail, or indeed that the grid connection breaks down somewhere along the line.
A country, or state, plunged into darkness, with no control over the situation?
A supergrid constructed as an internet of electricity like that of communication,
is less reliant on any one supplier or connection.
So if one source or connection is knocked out, others can take over, also automatically,
when the cutdown is sensed by grid management applications.
This includes having several cross-border interconnectors to (different) grids,
seen with Ireland, Britain and the European mainland, and in projected inter-state North American grid development.
even if there was a predominant reliance on out-of-state electricity generation,
that does not exclude local backup generation.
For example, quick firing gas-fired generators are already often used for peak time extra demand for electricity.
CO2 emissions from such sporadic use hardly affects any annual local CO2 emission target.
to counter the impression that say local coal or gas power plants would not of themselves have a future,
there are of course various low CO2 emission solutions also for their use,
which should be compared out of competitive cost-effectiveness:
Apart from the whole issue of whether CO2 emission reduction itself is relevant or not, as dealt with
As always - deal with the problem, if there is a problem.
Energy security concerns do not justify energy restriction on the population.
Regulation on Cars to reduce Oil Dependence
Cars are the most obvious example of the supposed need for energy efficiency regulation to limit the dependence on oil
But whatever leads to oil supply shortages and price rises (industrial expansion of emerging nations,
geopolitical problems, finite fuel depletion) in turn leads to energy efficient cars being
favoured by consumers, without any need to regulate for it.
A further point (again seen with cars) is that human inventiveness increases as
it's required, in the provision of alternative energy sources.
Energy efficiency as a way of to string out, to prolong, the use of oil
as gasolene makes no sense.
Regulation-keen environmentalists might rather be expected to say "bring it on" regarding the
demise of cars using such fuel, hastening a switch to other energy sources.
[Note that if oil supply really was a worry,
then oil/gasolene tax or import duties, or for that matter fuel efficiency car tax, would be better than fuel efficiency
The reason is the easy adaptability of such taxes to changing situations,
reducing oil consumption as needed while also providing government income.
Any impopularity of taxation should be weighed against its usefulness, clearly communicated by politicians, including that it
avoids bans for consumers, and that fuel efficienct cars could have lower overall taxes, thereby being cheaper than today.]
The Emission Side of Energy Efficiency
Emissions are not just about CO2:
Nuclear power radioactive emissions need consideration in power plant construction and in radioactive waste disposal.
In the case of oil, coal and gas usage,
one should certainly also not forget about all the traditional local soot, sulphur, heavy metal and other pollutants, whatever about global acting CO2.
However, clean air legislations have largely come to deal with these problems,
and the technology involved is (so far) cheaper than the removal and disposal by burial or other means of CO2 gas (or its carbon),
to take it out of circulation.
Climate Change and CO2 Emissions
Energy efficiency regulations, such as on light bulbs, have largely been justified
by the supposed CO2 emission reductions they bring - in fact, it's what brought them about in the first place,
in the EU and Australia.
The point here is that, regardless or not of accepting climate change and CO2 emission arguments,
the regulations are still not justified:
Most obviously because the energy and thereby the associated emission reduction are less than supposed, indeed much less with electrical products like light bulbs.
But even with significant CO2 savings, energy efficiency regulations will still be seen not to be the most effective choice.
To begin with,
there is therefore the issue of accepting climate change / global warming itself
as happening, as being bad overall, and as being possible to alter,
followed by similar reasoning to accept the need for atmospheric CO2 reduction to deal with the problems,
followed by accepting the need to have to do it by lowering man-made
Around 250 billion tonnes of carbon (900 billion tonnes of CO2) are annually released from natural land and sea sources, half from each,
while only 8-9 billion tonnes come from fossil fuel emissions (as from NASA/Fluxnet/Max Planck-IPCC data, there are other estimates, but the big difference is the point).
The natural reuptake is held to be about as great again, leaving most of the emission amount as a surplus,
but if nothing else, it clearly points to alternative CO2 reduction possibilities.
Compared to the usually criticized temperature record,
the poor historical and geographical atmospheric CO2 record is the "elephant in the room",
also in actual measurements of the contribution by man-made CO2 emissions,
even now based on inventories and assumptions rather than on actual, direct and source based measurements,
whether done by isotope differentiation from natural sources, or in any other way.
This will not be covered here,
but a separate site, based on the previous website incarnation (see introduction), will later be linked here,
looking at how the climate change issue is handled, including the assumptions about CO2, and the CO2 data.
If accepting the need to lower CO2 emissions,
there is nevertheless a lack of logic in using energy efficiency legislation for CO2 emission reduction:
1. What are the regulations about?
Regulations specified to save energy - not CO2 emissions.
If CO2 emission savings are needed, specify CO2 emission policies.
Where there is a problem - deal with the problem.
2. Look at your light bulb.
Does it give off any CO2 gas?
Compared to say combustion engine cars, there is a fundamental fact about electrical products:
They themselves don't give off any CO2 gas.
If there is a problem - deal with the problem.
Even then, the "We save lots of CO2 emissions from coal power plants" mantra
shows a lack of understanding of how power generation works.
Coal plants are on all the time at basically the same output level.
Slow and cheap.
They are supplemented at peak times (eg 5-10pm temperate zones), typically by quicker responding gas or hydro powered turbines. While this is also when lighting tends to come on, it is therefore at best at such times saving some gas related CO2 emissions, which is much less than from coal.
Another common assertion is to say that
Dealing with power plants or changing car production takes too long!
Energy efficiency regulations are the low-hanging fruit in achieving a quick reduction
in energy use and CO2 emissions, which moreover saves money for consumers!
it should be reiterated that the energy - and thereby the emission - savings are relatively small:
Regarding regulations in general - see the preceding savings section.
Using light bulbs as a specific example - see the rundown of factors,
and the concluding analysis, using US Department of Energy and other referenced data,
showing under 1% US energy savings from such regulation.
Moreover, that relevant energy and thereby emission "waste" is in any case from the unnecessary use of products,
rather than from the personal choices thereof, again exemplified in the given links.
not all changes in for example electricity production and delivery need be difficult, slow or expensive to implement, as described in the energy section, many which are already underway, whether in electricity generation or grid distribution.
Raising the price of electricity based on the relevant finite fuels,
via a tax on say coal or gas or on their derived electricity,
is quickest of all in reducing such energy use and emissions,
albeit needing consideration in how consumers are affected (eg if consumers can switch suppliers, or can have cross-financed home insulation grants etc).
As for cars, note the ongoing development anyway of say hybrid, electric and hydrogen powered cars, again reducing emissions.
overall international and national CO2 reduction intention from these and other measures
are expressed by politicians in future year 2020-2050 perspectives, when further supply side changes are possible, of much more significance than currently proposed product regulations.
Ironically, the politicians then talk about "massive CO2 savings" from banning certain light bulbs,
using current power plant emission levels and projecting them to such future dates
(as seen from USA projected savings to 2030, and from similar EU and Australian data),
emissions they have announced they are bringing down by such time anyway!
Unfortunately, the media swallows these kind of arguments.
Moreover: If the presence of CO2 emissions is used to justify regulations,
then presumably a lack of such emissions should at least make regulations less necessary
- noting that, even now, many businesses and consumers (using hydropower, nuclear, wind etc electricity sources) not only do not cause such emissions,
but use long-lasting or renewable energy sources too, the use of which will also increase in the future.
But in the announced justification to "quickly bring down CO2 emissions",
no-one is saying that these regulations are temporary, and will be removed when no longer required.
even if the need was felt to focus on consumer products,
taxation is quicker and simpler than regulations and can cross-finance energy saving products to equilibrate the market while still keeping consumer choice,
and is easy to apply on cheap products for good return, given for example the 2 billion annual US sales of relevant light bulbs alone.
Taxation on energy or emissions can be applied anywhere in the energy (and electricity) usage chain from initial fuel (oil/coal/gas) use through to the purchase
of goods or services.
While taxation is not a first option for reasons described elsewhere,
it is surprising that bankrupt states like California happily bans buildings, cars, TV sets and light bulbs simply on energy using criteria, given (with such ideology) the massive income the state thereby foregoes, where they could still be achieving their energy and CO2 emission reduction targets.
Ensuring market competition in all industry, including between electricity service providers and
between manufacturers of relevant products,
is a better policy option than regulation - or taxation - not just for an overall more efficient society,
but also to deliver energy efficiency and reduce emissions.
This is because it pushes profit-seeking businesses to keep down
their costs including energy costs in the way they know best,
and to do market research to supply desirable energy saving products,
the presence of which can be further supported, if felt necessary by worried governments,
by aiding research and launch-to-market of new energy
saving products by new competing businesses providing new (and local) jobs
sustained by market demand (rather than wastefully subsidising existing major manufacturers
which also does not spur competition).
Competition stimulation of itself is not particularly costly or difficult, and of course again keeps - and increases - consumer choice.
Market based policies and taxation are expanded on later.
In the following,
some sector examples of energy use and related emissions, and why energy efficiency regulations are wrong:
A brief look at buildings, industry, power stations and light bulbs, followed by cars in a separate section.
Buildings contribute substantially to CO2 emissions.
Dept of Energy
building emission data based on their energy consumption survey, judges the energy use for both the average and Energy Star rated buildings as 67% electricity and 33% natural gas - so electricity emission reduction is clearly of key importance.
Energy efficiency regulation is not needed, and
emissions can be dealt with better without it.
Regarding new buildings,
energy efficient buildings can be compared with more energy using ones:
Construction/lease cost (likely higher) versus running costs (lower) along with construction feature differences, such as
sealing buildings to achieve efficient climate (heating/cooling) control.
As seen in the previous comparisons, low energy use is simply one advantage among others to consider in the construction of buildings,
to the extent it makes them easier to sell or lease.
Architects and builders should therefore be free to construct any building they wish,
there is no energy shortage either, to justify energy efficiency regulation,
and no emission justification:
Low-emission grid electricity supply to buildings can be used for both heating and cooling interior climatization,
as an alternative to on-site solar, wind or geothermal sources.
With existing buildings,
to the extent energy saving or emission reduction is seen to need encouragement,
then energy conversion and certain insulation schemes can be subsidized by governments, or given tax breaks.
With CO2 gas emitting industry like for example cement or steel,
it's in their own
interest to have low energy use (and thereby lower emissions) in production, they don't need governments to tell them that.
As with the lowering of all other industrial cost factors, energy efficiency
is best stimulated by making sure there is adequate competition, from national or international industry.
Regarding the specific lowering of emissions, current and proposed EU and US legislation respectively are focused on
circuitous cap and trade (emission trading) schemes.
Another site (see Introduction) will compare ways to achieve compliance in order to lower industrial
emissions, as and when required.
Power plants (power stations) are of course as utilities also industries,
and so have the same arguments as those just given.
The stimulation of adequate competition leads to efficiency also in the energy production itself,
and makes energy efficiency legislation a needless tampering with executive choices:
all the more so, since energy supply is here hardly going to be a problem.
The way to achieve adequate competition, and thereby the operating efficiency sought,
is in this case all about the effective and neutral management of grids with
open access for other electricity suppliers:
Another website (see Introduction) deals more in detail with future electricity distribution.
The point here is that such grid systems also achieves emission reduction on a grander scale,
interconnectors giving larger grids to include suppliers of emission-free energy, with competition also between them.
Given their importance as emitters of CO2 and other gases,
particular attention is given to power station emission reduction on a different website,
a CO2 emission reduction achieved as a side benefit by implementing policies with their own inherent value.
This of course includes light bulbs, as dealt with in detail later.
However, it should be noted that the same emission reduction principles apply to
electrical appliances generally, such as washing machines, refrigerators, TV sets and computers.
"Banning light bulbs saves X million tons of CO2"
politicians the world over exclaim emphatically, extending the argument to other electrical appliances.
At the same time they give other data showing how the same emissions will be reduced anyway
- and over the same time periods (typically quoted to 2020 or 2030, as in US and EU light bulb ban statements)
Talk about a lack of logic.
The energy and thereby the related emission savings wouldn't be there anyway, for reasons listed earlier,
also remembering that electrical appliances don't even give out the CO2 in the first place - power plants might.
If there is a problem - deal with the problem....
The lack of correlation between appliance use and emissions also -and significantly- means that the increasing number of users of
emission-free energy are unfairly denied electrical appliances that they might want to use
(or indeed, that they obviously want to use, as with popular light bulbs).
The question is firstly if fuel efficiency or CO2 emission reduction are
needed beyond what consumers voluntarily want on the market place,
and if that is so,
then if such requirements can't be handled better by alternative policies to regulation.
Look at General Motors in the USA!
A company that went bankrupt.
Because they didn't make fuel efficient cars?
No, because they didn't satisfy consumers - who amongst other
things happened to want fuel efficient cars.
General Motors, like any other private company, thrives by satisfying consumer demand
not political demand.
Fuel efficiency is wrongly being imposed on General Motors and indeed all other auto makers,
in proposed and implemented legislation - even if fuel efficiency is needed.
Also, as this was first written,
the US "cash for clunkers" program was coming into vogue:
It involved getting cash for fuel inefficient cars in buying efficient ones, and was extended in early August 2009.
Dealers were forced to destroy perfectly usable trade-in cars,
with the considerable energy involved in the manufacture of new cars,
a "sustainability" thinking that might be compared to the maintenance of older cars (as in Cuba!).
"Ah" someone says, "Old cars spewing out lots of CO2 emissions no doubt!"
Again, if emission reduction is needed, that can be secured too.
First some basic points as to why fuel efficiency regulations are wrong,
whether to reduce fuel use or emissions, then more detailed argumentation.
Fuel efficiency is of course an advantage that consumers can consider when buying a car - and can compare with advantages that more fuel demanding cars can have
(better acceleration from greater energy use, or greater safety because of greater weight, etc, as well as a probably lower price for standard saloon type vehicles of a given engine size, or they would be more fuel efficient already).
In turn, since setting standards to deny popular products is clumsy as a market mechanism, it creates
The CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards were enacted in 1975 after the oil-price chock,
to ensure minimum fuel efficiency standards of ordinary cars:
But in thereby restricting the availability of large passenger cars, the CAFE program has boosted consumer demand for even less fuel-efficient vehicles, such as vans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which fall into a less regulated vehicle category.
As far as a government is concerned, any oil shortage raises the gasolene (petrol) price and - guess what - increases demand for fuel-efficient cars anyway, no need to legislate for it.
Besides, as said earlier, fuel efficient cars effectively means cheaper gasolene use which in turn means the cars are used more (and may for example, reduce
the use of public transport).
This reduces the supposed oil/gasolene savings from fuel efficiency regulations on cars.
Another reason against fuel efficiency regulations is in their use against emissions,
if that is the main concern.
As research at Georgia Tech has shown (more below) - it is possible to process and filter gasolene and other hydrocarbon derived emissions, also removing CO2 gas
(regardless of whether CO2 reduction makes any sense, lowered emissions can of course have their own benefit, for all the noxious sulphur etc substances that
the emissions also contain)
If it is economical to make - or to retrofit current- gas-guzzling cars with emission processing then, again, there is no reason for government to try to
lower the use of such cars.
A fuel-neutral emission tax on cars therefore makes more sense, to target emissions as and if required.
If oil/gasolene consumption remains a concern,
a government can simply tax the fuel, or impose oil import duties.
If it is nevertheless seen as necessary to target cars based on their fuel use,
then a car tax based on fuel efficiency still has more advantages for all concerned
than today's fuel usage based bans on cars
(tax giving government income, while also retaining choice for consumers, which might include cross-financed cheaper fuel efficient or electric cars).
To expand on this:
As argued earlier, overall for society, energy supply is not a problem, emissions might be.
Fuel efficiency regulation is not a good way to deal with CO2 or other emissions:
1. Different types of energy sources, including variations of hydrocarbon fuel (such as petrol/gasolene or
diesel, or biomass alcohol and gas, and sub-classes within them)
release different amounts of carbon emissions, for a given amount of fuel consumption.
2. In a similar way to applying "clean fuel" technology to power plants, including carbon capture
and storage schemes, carbon removal can take place at various stages in using hydrocarbon fuel for cars.
Such carbon removal from car fuel is not just a theory:
Given on one hand the vested interest to keep combustion engine cars going,
and on the other hand the increasing pressure to reduce emissions,
it is not surprising that practical solutions have started to crop up.
An example is the Georgia Tech, Atlanta research in
This involves a process where carbon is filtered out and deposited at refilling stations, for
later storage such as burial.
Notice how fuel efficiency regulation does not take such possibilities into account,
unnecessarily hampering oil and combustion engine car industries.
Emission reduction legislation should be neutral legislation:
It should be irrelevant what fuel is used, as long as emission targets are met.
3. Fuel efficiency regulation is simply another form of energy efficiency regulation,
with all the disadvantages of such regulation
as mentioned previously,
in terms of consumer choice, and of actual savings achieved.
So, what about CO2 emission regulation on cars instead?
After all, if CO2 is a problem, deal with the problem, right?
To reduce CO2 emissions, CO2 emission regulations are obviously more specifically relevant
than fuel efficiency regulation are.
However, as regulations, they still have a similar
consumer choice disadvantage in terms of available cars:
Characteristics that might be desirable, as mentioned for "gas guzzlers" (like speed, or weight that increases safety) - since CO2 emissions are related to fuel usage, especially when mentioned CO2 processing is not seen as possible or practicable.
Compare regulations on consumer products like cars, with the same on industries and power plants:
Industrial buildings or power plants can be seen as just big boxes using energy and
delivering say cement or electricity,
that might be regulated for their energy use or emissions.
Any better way to ensure car emissions are reduced?
Yes - taxation.
For electrical products like light bulbs,
product taxation has been mentioned as being better than regulation.
Still, taxation is still not seen as a good solution in such cases.
One reason is that any political intervention should be where the problem is.
Whether it's about coal fuel use or the release of CO2 emissions,
that is by power plants - not by light bulbs.
Thereby also the unfairness of hitting users of emission-free energy
with regulation or taxation of appliances that they might want to use.
Notice the difference with cars, in that they directly use fuel and directly
- by regulation or taxation - therefore directly deals with any supposed energy or emission problem, and taxation is a better choice, compared to regulation, whether on fuel or emission
- always assuming that they need to be targeted in the first place!
Car Taxation versus Regulation
As made clear in website introductory sections,
ideologically I favour neither regulation or taxes ahead of market competitive measures.
However, for those who nonetheless wish to specifically target products or services for energy/CO2 emission reasons,
taxation is a superior instrument - remembering that the regulations are not for usage safety reasons,
but simply to reduce energy consumption or CO2 emissions.
As covered earlier,
on the assumption that CO2 emissions in society need reduction,
then dealing with car emissions is more relevant than to deal with their fuel use,
also because an oil/gasolene tax (or oil import duty) is better, quicker,
and more efficient at relevantly reducing oil use, than targeting cars is for the purpose.
So a car emission tax is in turn more relevant than a car fuel efficiency tax, and is therefore assumed here.
Nevertheless, what is said here about emission tax
of course also applies in principle to fuel efficiency tax.
1. Consumers don't like taxation, but at least they can still buy the car they want.
2. With a high enough taxation, high emission car purchases are nonetheless significantly reduced, mimicking the effect of regulation.
3. Unlike regulation, governments gain direct income from taxation, income that can
be used to further lower car emissions (via for example hydrogen/electric car project subsidies, or carbon removal funding), in turn lowering emissions more
than any remaining high emission car use causes them.
4. There is also the simplicity of taxation, compared to working out complicated car phase-outs
5. Taxation is also easily adjusted to give the mix of government income and
purchase reduction required.
Note that overall sales taxation can also be reduced on low-emission cars, making them
cheaper than today, in compensation for tax rises on high emission cars - helping in "selling the idea" to citizens (see below).
6. Car taxation is also easily adaptable to new conditions and new cars on the market.
7. Taxation can be relinquished if and when no longer needed, for example removed from high emission type cars that have carbon capture
systems installed either in construction or by retrofit to existing models - without having affecting manufacture.
Compare with emission (or fuel) regulations: the manufacture of relevant advantegous high performance and/or heavy cars having ceased,
it is then hard to start up again.
"In America noone likes taxation!"
Politicians anywhere are afraid to apply it,
but it can't be too hard for either politicians to communicate, or consumers to understand, that
• a ban on a product is different from a tax on it,
• noone is forcing anyone to buy the taxed product,
there are alternative choices,
• those alternative choices can be cheaper than today through tax reduction or subsidies, without net loss of government income.
The general advantages of taxation over regulation
- and of free market competition to both of them - are more extensively illustrated in the later Light Bulb section, closing essay.
The point here is therefore not that tax is good:
Taxation is unjust for similar reasons to regulation, not defensible to reduce energy consumption, but possibly to reduce emissions, when applied directly to
emission generators (like cars and power plants), and again conditional on the proven need for emission reduction itself.
The point is that tax is better than regulation if it is felt that fuel consumption or emissions must be reduced beyond what consumers want:
Better for all involved, and better for dealing with energy and environment problems,
if the ability of free markets in this respect is rejected.
The Light Bulb Ban
Notes to the text:
For the sake of simple discourse, unless otherwise said,
Light bulbs = Ordinary light bulbs, as with regular incandescent type lights of GLS (general lighting service) type
CFLs = Compact Fluorescent "energy saving" Lights
LEDs = Light Emitting Diodes, a more recent form of household lighting
Emissions = Generally meaning Greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide (CO2), but also what is more commonly called pollutants (soot, sulphur etc), that may be included.
Emission-Free energy = Nuclear or renewable energy (such as solar/wind/wave/tidal/hydro), with little or no gas emissions in usage.
Regarding CFL nomenclature:
The name "energy saving light bulbs" of course has a simpler positive appeal to it
than "fluorescent" light bulbs, or related neon lighting. This is just one example of how people's minds are changed by
"adequate" nomenclature, as in calling the natural atmospheric CO2 gas "pollution" ("too much" CO2 certainly being bad, but so is "too much" water, or love, or peace, in the world), or in changing "global warming" to "climate change", warming still being seen as the main problem.
Yet, this also makes the relatively low sales of such bulbs more remarkable,
compared with the popularity of ordinary incandescent light bulbs, and also in comparison with other
products where price differences apply.
After all, who would walk in to a shop and ask for "An energy wasting light bulb, please"?
The further irony is that the "energy saving" is for many reasons not as great as supposed,
either in usage, or, even less, in an overall life cycle consideration, as will be shown thoroughly.
Perhaps consumers sense this, in not adequately obeying all the "switch and save" official campaigns and dictats.
A comprehensive (current) 13 point summary of the usual arguments supporting a ban and why they don't hold up can be seen continually updated on the blog:
Light bulb energy usage regulations in the USA, EU, Canada (postponed), Australia
and elsewhere aim to progressively prohibit the sale of ordinary light bulbs.
That not only means today's common simple incandescent light bulbs:
By 2016 (EU), 2020 (USA) all known incandescent replacements for such light bulbs will be banned,
including similar looking Halogen types of bulbs that politicians keep saying will "still be allowed".
Regulations and official references are here.
The official reason for the regulations,
is to save
energy for society, emissions for the planet, and money for consumers.
Savings are small:
See previous sections regarding general effects, on prices,
and usage savings,
and the later specific savings rundown regarding light bulbs,
leading to the compilation
showing less than 1% overall society energy savings from the regulations
(using USA, EU, Canada official sources).
As covered in part 1 of the website,
energy and emission savings that are greater and more relevant
are obtained by dealing with electricity generation and grid distribution
and by alternative ways that reduce consumption,
without stopping paying consumers from using what products they want.
Even in saving electricity,
consumers hardly save money:
In assuming that people use less electricity,
electricity utility companies are raising charges (and are being allowed to do so by regulators) giving bigger electricity bills,
or are alternatively receiving subsidies with taxpayer money.
See the North America and UK examples in the Light Bulb Politics section.
No longer should it be seen as surprising that electricity companies happily dole out fluorescent bulbs that
are supposed to reduce their income!
The less official reason for the regulations,
is to deliver more profits for light bulb manufacturers.
Electricity utility companies are not the only happy campers around:
Major light bulb manufacturers (GE, Philips, Osram etc) have actively cooperated in bringing about the ban
on simple incandescent light bulbs, and welcomed its arrival.
Why do major light bulb manufacturers welcome this ban?
Would you welcome being told what you can or can't make?
If so - why?
Light bulb companies can now happily shift profitable expensive unwanted light bulbs,
a process of course already started with taxpayer subsidies to make the bulbs cheaper
(several CFL program examples in the politics section).
If people voluntarily bought the bulbs, no ban would be "needed".
Similarly, if the new LEDs are so "great", then people would presumably buy them anyway.
Other expensive product versions are routinely sold - without manufacturers looking for bans on cheap alternatives.
Even if price was an issue, a tax on incandescents could help pay for lowered prices on the alternatives,
equilibrating the market and still keeping choice.
Market competitive policies are however better, also in the saving of energy, as described.
So what are the implications of the ban?
All light bulbs have advantages, so also CFLs and LEDs, so also simple incandescents compared to temporarily allowed Halogen incandescents, as covered in the lighting descriptions from here onwards.
That said, the overwhelmingly most popular light bulb is the light bulb to be banned,
a denial of choice that should not be taken lightly,
given that people spend half their lives under artificial lighting.
Of course, there are no "big savings" from banning what people would not want to buy...
The libertarian ideological issue of "freedom of choice" is here often assumed to be "freedom to use simple incandescents",
but the reverse also holds:
All those who sing the praise of energy saving bulbs, whether for personal money savings or CO2 emission or other
justifications, are of course free to make that choice,
but it does not mean having to force everybody else to do so too.
Safety and Environment:
Normally, products are banned for being unsafe to use.
The irony here is that the banned product is safer than the main proposed replacements:
CFL fire, mercury and radiation issues are covered from here onwards,
while LED toxic content issues are covered here.
Even Halogen incandescents are filled with toxic Iodine or Bromine gases, albeit in quantities not deemed harmful.
Beyond breakage in the home, the issue is also about dump site leakage, and the use of rare mineral resources in the bulbs.
These issues are in turn related to the greater complexity of
energy saving technology.
Old "obsolescent" incandescent technology also happens to be known, tried and trusted technology.
We can welcome the new - it does not mean having to ban the old.
There is a further point about old simple cheap technology
compared to expensive complex and often profitably patented technology:
Simple products like simple light bulbs are more easily locally made and transported,
good for local jobs as well as for the environment.
The EU Commission admits to thousands of local job losses (more), while many US plants have shut:
Yes, the jobs may have gone overseas anyway, but regulations hasten the move,
and it should be noted that any new product manufacture,
also of new lighting types, is made less likely when they must meet standards that make them more complex and difficult to make.
Energy efficiency regulations, on light bulbs as on other products,
render markets more inefficient - ironically giving less overall energy savings
than could otherwise be achieved.
Market issues have been covered earlier, and are returned to in a concluding
The need to have any lighting policy can therefore be questioned.
If nevertheless seen as needed, what are the policy alternatives?
For those who still favor a regulatory path,
taxation offers advantages.
A modest light bulb tax on cheap bulbs
would render a large government income even on reduced sales,
based on pre-ban c.2 billion annual sales of targeted bulbs in the USA as in the EU, and correspondingly elsewhere.
Alternatively, a very large tax would effectively deliver a ban.
So pro-ban Governments win either way.
Moreover, taxes are easier to implement than bans, easier to change with new market conditions and new products, and easier to remove when no longer needed.
That is not all:
Such taxes can help cover CFL/LED subsidies, making them cheaper than today, so consumers are
"not just hit by taxes", and the lighting market is equilibrated
while still keeping consumer choice.
Therefore the repeated notion, in particular by American analysts,
that "consumer price insensitivity" and
"market failure of expensive energy efficient lighting" necessitate regulations is patently not true.
More on light bulb taxation, with examples, later.
Stimulated Market Competition:
More relevant and justifiable is simply to see that there is adequate competition
among light bulb manufacturers, rather than to unfaily distort the competition by taxation, or to reduce the competition by regulations that ban the cheap bulbs.
This can also foster local jobs in making it easier to bring new bulbs to the market
- including energy saving types, though any initial subsidies should not be prolonged, in being unfair
to other manufacturers.
Increased competition ensures that manufacturers and transporting distributors keep down their costs, including energy usage,
and increases their interest in market research that shows what people want, which has always included energy saving products:
Note that today's energy saving bulbs all arose before standards were set, and that in fact
standards can only be set in regard to what already exists in energy saving lighting,
or people might literally be "left in the dark".
Returning to the notion that people "don't buy expensive product alternatives",
that clearly does not hold anyway among other consumer products,
besides which simple incandescents have other advantages apart from being cheap.
The manufacturers could of course also imaginatively
advertise "expensive products that save you money in the long run", just like battery and washing up liquid manufacturers do, rather than take the easier sales route of lobbying for bans on cheap alternatives.
If the market still really does fail to ensure the sale of a particular light bulb, expensive or not, then there might even - lo and behold - be a good reason for it.
Market competition policies in general were covered in the first part of the website,
and are regarding light bulbs additionally covered in a later section.
I return to the need for a better, more overall perspective
of achieving energy efficiency in society, and any accompanying and necessary emission reduction.
In that regard, the reorganization of the electricity sector is much more important than the politically petty regulations on light bulbs that people want to use,
regulations which serve to ban a simple safe technology that effectively, if not energy efficiently, delivers bright broad spectrum lighting much more easily than the pushed, complex, expensive, and questionably safe lighting alternatives.
Whether by choice or ignorance, politicians fail to see the bigger picture.
As for energy savings, apart from the relatively small amounts involved,
the idea that "electricity supply side changes take too long" and that "it's easier to phase out certain light bulbs in the meantime",
does not hold up for reasons already described,
also noting that politicians present the supposed savings from light bulb regulations in a long term 2020-2050 time perspective, when more supply side changes would be accomplished anyway.
What is Banned and When
Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007
2 tiers, based on 2012-2014 and 2014-2017, backstop rule extending to 2020.
[A third tier is planned, provisionally set for 2020: "DOE is also required under the EISA 2007 to initiate a rulemaking in 2020 to determine whether the standards in effect for general service incandescent lamps should be increased.", from the DOE fact sheet linked below]
Aim: to reduce the allowed wattage for incandescent bulbs by 28 percent starting in 2012, becoming a 67 percent reduction by 2020 at the latest, in accordance with the defined annual review procedures.
Should the review procedures not have produced a minimum efficacy standard of 45 lumens per watt by January 1, 2017, that sees a backstop final rule come into force:
Effective January 1, 2020, the Secretary shall prohibit the sale of such general service lamps that do not by then meet a minimum efficacy standard of 45 lumens per watt.
`(i) The term 'general service incandescent lamp' means a standard incandescent or halogen type lamp that—
`(I) is intended for general service applications;
`(II) has a medium screw base;
`(III) has a lumen range of not less than 310 lumens and not more than 2,600 lumens; and
`(IV) is capable of being operated at a voltage range at least partially within 110 and 130 volts.
Prohibited act... for any manufacturer, distributor, retailer, or private labeler to distribute in commerce an adapter that—
`(A) is designed to allow an incandescent lamp that does not have a medium screw base to be installed into a fixture or lampholder with a medium screw base socket; and
`(B) is capable of being operated at a voltage range at least partially within 110 and 130 volts.'
[In short, to stop people from getting what they want, manufacturers and sellers are not allowed to provide adapters that allow other incandescent lamps to use medium screw base 110-130 volt sockets]
List of exceptions:
Black light lamps,
Left-hand thread lamps,
Marine’s signal service lamps,
Mine service lamps,
Plant light lamps,
Rough service lamps,
Shatter-resistant lamps (including shatter-proof and shatter-protected),
Sign service lamps,
Silver bowl lamps,
3-way incandescent lamps,
Traffic signal lamps,
Vibration service lamps,
G shape lamps with a diameter of 5” or more,
T shape lamps that use no more than 40W or are longer than 10”,
and all B, BA, CA, F, G16-1/2, G-25, G-30, M-14, or S lamps of 40W or less.
(Note, the sale of the main exceptions will be monitored, and does not take away the objective to block sales of the most popular bulbs, otherwise no energy savings: No point in blocking sales of what people would not want to buy, the "dilemma" for the regulators!)
So, in the first phase beginning January 1 2012,
the manufacture and import - but not the sale itself - of general service incandescent lighting is progressively restricted,
beginning with ordinary 100 W bulbs, but therefore with certain excepted classes (e.g. rough service, 3-way, and chandelier lighting, provided their sales don't significantly increase).
Bulbs equivalent to 25W and below, and (with the sales proviso) of 150-200W, and of higher wattages, are also not affected.
The immediate practical point regarding 2012-2014 regulations is therefore that sales of existing store stock of the targeted bulbs will still be allowed.
Additionally, the new January 1 2012 packaging requirement changes the way light bulbs are referred to. Instead of buying a "72 watt light bulb," one might purchase a "1500 lumens" light bulb.
See the special blog post
on packaging and labeling in the USA and the EU
The legal language relating to the subsequent phase-out
to 45 lumen per Watt is more ambiguous, since the expressed aim is then to prohibit actual sale.
Even the Dept of Energy factsheet (below link) talks of a second stage ban, a "ban on certain general service lamps".
December 2011 amendment:
Amendment to Oversight Funding of Implementation December 2011 lasting until 30 September 2012
(see the blog posts for more) therefore does not affect the 2012 legality of sales:
It only affects the monitoring of legal manufacture and import.
In the time period to 30 September 2012, it is not likely to make much difference to the consumer:
Since retailers can sell what they have got, and many have probably stocked up well in advance
of such a popular product, albeit that the consumer may have to look around and pay a little more.
(in the comparable situation in the EU after 1 September 2009, the bulbs were still available over the following year, although at higher prices and in fewer and fewer stores or online retailers, the main stores pushing CFL sales, as described elsewhere in the text).
From the legislation, starting 2012 for General Service Incandescent Light Bulbs:
A phase-out based on the lumen (brightness) rating of the bulbs, rather than their wattage.
Standard bright 100 Watt equivalent household light bulbs can therefore be at most 72 Watts equivalent from January 2012, and so on with increasing stringency.
There are also lifespan and CRI (color rendering index) provisions.
The coloring rendering index measures how accurately colors are shown.
Lighting section 321
of Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (pdf)
Application: DOE appliance standards homepage,
details with list of exceptions, industry info.
The latter includes more information on "modified spectrum" (eg Halogen) type specification 2012-2014.
For extensive information 2012-2014 including reflector lamps etc, with illustrations:
0sram-Sylvania document (pdf)
Latest Dept of Energy, Energy Information Administration update (December 2011)
The Halogen etc incandescent replacements (20-25 lumen per Watt), hyped up by on-message politicians and journalists who say "this is not a ban", are therefore also banned sometime after 2014.
As the EIA (Energy Information Administration) puts it,
"essentially requiring general service bulbs to be as efficient as today's CFLs" by 2020.
Good comment by Greenwashing Lamps on the specifications here, with a 2012-2014 update here.
Additionally, on the color rendering index (CRI):
This, more precisely is "the ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of various objects faithfully in comparison with an ideal or natural light source".
According to the legislation, CFL, LED, or incandescent light sources "used to satisfy lighting applications traditionally served by general service incandescent lamps" must as seen have a minimum CRI rating of 80.
Incandescents, in performing as "black body radiators" typically have a perfect or near perfect 100 rating (unlike CFLs or LEDs), so the lesser 80 requirement, if followed by manufacturers, degrades current performance.
In other words, yet another issue when it comes to targeting this technology.
Light sources with a high CRI are also desirable in color-critical applications such as photography and cinematography, and even when fluorescent lamps or LEDs have high CRI ratings, their spiky emission spectra do not correlate well with color rendering quality in practice, so that the photography and movie-making issues remain.
There are other interesting points:
Notice the anomaly that 75 W "dim" bulbs are allowed,
but a 75 W "bright" bulb is effectively banned!
In other words, as the official sources confirm, incandescent bulbs are being banned on the basis of their "lumen" brightness - not on their energy use, bright bulbs being banned first.
So you can still buy a 100W incandescent bulb, if it's dim enough, which might, at least at first, seem an attractive alternative even to regular incandescents, since dimmer incandescent bulbs of given wattages tend to have have longer lifespans (the trade off).
For example, Aero incandescent manufacturer, 100W 20 000hr bulb, 1000 lumen, for $2
That makes its brightness somewhere between 1000 hour standard clear incandescent 60W bulbs (900 lumen) and clear 75W bulbs (1200 lumen).
While the Aero light bulb is allowed in 2012 anyway as a rough service bulb, such bulbs would, bans apart, otherwise be more of a convenience measure for difficult to reach locations - rather than to save energy or money for required brightness:
$2 dollar long life bulb plus 35 W extra energy cost for 20 000 hours,
35W x 20 000 hrs = 700 kWh,
USA 12 cent per kWh average residential cost (EIA),
700 kWh x 12c = 8400c or 84 dollars, + 2 dollar bulb cost = 86 dollars.
Box of twenty 60 or 75W 1000 hour regular bulbs, typically 10-12 dollars, so the irony continues, in that these legal incandescents (legal in some respects also in the EU) use much more energy and money compared to the banned alternatives, more exactly depending on local electricity costs.
Incidentally, June 2012, a lot of "legal longer lasting 130 volt bulbs" are being marketed in the USA on the same "Save money with longer lifespan" basis, this time from raising the voltage - but again, on their typical 1000 lumen "dim bulb" rating, actually uses up more energy and money compared to the banned equally bright lower wattage alternatives!
Exemption reversal condition: The Act includes a provision whereby, in cooperation with NEMA, sales of certain exempted lamps will be monitored, specifically:
• rough service
• vibration service
• 2601-3300 lumen general service (150-200W)
• shatter-resistant lamps
For each of these lamp types, if sales double above the increase modeled for a given year — signaling that consumers are shifting from standard incandescents to these incandescents and thereby supposedly not saving energy — the lamp type will lose the exemption.
Consequence: A requirement that any such popular lamp type can then only be sold "in a package containing 1 lamp", and with a maximum 40 watt rating in most cases (95-watt for
2601-3300 lumen lamps, variably reduced for 3-way lamps).
In other words, if sales go up, further restrictions arise, and only 1 lamp packages may be sold:
Buy several packages, or walk out the shop and back in again to buy another one.
The crass idiocy of bureacracy - do whatever it takes, to stop people from buying what they want, who in turn obviously do what they can, to satisfy their desires
(above all, do not make any rational decisions, to actually deal with any energy or emission issues, irrelevant here anyway from the marginal savings involved!)
California ban started Jan 1 2011:
info, LEDs Magazine article.
The specifications are the same as with the US federal 2012 standards (above),
just being 1 year sooner in implementation for each stage.
Progress Track of US Federal and State Ban Repeal Bills
For federal bills I use http://www.govtrack.us/
links as having permanent URLs and being more comprehensive than the official
links = Links to the corresponding Thomas source are found anyway on bottom right of Govtrack pages.
The bills and their related issues are also covered and analyzed on the Freedom Light Bulb news blog that accompanies this website.
The House of Representatives:
Michael Burgess amendment AO75 (H.Amdt. 678) to Energy Bill H.R.2354 of July 14 2011: //passed 15 July 2011// Bill progress
Joe Barton modified relaunch as H.R.2417 of July 6 2011: //not passed 1st vote// progress
(First House vote July 12 233-193 for was not a 2/3 majority: The Hill report)
Michele Bachmann relaunch as H.R.849 of March 1 2011: progress
Joe Barton H.R.91 of January 5 2011: //modified// progress
Michele Bachmann H.R.5616 of March 13 2008: //stalled// progress
Mike Enzi S.395 of February 17 2011: //stalled// progress
(Note: Nebraska legislature site is currently, early Feb 2012, not accessible outside the USA without proxies, search cache or the like)
Tony Fulton LB1164 of (January 19), 2012:
Journal Star article about it.
More about the bill on the
blog, Feb 3 update
Chuck Gatschenberger HB1146 of January 4, 2012:
(referred to the House Small Business Committee 01/19/2012,
positive recommendation to House floor 4/4/2012)
More about the bill on the blog
Bob Marshall HB66 of December 19, 2011:
(referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Labor 12/19/2011)
More on the bill, its background, and federal v state discussion on the blog
Pennsylvania: // double legislative action //
Matt Gabler HB1622 of July 18, 2011:
(referred to House Commerce Committee 7/18/2011)
Also: Matt Gabler HR319 of July 18, 2011, memorializing Congress to repeal the ban:
(referred to House Environment and Energy Committee 7/18/2011)
RE the background to these legislative actions, see the blog post
Michigan: // passed House, now in Senate //
Tom McMillin HB4815 of June 23 2011:
(referred to House Committee on Energy and Technology 6/23/2011, passed in House 10/13/2011 vote:413-62, 10/13/2011, 10/18/2011 passed to Senate Committee on Regulatory Reform)
More on this in the blog post
George Lavender HB2510 of March 8 2011: progress
(affirmed in House Energy Committee, 5/11/2011, vote:6-0, passed to Senate,
affirmed in Senate Natural Resources Committee, 5/18/2011, vote 8-0,
5/24/2011 Senate vote 31-0, 5/26 sent to Governor, 6/17 Governor signs Bill)
More on this in the blog post
South Carolina: //committee favorable, for final Senate vote//
Dwight Loftis H.3735 of February 23 2011:
(affirmed in House 4/7/2011, vote:76-20, passed to Senate Labor Commerce Industry committee, favorably passed 2/23/12)
Georgia: //on to House
Sci Committee Jan 2012//
Barry Loudermilk SB61 of February 7 2011:
(affirmed in Senate 3/7/2011, vote:35-19, passed to House)
Dean Urdahl (House Bill) HF 0094 of January 18 2011: progress
Dean Urdahl (House Bill) HF 3474 of March 8 2010: progress
Frank Antenori HB2337 (text) of January 19 2010: progress
Affirmed in House and Senate, veto Gov. Jan Brewer 5/11/2010,
supports bill's aim, but since federal ban due to begin 2012, it would take too long to achieve, no bill defence from any "tungsten mining or processing" in Arizona.
It is worth commenting on the Arizona veto,
also on a federal v state legal perspective relating to the other bills:
It was a seemingly illogical veto reason, since the Governor the previous month signed the local Firearms act for locally made and distributed guns, similarly contravening federal regulations, and as seen a similarly constructed HB2307 bill text - but no local iron ore mining or processing for the guns.
The US constitutional inter-state commerce clause is otherwise usually interpreted - as in the other state bills - as banning only significant non-generic component imports for local manufacture. In other words: Tungsten is used in many other applications, so can be imported - like iron for guns, in that case.
The more specifically applied tungsten filaments or special gun parts can not, so might have to be made locally. But, again, it seems some gun parts are imported to Arizona for assembly!
Federal v local gun law issues include US manufacture of assault weapons for civilians (Hughes amendment to 1986 Firarms Act), as well as licensing and taxation, so such Arizona assault weapon manufacture by the federally licensed local makers contravenes federal law just as much as the local manufacture of regular incandescent light bulb would.
As always, it's about local political support: The gun culture and the extensive manufacturing in Arizona, AZCentral 2011 article.
So, whatever way one looks at this, a legally illogical passing of one bill, and not the other.
Some more on the Arizona bill, and on other comparative Federal v State legislation on the blog
In parallell with the USA, an announcement by Environment Minister Baird was made in 2007 to phase out light bulbs starting 2012.
Research findings after that meant a re-evaluation, and in December 2008 following concerns a Federal investigation into the safety of CFLs was launched. .
In November 2011, after further consultation, the various switchover concerns have officially put a Canadian ban implementation on hold, at least until 2014.
The stated reason by the Canadian government for the delay was
"Delaying the date for compliance with Canada’s efficiency standards for general service lighting for 100/75/60/40W light bulbs (general service lamps) is required in order to strengthen communication activities, to allow for technological innovations and to consider the concerns expressed about the availability of compliant technologies and perceived health and mercury issues, including safe disposal for compact fluorescent lamps"
The proposed regulation implementation for General Service Incandescent Light Bulbs
(as with USA legislation, the ban applies to manufacture and import, so that stores can still sell their existing stock
even after the relevant ban dates come into force)
||≥ 4.0357 ×ln – 7.1345
||≥ 1000 hours
||≥ 4.0357 ×ln – 7.1345
||≥ 1000 hours
Notes to table: CRI = Color Rendering Index, ln (in lamp efficacy) = natural logarithm
Modified Spectrum (Halogen type) lamps have same requirements, except in lamp efficacy:
Lamp efficacy to be 75% or more of the efficacy of the reference standard spectrum lamps.
As seen, regulation specifications therefore differ slightly from USA in their definition.
In particular, the allowed bulb wattages are strictly speaking not defined for Canada,
but as the linked details below shows, it is in practice a ban of 75W and 100W regular bulbs at the start of 2014 (as it stands!), increasing to a ban of 40W and 60W bulbs at the end of that year.
More on the regulations:
Blog post about the ban delay decision.
More on the March 2011 proposal to delay implementation:
details, CBC report
British Columbia ban of 75W and 100W bulbs started Jan 1 2011:
BC Government info
The regulation therefore mirrors the Federal regulation, with different phase-out dates.
For 75 and 100 watt light bulbs: January 1, 2011
For 40 and 60 watt light bulbs: December 31, 2012
Late 2011, BC Government spokeswoman for the Energy and Mines Dept says the further ban
of 60W and 40W traditional incandescents is now on hold, because of the federal delay.
More about this on a blog post.
The EU and Australia bans have already started, in 2009:
Details (pdf, scroll to bottom)
The EU ban is the one where the most blatant industrial political motives are already seen in the regulation itself, and in its justification:
All frosted incandescent light bulbs, regardless of energy efficiency, were immediately banned in terms of manufacture and import on the basis that people could buy CFLs in their place (a substitution that was not always workable as it turned out,
as with the lack of small bright replacement CFL bulbs, and in CFL bases often being too big).
See below comment section on the EU legislation
Also the post-ban EU FAQ with its belated correction of misleading argumentation,
as covered at the end of the CFL section.
The politics behind the EU ban, including the undemocratic, shortened and shunted EU Commission-Parliament
pathway, is described here, towards the end of the political section.
There are worldwide proposals and decisions to ban (and it is a ban) on ordinary light bulbs.
A ban on light bulbs that do not meet required energy usage:
Or rather, light bulbs that do not meet energy usage as defined in the narrow context of regulation
Whatever the energy savings, the logic behind the ban is questionable...
It's a strange world that bans safe-to-use products,
when banning unsafe-to-use products was previously the norm.
It's a stranger world still, that here turns that idea on its head,
so that it is the pushed replacement products that are questionably safe to use,
while a safe product is banned.
More precisely, it is a ban on the simple safe versatile cheap quick responding bright broad-spectrum incandescent light bulb.
Why ban it then?
The political talk is as seen
of enhancing the energy saving capability of a light bulb,
of pushing manufacturers to make such better energy saving bulbs,
to "everyone's advantage":
Forgetting that there is no free lunch,
that energy usage limitations compromise other characteristics,
usually increase price, and for many reasons do not give supposd savings.
And, as for the "stimulation of manufacturers to make better products"
that would instead arise out of increasing, not decreasing, competition,
and out of increasing, not decreasing, the variability of products on offer,
where a positive usage saving advantage can always be marketed with bulbs as it
is with other products, as will be seen.
Overall, competition also delivers more - not less - energy savings than regulation does,
as covered in a concluding essay.
Do politicians want to help consumers, or profit-seeking light-bulb manufacturing executives?
Because in "pushing manufacturers", why are the manufacturers so happy to be "pushed" by
politicians who tell them what they can or can't make?
So why are the light bulbs being banned?
Because of their overwhelming popularity.
There is no point in banning an unpopular product.
There are no "Big Savings" from banning what people would not have bought anyway.
But should not the manufacturers be delighted to be selling popular bulbs?
No, not the major manufacturers:
Too easy to make and sell the cheap bulbs, for unwelcome local "upstarts" as it is for them.
Not so easy to make and sell the more profitable expensive bulbs,
even when you get the cheapest Chinese labor you can to make them.
So if politicians wave funny bulbs around to show they are doing something to save the earth,
the major manufacturers are not going to cry... on the way to the bank.
Again, as a decision supposedly "to save electricity" (ignoring the amount):
There is no foreseeable shortage of future electricity supply sources,
that warrant a restriction on how the electricity can be used
by those who pay for the electricity and how it is generated.
More and more electricity source alternatives, including emission free alternatives, are appearing.
If there was a shortage, the price rise would make people use less electricity anyway.
More precisely, any shortage of finite fuel sources for electricity,
such as coal, raises its price and reduces its use anyway.
Which also means what?
Which also means electricity saving products become more desirable to buy,
just as more fuel efficient cars are sold when energy markets dictate it.
No need for regulations to achieve it, if and when such usage reduction is needed.
If there nevertheless is a problem, deal with the problem:
Light bulbs don't burn coal, and they don't release CO2 gas.
Power plants might - and might not.
Supposed savings are always given in 2020-2050 year terms,
when more relevant and significant supply side changes can (and will) have taken place.
The consumption savings are hardly there anyway, for many reasons,
and even if they were,
there are still other and better ways to reduce consumption.
Even if that was not true,
other lighting related policies (stimulated market competition, bulb taxation)
not only increase the sales of energy efficient lighting at low prices,
but competition in particular also promotes efficiency in a wider sense,
while keeping choice for consumers.
Nearly all politicians, journalists, environmentalists agree!
The simple -overhelmingly popular- light bulb has to go!
Even the manufacturers, as seen, agree!
"Please pass laws that tell us what we can or can't make!"
Welcome to the mad world of the light bulb ban...
"We are not banning any light bulbs!
We are setting energy efficiency standards on them!
We stimulate manufacturers to make lights that save on electricity, and therefore:
We save energy for society,
We save money for consumers, and
We save CO2 emissions that helps save the planet!"
What can possibly be better?
Actually, everybody loses, as covered previously in how energy efficiency regulations are wrong, with a lot more reasons than are given here.
Not banning light bulbs?
Setting energy efficiency standards is of course the same as banning light bulbs that do not meet those (narrowly defined) standards:
and unfortunately, as described, forcing a given product to save more energy in its usage,
changes product characteristics and price - not necessarily what consumers want.
The message to worried North American consumers, just as it was in Europe, is:
You can still use energy efficient varieties of incandescents that are similar to ordinary bulbs, like Halogens!
Good CFL and LED alternatives will be available!
The "similar incandescents are still allowed" message is going to be repeated so much
that it is covered more thoroughly in the section that follows.
that replacement general service incandescents, like the touted Halogens, will gradually be banned too,
since no known types can meet, and are unlikely to be able to meet, the EU/US
requirement that they have to become similar to CFLs and LEDs in energy usage,
that is, in energy usage as defined in the regulations.
that the replacement types have already existed for some time,
and actually have several differences with simple incandescents,
including a greater expense for marginal savings,
which is why neither consumers, or ban proposing politicans
like them very much.
Post-ban EU and Australia also sees a lack of replacement variety and availability anyway,
the push to use CFLs (and no doubt in future, LEDs) also being related to the greater manufacturer profits involved with them.
The idea - as the US Energy Information Administration also reiterates - is to stimulate manufacturers to make new energy efficient lighting which might include new incandescent forms that pass the allowable standard.
To begin with, there is obviously no guarantee that such incandescents can be made.
The world thereby loses the advantages that such lighting can have (more later),
whatever about any extra energy consumption in usage, voluntarily paid for.
Also, even if such incandescents were possible to make,
the demands from the energy efficiency standards alter their characteristics,
and likely raises their price even higher than that of today's Halogens.
Most importantly, for manufacturers it's all about making what is most profitable arising from the regulations
- not what a government hopes they will consider making, and since the cheap (and unprofitable) competition from incandescent bulbs has been wiped out,
rather than fiddling around and wasting research money trying to boost incandescent energy efficiency,
the door is opened for the "significant market share" of profitable expensive CFLs and LEDs, that people would not otherwise buy.
The simple question is:
Why do major light bulb manufacturers lobby for, and welcome being told what they can make and sell?
Would you welcome it?
If so, why?
the lack of logic when regulation proponents talk about
"Good CFL/LED/Halogen alternatives":
If new/alternative light bulbs are so good, then people will presumably voluntarily buy them, if marketed properly: so why ban the simple incandescent bulbs?
(No point, little energy is saved)
New forms of lighting will probably still cost more than the ordinary bulbs - but, for example, as described, new flat panel LED and OLED lighting will also offer a completely different usage experience.
Conversely: If new/alternative light bulbs are not good, so people wouldn't want to buy them - why ban the simple incandescent
(No point, since they are seen as better)
Think about it.
Somewhat ironically, ordinary bright cheap 100W light bulbs are the first to go in most jurisdictions - given that low cost brightness is such a problem with both CFLs and LEDs.
All lights have advantages and disadvantages:
None should be banned purely on energy consumption, even if the supposed savings were there, given that consumers pay for the energy they use and that there is no present or future shortage of electricity supply options.
Stimulation of manufacturers?
Politicians should by all means stimulate the establishment of new lighting companies, whether of energy saving lighting or other lighting, to provide
competition for existing companies, thereby ensuring the availability of the most desired lighting at the lowest price.
Competition - not regulation - stimulates the production of products people actually want, including energy saving products that
saves people money in running costs.
So manufacturers do not have to be "stimulated" to make energy saving products:
On the contrary, history shows that energy saving products have continually been developed and appreciated,
as seen in say farming machinery or transport, and whatever the energy origin, human, animal, fuel, or otherwise.
In fact, the appropriate energy saving alternatives have to already have been developed
so that regulations can then ban the alternatives, rather than the other way round:
Otherwise people would be left in the dark by light bulb regulations!
As for regulations stimulating future light bulb development:
Setting an arbitrary "magic standard" that must be passed, means that you will never see a better-than-today bulb that did not
quite reach that standard - while bulbs that already pass the magic standard are not necessarily improved
further, since the competition of cheaper bulbs below the standard has been demolished at the stroke of a pen.
The "regulations stimulate manufacturers" arguments are further dealt with on the website introductory and energy regulation sections, and also, more specifically related to light bulbs, in the later essay outlining market and taxation policy alternatives.
Both the overall and comparative energy savings from a ban will be seen to be marginal, but it's important to note that a ban is wrong even if the supposed savings were there.
There is no energy supply shortage, and if there was, the price rise
would simply lead to increased purchases of energy efficient products anyway- no need for politicians to interfere.
Consumers - not politicians - pay for the electricity supply and any power stations (power plants) needed, just
like they pay for factories and shops supplying other goods they need, and even accepting the savings figures given, power plants are
not saved for the reasons listed.
We can deal positively with energy supply and any emission criteria that needs to be put on it - and we can take the negative cut down and save route, the ultimate logic of which is to go and live in caves and use candles.
That would indeed actually save "billions of dollars/euros" of lighting and other expenditure and "megatons of gas": as long as we don't bring any cows with us....
Which brings us to Emissions:
Light bulbs don't emit gases - power
plants might, and their emissions can be dealt with as described, to the extent considered necessary, and not always at great expense in time or money.
Any supposed need to stimulate the provision -and use- of energy efficient products
to also lower emissions,
can be met by competition increasing measures, or taxation (more below).
All ban-or-tax targeting of electrical products for emission reasons is of course unfair on users of emission-free electricity,
who will steadily increase in numbers, and who with bans are prevented from buying products they obviously want to use, from the sales statistics.
Which brings us to Money Savings:
It should first of all be noted that
whatever the energy savings,
future bulb price and electricity savings,
ordinary Joe is unlikely to see much of the "billion dollar savings"
that instead end up with manufacturers and electricity companies.
Yes, using a particular bulb may still save him in electricity bills - but not neccessarily
compared to what he would have been paying before a ban takes place.
The issue of electricity companies directly (higher bills) or indirectly (government payments)
getting more money from consumers to compensate for reduced sales is returned to in the upcoming politics section,
But there are other considerations too.
Any savings from a ban on the simple bulbs is as said just a reflection of their popularity:
Around 8-9 out of 10 times consumers in the EU, USA, and elsewhere, prefer to buy ordinary light bulbs.
Therefore any "great money savings" for people is by stopping them from buying what they want,
no "great savings" from banning what people wouldn't buy in the first place.
Actually - and just from usage factors - consumers can easily lose rather than save money:
See listings of
specific reasons for this.
Regulating politicians think that everyone buys light bulbs just because they are cheap,
and would be happy with using fluorescent lights instead.
Certainly light bulbs are cheap -no crime- but people don't keep buying a product that does not satisfy their requirements:
Ordinary light bulbs have a wide appeal also because of appearance simplicity, a broad spectrum light quality, versatility with dimmers and auto-switches, a brightness also in small sizes, and other reasons as described.
Conversely, people don't avoid fluorescent "energy saving" lights (CFLs) just because they are more expensive - any more than they avoid expensive alternatives of other products on the market place.
So: If such lights, or LED lamps, are so great, then imaginative advertising - like with expensive but long lasting batteries or washing up liquids - can emphasize that fact on the market place. But of course, it's easier for manufacturers just to have the cheap non-profit alternatives banned.
As it happens, sales statistics show that most EU and US households have indeed already bought a few such lights, and maybe don't like them enough to want to buy more:
But even if the lights were fantastic, you don't necessarily want all your 45 (USA) or 20 (EU) household lights to be the same
The widespread slogan "Switch all your lights and save money!",
is rather like saying "Eat only bananas and save money!"
If a policy on lighting is nonetheless needed:
Stimulated market competition
would be the first choice, as described earlier and in the concluding comparisons of lighting policies.
Taxation would be the second choice,
if a direct light bulb targeting was really required:
The taxation on current 2 billion annual sales of the relevant bulbs in the USA alone
(similar 2 billion pre-ban sales in the EU) being more advantageous than bans, for governments, for citizens - and for the environment.
Again, see the concluding lighting policy comparisons.
People spend half their lives under artificial lights.
Perhaps it's time for governing politicians to show a little consideration for citizens and the choices they make, of lighting, as of other products, and instead to deal directly with any energy and emission problems faced.
The Save the Bulb website
has useful background documentation, links and updates.
The "Similar bulbs will still be allowed" deceit
Consumers are deceived in many ways with the light bulb policy they are told will be so good for them.
As just mentioned, not least in that the money savings they were supposed to get,
money instead happily absorbed by light bulb manufacturers, and by electricity companies,
the latter getting government compensation for reduced sales, or simply raising the electricity bills.
However, one should particularly note the main defence tactic that will be employed by American politicians and agencies,
exactly like in Europe and Australia, when the governments there were faced with concerned citizens...
"We don't wan't to have to use the dim unsafe mercury-containing squiggly bulbs with their unnatural light!"
Energy efficient incandescent light bulbs, similar to ordinary incandescent light bulbs,
will still be allowed!"
To begin with,
Replacement Halogens have a whiter light type and like all replacement incandescents have constructional differences with simple regular bulbs, apart from costing much more for relatively small energy savings,
which is why neither consumers or governments like them, since they have been around for a while now without being sold much.
Thereby that in the USA, as in the EU, all currently known incandescent replacement bulbs, Halogen or otherwise, will only temporarily be allowed - as in the regulation references above.
Only if they become as energy efficient as CFLs and LEDs would they be allowed:
Not just unlikely, but if it did occur, it would involve constructional compromise and cost
that made them even more different from simple regular bulbs - notwithstanding that
any such lighting, like all lighting, would of course have its own advantage too.
Moreover, in post-ban 2011 Europe (as in UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany and Italy) and Australia, replacement energy efficient incandescents are only available in limited replacement range, regarding sizes and wattages compared to the pre-ban range of simple regular cheap bulbs.
Also, they are hardly available in general stores and supermarkets, which push CFL sales:
Replacement Halogen types are usually only available in specialist shops,
and since LEDS are unsuitable as replacements for regular bulbs (too high a price,
especially for omni-directional bright replacements), what is seen in supermarkets and general stores is not just the almost sole availability of CFLs, but also the in-store enticement to buy them, marketed as as "saving consumers a lot of money".
As always, one has to understand where the profits are.
Not with incandescents, simple or energy efficient, but with CFLs, and coming LEDs.
CFLs are of course already being pushed and subsidized in the USA, as covered in the political section, with several US state government programs.
Put it this way:
When was any American last offered a government-sponsored Halogen rather than CFL deal?
U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA),
even in talking about the continued future of incandescents, March 23 2011:
"As the standards start to take effect in 2012, the Annual Energy Outlook 2011 projects that CFLs and LEDs gain significant market share"
No great Halogen uptake envisaged, then...
"The second tier of efficiency improvements becomes effective in 2020, essentially requiring general service bulbs to be as efficient as today's CFLs"
This mirrors EU regulatory requirements, as defined at the end of the technical specification covered earlier.
Given the world dominant importance of US and EU markets (jointly over 9 billion household lighting points),
it is unlikely that there is much future for incandescents then, Halogen or not, at least from global manufacturers.
The light bulb ban is not - and never was -
anything carried out to favor consumers, whether in their choice or their savings.
But why should you believe that,
compared to what reputable politicians, their agencies, and their media friends keep telling you?
Shining a Light on Politics and Light Bulbs
Ordinary light bulbs are being banned around the world, not so much for any fault of their own,
as for the political backers to show "they are working with lighting manufacturers to help save the planet",
a token ban with minimal savings that just happens to push the sales of more profitable lighting...
Why should so many governments be so keen to ban light bulbs?
After all, as seen in the text, their own institutions - and sometimes even the ban proposing departments themselves,
like the US Department of Energy - have data denying the supposed savings and other reasons given for the ban.
This is not a ban on a product dangerous to use, like lead paint.
Why then this ban?
Some politicians may suspect that it is a token ban, but are happy for the supposed "green credentials" it gives them among their voters,
other politicians may have been convinced by arguments from government agencies working with manufacturers,
manufacturers who in turn just happen to gain greatly from a ban - and admit it.
As will be seen, it is not really about banning light bulbs,
it's rather about pushing the sales of CFLs and LEDs, for which a ban is just another step on the way.
That's true of the EU as well as the USA, where, as a side-note, it might not be surprising
that energy secretary Steven Chu is so much in favour of the compact fluorescent light... after all his lab developed it, as he points out.
First of all:
What is a Good Light Bulb?
Economically speaking, what do consumers, politicians, manufacturers
and electricity companies want in any light bulb?
Leaving aside the issue of lighting quality and characteristics until later,
the 3 key economic features are price, running cost and lifespan.
To simplify, let's equate running cost with the cost of energy use, the electricity use.
So: price, energy use and lifespan.
In those terms:
What do consumers want in a light bulb?
What do politicians want?
What do electricity companies want?
What do light bulb manufacturers want?
Do they all want the same?
And that, in a nutshell, is how we get the politics behind banning bulbs.
Let's begin with the consumer:
What do you want in a light bulb?
You want it cheap, using little energy, and lasting a long time,
for given quality and characteristics.
What do light bulb legislating politicians want?
Primarily, a bulb that saves energy: price and lifespan matters less.
That said, the politicians also seek to satisfy manufacturer and utility "stakeholders"
in their decisions (consumers should of course also be treated as "stakeholders"
in political decision making, but rarely are).
Now it begins to get interesting.
What do utilities, the electricity generating companies, want?
As with ban-proposing politicians, energy use is of greater interest than price and lifespan.
This time, unlike with such politicians, the apparent logic would be that these power plant companies prefer
"energy demanding" incandescent light bulbs:
After all, they are selling energy.
Yet some power plants are happily pushing their customers to buy "energy saving" fluorescent lights (CFLs).
How can that be?
There are 4 basic reasons:
1. That CFLs themselves involve power plants making more money than at first might seem.
2. Electricity grid dominance and captive customers allows for raising electricity prices without increasing supply:
Regulators monitor this, but they are themselves under oversight by pro-CFL governments.
3. CFLs are politically pushed and subsidized, not just for manufacturers, but also for the often directly state controlled utilities
and retailers, as covered later.
4. Electricity generating costs increase at peak times, early evenings when lights are often on,
which is not reflected by ordinary domestic meters (but will alter with new smart metering).
The point is that CFLs, the main pushed replacement,
does not save you as much energy or money as it first might appear:
This is not just because they aren't as long-lasting or bright as lab-tested ratings imply,
but because your common CFL effectively consumes twice as much power (energy)
than what the bulb says, or your meter tells you.
Basically, common unbalanced CFLs have a low "power factor", causing phase differences between the voltage and current drawn,
not measured by your meter.
Industrial users are penalized if they don't draw phase-balanced
energy from the power plant - domestic users are not:
Phase-balanced CFLs are expensive - and are therefore not politically pushed like cheap unbalanced CFLs.
That's just the start of it:
Unfortunately the phase imbalance also sets up what is called harmonic distortion
in grids that are not normally set up to counter it, particularly for domestic supply
and particularly for the supply to 45-light (average) American households,
similarly applying to Canada with larger per-household lighting use than Europe.
See later New Zealand research references into such effect on grids - and New Zealand happen to have abandoned their planned ban on incandescents.
[ There is an odd parallell with wind energy: the intermittent supply involves substantial electricity grid changes to accomodate it,
the cost of which is rarely mentioned when promoting such energy, whatever its other advantages ]
There is also an issue that meters themselves may be affected:
CFLs generate high frequency transients that are said to cause ordinary induction disk electric meters to read higher than they should.
More about the extra costs relating to CFL energy usage here, with US Department of Energy, Sylvania light bulb company, and other references.
Another factor is the room heating lost by switching from hot incandescents
has to be made up by electric, or other, heating - so more energy has to be paid for, payment which may go to the utility company.
A full account of why switchovers don't save you as much money as pro-ban politicians say,
is given here, and a summary of the small overall savings, again referenced,
As seen in the documents and letters that follow,
the idea is to get everybody to switch lights by emphasizing the "big savings" for them:
Once the switch is achieved, never mind what they have to pay later.
The beauty of real power plant energy usage and other such hidden cost factors
is that no-one is ever the wiser - you will never know that you could have paid less for your future electricity supply.
You still -certainly- save money in metered usage for lighting, when switching to CFLs.
But in overall utility and society terms, the energy saved by a switchover is less than 1%,
as explained here for the USA and the EU.
Fine - but what about the key "stakeholders", the actual makers of the light bulbs:
Certainly, on a free market under competitive pressure, they seek to satisfy consumer desires:
But what are their own desires?
How would the manufacturers steer markets, if they could?
This time, the energy use of the light bulbs isn't of much interest.
Rather, to have expensive and short-lasting light bulbs.
For more on the general desire of manufacturers to make short-lasting products,
as part of "planned obsolescence" and as exemplified with light bulbs, see the
Standards and Markets section.
Let us now compare consumers and manufacturer desires,
and the outcome it tends to give:
Consumers want a low price, a low energy use and a long lifespan.
Manufacturers want a high price and a short lifespan.
Price is the most visible, concrete sales feature,
followed by energy use, as often labelled, and politically pushed,
with lifespan a distant third.
It is therefore hardly surprising that, on free markets,
manufacturers seek profits from turnover rather than price:
Consumers win on price, manufacturers on lifespan, whatever the light bulb type.
[Of course light bulb regulation now means that the manufacturers win on price as well!
Encouraged competition - rather than regulation - is what serves to keep prices down and lifespans up,
as covered in the mentioned Standards and Markets essay].
It is therefore, again, hardly surprising that complaints are arising that neither CFL or LED last anywhere near as long as they are supposed to (CFLs typically being said to last for 8 years, LEDs for 25 years, on 1000 hour per year usage basis).
Shorter-than-supposed lifespans are also borne out by research and test reports, referenced later in the relevant CFL and LED sections:
Manufacturers rarely lie directly, it's that lab standards and measurements are set in ways that do not reflect real use, for example CFL lifespan is measured in 3 hour on-off cycles, given that a more normal on-off switching practice reduces their life, as do many other factors.
But suitably setting lab measurements is only one subtle part of the manufacturer armory.
Remember: Price and lifespan...
Not only have the manufacturers today won on price,
in getting governments worldwide to agree to ban popular but cheap and unprofitable incandescents,
but they already won on lifespan years ago, getting a cartel 1000-hour
limit, subsequently set as a standard also by governments.
Why then be surprised when your CFL or LED conks out after a year or two,
when history shows how light bulb manufacturers have colluded on this before, to maximize their profits...
For those who dismiss this as "unproven conspiracy"...
It's not as if the light bulb manufacturers themselves have hidden their historical and continuing cooperation.
For example, Osram presenting their background history
(pdf document, original German language version)
While manufacturers of all kinds do cooperate for mutual benefit,
that between light bulb manufacturers has been particularly close, and has gone way beyond what is
Cooperation with the Electric Company USA (GE):
In 1906 the new tungsten lamp was demonstrated to a
delegation from the General Electric Company [GE] of New
York. Soon afterwards Auer and GE signed a patent
licence agreement for tungsten filament lamps and a
know-how exchange agreement for lamps with extruded
metal filaments. The agreement gave GE the exclusive
patent rights for America.
This was the start of friendly cooperation between DGA and GE...
[DGA: Deutsche Gasglühlicht-Aktiengesellschaft...became Osram]
...As a show of gratitude for help given in setting up the
American tungsten lamp factory, the Americans [GE] gave DGA
the rights to use their drawing process and the associated
patents. A patent exchange agreement was signed. This
was then extended to cover the entire incandescent lamp
The Patent Interest Association of 1911
Each of the three German incandescent lamp manufacturers had a know-how exchange agreement with the
General Electric Company, with the result that since 1910
technical developments at all three companies had been
going in the same direction.
On March 15,1911 the “Patent Interest Association for
Incandescent Lamps” was formed by the three Berlin
companies and GE..... Licences were granted to other incandescent
lamp companies......For the companies involved the patent association was a
stepping stone to even closer cooperation in the future....
In subsequent years, cooperation among the three major
German incandescent lamp manufacturers was not restricted to lamp technologies and the joint development
of methods of manufacture. Even before the first world
war the management of the companies were aware of
the competitive advantage that a concentration of their
powers, at all levels including economic, would give
the young German lighting industry on the international
The Phoebus Cartel
Set up in 1924, the Phoebus agreement among manufacturers to limit light bulb lifespan to 1,000 hours lasted for decades,
and the effects are still felt today.
Light bulbs around 1924 typically had a lifespan of around 2500 hours, later even 5000 hours (eg Merkur Extra)
having risen from around 1500 hours at the start of the century.
The lifespan-cutting agreement between the major manufacturers at the time, including GE, Philips and Osram, included a special "1000 hour life committee" imposing heavy fines on any
manufacturer breaking the limits - and any external smaller manufacturer that attempted to sell longer lasting bulbs was muscled out of the way from market access. Apart from the Merkur bulb, it included longer-lasting light bulbs from Communist East Germany's Narva company after it demonstrated its bulb in Western Expos. Cheap Japanese alternatives were also effectively blocked from American markets (see the documental and video references below).
Continuing with what Osram light bulb manufacturer themselves say, page 33 and onwards...
The world light bulb agreement (Phoebus agreement):
Soon after OSRAM was founded its chairman, Dr. William
Meinhardt, made it his mission not only to unite the German light bulb industry but also to achieve international
cooperation among similar companies. His aim was to
build bridges and make connections to bring the world’s
leading companies closer together.
The conditions for preparatory negotiations
lasted many years until ﬁnally in 1924 Dr. Meinhardt’s
initiative bore fruit in the form of the “General Patent and
A company called Phoebus
S.A. was founded under Swiss law. Its highest decision-making body was the general assembly. The chairman
of the administrative board (supervisory board) was Dr.
This “world light bulb agreement” was one of the most
far-reaching international agreements. It included the most
prominent manufacturing companies in the world, with the
exception of those in the USA and Canada (through with
their agreement) as direct members.
Representing Europe were OSRAM from Germany, Philips
from Holland, G.E.C. from the UK, the Compagnie des
Lampes from France, Kremenezky from Austria, Tungsram
from Hungary, the Società Edison Clerici from Italy and
companies from Spain. Swedish and Swiss companies
provided a representative together with medium-size
German light bulb manufacturers. The initial agreement
was set to run for ten years but it was extended in view of
Paragraph 1 of the world light bulb agreement:
“The purpose and intent of this agreement is to
secure the cooperation of all the parties to the
agreement, to ensure that their production capacities for manufacturing lamps are properly exploited,
to safeguard and maintain a uniformly high quality
standard, to improve proﬁtability in the distribution
of sales, to increase the effectiveness of electric
lighting and to increase the use of electric light for
the beneﬁt of users.”
The agreement related to all electric light bulbs used
for illumination, heating or medical purposes. Arc
lamps, neon lamps, x-ray lamps and radio tubes
were excluded. If, during the course of the agreement, new light sources of general importance were
developed they could be included in the agreement.
This applied later to ﬂuorescent lamps...
Compliance with the declared purpose of the agreement
was achieved by means of a far-reaching patent and
know-how exchange arrangements, typing and standardisation of the lamps, safeguarding of market shares
for each member, reporting of all sales to the administration company and auditing of these sales...
European cooperation in bulb production:
Growing pressure on prices led to the realisation that the
manufacture of glass bulbs for lamps had to be rationalised. Because only large-scale production is proﬁtable,
the European Company for the Production and Sale of Lamp Components was set up jointly with European lamp
manufacturers in Lommel, Belgium... "
There have been recent American and German research revelations about it all.
Let's begin with the American side.
This aspect of the Phoebus agreement has been well researched by
Michael P Leahy
in the amusingly yet informatively well written = account
I, Light Bulb (with contributions by lighting designer Howard Brandston, July 2011), slightly edited excerpt, highlights:
During World War I, the War Industries Board was a government-authorized, industry-staffed effort engaged in industrial planning. General Electric executives such as Gerard Swope participated:
By so doing, and by watching Hoover in action in the sister agency, the Food Administration, they got the idea that by participating in such government authorized planning efforts, they could keep out competitors, control the market, and maximize their profits.
When Swope was named president of General Electric in 1922,
he immediately set about applying those principles to the electrical lighting market.
Swope knew that the tungsten patent [vital to well-working light bulbs] would expire in 1927.
How was he going to maintain his monopoly?
In the free market, the only way to maintain continued dominance was to continue to innovate...
The Phoebus Cartel
In 1924, General Electric, along with several major European corporations,
and with the implicit blessing of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, formed a cartel
- a cooperative group of competing firms who agreed to fix prices, share technology, establish production standards,
and use common marketing practices.
By sharing incandescent light bulb patents that kept competitors out,
and by agreeing on exclusive geographic spheres of influence, the member companies could maintain high market shares and high profits.
Called "The Phoebus Cartel" after the Swiss company Phoebus,
they set out to keep track of all their activities around the world.
Under the agreement, General Electric got the United States, Associated Electrical Industries got the United Kingdom, Osram got Germany, Philips got Holland, and Tungsram got Eastern Europe. The European companies got to share the British overseas territories, and they all could compete in the rest of the world. General Electric was guaranteed that none of the other major manufacturers of incandescent light bulbs would enter the American market.
When the agreement began, General Electric had a 90 percent market share.
When it ended fifteen years later, General Electric still had a 90 percent market share.
Only a few dozen small, scrappy Japanese manufacturing companies dared to enter the American market and take on General Electric:
They ignored General Electric and related Phoebus Cartel patents, copied what they could, and shipped their less expensive, shorter-lasting incandescent bulbs into the United States. When they began to show some increase in sales, General Electric got its friends in Congress to slap a tariff on imported incandescent bulbs, and the price advantage disappeared. Japanese inroads were stopped.
When the cartel was first organized, the life span of the average bulb was 1,000 hours.
Fifteen years later, when the cartel came to an end due to World War II, it remained the same.
This is not the kind of progress you would expect if the full engineering and research capabilities of General Electric had been tasked with expanding the life span.
Word in our family has always been that this was intentional:
Every 1,000 hours, you had to buy a new incandescent light bulb. Why expand the life span to 2,000 hours? You would just cut your sales in half...
Revelations by European reseachers:
Recently, German researchers Peter Berz, Helmut Höge and
Markus Krajewski discovered hitherto unknown documentation
uncovering the extent of this worldwide collusion between Philips, GE, Osram and others:
Documentation including the 1000 hour life committee that ostracized any upstart trying to sell longer lasting bulbs, and imposed heavy fines.
Of course all that is over... or is it?:
Why is 1000 hours still the common standard and indeed applied to
the 2012 USA and Canada light bulb regulations
that major manufacturers (more shortly) were involved in setting up?
Notice that 1000 hours is also the minimum requirement for new lighting types, that might well be expected to exceed it.
But longer lifespans would of course not help profits...
Returning to the German researchers,
they also uncover a lot else that is murky about
light bulb industrial politics, past and present.
While much is in German and not available online,
the authors can be contacted for relevant documentation and references (they also turn up in the 2 videos mentioned below)
A dramatic TV programme about the Phoebus cartel and other product lifespan shortening policies is covered in an extensive post on the accompanying Freedom Light Bulb blog: The Light Bulb Conspiracy, including videos in German and English and a video interview with the director.
The version in English can also directly be seen here.
Also, a recent 1 hr 40 min Austrian cinema film documentary covers the cartel, and moreover how the manufacturers lobbied for and welcomed the ban on unprofitable incandescents in Europe... in the name of "saving the planet", of course.
The blog post here: Bulb Fiction, again with online video, synopsis transcripts, trailers and further references.
Light bulb manufacturers are therefore once again cooperating
to push more profitable light bulbs, this time CFLs....
as for example the Philips / Osram international engagement with the UN to sell off CFLs unwanted by western consumers to third world countries (blog post, referenced: Philips, Osram, the UN and the World Bank: How we will en.lighten the World in 2012), or the many EU subsidised (and USA/Canada state-sponsored) municipal "projects" that allow the manufacturers to pocket more profits from lighting that would otherwise be unwanted at the price (or presumably the municipalities and end-users would pay for it themselves) - more of which below.
So, rather than regulating what products that light bulb manufacturers or others
can or can't make, politicians should focus on there being adequate competition,
supporting new inventions and new local manufacturers (with local jobs) as required,
which can of course specifically include energy saving lighting too,
also with prizes and the like (eg the American "L-Prize"),
temporarily supported in launches to market where such free competition
is also the best way to ensure energy efficiency, as covered for products and services earlier and
returned to in a concluding essay comparing free market and taxation policy alternatives to regulation, specifically for light bulbs.
The push to use CFLs..and LEDs
To be clear:
Manufacturers should of course be consulted in any political measures that affect them.
Manufacturers should not be blamed for seeking profits.
Manufacturers should not be blamed for subsidies or bans that politicians decide on.
Politicians themselves, in turn, have been motivated by energy and emission saving concerns
in regulating what people can or cannot buy.
They have also come under pressure by "green" environmental groups,
to institute bans on light bulbs and other products.
Again, most national media, at least outside North America, has not been overtly critical,
more often than not media has been openly supportive of such measures,
at least when such regulations or subsidies were originally announced.
The point here is therefore to show up the manufacturing policy for what it is,
in an underlying criticism of politicians for playing along.
for those who go through this complete section,
there can be no doubt that manufacturers have gone way beyond mere "stakeholder"
consultation in seeking the ban on simple incandescents:
Seizing the opportunity for profitable sales, one might say.
The Playbook of Major Light Bulb Manufacturers
1. Profit-seeking global executives join hands with anti-profit non-global green activists and sing happy songs to the politicians about all saving the earth together.
2. Politicians wave funny-looking light bulbs around, to show they are "actually doing something" to save energy, save emissions, save money, save the planet... whatever.
3. Thereby, legislative decisions that support a switchover away from unprofitable cheap simple light bulbs on which any patent you ever had has expired - a switchover either by subsidised replacement programs,
or by outright bans on the incandescents - or both.
4. In turn, that the legislative standard supports your own profitable expensive patented light bulb, as far as possible.
5. Licence your patented product, on the one hand, and use lots of legal muscle to defend patent infractions, on the other hand, to keep the money rolling in.
6. Don't make the product last too long... fewer future sales.
7. Get involved with the UN and other do-good organizations, to get a good image for yourself,
and in turn via the UNEP "en.lighten" and similar international Light Bulb switchover programs allow more local politicians in Asia, Africa and Latin America to wave funny bulbs to show they are doing something (doing something to fill your pockets) etc etc...
This will all become obvious in the following.
The section end,
with plenty of post-ban revelations and links, will also confirm it.
Of course, on for example patent issues the reader can simply type in
"GE" "Osram" or "Philips" + "CFL" or "LED" + "patent" in any online search
- and get plenty more.
To take just Philips as an example,
and an early CFL battle with Mirabella a dominant Australian light bulb manufacturer:
In 1995, Mirabella challenged Philips world registered patent for compact fluorescent lamps. After long-drawn-out legal battles, including two appeals by Philips, the High Court ruled Philips’ patent to be invalid causing repercussions worldwide within the CFL manufacturing industry.
Philips CFLs have also involved patent licensing from an
aggrieved inventor (judged unjustifiably aggrieved, it should be said),
while they in turn now also control patents on LEDs that they seek to
license out, and get UN sponsoring for,
Normal enough practices of any profit-seeking business,
but politicians who claim to be acting in the interest of consumers should not choose to ignore them.
It will also be seen how much of the
Phoebus cartel mentality lives on
- much of what is true for GE activities in the USA
(and towards Congress)
is mirrored by Philips/Osram on the European market they dominate
(and towards the EU Commission).
So Consumers get Screwed Several Times:
1. They have reduced choice, from the effective standard based banning of simple safe cheap lighting technology,
the most efficient technology to manufacture not only bright omnidirectional lighting, but lighting of good broad spectrum light quality.
2. They have reduced choice also from new product technology,
since the major manufacturers muscle out those they regard are infringing on patent rights.
Biggest bullying elephant wins.
While some such reduced choice would take place regardless of light bulb regulations,
it is easier to out-muscle fewer rather than more competing manufacturers and technologies,
especially when anyone can make the incandescents on which patents have expired
(and for that matter invent new bio-luminescent or other competing lighting technology that might have usage advantages, without fear of having them banned from competition by governments, on energy usage grounds)
3. They have to buy light bulbs that cost much more - and with questionable savings.
The supposed savings for doing so don't hold up, as covered elsewhere,
notably here because manufacturers - with politicial support - opt for cheaper more easily sold CFLs,
that are "unbalanced", that is, have a lower "power factor" such that they in essence use twice as much energy to drive your CFL than your electricity meter will tell you (Dept of Energy and Sylvania linked explanations here), but which you of course have to pay for eventually - just one of many conveniently hidden costs to consumers.
4. The light bulbs will not last as long as supposed - and have questionable brightness and other specifications.
No light bulb manufacturer backs with a guarantee/warranty that their CFLs or LEDs will last as long as they say.
Lab tests not corresponding to real life use play up lifespan, brightness and other data,
data happily repeated by well-meaning-but-very-easily-duped politicians and journalists.
The reason why manufacturers do not make long lasting products is of course releated to
turnover profit, as covered above.
And who is going to prove that the CFL does not actually last 6 or 8 years, or the LED 20-30 years?
Even if someone complains - easy to blame other causes for light failure!
Of course, "planned obsolescence" is everywhere, but the issue is particularly relevant with light bulbs, since the supposed lifespan is a big justifying factor in convincing politicians and in turn consumers to buy the much more expensive bulbs.
CFLs (Compact Fluorescent "energy saving" Lights) are the current main suggested replacement of ordinary incandescent light bulbs, and so most examples relate to them, but it can be seen that similar policies are developing regarding LED (light-emitting diode) replacements.
The following is loosely done historically and geographically,
after the introduction focusing on the American situation,
with later European and (other) International observations, but I do not strictly stick to that,
both for the sake of discourse clarity, and if some particular issue can be confirmed by cross-referencing.
Development of the relations between manufacturers and politicians
The German scientist and film-maker Professor Klaus Stanjek has an historical overview of the CFL push by manufacturers.
This was part of a general ecological impact assessment (original German language version) of CFLs made
for Greenpeace Hamburg in Germany, so it is hardly research biased in favour of ordinary light bulbs.
Slightly condensed quotation:
"Fluorescent lamps have been subject to criticism ever since they were introduced in
the 1930’s. Physicians, ergonomists and trade unionists repeatedly reported
various forms of discomfort of employees who constantly had to work under
fluorescent light: eyestrain, inflammations, headaches, and loss of performance.
Also see the 2011 update coverage, including an interview clip with Professor Stanjek, and other
problems around the switchover to CFLs, on Youtube (in German from main German TV channel ARD 1):
The lighting industry have always rejected this criticism and continued the
distribution of these lamps. In the 1980’s they even managed to put through the
use of fluorescent lamps in residential use – without much objection by those
Essentially this was accomplished on the basis of one single argument: the
customers could save money.
While the campaigns admitted that customers would pay much more per lamp,
this would supposedly still be cheaper [in running costs] considering the lifetime and energy consumption of the lamps.
Campaigns also targeted the ecological conscience of customers.
Through a clever information strategy Osram and other lamp manufacturers convinced many
newspapers and magazines to print their argumentation, and they gained the
support of Stiftung Warentest [equivalent to “Which?”], “Globus” (a TV programme
on environmental issues), the German Federal Environmental Agency, and even
critical organisations such as the B.U.N.D. (German Association for the Preservation
of the Environment and Nature). By now the ministries even prompt their
administrative offices to install “energy saving lamps”. These fluorescent lamps were
not even assessed by others than the manufacturers themselves."
In the USA too, politicians and manufacturers have worked hand-in-hand.
Brian M. Carney is an editor, journalist and member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.
This is what he has to say in a 2008 article,
Representatives of Philips and General Electric, two of the biggest lightbulb makers, say there's nothing to be concerned about.
And Larry Lauck of the American Lighting Association says, "I think everyone's pretty happy" with the new law.
But then, the lighting industry has no reason not to be:
People will need light, whatever the law says--according to Randy Moorehead of Philips, there are four billion standard-size (or "medium base") light sockets in America alone.
So if you're GE or Philips or Sylvania, the demise of the plain vanilla lightbulb is less a threat than an opportunity--an opportunity, in particular, to replace a product that you can sell for 50 cents with one that sells for $3 or more.
Yes, the $3 bulb lasts longer. Yes, it cuts your electricity bill.
Mr. Moorehead says that when every one of those four billion light sockets has an energy-saving bulb in it, the country will be saving $18 billion a year on its electric bill. That's $4.50 per bulb--and the bulb makers are standing by to make sure a substantial portion of those "savings" get transformed into profits for them.
Now it may be that those bulbs are worth more--because they last longer, etc. But some of those bulbs, like compact fluorescents and Philips' new "Halogena-IR" bulb, are already available. Currently they command all of 5% of the lightbulb market.
That means that, whatever value proposition GE and Philips are selling, consumers aren't buying.
What we bulb buyers needed, it seemed, was a little nudge. Or, if you want to be cynical about it, the bulb business decided to migrate its customers to more-expensive--and presumably higher-margin--products by banning the low-cost competition.
"I was kind of involved at the very beginning" of this legislation, Mr. Moorehead says modestly.
Indeed, in December 2006, Philips announced a campaign to encourage governments all around the world to phase out low-cost bulbs by 2015.
What's remarkable about this bit of market interference is that there is, basically, nothing wrong with the present-day, Edison-style lightbulb.
It's not a lawn dart or a lead-painted toy or a magnet that will perforate your kid's intestines if he swallows it. It is what it is, and for most people in most applications, it was good enough. So the lightbulb makers and the environmentalists convinced Congress to ban them for no better reason than they
believed everyone would be better off with something else.
Note that the lightbulb makers shouldn't need a ban to convince consumers to "upgrade." Microsoft, Dell, Apple and any number of other companies manage to convince the Joneses that they need a better "one"--whatever it is--every few years.
If Philips wanted a Halogena-IR bulb in every socket, it had only to put them on the market at a price that made them irresistible compared to the 50-cent bulb of yore. Likewise with the much hailed compact fluorescent. They have been on the market a good deal longer than Philips's fancy new incandescent. The prices have come down and the quality has gone up. But not, apparently, enough for 95% of the bulb-buying public.
A few years back, one could have argued with a straight face that consumer awareness of the benefits of CFLs was inadequate.
The sticking point lies at that ineffable nexus between price and quality--with all that "quality" implies, whether it be service life, the delay between flicking the switch and full power, or color temperature or the look of the thing.
There are billions to be made--and spent--figuring out how to get consumers to pay more for something.
This year Steve Jobs convinced a million people to pay $400 for a cell phone in a market in which many people believe that the phone should come free with a service contract.
But why worry about making a product so good people feel they have to have it, when you can instead get the government to tell them they have no choice?
Moreover, lighting designer Howard Brandston, as also covered elsewhere,
has actually been directly involved in background talks around light bulb legislation
from the start, lately also in the March 2011 Senate hearing:
He again clarifies how light bulb manufacturers actively sought the ban
(not just passively welcoming it) - also before the 2007 Energy Independence and Security bill
contained any light bulb ban mention...
From the I, Light Bulb account he co-wrote, published 2011 (slightly edited, highlights):
Meanwhile the NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association)
Lamp Subcommittee was conducting its own research and internal hearings that culminated in a recommendation to ban the incandescent light bulb.
The respected Investors Business Daily confirms in a December 2011
The NEMA Lamp Subcommittee was composed of General Electric, Osram Sylvania, and Phillips,
the same industrial giants who formed the old Phoebus Cartel back in 1924.
When I asked NEMA for help in fighting the incandescent light ban, I
was politely told that they could not be involved in any research program like that.
In April 2007, ahead of Congress hearings, NEMA then announced its support for energy efficient lighting policy...
In 2007, Philips urged an incandescent ban as a way to force the market toward high-efficiency bulbs, complaining that without such laws, "purchase price and functional performance often take precedence over environmental concern."
Hello Philips... low price and functional performance, what is wrong with that?!
Of course, the "price resistance" that ban proponents love to talk about
does not hold for other expensive products, you don't keep buying cheap products that don't satisfy you,, and the bulbs could as a last resort be taxed anyway and help to pay for price reduction of
energy saving alternatives... no excuse even on "liberal" ideology to ban simple safe products,
as covered more extensively in a later section.
In 2009, Tim Carney writing in the Washington Examiner also covered how General Electric also closed down American incandescent manufacturing plants after they got a favorable decision - and has followed up with further articles on the topic since.
Why did GE, founded by Thomas Edison, support a bill that killed the traditional incandescent light bulb?
The original article had to be toned down (guess why), a footnote reads:
The company said in 2007 it wanted to make sure it was working under a single federal efficiency standard, rather than a patchwork of state regulations. GE also touts its compact fluorescents as one of the green products in its “eco-magination” initiative.
So, GE gets environmentalist brownie points for selling “clean” light bulbs, and they also get to charge more for their bulbs. But there’s another advantage—they save on labor with fluorescents, because they make the fluorescents in China.
Not only are wages lower there, but so are the regulatory burdens, both environmental and labor. The Times of London recently reported, “Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs.”
"The original version of this article stated that GE “lobbied to kill the incandescent bulb.”
In covering GE lobbying, US loss of jobs, and ties with Government on light bulbs and other matters, Freedom Action Network also notes that
This was imprecise. In 2007 GE opposed proposals to explicitly outlaw incandescents. Instead, the company advocated simply setting efficiency standards for all bulbs, regardless of what type of bulb. This had the known effect of outlawing all traditional incandescents, but leaving open the possibility of high-efficiency incandescents."
"the CEO of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, sits on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board..... Jeffrey Immelt is the chairman of President Obama’s Jobs Council"
The collaboration has been confirmed by other sources, such as
"Companies such as Amsterdam-based Royal Philips Electronics NV, the world's largest light-bulb maker, and GE... helped Congress develop the lighting standards that will end the sale of incandescent light bulbs within a decade."
The question might well be asked why GE, Philips and other manufacturers did not just stop local manufacturing of the less profitable bulbs anyway:
After all, other manufacturers continually stop selling certain lines of products, and go over to more profitable ones,
without seeking bans on the less profitable versions!
Two obvious reasons:
Firstly, that the incandescents were still profitable, albeit less so.
Secondly and more importantly, that as major manufacturers they had recourse to make more complex bulbs
(including outsourcing and/or parts assembly and/or rebranding of Chinese manufactures),
that smaller incandescent-only manufacturers did not. In other words:
Any upstart cheap bulb competing manufacturer would be stopped.
Sounds familiar? Sure. The
Phoebus cartel philosophy, again.
In place of "stopping any long life bulb" competition, read "stopping any cheap bulb" competition.
Not as explicitly sought, to be sure, but a happy bi-product of seeing the bulbs banned,
which they were of course aware of.
To be clear:
Light bulb manufacturers should of course be consulted, as "stakeholders",
in any regulations affecting them.
But they have therefore also clearly pushed for, and been involved in, the regulations beyond such consultation.
Anyone who doubts this, can of course look at it the other way round:
Why do the major light bulb manufacturers welcome the regulations?
Why would any manufacturer welcome being told what they can or can't make?
Are they just "glad to be involved in saving the Earth"?
November/December 2011 update note: The EU section below,
now has a lot more about the manufacturer lobbying ahead of the regulatory decision, and how it way beyond mere polite "stakeholder" consultation.
Meanwhile, more on how Philips sought USA legislation, to increase their profits...
thank you to
Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe for informing me about this article, which also brings LEDs into the equation.
New York Times article by Andrew Rice, June 2011, excerpts, highlights:
So some years ago, Philips formed a coalition with environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council to push for higher standards.
“We felt that we needed to make a call, and show that the best-known lighting technology, the incandescent light bulb, is at the end of its lifetime,” says Harry Verhaar, the company’s head of strategic sustainability initiatives.
Philips told its environmental allies it was well positioned to capitalize on the transition to new technologies and wanted to get ahead of an efficiency movement that was gaining momentum abroad and in states like California. Other manufacturers were more wary, but they also understood the downside to selling a ubiquitous commodity:
the profit margin on a bulb that sells for a quarter is negligible. After much negotiation, the industry and environmental groups agreed to endorse tightening efficiency by 25 to 30 percent.
“It’s a different sale than we’re used to,” said Ed Crawford, a top executive in Philips’s lighting division. Over lunch at its corporate offices in Somerset, N.J., near Edison’s old lab, Crawford told me he started out with the Philips subsidiary Norelco, retailing electric razors. “The sale is really the same,” he said. You can buy a razor for a dollar that you can use to shave your face — or you can buy an appliance. An Ambient LED will last as long as an electric razor, and while that means Philips will be giving up many disposable-bulb sales, the comparatively high prices (and 20 to 30 percent margins) currently prevailing in the L.E.D. marketplace will make the tradeoff extremely profitable, at least in the short term....
So, CFLs (and LEDs) lasting longer does not stop their relative profitability being greater than with incandescents:
More on this later, including more about how manufacturers themselves admit the profitability issue.
Besides, quoted product lifespans and their measurements open to doubt from several angles,
as covered earlier in general, and specifically for lighting products later.
It should also be noted that even if the profitability over bulb lifetime was not greater,
light bulb companies also of course get a short term big burst in revenue from Americans and others being forced to switch their lighting,
which most companies would prefer to slower future revenue feeds.
It's not just about intrinsic profitability,
profitability from expensive lights themselves:
It is also about getting subsidies to make them, more money for the manufacturers.
This is not least seen with all the new LED manufacture support springing up.
Again, to be clear:
It is right that new inventions
by new manufacturers should get temporary help to get established, whatever the product - increasing marketplace competition, and helping to give new local jobs.
But that is very different from ongoing help to established manufacturers,
sucking taxpayers dry for products not otherwise bought voluntarily.
As for light bulb manufacture, it is easier to set up if the complexity around having to meet energy usage standards is avoided - not just for existing incandescents, but for any new lighting invention. See the local jobs section earlier.
June 2011, President Obama praising local LED manufacture...
article by Tim Carney, highlighted extracts:
President Obama on Monday was scheduled to give a pep talk for American manufacturing at a factory in Durham, N.C., where Cree Inc. makes LED light bulbs. Cree embodies Obama-era capitalism: profiting from government grants, political connections, revolving-door lobbyists and regulations that force people to buy your product.
More coverage about this, with more revelations from different sources, on
From its 10-Q: "Historically, government agencies have funded a significant portion of our research and development activities. In addition, government agencies have purchased products directly from us and products from our customers for which we supply components."
Since 2001, Cree has received more than $78 million in federal grants, according to USASpending.gov, and more than $96 million in federal contracts. And overseas, the Chinese government is Cree's biggest customer. State and local governments also subsidize the company.
Company Vice President Greg Merritt spoke about the LED boom in April 2009 at a green-tech conference. "We are in a perfect storm in some respects," he said. After talking about new manufacturing efficiencies, Merritt added, "The political environment for sustainable technologies and energy efficiency is perhaps more favorable today than it's been for quite a while."
Merritt should know -- he and his colleagues helped shape that "political environment." Merritt lobbied Congress on the 2007 energy bill, "Specifically, provisions related to energy-efficient lighting." That is, Merritt and Cree's other lobbyists supported the law that will effectively outlaw the [much more popular] incandescent bulb, thus creating unwilling demand for their more expensive LED bulbs.
President Obama doesn't see this as the regulatory robbery it is.
He sees it as stimulus.
After all, the regulation has helped Cree hire new workers....
Well, except for the hundreds of former General Electric factory workers who used to make the old incandescents in factories in Winchester, Va., Niles, Ohio, and Lexington, Ky. Those factories closed last summer thanks to the same law that is benefitting Cree. (Don't cry for GE, though -- the company's lobbyists also supported the regulations, which will drive business to their more profitable fluorescents and LEDs.)
Another loser: the American consumer, who loses the freedom of choice...
What holds for the USA also holds for Europe and Australia.
German science journalist Klaus Heck in a well researched article (Telepolis Technology Journal),
quotes and references statements by Osram and Philips regarding Europe and Australia,
in the greater profitability of CFLs and in welcoming the ban on simple incandescents, and also the "cooperation" (lobbying) with the German Energy Agency Dena
(Dena Website: "Dena is a key partner for the efficient use of electricity in cooperation with partners from business and science"), concluding
With such great endorsement on the industrial side to a political program
[that tells the manufacturers how they must manufacture], the suspicion is therefore gradually aroused
if it might not also be the other way round:
The globally ruling industry wants a ban, since they have been unable to influence buyer behavior to their satisfaction, and politicians compliantly follow along...
The industrial politics behind the ban in the EU,
including manufacturer involvement and profits,
is further covered towards the end of this section.
The political push to use CFLs (and, increasingly, LEDs) is therefore about
government and lighting manufacturer collaboration
through publically paid public campaigns and
publically paid subsidies to keep down CFL prices
reaching the nuclear option of simply banning
the alternatives that people would have bought
if they could, hailing the savings kindly made for those consumers, too stupid to know their own good.
There is little point here in listing all the worldwide campaigns and subsidies and
handouts of CFLs
that have taken place, and continue to take place - the reader can in all likelihood just check with his/her local government energy and environment
departments and their agencies.
The point here is rather to highlight the anomalies and lesser known policies involved.
To give an idea "where we are at", have a look at the current United Nations
cooperation agreement with Philips and Osram, as referred to a couple of times in the text.
UNEP en.lighten initiative:
Private sector and the UN in
partnership to en.lighten the world [their words]
The UNEP en.lighten initiative was created in 2009 as a
partnership between UNEP, Philips Lighting and OSRAM,
with support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) [more on GEF follows].
The initiative addresses the challenge of accelerating global
market transformation to environmentally sustainable
lighting technologies by developing a global strategy in
support of the gradual phase-out of inefficient lighting.
• the development of a global policy strategy to gradually
eliminate inefficient and obsolete lighting products;
• the promotion of high performance and efficient lighting
technologies in developing and emerging nations;
• the substitution of traditional fuel-based lighting with
The en.lighten initiative has created global taskforces
where international experts from developing, emerging
and developed countries and sectors are working on a
global approach to phase out inefficient incandescent
In the words of Rudy Provoost, CEO of Philips Lighting
and Martin Goetzeler, CEO of OSRAM
"Market forces are not sufficient to achieve the
rapid transformation needed in the lighting market
to respond to the climate change challenge.
More on en.lighten via their
a multi-stakeholder global partnership is required to
support countries as they embark upon efficient lighting
As two of the biggest
lighting manufacturers in the world, we have chosen to
focus our efforts on transforming the lighting market
in partnership with UNEP through its en.lighten
With its unparalleled global network, UNEP
can provide leadership by inspiring and enabling nations
to prioritise efficient lighting and reap the benefits of
lowered energy costs."
An "Efficient Lighting Toolkit" will be available in early 2012.
It will provide comprehensive guidance to countries on how to transform their markets to efficient lighting.
[I wonder how...and "efficient" is of course not necessarily "energy efficient", in product performance etc]
invite partners to participate...
lots of saving consultancy schemes are offered, with an invitation to contact the en.lighten secretariat.
A footer confirms that "The en.lighten initiative is a partnership supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), OSRAM AG, Philips Lighting and the National Lighting Test Centre, China (NLTC)".
The National Lighting Test Centre, China,
has over the years "built professional relationships with its wide range of international and domestic clients, providing them with tailor-made solutions for either purchase from or entrance into the Chinese lighting market."
And the GEF?
Yet another funding facility
bailing out manufacturers who can't sell (or can't be bothered to market and sell) their expensive wares on the open market:
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) unites 182 member governments — in partnership with international institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the private sector — to address global environmental issues.
Established in 1991, the GEF is today the largest funder of projects to improve the global environment.
So, having laid the groundwork, lets dig into some meat...
The focus to begin with is on the USA, because of its importance, also as a role model, and because of ease of USA information access
and references in the commonly understood English language,
along with the fact that a ban has yet to be implemented there: but, as always, the principles apply everywhere.
In any case, I do then continue with the European and worldwide situation as they have unfolded,
finishing up with some "illuminating" cases and background stories...
The push to use CFLs in America
Let's begin with a "State of the Nation" US Dept of Energy look at the American CFL Market and what can be done about it (dated 2009, but the last and still operative assessment in late 2011 as referred to on the Dept of Energy site).
"CFL household saturation is still low throughout the United States, even in regions with successful and long-standing energy efficiency programs....
the residential sector contains 90 percent of CFL-appropriate sockets, but has only 11 percent CFL saturation.
Thirty percent of households still own no CFLs, and 64 percent of households that own CFLs have five or fewer."
Interestingly, that of course contradicts the commonly stated idea that "people don't buy CFLs because they cost more":
Rather, that an overwhelming 70% majority of households have tried CFLs and simply don't like them enough to want to use them more,
even when given them for free in handouts, as just mentioned (also see below about sales on EBay of California handouts)
In the EU, most households have also tried - and rejected - the lights (more).
So the Department of Energy recognizes that the CFL uptake remains poor - despite promotions, subsidies, and handouts:
and that there would be far fewer CFLs in households, without those schemes....
"The CFL market owes much to the sustained work of Energy Efficiency Program Sponsors (EEPS):
Despite the tremendous potential for energy savings, CFLs might well have languished as niche specialty products, held back by a high price point and lack of consumer familiarity, if not for the investment and assistance of EEPS. These utilities, state agencies, and advocacy and non-profit have worked to promote CFLs as a cornerstone of energy efficiency. In many cases, CFL promotions by EEPS drove the market, allowing manufacturers and retailers to build consumer demand.
EEPS typically collaborate with manufacturers and retailers to promote CFLs to their customers.
Many promotion programs are designed to offset some or all of the price premium for CFLs, allowing them to gain a foothold in the market...
Customer Coupons (mail-in or instant): Program sponsors provide coupons for customers to redeem when purchasing CFLs.
Manufacturer Buy-Down: Program sponsors pay CFL manufacturers to reduce the wholesale product price. The price discount is subsequently passed on to consumers as a lower retail price.
Retailer Mark-Down: Program sponsors pay retailers to reduce retail price product.
Direct Install: Program sponsor uses field staff to install CFLs in homes, usually low-income homes, or other targeted populations."
Illustrating how such campaigns should work, as they see it, is
prepared by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) for the US Department of Energy.
Extracts from the conclusion:
Marketing and Consumer Education
Identify niche markets (building sub-markets) where the benefits of the new technology make especially
good sense, and where initial sales can be built. The hotel and multi-family housing markets, where
energy savings and reduced maintenance costs were important drivers to the use of CFLs, were initially
targeted by DOE and some utility programs.
Focus message on areas where the technology can meet expectations, and reshape consumer expectations
where new lighting technologies fall short. For example, CFLs are often a good choice for general
illumination, but not for applications where a focused beam is needed (i.e., spotlight and narrow
Marketing literature should show comparisons of savings to the standard technology, e.g. the 1 CFL = 10
Consumers find that long-life claims are hard to believe and hard to relate to, unless backed up by
guarantees or trusted labeling.
Consumers want to see how a new technology performs before they buy it; (i.e., they want to see lit CFLs
in in-store displays). It is generally also better to show the new technology clearly in
transparent “blister packs” than to hide it in an opaque cardboard box. Don’t apologize for differences
from standard products; celebrate them.
Consistent, meaningful terminology across the industry is important for new products. Get consumer
feedback on terminology early on and use education to counter any image problems. Consider adopting a
new industry-wide name, for example with CFLs that avoids the word “fluorescent” all together.
[yes "energy saving" lights sounds much better...]
Product advertising should be specific about benefits. How much longer do they last? How much energy
do they save?
Shift consumer focus from product price to product value, including non-energy-efficient attributes like
longevity and convenience.
Consider using educational and marketing campaigns to celebrate the distinct advantages of energy efficient
lighting and the disadvantages of incandescent light bulbs.
[no advantages with ordinary light bulbs, of course...]
Conducting in-store product demonstrations is a good way to educate consumers.
[educate...as in "convince"]
Promote CFLs through several different mediums to reinforce customer familiarity and positive
associations with product.
Consumer education activities might include utility bill stuffers, and CFL product demonstrations at local
fairs, home shows, and energy shows. Education tools like brochures, posters, demonstrations, and wall
displays should be provided to retailers.
Public service advertising should be supported to educate consumers and bring efficiency forward as a
lighting selection criterion.
Utilities should offer education programs like telephone hotlines and websites to consumers and training
programs for builders, designers, and retailers.
Arrange shelf displays by lighting application rather than manufacturer and identify good/better/best
options that correlate to longer product life and greater energy efficiency. For example, a customer going
to the store seeking a bulb for a reading lamp would be presented with good/better/best options for
reading lamp bulbs.
[yes, like a dim bulky UV-radiating light, that doesn't fit his reading lamp...]
Ideally, new lighting technologies should be available where consumers typically purchase bulbs – in
grocery stores. However grocery stores are unlikely candidates for new lighting technologies. Therefore,
consumers will need to need to be educated on where to shop for new energy efficient lighting products
(hardware and home improvement, mass market discounters where higher priced items are norm instead
of grocery stores).
Build a message of value (costs more/worth more) rather than the short-term fix of a rebate.
[Manufacturers already advertise costs more/worth more, with "Energizer" batteries etc. People will buy CFLs too if they are good enough, without the need of "consumer education". Amazing, isn't it?]
Mass media is vital to widespread adoption of a new technology. Pay attention to both paid and unpaid.
Paid advertising would include advertising on TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. Unpaid means
getting messages to media through news releases, press events and being ready with media messages
when spotlight turns to energy efficiency (like the California energy crisis of 2000 or Earth Day) or safety
(like halogen torchieres).
[...As bad as an easily duped politician is an easily duped journalist. Too many of each]
Packaging needs to be more clear concerning warranties and replacement of failed products.
Use a color label on packaging that clearly indicates the warmth or coolness of a CFL product’s light
Utility giveaway programs can increase buyer awareness but don’t create lasting market transformation
by themselves, because they bypass normal market distribution routes. They may also undermine retail
If providing incentives, utilities should consider developing a program that focuses on retailers and
manufacturers. This allows for a lower price to the consumer and involves manufacturers in the process.
Retailers are another good focus for incentives since the incentives can be coordinated with retailer
As with most new technologies, prices are highest initially when sales volumes are low and
manufacturing processes may not be optimized. Manufacturers should keep in mind however that it’s
hard for consumers to assign a value to a product (i.e., know when they are getting a good deal) if price
keeps fluctuating (from free to $25+). Utility rebates are likely to have exacerbated this problem with
Energy efficiency is often not the leading factor in energy-efficient lighting sales. Safety, for example,
led to 1 million units sold in a year for the 1998 introduction of ENERGY STAR torchieres. Product
marketing should focus on the product attributes deemed most important by consumers.
Products shouldn’t be given away unsolicited. Some action on the part of the consumer should be
required, if not a purchase then mailing in a card. Action yields higher installation rates and greater
Utilities have found that developing enthusiastic and ongoing retailer participation is a key to market
introduction programs. Lighting manufacturers, who generally have regional sales staff, should ensure
that these staff are well trained on the new technology and can provide information to retailers.
Utilities have found that building retailer trust can take 2 to 3 years, so ongoing communications are important.
Programs that start with low-quality, poor performing (often low-cost) products to keep costs down may
find that this approach can backfire.
It is difficult to convince consumers to buy something they once
received for free, especially if the initial experience wasn’t a positive one.
Several studies showed that retailers were a primary source of information about lighting for consumers
but surveys of retailers showed that they felt inadequately prepared to discuss energy efficient lighting.
Retailers need and want more training so that they can feel more knowledgeable about energy efficient
lighting. They also want tools to get the message across to the consumer: in-store displays, signage,
brochures, more informative packaging, etc.
[Just show retailers the money they make by telling dumb Joe Public what light he wants to use...]
An autumn 2009 NY Times
article, covering these issues, reported how yet more consumer incentives were going to be
thrown at the problem of unpopular CFLs.
The article goes on to mention some critical voices...
"Some argue that CFL cost is no longer a barrier. Non-incentivized prices for CFLs have come down dramatically in the last few years, with retailers selling the basic spiral types for two dollars apiece or less.
Michael Siminovitch, director of the California Lighting Technology Center at the University of California, Davis, believes incentive programs can be very effective, but only if they go hand in with good products.
"Government officials [depend too much on incentives]...“We’ve had CFL incentive programs for years and years. You have to have a sustainable product that survives on its own attributes.” Mr. Siminovitch said...
...CFLs subsidized by California ratepayers are “being resold on eBay all over the country and even in Canada,” said Mindy Spatt, spokesperson for the Utility Reform Network. “The utility companies need to do more to provide real, on the ground savings to consumers, not just dump a few thousand light bulbs imported from China at Home Depot.”
Speaking of California,
The above article briefly mentions that regulators in the state had approved a big CFL incentive budget to be spent between 2010 and 2012.
Indeed, as the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) press release makes clear,
this is part of the largest commitment ever made by a state to promote energy efficiency,
approving a three-year budget of $3.1 billion for Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Diego Gas and Electric Company, and Southern California Gas Company.
As for the details,
see section 5.2 Lighting Programs:
Several hundred million dollars to lighting, giving $1-2 off price of ordinary CFLs to $5-10 for more complex CFLs and LEDs for Californian consumers.
More on California and CFL subsidies:
March 23 2011, Golden State Alliance for Liberty paper,
with extensive references:
California Utilities have spent $548 million of customer rate payments over the last seven years to CFLs.
The subsidization has been a success:
Over 100 million CFLs have been purchased since 2006.
In the year 2002, total CFL sales were 2.5 million. But by 2008, CFL sales in California totaled 52.1 million.
This huge growth is even more startling when considering the growth of CFL sales outside California.
During the years between 2003 and 2008, the rest of the nations CFL market grew just 37% per year.
California’s market, with its subsidized CFLs, grew at a much higher rate.
At $1.57 per bulb, CPUC and the utilities have carried out the most effective subsidized CFL adoption program in the nation.
This was designed to increase energy savings through home lighting efficiency. Unfortunately, CFLs did not save nearly as much energy as CPUC and CFL proponents had hoped. In 2010, CPUC released a report on the Upstream Lighting Program (ULP), the energy efficiency program providing subsidized CFLs to consumer, and found that CFLs underperformed energy efficiency goals by 75%.
The primary reason for this underperformance is the failure of CFLs to live up to their promised efficiency and endurance standards. The regulators expected CFLs to last 9.4 years on average. But with field-testing and actual deployment in high numbers, the estimate has been reduced to 6.4 years. Even though the program did not meet efficiency targets, utilities have been rewarded with taxpayer money for the program’s performance.
CPUC rewarded California utilities with $104 million dollars despite an administrative judge’s ruling to the contrary.
Following the decision, the Division of Ratepayers Advocates warned
“if the CPUC does not make fundamental improvements to energy efficiency programs, ratepayers will receive little benefit to the billions they are investing.”
In the face of unmet efficiency goals, consumer backlash, and ratepayer dissatisfaction, CPUC moved forward with its coercive CFL program while appropriating rate-payer and tax-payer money to fund the failing program.
The Wall Street Journal has also, early in 2011, cast its eye on the California subsidies,
repeats and adds to the above
such as the $548 million subsidies from taxpayers, bringing the California CFL
CFL price down to $1.30 from $4 for bulbs not carrying utility subsidies,
explaining the supposed "sales success" as mentioned above.
Again, the picture then gets less rosy, with less than expected paid-for energy savings,
the mentioned shorter CFL lifespans playing their part:
Anxious to see what ratepayers got for their money, California utility regulators have devoted millions of dollars in the past three years for evaluation reports and field studies.
When it set up its bulb program in 2006, PG&E Corp. thought its customers would buy 53 million compact fluorescent bulbs by 2008. It allotted $92 million for rebates, the most of any utility in the state. Researchers hired by the California Public Utilities Commission concluded earlier this year that fewer bulbs were sold, fewer were screwed in, and they saved less energy than PG&E anticipated:
One reason is that bulbs have gotten so cheap that Californians buy more than they need and sock them away for future use. Another reason is that the bulbs are burning out faster than expected....field tests show higher burnout rates in certain locations, such as bathrooms and in recessed lighting. Turning them on and off a lot also appears to impair longevity.
As a result of these and other factors, energy savings attributed to PG&E were 73% less than the 1.7 billion kilowatt hours projected by PG&E for the 2006-2008 program.
One complexity of California's incentive program is it seeks to reward utilities only for energy savings they directly cause. For example, utilities aren't supposed to get rewarded for bulbs purchased by people who say they would have bought them even without utility promotions.
Nevertheless, anxious to move on to the current 2010-2012 program, the commission last month gave the utilities $68 million of rewards, on top of $143.7 million of incentive pay previously awarded. PG&E pocketed $104 million total...
Dian Grueneich, one of two commission members who voted against the final incentive payment,
said it rewarded utilities for subpar performance.
Commission President Michael Peevey, who favored the extra pay,
said he didn't want to ding utilities for an incentive program that was "unworkable".
Since 1 January 2011 under California law incandescent bulbs are being phased out.
A long-planned state regulation originally set to take effect Jan. 1 would have required advance testing of CFL and LED replacement products.
But it was opposed and blocked by industry groups.
Even though a less stringent version was substituted, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger placed the law on hold days before he left office... (as reported by Reuters and others Feb 2011 in relation to LED health issues discovered by the University of California, covered below)
I thought California had a Budget problem!
It's strange that cash-strapped "liberal" California - and indeed Washington DC - politicians,
don't (with such ideology) consider taxing light bulbs, TV sets, washing machines, cars etc instead,
noting the the 2 billion annual US sales of relevant light bulbs alone,
and the possible cross-subsidisation it also allows to make "energy savings" products cheaper than today, so people are "not just hit by taxes".
Taxation is wrong for similar reasons to regulations, in targeting safe popular products
without actually dealing with any supposed underlying power plant energy usage or emission problems (see concluding essay on policies),
but taxation can be seen as preferable for all concerned, compared to regulations.
Of course there's unjustified California taxation too...
I recently (end June 2011) got a comment response that
"In California, they asked water users to cut back because of the shortage of water in the state.. When the people did, and usage was down, they started to charge much more for water, and tax it more to cover what the state was losing in revenue."
The other aspect,
of all this CFL-pushing leading up to the ban in California, is of course that
if - as the subsidising propaganda suggests - there is a "high CFL uptake"
coupled with "coming great LEDs" that "people will like",
then it obviously makes a ban on the fewer and fewer remaining incandescents more and more meaningless.
Compare with radio tubes (valves) and transistors: There is, and was, no need to ban "energy guzzling" radio tubes
for the appreciated limited remaining uses they have - similar then applies to incandescents, in any remaining advantageous and appreciated use.
Conversely of course, if people keep preferring simple incandescents, it again seems rather odd to ban them,
given, as described, that simple incandescents do indeed have unique useful characteristics also in comparison with
(temporarily) allowed energy efficient incandescent halogen etc alternatives, apart from being much cheaper.
Heads regulations lose - tails regulations lose.
March 2011, The Ohio CFL program:
Forced payments by utility customers for "free CFLs",
with additional tax-payer subsidies to cover utility losses in any lowered electricity sales.
Thank you to Maggie Thurber for this information.
See the Toledo Blade article 24 March 2011, edited extracts with my emphases:
Ohio State law requires regulated, investor-owned utilities such as FirstEnergy to reduce energy usage by 22.2 percent by the end of 2025 and reduce peak demand by 7.75 percent by the end of 2018.
[Why? Where's the energy problem for Ohio and America?]
[So], the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has approved a revised program for FirstEnergy Corp. to distribute free compact fluorescent light bulbs.
The program was postponed in late 2009 after customers and politicians sharply criticized the utility’s initial proposal to distribute two CFLs door to door in a mandatory program.
As part of the revised light bulb program, FirstEnergy customers can immediately begin calling 888-846-2235 to request up to six compact fluorescent bulbs, called CFLs, for "free":
All FirstEnergy customers will pay fees, regardless of whether they take the bulbs.
FirstEnergy residential customers using an average 750 kilowatt hours of electricity per month will pay about $1.50 a month over three years to fund the programs and will fund the associated “lost distribution revenue.”
That totals $54 over the three-year period.
While Todd Snitchler Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman agreed with Wednesday’s decision
[on the basis that the savings consumers can realize pay for the costs of energy-efficiency initiatives]
he filed a two-page “concurring opinion” in which he states his concern with also allowing utilities to recoup lost revenue for electricity they don’t sell.
He said encouraging customers to save energy while still allowing utilities to recoup costs for electricity it doesn’t sell presents a significant risk of undermining public support of such programs.
Anthony Rodriguez, spokesman for the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, said the state’s residential utility advocate agrees “that lost distribution should be revisited, and a mechanism that has periodic review and consumer safeguards is one that will best benefit energy efficiency and residential consumers.”
Quoting from Ohio communication consultant Maggie Thurber's comment,
with my emphases:
We're going to pay for the light bulbs whether we take them or not, and, when we end up using less electricity, FirstEnergy is going to be able to recoup the money we won't be paying as a result.
And just to highlight the ridiculousness of it all, this is a plan that is supposed to cover 2010-2012. How nice that it's finally gotten approval halfway through the term!
Let's take a look at how much this is 'really' going to save us. The company was originally going to give everyone two light bulbs and charge $.60 per month over three years for a total of about $21.60. In 2009, a four-pack of the same bulbs was only $8.
Under the plan just approved, we're going to get six bulbs and be charged $.30 per month over three years for a total of about $10.80 - half what was originally proposed.
However - and this is a BIG however - FirstEnergy isn't going to charge us just the $.30. They've received permission to charge customers $1.50 per month for three years to fund the program (the $.30 per month for the bulbs) and to cover "lost distribution revenue." That's the amount of money we won't be paying FirstEnergy because we've reduced our energy consumption.
So, I'm going to pay $54 for the 'privilege' of using six "free" CLF light bulbs when I could go to Walmart and purchase the same thing for $2.53 each - a total of $15.16 plus sales tax.
As I wrote two years ago, and I still believe:
Don't blame FirstEnergy for doing what the law requires. Blame the politicians and Governor who passed the law in the first place.
These elitist statists are trying to force us to conform to their opinion of how to save energy - but they're not telling us directly, because we'd revolt if they mandated what kind of light bulb we had to buy.
Instead, they've created a mandate on a supplier of a product, forcing the supplier to try and find a way to get their customers to use less of their product.
This is more than 'stuck on stupid.' It's insane!
I'll repeat: That's like telling Starbucks that people drink too much coffee and they need to get their customers to drink less. Is this not unrealistic and bordering upon 'insanity'?
As it stands today, I'm going to end up paying for a product I do not want and, if I return the product to the supplier, I'm going to be charged. In any other situation, I'd have legal recourse in the courts.
Ohio has specific laws to prevent me from being billed for items I did not order and do not want. Apparently, though, when lawmakers crafted this law, they missed the irony of the contradiction.
Maybe I will pursue a lawsuit over the matter - wonder what my chances are of winning?
"If the public are bound to yield obedience to laws to which they cannot give their approbation, they are slaves to those who make such laws and enforce them."
~ Candidus in the Boston Gazette, 1772
The US Department of Energy and lightbulb manufacturers Osram/Sylvania
in a call for a stakeholder debate about the state of the CFL market, autumn 2009:
"CFLs have been the bedrock of energy efficiency programs across the country, providing 60 to 80 percent of residential energy savings for mature program, yet regulators in a number of states are proposing to reduce or eliminate funding for programs that subsidize general service (bare spiral) CFLs. The reasons most frequently given are declining net-to-gross ratios, perceived market transformation, and the approaching effective date for lamp efficiency standards established in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007).
Recent research published by the Department of Energy based on reliable empirical data sets suggest that the CFL market is far from transformed, that socket saturation is low and highly imbalanced, and that CFLs offer substantial energy savings potential even in regions with long-standing CFL programs. EISA 2007 will indeed lead to major changes in the residential lamp market, but may also have unintended and unexpected consequences.
Regulators, utilities, and other energy efficiency program sponsors that want to avoid losing the substantial aenergy savings still available from CFLs need to reframe their program objectives and pursue new implementation strategies."
Wheel out the US Department of Energy manager in charge...
to CFL industry stakeholders from Richard Karney, USA Dept of Energy Energy Star products manager (slightly cut down and highlighted):
Dear ENERGY STAR CFL Stakeholders
I understand some Energy Efficiency Program Sponsors are facing severe challenges to the continuation of programs for general service CFLs.
I am concerned, should these programs experience cuts in funding or outright cancellation, many of the gains we have achieved with this market in the last couple of years could be reversed.
I feel compelled to take this opportunity to share my understanding of where the market for CFLs is at a national level and where it is likely to go in the near future.
• Sales of CFLs have declined 25% from their peak in 2007. Sales in some regions such as Vermont and parts of Massachusetts have declined 35-50% from their peak. Shipments of CFLs are down 49% in 2009 over 2007 levels.
• Only one in four bulbs [25%] purchased is a CFL.
Seventy five percent of medium screw-based sockets still contain incandescents in regions that historically had invested strongly in CFL promotions. Other regions have even higher saturation levels of incandescents. Two thirds of these sockets require only general service CFLs.
[Note: The 25% CFL purchase level is itself questionable, the author might here rather be referring to usage: Far fewer lighting purchases are CFLs according
to other DOE and industry data as dealt with later in the text]
• The great majority of households (60-70%) have fewer than 8 CFLs (20% saturation).
• Median household socket saturations are notably lower than mean saturations. This is because there are many households with few bulbs and a few households with many bulbs which skew the distribution.
[A good point: A few committed CFL households with lots of CFLs push up the (mean) household average.
At the same time the figures confirm that most households have tried CFLs - and obviously don't like them
enough to want to buy more.]
These numbers paint a troubling picture.
In these tough economic times, CFL programs are especially important in getting consumers past the first cost barrier that often prevent adoption of energy efficient products.
Based on additional data and analysis that DOE has continued to gather, it’s apparent that the market is headed in the wrong direction.
In my opinion, utility programs promoting CFL adoption throughout a residence should grow, not shrink. The market needs these programs to compete with well established technologies that cost a fraction up front, and use much more energy.
I encourage you to let me know how the Department can work with you to not only preserve these programs but to grow them. The consequences of curtailing these programs will jeopardize the great strides we have made since 2005.
Richard H. Karney, P.E.
ENERGY STAR Products Manager
1. that people would automatically buy CFLs, if they were good enough at a given price - without the need for massive promotions and subsidies,
2. that if the CFLs remain poor, the alternatives that people like should not be banned,
3. that if the CFLs were good and popular, there would again be no point in banning the alternatives that would be bought less and less
...continually escapes ruling politicians and their agency officials.
While the focus here has been on the USA,
similar CFL subsidy policies apply elsewhere....
Take the UK for example, as covered in this March 2010 Daily Telegraph
article, (highlighted excerpts):
"Free" energy saving bulbs "cost £45"
More than 200 million free energy-saving light bulbs have been sent to households over the last two years by energy suppliers, by gas and electricity suppliers trying to hit Government targets to reduce carbon emissions.
However, Which?, the consumer watchdog has calculated that each household has ended paying £45 each through higher energy bills to fund the scheme, even though many consumers objected to being sent the bulbs. Many complained about having to go to the Post Office to collect what they thought was a parcel, only to find it was a bulb that did not even fit any of their lamps.
"Consumers unwittingly paid for them to help energy companies avoid fines," the Which? report said.
The bulbs were sent by all of the big six suppliers: British Gas, EDF, Eon, Npower, Scottish & Southern and Scottish Power.
The companies were, crucially, allowed to pass on the cost of this obligatory Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) scheme to customers: Ofgem, the industry regulator, calculated that £84 out of the average dual fuel bill of about £1,200 goes on environmental levies, of which £45 goes directly towards funding CERT.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change admitted last year that the scheme was flawed and resulted in significant wastage, with no proof that the lightbulbs were being used in people's homes.
Campaigners, including Which?, have argued that the money should have gone towards installing solid wall insulation in Britain's 6.6 million old and poorly insulated properties, which would save the same amount of carbon emissions as all the lightbulbs put together and help consumers reduce their bills significantly.
The voluntary personal choice of what product to use,
and to pay for that use, is not a "waste of energy".
The unnecessary usage of a product, or the unnecessary energy loss as heat through walls and ceilings,
or indeed the excess energy use through inefficient electricity generation and grid transmission,
is a "waste of energy"....and involves much greater amounts of energy.
While energy reduction subsidies should always be questioned,
the misplaced massive subsidies to utility companies for CFL programs,
could therefore instead go to reduce their energy waste in electricity generation and grid transmission,
without directly hitting customers in cost-covering higher electricity bills,
although long-term state guaranteed utility loans are a better way to achieve the same purpose,
as described earlier.
The Chinese Fortune Cookie
Another way of pushing CFLs, in the USA as in the EU or elsewhere,
is to try to maximise sales of cheap Chinese made CFLs.
Clearly that can backfire, increasing consumer resistance to what might be perceived as low quality products.
There is also the idea that it might not be good for local manufacturers and jobs.
The USA situation, not least with GE manufacturing transfer to China, has been covered.
Similarly in Europe,
even the ban-pushing EU Commission admits the resulting problems for local manufacturing facilities, and the thousands of European job losses.
Not that major corporations and their executives themselves need suffer, in Europe as elsewhere...
Some large European light manufacturers, notably Osram, were at first supposedly wary about a ban, not so much to preserve the ordinary low-profit bulbs,
but because of Chinese competition in manufacturing the CFL "energy
Even with duties imposed, China's share of the EU market for the product was already about 72 percent in the 12 months to mid-2006 (source: EU Commission).
Companies like Philips, Osram and Megaman wanted to push their own CFL sales in cooperation with EU authorities,
who in turn wanted to keep prices down to encourage consumer uptake.
What to do?
A special EU tariff lowering deal arrangement with the Chinese in 2008, meant the Chinese were
allowed easier EU access with their lights and parts, conditional on cooperation with European manufacturers in terms of rebranding
and assembly (for early reporting on the tariff lowering controversy, see IHT 2007
post tariff-lowering report by Bloomberg
Wouldn't it be good to at least wait for better quality CFLs or LEDs?
Not at all.
there is the political payback involved:
Governing politicians have secured the cooperation of manufacturers and distributors
to deliver large quantities of CFLs on the marketplace.
The small problem: Noone wants to buy them.
As EU officials say: "The market has failed. We must therefore phase out incandescent lights".
It is time to let manufacturers recoup on their politically pushed investments.
In Europe, push of CFLs can be seen directly in the EU ban specifications.
Look at the above linked documentation.
If this was - as some politicians try to say - purely about saving energy,
then frosted (non-clear, non-tranparent) lights would hardly specifically be banned.
They can be marginally less bright (0-5%), and thereby less energy efficient, but not necessarily so, depending on coating used etc, and in memos to European Parliament Committee members
the view is clearly stated that in the case of frosted or opal (white coated) lights,
since they look more similar to CFLs than transparent lights do,
there is no need to retain them on the marketplace.
What is not stated - and the ban proponents know full well - is that frosted lights are the most popular light type,
without the glare of transparent lights for ceiling lamps.
In Northern Europe - where most lights are sold, and usage is also greatest, it is an overwhelming popularity.
Not only that, but all replacement-type halogen lights (related to ordinary incandescents
but still with many differences as described later, they have been around for some time but in also costing much more for the small energy savings they are not popular with either consumers or governments, as already covered in the preceding summary above), will, as in the USA (see summary), also eventually be banned in the EU (more) on the basis of being far from "A" class CFL and LED ratings:
Again, with the most popular frosted varieties being immediately banned.
Yet, in a particularly shameful move, typical of how the EU operates,
politicians and PR people across the EU have kept proclaiming to citizens how "similar halogens will be allowed"
in an effort to pacify them:
In the UK, the protests in January 2009 following government pressure on supermarkets and other outlets
to cut sales ahead of a formal EU ban were met by such specific ministerial statements, in the press, and to members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, as a records search will show.
and mercury matters...not:
The political push to use CFLs is not only seen through such European unwarranted exclusion of alternative choices.
CFLs are specifically spared from recent
as well as EU
agreements limiting mercury use in production and consumption,
agreements that ironically include limiting the coal power mercury release which in any case was never a valid
excuse for CFL mercury: talk about political circular arguments.
the very fact that LEDs are
• insufficiently developed, yet
means the push is on now for a consumer uptake of CFLs.
Why CFLs? What logic?
Because major manufacturers, guided by political promises of market facilitation, have invested heavily in CFL technology.
Even as this text is being updated, end 2011,
UN facilitated CFL switchovers in a long raft of developing countries are being announced.
No point in listing them all, as they roll in, and readers have probably heard of recent China, India, South Africa, Mexico switchovers alone, Governmentally organized and subsidised, facilitated by the UN, and with the "assistance" of relevant manufacturing executives, happily pocketing the lolly, happily avoiding anything remotely near "market competition"
- and why not, if the politicians and their hangaround bureacrat side-kicks are so happy to hand it to them.
Why the rush?
Because the sellability of CFLs may not last, even as politicians are bending-over-backwards to continue giving the CFLs the mercury content exception they do not give other products, and handily ignore recycling issues.
The LEDs are generally seen as a more promising technology,
and are already in use in directional lighting and as "white LEDs" mimicking CFLs,
but are still unsuitable for general replacement of ordinary bulbs,
for example in common bright ceiling lamp use, at a reasonable purchase price.
More about LEDs and their use from here onwards,
later also lifespan and brightness issues in relation to savings.
Regarding LED market development, a 2010 LEDs Magazine
where USA market analyst Jed Dorsheimer, in the second section, looks at current LED lighting difficulties
but nonetheless concludes that lighting could consume more than 100 billion additional LEDs by 2020.
However, as of 2011, LEDs are beginning to give more cause for concern:
The light quality is increasingly being questioned,
also in health and psychological effects,
in arising from narrow-spectrum highly directional pure color light sources,
effectively "small lasers", without the smoother spectrum of incandescents
either in RGB (red-green-blue) multimodal form, or as single blue LEDs with
phosphorescent coating, "white" LEDs, that also mimic CFLs and their light quality issues.
On top of that, there are reports of content toxicity and associated environmental
As the issues get sorted out, it may ironically not be an unwelcome development
for the major LED manufacturers, often of course the same manufacturers as of CFLs,
who thereby get more time to offload the latter,
ahead of a second wave of expected profits from LEDs.
for manufacturers, there is therefore the double profits
Everyone buys CFLs, in current development phase and with no real market
alternatives that would give competition to improve the quality of CFLs and/or give them a lower price.
Remember that the main product competitor (80-90% of sales) is removed, and within CFL manufacturing there are far fewer competitors.
Then, in a few years, consumers will gladly replace the less desirable CFLs
- which for many reasons don't have supposed lifespans anyway - with sufficiently developed more attractive LED lamps - again filling the pockets of lighting manufacturing executives.
And lo and behold, having in past years achieved American, European, UNEP-GEF and other worldwide funding for CFL switchovers,
what is Philips saying in December 2011?
Philips calls for global switch to LED lighting
Philips has called for a worldwide switch to LED lighting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa.
The company is stating that a tipping point has been reached in the development of LED lighting so that it can now be used for general high-quality lighting in almost all applications. A switch to LED lighting will help combat climate change, save energy and improve people's lives through increased well-being, safety and productivity where they live and work, the company said.
At the Climate World Summit, a high-level side event convening representatives from the public and private sector which ended past Sunday, Harry Verhaar, senior director for energy and climate change at Philips Lighting, challenged the world's governments and businesses to make a rapid switch to highly energy-efficient LED lighting.
Compare with selling ordinary light bulbs:
Easy and cheap to manufacture, so more manufacturers, more competition, less profits = less fun.
Backing up the earlier American documentation, in Europe, German Martin Goetzeler, CEO of OSRAM has pointed out how the manufacture and sale of incandescent lamps have become less and less profitable for them.... as has his vice-president Alfred Haas:
"Of course we are making money and that’s a very positive development"
Philips, too are happy to point out how they'll make money... if the audience of such a message is company investors, rather than light bulb consumers, of course....
WSJ article (full view may require payment):
"The head of Philips Electronics NV said his company's lighting business stands to gain from government spending on energy efficiency in the U.S. and abroad"
From the background material attached to the EU's lighting regulation can be seen information on the profit margins in the business
(thank you to journalist Simo Sipola, YLE Finland, for some of this information):
The manufacturer is acknowledged to profit much more from the sale of a CFL compared to an incandescent light bulb, even allowing for a longer CFL lifespan.
Now, that's officially, according to ban proponents: In practice, and without the cheap competition from ordinary bulbs, CFL (and LED) margins are likely to be greater still, as are the margins for retailers - to which we can add all the subsidies that CFL/LED manufacturers, distributors and retailers get, subsidies not all necessarily lifted after a ban.
Clearly, CFL and LED sales are "good for business"...
Still, a slight hiccup in the proceedings - silly consumers who seem to think they should be allowed to use what they want
European CFL sales are not looking great for the immediate future (many consumers have stocked up on light bulbs). Early 2009, the call for a 5 Euro light
bulb tax by the large German CFL maker Megaman was seen as a reaction to such hoarding by Germans.
American CFL sales (outside CFL program areas) are also markedly down, as said above.
Remembering that manufacturers are keen to shift as soon as possible the CFLs they have been pressured/subsidised to make and that few really want, let's approach the end of this section, with an early news release on the topic that exemplifies what has been going on ever since...
Washington DC/Nairobi, 25 September 2009, UN press release
(also Gov Monitor or
"A new global initiative to accelerate the uptake of low energy light bulbs and efficient lighting systems was launched today by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The close to $20 million initiative, the Global Market Transformation for Efficient Lighting Platform will be implemented in collaboration with the private sector companies OSRAM and Philips.
The new global project, which will include a centre of excellence of lighting, will build on and support further commercialization and market penetration among several developing countries that have already made efforts to promote the adoption of CFLs and to phase-out incandescent lamps with GEF support and the involvement of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)."
... finishing the section by noting that if consumers won't play ball...
...just take away the choice anyway!
Note to the below:
GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council, "is a political and economic union of the Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf and constituting the Arabian Peninsula, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. Jordan and Morocco have been invited to join the council."
Philips press release (courtesy of Halogenica):
"Royal Philips Electronics today announces that it will unilaterally phase-out incandescent lamps in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) starting with 100W
and higher incandescent light bulbs as per 1 September 2010, followed by the 75W in 2012; 60W in 2014 and in 2016 40W, 25W and 15W.
With this plan, Philips is taking another step to help reduce energy consumption and carbon emission by supporting the switch to energy efficient lighting solutions. With the switch, consumers will save money without compromising on quality and style".
Philips do this in stressing the benefits they feel CFLs have,
which they again do in this update in December 2011, also noting:
"With this switch, consumers will not only preserve the environment but also be able to save on their electricity bills without compromising on the quality of light, instead, creating the perfect ambiance at home.
Ah, the kindness!
Philips is aware that significant savings can be made in terms of energy consumption, carbon emission and costs by switching to energy efficient solutions, therefore, we continue our unilateral phase-out of incandescent lamps and simultaneously educate the public through different initiatives on the benefits of the switch."
That said, if this was all it was, it would of course be fully justifiable as a pure business decision,
rather than involving public funds or state regulations in any switchover.
The key is fair market competition,
from someone else selling, in this case, the incandescents.
But apparently there is little competition in this regard
- and the situation is not what it might seem...
Digging deeper, it is enlightening (or not) to see our friends UN and GEF being involved here too after all...
Regional Report on Efficient Lighting in the Middle East and North
Africa (pdf) - with governmental handouts, "fiscal incentives" and subsidies.
"In most cases, the preferred approach to the phase-out of inefficient lighting
systems in the region has been the provision of fiscal incentives to reduce the
cost of CFLs. This is to address the barrier of heavy subsidies for electricity
prices prevalent in most countries in the region, as well as the high initial cost of
Several governments also weigh in with direct subsidies for CFLs.
So the choice reducing "kindness" to consumers seems to have a price tag, as well.
The Greenwashing Lamps site has good additional reading on the industrial politics behind the ban
A Finnish TV program confronted EU officials and manufacturers, autumn 2009, about the (lack of) logic in the light bulb ban: English
As an update in 2011,
I am now covering most news-related items on a separate blog.
Freedom Light Bulb, for
however long it might seem relevant.
However, this site will continue to be updated, mainly for background facts and research references,
to in turn complement the blog.
Moving on to some more esoteric and historical connections,
before covering the rather bizarre political pathway involved in the EU ban.
Ayn Rand, Rand Paul, and Lighting...
On a historical note,
the theme of freedom to choose your lighting is rather popular with Libertarians through the ages...
and so in a spring 2011 Committee hearing, US Senator Rand Paul quoted Ayn Rand's
Anthem novel (linked to free online read).
Excerpt from the Slate
magazine coverage, of what Rand Paul said:
"Ayn Rand wrote a novel, Anthem. It’s a dystopian novel where individual choice is banned and the collective rules society. There’s a young man and his name is Equality 72521. He is an intelligent young man but he is been from achieving or reaching any sort of occupation that would challenge him. He is a street sweeper.
A predictable counter-argument,
Over time he discovers an abandoned subway and rediscovers the incandescent light bulb. And he thinks, naively, that electricity and the brilliance of light would be an advantage for society and that it would bring great new things as far as being able to see at night, being able to read and the advancement of civilization.
He takes it before the collective of elders, and they take the light bulb, and basically it’s crushed beneath the boot heel of the collective. The collective has no place basically for individual choice.
Now, I’m not suggesting that this collective body is against electricity per se, or that your goals are to quash individualism. But I am suggesting that we’re against choice."
"The elders using all means they can to save old candle technology is
rather like Senator Paul and colleagues using all means they can to save old incandescent technology!"
...of course misses the freedom rationale here, that the Equality 72521 Character could still use the candles - if he wanted to.
As noted elsewhere on this website, regulation proponents love talking about "Horse and Buggy" technology, choosing to ignore not only freedom of choice, but the advantages that all technologies might have (yes, even a "horse and buggy" on occasion!), and, with lighting, that old technology also happens to be well known and safe technology, compared to the new complex lighting variants.
Welcoming the new does not mean having to ban the old...
The Bastiat Candle Makers Petition
leading up to the final section here on how the EU ban was brought about,
an historical French comment on the habit of politicians
to collude with manufacturers to the detriment of consumers..."plus ça change"....
Frenchman Bastiat's famous candle maker (aka candlestick)
petition from 1845
[Who was Frédéric Bastiat?
"A tireless apostle of freedom of exchange and freedom of choice by individuals, without constraints or subsidies. His works are as fresh and relevant today as they were 150 years ago, and his numerous predictions about the evolution of Institutions and Societies have invariably come true." ]
His ironic suggestion of shutting out all outside light to increase lighting sales
may seem irrelevant to today's "energy efficiency" striving politicians,
but the point here is how politicians are wont to collude with local major lighting producers,
rather than to serve the overall interest of their citizen consumers....
It is an interesting comment,
A PETITION From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, sticks, Street Lamps....
...Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol...
and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting.
To the Honourable Members of the Chamber of Deputies.
You have little regard for abundance and low prices.
You concern yourselves mainly with the fate of the producer......
[Therefore] we ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds — in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses... and thereby create a need for artificial light... [ and all that is required in the manufacture of lighting...]
If France consumes more tallow, there will have to be more cattle and sheep, and, consequently, we shall see an increase in cleared fields, meat, wool, leather, and especially manure, the basis of all agricultural wealth.
If France consumes more oil, we shall see an expansion in the cultivation of the poppy, the olive, and rapeseed...... gilding, bronze, and crystal in candlesticks, in lamps, in chandeliers, in candelabra sparkling in spacious emporia...
Will you tell us that France will not gain at all, because the consumer will bear the expense?
also because, of course, all politicians want to safeguard local jobs, which is a good thing:
But in the context here, does that mean pumping money into Green Tech that is more easily imported?
This is a timely question, given for example the USA Solyndra solar panel manufacturing scandal (October 2011 Washington Post
article), ironically involving Energy Secretary Chu who as it happens has also pushed for the increased use of CFLs, lighting developed by the laboratory he was formerly a director of, and also given President Obama's enthusiastic support of American LED manufacturing.
Politicians should be more neutral with regard to favoring any particular technology:
Let all manufacturers compete on equal terms, let all start-ups indeed be supported, but then not receive any more subsidies as on-going operations.
The issue of saving energy and emissions, especially with electrical products, should see much more focus on power plant generation, distribution, and relevant consumption measures, rather than on the product choices of citizens, as covered previously.
To turn it around with another example, an objection might be
"Well, why waste local jobs on old obsolescent
incandescent technology, instead of promoting local jobs in future lighting technology",
but again, then, the bottom line should not be a political favoring of this-or-that-technology, but to consider what the consumer demand is, and how it is best satisfied.
Local jobs may or may not be relevant in satisfying that demand:
It so happens, also on an environmental perspective, that products banned by energy usage standards are usually simpler and cheaper to make for any local start up manufacturer,
and thereby also more simply transported locally with low emissions, and the energy usage issue
is as seen not relevant in overall policy terms.
Fun and Games in the European Union
Finally therefore in this section,
watching how the light bulb ban was decided in the EU teaches you all you need to know about EU politics.
For those unfamiliar with how the EU works:
The EU ("European") Commission is basically the EU Government, albeit with an appointed rather than elected leadership.
In fact, it is more powerful than normal governments with any legislation it is associated with:
It not only has sole rights to initiate EU legislation, but also to execute that legislation.
The Commission legislative proposals have to be approved by
national government ministers (meeting as the Council of Ministers),
and sometimes also by the EU ("European") Parliament, elected from among the European population.
[Note how language use is manipulated for desired effect, in the development of the EU from its origins:
"European" rather than "EU", so to be "for Europe" nowadays always means to be "for the EU", by politicians and the media.
"Commission" rather than Government, the term "Government" having been avoided so as to obscure the Commission's legislative and executive power from European people who might be frightened by it, as seen from the original Monnet/Spaak proposal comments underlying the name change from the "High Authority" that oversaw the coal and steel production of a few original members.
Finally, "Parliament" rather than Assembly, Assembly being the appropriate original term,
but "Parliament" this time deliberately used to invoke supposed democratic credentials,
despite a lack of the right to initiate legislation common to all normal democratic parliaments.
Compare energy-saving/fluorescent light bulb, CO2 pollution/emission etc
(regardless of whether one agrees or not with the desired subjective impression)]
The Commission is often ridiculed for the standards it sets on consumer products,
in particular food items, and the unnecessary waste and reduction of consumer choice involved.
But the undemocratic way that an unelected unscrutinised body can accomplish
such legislation is also appropriately illustrated in the banning of undesirable light bulbs....
First, the right report conclusions must of course be used!
So, further to just using their external consultancy VITO undertaken research report, as they apparently have done before (and since, with directional, spotlight type lighting),
the European Commission gets its own research centre (European Commission Directorate-General Joint Research Centre)
to come up with the goods (employee Paolo Bertoldi's final report),
talking in terms that the EU energy ministers might understand, pushing CFL switchovers via campaigns and rulemaking and
quoting lots of impressive Tera-Watt and "energy of Romania" savings, with the help of CFL manufacturer data from the European Lamp Companies Federation, of which more below.
The VITO / EU research data is looked at more closely later.
As for light bulb manufacturers,
their concerted push to get governments and international organizations
to mandate CFL use in place of incandescents has already been covered above,
as has their long previous history of going against the free wishes of consumers,
in the enforcement of limited incandescent light bulb lifespans.
It should therefore be no surprise that their specific involvement in EU legislation
goes beyond their role as advisory "stakeholders"
(incidentally, in the EU, the citizen consumers are not seen as stakeholders,
as also seen from other legislative pathways of EU consumer products:
more on citizen consultation below).
Some revelations have come to light about the extent of the EU lobbying by manufacturers.
Susanne Hammarström of Sweden was head of a Brussels based PR agency Diplomat-PR
engaged in the lobbying.
Translated from the largest Swedish business paper, Dagens Industri:
"The ban would never have happened, without the large and extensive
lobby campaign, in all member countries, as well as towards The European Commission and
the media", Susanne Hammarström says.
She believes that a voluntary switchover to energy saving lamps would have
been the preferred policy, without the systematic lobbying work."
So extensive lobbying is the name of the game, of which the
European Lamp Companies Federation
(ELC), is but a part.
But what exactly is this Federation, what does it do?
"We represent the leading lamp manufacturers in Europe"
[quoting GE, Osram, Philips... names that came up in a certain cartel]
"What are our objectives?"
[Surely their priority is to provide consumers with good lighting they actually want to buy? Ah no...]
"To promote efficient lighting practice for the benefit of the global environment, human comfort and the health and safety of consumers.
To monitor, advise and co-operate with legislative bodies in developing European Directives and Regulations of relevance to the European lamp industry.
To act as the key discussion partner for the European Union (EU), as well as for European Industry federations, such as CELMA (luminaires and ballast), ORGALIME (metalworking, electrical and electronics industry) and UNICE (employers) on all topics concerning light sources"
"The ELC Federation is working at this moment with several EU municipalities and other EU federations in Bottom Up to Kyoto (ButK), a project funded by the European Commission via the Commission's Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation."
[Of course you are... "Bottom Up" to you too!]
"The Bottom Up to Kyoto project is an initiative that relies on an expert partnership that ensures that the main objectives of reduction of CO2 emissions and a larger use of energy efficient lighting products are achieved and that each municipality is provided with a tailor-made energy efficient lighting strategy that can serve as a model for other municipalities in Europe."
[Do the mandates and subsidies never stop?
Why does no-one voluntarily want to pay for this magnificent lighting?]
a former Soviet Union Communist, Andris Piebalgs,
was the European Commissioner for Energy
responsible for drafting the controversial regulations.
More on Mr Piebalgs, and his controversial remarks defending the ban,
in a 2009 Daily Telegraph (UK)
article (edited extracts):
Writing on his blog, Commissioner Piebalgs likened the negative reaction to energy-saving light bulbs from many consumers to the response generated by past inventions such as the automobile and the telephone.
He recounted how the British Parliament had passed the Red Flag Act in 1865, which required early motor cars to have someone walking in front of them carrying a red flag.
Dumb plebs must save energy, the rulers, well...
His comments in his blog, on the Commission’s website, brought angry responses from across Europe.
One critic left a comment on the blog pointing out that when cars was invented, the authorities did not ban horses.
Martin Callanan, a Conservative MEP who opposes the bulb ban, said: “That is a stupid and ignorant assessment. Rather than forcing people to switch by removing their choice, we should be using the right incentives to encourage change.”
While releasing emissions if not hot air back and forth between Strasbourg and Brussels and local offices,
why not release more at home, Daily Mail March 2011 article:
"EU's Mr Lightbulb does bit to save energy by leaving on the lamps outside his luxury home day and night for weeks on end"
"lights burning day and night on his £1.25 million luxury home despite neighbours claiming he has not been seen there".
In common with other Commissioners, Mr Piebalgs therefore had and still has a
blog... with sporadic commenting,
until suddenly his praising of the ban on light bulbs drew over 50 comments.
Those blog archive sections were subsequently deleted, supposedly because of a switch in responsibilities,
although other commissioners have kept past archives.
Needless to say, Mr Piebalgs was a handy man to put in charge of Development...
In September 2011, as 60W simple incandescents were "phased out" in Europe,
the EU press release that "EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, is appointed as member of the UN High Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All".
Sustainable Energy for All is of course a nice chummy-sounding idea,
and guess who all the tax-payer EU lolly goes to..
"With around €1bn allocated in the energy sector in developing countries, the EU is a leader in empowering the world. Our Energy partnership with Africa has already provided access to energy to 13 million people. We must join forces with the industry, academics and partner countries to foster access to sustainable energy to all by 2030. The EU will remain at the forefront of the actions to reduce poverty and tackle climate change....improving energy efficiency by 40 per cent"
Handily allowing EU manufacturers Philips/Osram get (even) more EU taxpayer money,
in a round-about way.
And via the UN High Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, also the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with, yes, Philips/Osram again benefiting, as covered previously in this section...
Continuing the EU legislation story,
the direct involvement of manufacturers in sitting in on decision making committees and other gatherings (rather than just being consulted), has come to light in the years since, as quoted in the material at the end of this section. A particular mention might be made of the Austrian film "Bulb Fiction"
(Freedom Light Bulb blog post with video July 2012) where EU parliamentarian Holger Krahmer and others talk of their disillusionment at seeing this kind of embedding of industry in decision making.
So, in the autumn of 2008, the European Commission and leading manufacturers deliver an energy and environmental
spiel to European Energy Ministers that avoids any overall perspective or documentary evidence (the "Let's all save the energy of Romania" carry-on, without mentioning it's by 2020 or later) - and hey presto, they all fall into line.
In typical EU-speak, no lie was told, but the truth was deliberately obscured:
Ministers and in turn the media and populations were given to understand
that it was not really a ban and that "similar light bulbs" would still be allowed.
The details were only released
in a technical report, and buried at the bottom of it, in December 2008 as part of a big EU energy package passed by the Council - who among them was going to interrupt the champagne drinking
to check that out...
And so one had the UK energy secretary declaring to the Houses of Parliament,
and reassuring the media, that "lookalike Halogens" would still be allowed,
as also did German, Swedish and other EU and national politicians.
Of course, not only were all the most popular frosted types in fact banned from the start, but all known
incandescent replacement types will be banned by 2016...
Notice the PR-trick by co-operating light bulb manufacturers in this regard,
currently being repeated in North America
on suitable manufacturer-backed websites with big images:
"Hey everybody, look at all these lookalike Halogens we are developing for you to buy!"
... knowing full well that the standards that they helped to write would come to ban them too,
such that, for example, the Philips announced further development of their Eco-saver lighting
quietly failed to materialize: Ban achieved, Job done.
(Besides as covered earlier, the "similar" Halogens etc are of course still different from simple incandescents,
in light quality and other ways, they have in fact quietly existed for some time and never been popular as replacements by either governments or consumers, in costing much more for marginal savings).
In passing the proposal to the European Parliament,
you might think that since it was taken over by the European Commissioner for Energy as an energy efficiency proposal,
then drawn up by the European Commission Ecodesign committee as an energy efficiency proposal,
that it would therefore be debated by the Parliamentary committee dealing with energy, as an energy efficiency proposal.
Not in the EU!
The Parliament still has no formally set legislative review procedures of proposals put to it, a
legislative review which is still therefore manipulated as desired by the controlling powers, beautifully illustrated here...
It turns out there might have been some embarrassing criticism with the normal pathway
The reason is all the industrial politics that was involved, as already described above.
The European Commission were well aware that the
Industry, Research and Energy Committee - yes, that's right: the committee supposedly handling energy questions - had, and has,
several known members with an awareness of the industrial background to the ban.
In fact the Industry, Research and Energy Committee Chairman Herbert Reul (Germany)
has, like other committee members, still (2011) been agitating
for the ban to be stopped:
The renewed opposition follows additional revelations, including the EU Commission's own research committee acknowledging that their savings assumptions were faulty (more),
and including the German Government's own Environmental
research end 2010 confirming
North American findings regarding CFL mercury toxicity in bulb breakage and disposal, as further covered later.
Does the EU Commission give a monkey's? No.
Ban achieved - Job done.
And how was that ban therefore achieved?
The issue got shunted off to the parliamentary committee dealing with the environment instead, full of well meaning environmentalist support for a ban (it's an odd twist of life that sees die-hard lefty anti-global campaigners
happily support the aspirations of global corporate manufacturing executives).
Even this was not enough, all possible debate avenues had to be stopped.
So the Environment Committee members were "invited to decide" if they should not simply shunt through the wise decision of their eminent seniors, the ministers and the commissioners - without the usual subsequent debate and vote in Parliament itself.
Unfortunately, there was a cuckoo in the nest.
A colleague of the Energy Committee Chairman, as it happens, was on the Committee, who was not going to take the spiel lying down.
So he actually (shock, horror!) expressed the view that it would be rather more democratic
to bring the various issues into the open for debate and vote also in Parliament, since, as he said, that was part of normal parliamentary democracy, in the EU too.
Apparently this held things up for a couple of meetings, until the good member was "leaned on" by EU debate organizing
Comitology committee stalwarts and invited to
"write a formal letter to them voicing his objections so his own name could be cleared such that it would be put on the record what he thought of the parliamentary procedure undertaken relating to the lighting legislation"...
...which he duly consented to do, to the relief of everyone else.
Just to be sure everyone was aboard,
Commission people were brought around to lecture the good committee that anything they heard about light bulb heat benefit was a joke (what fool would "heat their rooms with light bulbs"?),
that the CFL mercury scares were exaggerated, and of course that "halogens would still be allowed"
for all those light-sensitive people who kept complaining to some committee members.
Interestingly, even in the Environment Committee there were some second thoughts,
because a motion was launched a couple of weeks later, seeking a vote to actually allow a debate in Parliament after all.
Opportune (read inopportune) newspaper reports and complaints from constituents were adding to continued worries about the CFLs before the committee vote on Tuesday 17th February 2009.
Pro-ban ringleaders in the committee like Peter Liese (now famous, or infamous, for trying also to stop low-cost flights in Europe) was so concerned that he helped organize yet another special "informatory meeting" on Wednesday the 4th of February.
"Experts of the European Commission, of environmental organizations and not least from the industry"
were marshalled to sermon the whole truth and nothing but the truth to committee members.
Then - as before - energy and environmental experts of opinions not commensurate with official EU Policy were not invited to address the committee.
Yet, not quite the meeting success expected:
Apparently "operation information overload" caused some confusion.
If it was all so "obvious", why the need for it all?
As one member commented, "The debate has thrown up more questions than answers".
To make sure the Truth was clear to all,
Peter Liese circulated a document to members which also called for unity to save European energy and emissions etc.
(with my highlight):
4th February 2009
lightbulbs -background(engl)03.02.09.doc attached
Verordnung über Energieeffizienz(Glühbirne), 3.2.09.doc attached
the decision of the regulatory committee concerning energy efficiency for lamps typically used in households has raised a lot of questions and debates in the constituencies. Therefore I organized a lunch debate on the topic today Wednesday. Experts of the European Commission, of environmental organizations and not least from the industry have given answers to a lot of important questions. A lot of colleagues were present. For those who could not attend, we have once again gathered the most important information.
As seen, the linked background paper predictably repeats all the supposed energy savings,
"the annual consumption of electricity in Finland" (not "Romania", for a change),
that energy saving is what makes the "best devices", that markets fail, and the "don't worry, similar Halogen replacements will be allowed" kind of mantra... and so on, as answered elsewhere in this text.
(A particularly ironic deceit about the halogens, as this is written, February 2012, given the just announced EU intention to also ban low-voltage halogens, having of course already in the legislation banned the supposedly allowed ordinary halogen replacements by 2016)
Of more relevance here is the pointed reference made to doubting colleagues...
"On 31st January 2008, the European Parliament adopted the report by Fiona Hall with an overwhelming majority. In this report, a measure on incandescent bulbs was once more demanded explicitly. Even colleagues who highly criticize the ban on incandescent bulbs now, adopted the Hall-report back then"!
It came to a head in the next Wednesday meeting, 11th February, which apparently was rather chaotic.
The committee secretariat therefore weighed in,
pouring in yet more supporting documents:
Wed 2/11/2009 12:12 PM
Subject: !!! - URGENT - Lightbulbs - concrete questions for Commission
draft_measure_ecodesign_non_directional_household_lamps_D002953-02-00-EN.doc (225 Kb) attached
expl_memorandum_ecodesign_non_directional_houslehold_lamps_O002955-01-00-EN.doc (168.5 Kb) attached
link_to_technical_briefing.doc (29 Kb) attached
Following the exchange of views on Lightbulbs that took place this
morning in Committee, you are invited to send to the Secretariat
(Andreas HUBER and myself) before 17.00 today your suggestions of
concrete questions to be asked to the Commission.
On the basis of those concrete questions, Mr. OUZKY will send a letter
to the Commission, asking for an answer by Monday 16.
A vote on procedural issues will then take place on Tuesday 17, during
Outsiders may be surprised at all this concern about what, after all, was never in doubt in terms of a vote.
A kind courtesy to settle the worries of a few... or a determined effort to counter any criticism of EU policies.
As it happens, coming to the vote itself, while 44 members voted against, 14 members did vote for,
(with 1 abstention), quite a surprise, given as said the composition of the committee and the information supplied to them.
A copy here of the voting record (20090217LightBulbVoteEC.pdf), showing those voting for and against:
Perhaps not surprisingly, mainly Germans voted for the motion, given the more vocal opposition to a ban in that country, as also reflected elsewhere here in the links.
Actually, some controversy even here... the contorted motion language therefore meant that those "against" the proposed ban voted "for" the motion:
MEP Elisabetta Gardini was so unhappy that she complained about it, and the ENVI secretariat confirms "We received an mail from Mrs Gardini's office telling us that she wanted to vote in favour, not against"
- itself confirmed by her office, and apparently she was not the only one who mistakenly voted the "wrong" (read "right") way.
Of course, the majority against would hardly have been overturned, but it again shows some of the emotion involved.
Needless to say, the record was not corrected (I checked via other means later).
John Bowis, chairman of the Conservative Europe Group, and a former Minister for Health in Britain,
was the only UK member of the committee to vote against the ban.
It was clear to me, after having heard from a number of health groups, that there was a risk to health with low-energy bulbs.
There is some evidence of these bulbs causing burns, migraines and affecting people with sight problems.
Of course, he got the well-trodden response that the incandescents were "not in fact banned",
and that lots of "the same" alternatives would still exist, as seen clearly not true, with the temporary allowed incandescent alternatives not being the same anyway (light quality, clear type only, etc)
I am not totally against low-energy light bulbs, but I do not think incandescent light bulbs should be phased out until there are enough adequate alternatives.
Regarding the original push not to have a Parliament debate and vote, the reason given was that there was "a lot of other
business to do" and that "light bulbs had been discussed enough already":
As seen also from follow-up criticism quoted below, that was a very limited "discussion"
with lobbying "stakeholder" light bulb manufacturers as the standards were being drawn up...
Of course, it is also not an excuse not to (at least) follow normal democratic procedure of having parliament vote on it, as with other legislation.
Another reason to have a general debate in Parliament would be that it's an issue that affects everyone, and that everyone can understand - not being like a
debate on some esoteric European industry matter affecting only a few.
On that note...
The EU interactive public debate
on this and other topics was also shut down.
Lauded as one of the ways to "make the EU more democratic"
in order to get the Lisbon Treaty passed (making it easier for the Commission to get decisions ratified), it never involved EU administrators anyway, although they were conspicuously listed as members at the start.
Shortly after the Treaty was secured, the token debate gesture could accordingly be removed.
Also related to the light bulb legislation, another lauded way to increase EU democracy ahead of voting on the Lisbon Treaty was the launch of the
European Citizens Initiative:
As also seen in the press release,
and the supporting website,
Commissioners and their fans have hailed it as a new era of democracy for EU citizens to get their voices heard...
Pre-Treaty the promise by EU spokesmen - also to light bulb ban protesters -
was that "This will be a democratic way that you can deliver a public petition to have the light bulb law changed!"
Post-Treaty they could hardly renege on their promise.
However, the conditions were then defined so as to make the whole procedure pointless (my emphases):
The European Citizens Initiative will allow 1 million citizens from at least one quarter of the EU Member States to invite the European Commission to bring forward proposals for legal acts in areas where the Commission has the power to do so.
Update end March 2012:
The organisers of a citizens' initiative, a citizens' committee composed of at least 7 EU citizens who are resident in at least 7 different Member States, will have 1 year to collect the necessary statements of support. The number of statements of support has to be certified by the competent authorities in the Member States. The Commission will then have 3 months to examine the initiative and decide how to act on it.
In accordance with the Regulation, it will only be possible to launch the first European Citizens' Initiatives from 1 April 2012
The official EU site about it is now here.
As seen the rigorous conditions and all the data required (name, address, place and date of birth, passport number or identity card number etc for the signatures) makes it next to impossible to carry out.
Talk about covering your ass!
The pointless conditions include limiting signature collection to 1 year -
and after all that, if the Commission thinks its irrelevant it can ignore it anyway:
As seen on further examination, the Commission can not just avoid the issue by ignoring the request, it can also modify it, reframing the proposal as it chooses.
In fact, nothing actually changes from the present situation - if anyone provides the Commission with a suitable proposal, directly or via Parliament representatives, they can already decide whether or not to take it up
(remember, the European Commission is the only body that
can launch a legislative proposal)
A lot of retrospective criticism is now surfacing about the EU ban,
how it was conceived, and how it was pushed through.
One of the early players was the recently retired EU Commission Vice President and Official Spokesperson Margot Wallström.
As Environment Commissioner before that,
she was involved in originally bringing the issue up for discussion in 2003.
A Swedish Dagens Nyheter newspaper 2011 editorial by Annika Ström Melin mentions her early involvement, in a critical review of the ban process:
It goes through how the early stages, leading up to the process described above,
was handed over to national bureaucrat representatives stationed in Brussels, how very narrow "stakeholder" interests were consulted, and how no public/consumer involvement was sought in drawing up the product standards to be deployed.
Vienna photographer Peter Stenzel has also covered the strange undemocratic legislative EU pathway,
with more references and links (in German).
Also the Austrian 2011 film
"Bulb Fiction", covers the light bulb manufacturer lobbying, the previously mentioned Phoebus cartel history, and much else that is murky about this ban (in German, use online translation tools if needed).
(Dec 21/24 2011 updates: more to follow on this, and the "Binninger Bulb",
and the other Dutch etc links here,
with further likely coverage on the Freedom Light Bulb blog that accompanies this site)
Dutch Researchers cover Philips involvement:
The Unholy Alliance between Philips and the Greens
Also see the freedom light bulb blog coverage
Syp Wynia's extensive related Elsevier Dutch coverage on lobbying etc
Hoe de Gloeilamp de Oorlog werd Verklaard, "How War is (was) Declared on the (incandescent) Light Bulb"
(long good well illustrated magazine special on pdf image pages)
Old simple cheap unprofitable incandescents - No patents!
CFLs, LEDs - Philips, GE, Osram etc Plenty of profitable patents!
for more on this.
GE activity in America as said largely mirrors the Philips/Osram dominated Europe,
ever since the Phoebus Cartel recognized relevant market domination.
Remembering the consumer perspective, in short:
1. Reduce people's choice by banning unprofitable incandescents!
2. Reduce people's choice even more, by having exclusive patents!
3. Get politicians to continue waving your light bulb around, so they can show that they are
Still Doing Something to Save the Earth, via sponsored CFL replacement programs around the world
- and all of us who are obviously too stupid to buy the "right" bulbs shall rejoice evermore!
Here is Peter Stenzel's link to what ex-Vice President Margot Wallström in retrospect says on the matter,
Die Presse article, translated extract:
Could Wallström have foreseen the turmoil over the light bulb ban,
which the European Parliament along with the Governments agreed to without discussion?
That's not all:
"I was very annoyed. The member states completely ignored their duty to explain the ban to their citizens.
They thought it was a purely technical decision. They thereby overlooked how it would affect everybody, in their houses and apartments, and as consumers."
Margot Wallström's (at that time) environmental adviser Mina Gillberg
is now regretting the consequences of the decision,
from the mercury pollution it is helping to cause from dumped CFLs.
This was covered in a Svenska Dagbladet newspaper article (in Swedish), end November 2011.
It was part of an article series on how Sweden is suffering from CFL dumping and mercury leakage.
The "situation is acute" the Environment Minister Lena Ek is quoted (more, in Swedish).
On a finishing lighter (or rather, "lower light"!) note, we have Frau Angela...
It was Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who chaired the European Council, made up of the leaders of all EU member states, that in 2007 formally decided that the Commission should draw up the proposals to ban ("phase out") the simple incandescent bulbs
- and when Energy Commissioner Piebalgs's Energy department was asked to draft the plans, and get the ball rolling as described above.
Chancellor Merkel makes a point of saying that she herself changed all her light bulbs,
but has also let it slip that she is unhappy about how they take time to come on, and how she has problems seeing with them...
As, for example covered in a CBC story about the EU ban, "Most of the bulbs in my flat are energy-saving bulbs [but] they're not quite bright enough so sometimes when I'm looking for something that's dropped on the carpet I have a bit of a problem".
The regrets over the regulations, or at least over how they were pushed through and their consequences, reflect the many communications
from other politicians I have received on the issue:
Politicians who privately or, as here, belatedly say what they won't say when it counts,
presumably for fear of seeming "anti-environmental",
given the whipped-up feelings in Europe about the "solidarity needed to save the earth",
regardless of the relevancy of proposed measures, either in energy conservation, or in environmental benefit, or both.
After all, a Good European is a Silent and Obedient European.
Light Bulb Basics
How ordinary light bulbs - like all lights - have advantages to users,
advantages unnecessarily and unfairly lost in the bans sought.
A Safe Product
A ban on light bulbs, as with other electrical products in current use, is strange in consumer law:
They are bans on safe products, we are not talking about banning lead paint or fireworks here.
In fact, light bulbs have been safely used for over 100 years without significant problems, unlike
The irony is that a normal ban would rather be on the main suggested replacement, compact
fluorescent "energy saving" lights (CFLs), wit`h several health and environmental concerns.
Some ban proponents say that light bulbs are indeed unsafe:
Unsafe for the planet, from the greater power station emissions caused.
Whatever about global warming effects,
problems should be dealt with where they are caused - and even then, not necessarily by bans.
Compare with cars.
Cars give out emissions. Electrical products do not.
Banning a type of car stops emissions. Banning a type of light does not.
But cars are commonly taxed on related energy (fuel) efficiency or carbon efficiency.
Lights -and electrical products- can be taxed on related energy efficiency (although still unwarranted, as explained).
Old Technology - New Technology
There's a lot of talk about old and new technology with lighting.
"Hey isn't it great to get rid of old technology" we are told.
"Light bulbs are over 100 years old, time to get rid of them."
The obvious counter is "if it ain't broke - don't fix it".
First of all old technology means known technology means proven, reliable and, as just said, safe technology, for a product we spend
half our lives using, sometimes within a few feet.
Secondly, it's one thing to have a product fade away from lack of consumer demand in face of
better alternatives as viewed by the people,
as opposed to a ban on a safe product put in place by governing politicians simply because the alternatives are better as they see it.
Thirdly, energy saving is of course a positive quality - happily advertised by other manufacturers,
without having to rely on governments to ban the alternatives.
History has also repeatedly shown how people do like products that save them energy and money,
whether with transport, machinery, kitchen utensils, or anything else.
Let's compare the light bulb with its cousin - the radio tube (valve).
Now, radio tube use faded away because everyone could see the advantages of transistors.
Did that mean banning radio tubes?
No Sir, they are still around, a limited demand for a limited use, but nonetheless available for those who want them.
Yet, since they use much more energy than transistors, they could conceivably have been banned to save energy too.
Does this ring a bell?
Now, everyone is talking about how great new LED lights will be.
And why not - perhaps people will actually want to buy them!
You don't have to be Einstein - or Edison - to know what that could mean.
If people mostly buy LED lights, and fewer ordinary light bulbs, then energy use (supposedly) drops dramatically,
and no ban is needed.
A natural market process, which nevertheless allows those who like light bulbs to continue to use
Notice how the opposite is of course true too:
If ordinary light bulbs remain more popular than LED or any other lighting - why ban what people obviously want to use?
Let's expand on that....
A Popular Product
A safe product that is not popular does not need to be banned, because so few are using it anyway.
This gives us the beautiful (and typical) logic, that the more popular a product is, the more energy use it will cause,
and the more that ban-backing politicians can wave their arms in their air and say how great they are for (supposedly) letting people save so much money,
by banning a product that people obviously want to buy and use!
Unsurprisingly, the EU has been at the forefront of this logic.
The word from EU officials was
"The campaigns have failed, Europeans still choose to buy these lights, legislation is the next
Instead of saying
"The campaigns have failed, Europeans still choose to buy these lights, how can we respect this
strong will of the people? Is it really necessary to ban these bulbs?"
The simple incandescent light bulbs are/were overwhelmingly popular in the EU, as elsewhere.
They're the lights that people want to buy on free markets (nearly 9 times out of 10 in the EU, 8-9 times out of 10 in the USA, from institutional and lighting industry data 2008-9).
Speaking of the USA:
Just 18% of adults think it's the government's job to tell Americans what kind of light bulb they use, according to a July 2009 Rasmussen Reports national telephone
72% say it's none of the government's business, and 10% are not sure.
An "Unpopular" Product
Update, July 2011:
While an existing ban on the simple incandescent alternatives in the EU or Australia clearly leads to greater CFL sales,
there were also, as will be seen, indications that this was already occuring ahead of the ban, also in pre-ban USA and Canada in some states.
That is, particularly where the CFL push with cheap/free taxpayer subsidised handouts, in happy
cooperation with the subsidy-pocketing manufacturers, is, and was, taking place.
The CFL campaigns were covered in the previous politics section:
Note the current irony that the early North American ban in California and British Columbia
are where particularly vigorous subsidised campaigns have taken place to achieve household switchovers,
such that the savings from a ban is even more questionable,
(given all the other reasons against savings, as summarized later).
Once more this shows up the lack of logic of the ban:
1. People buy more simple incandescents:
Why ban them, that is the popular lighting choice, market competition or taxation alternatives to a ban should at least be explored.
2. People buy more energy saving lights:
Again, why ban the simple incandescent alternatives, since the savings rationale no longer justifiably holds,
and the fewer remaining incandescents may still be appreciated for certain situations
(radio tube/transistor comparison).
Now, the European Commission had previously relied on research by an organization called
and have indeed returned to do so, as in recent VITO research into the use of directional lighting,
research findings which will presumably be used - if found politically expedient.
Because, unfortunately (for the EU bigwigs), VITO household usage data of general service lighting (more below) emphasized
that people were already shifting away from incandescent use.
I say unfortunately, since of course less incandescent use = less energy savings.
The European Energy Ministers (regularly meeting as "The Council of Ministers", that oversee EU legislation
as proposed by the Commission), were, and are, mainly interested in big energy savings
that energy efficiency regulations might bring.
What to do?
The European Commission turn to their own researchers, Paolo Bertoldi and Bogdan Atanasiu,
from the DG (Commission "Directorate-General") Joint Research Centre,
and final report
instead happens to highlight the "great saving potential" of banning simple incandescents
from, yes, the difficulty of increasing CFL uptake otherwise.
"It is not easy to compile accurate and comprehensive data" they say,
though that does not stop very specific sound-bite energy saving figures to be suitably served to the ministers
and bandied about by the media.
[Looking more closely at the EU research: The assumption that people prefer to buy incandescents is not in doubt from the findings, but the supposed energy savings from banning them is:
The CFL specifications for the quoted CFL savings are not mentioned,
though manufacturer data is quoted elsewhere in the study and report, and their "CFL quality charter" with cooperating manufacturers is specified as at least a "10,000 hour" lifetime, with at least 70% luminosity maintained at such time.
A more pushed, subsidized, and regulated CFL uptake is suggested in the conclusion - despite acknowledging the past failures of CFL programs.
later, the EU Commission has post-ban admitted to many misleading savings assumptions,
but that is of course when the ban job was already accomplished - the ban approval itself having already been shunted
past both Parliament Energy Committee and Parliament Plenum following direct ministerial approval, an unusual short-circuit even for the EU.]
So to summarize the conundrum,
People buy CFLs = people like them = but less savings from a ban.
People don't buy CFLs = people don't like them = but bigger savings from a ban.
Back to the VITO research (the full report is here, a quite large pdf document)
As the Cambridge University Network under Sir Alec Broers, Chairman of the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Scientific Alliance section, pointed out:
A study by VITO consultants showed the following breakdown of lamp use in European homes:
• 54% incandescent (down from 85% in 1995 and still decreasing)
• 18% low-voltage halogen (and increasing)
• 5% mains-voltage halogen (and growing)
• 8% linear fluorescent
• 15% CFL
The data does not significantly differ from above EU data in its static form,
noting the relatively low CFL use recorded in both.
The point (also made by its researchers) is the dynamic pattern shown, a pattern not welcomed
if you are trying to talk to EU energy ministers about big energy savings...
The pattern is of a conversion away from ordinary light bulbs.
[In that regard, one can note that since simple incandescents last less long, they would still be bought in relatively greater numbers. But also, that 8% of lights are already fluorescent as tubes, usually heavily used kitchen lighting (more), limiting the supposed savings of banning incandescents]
The conversion is seen as slower towards CFLs,
but, as ban proponents like to point out, CFL prices have fallen over the years.
This is mirrored by international statements, as recently by the UN and Philips/Osram manufacturers:
"When first launched in the early 1980s, CFLs were 20 to 30 times more expensive, but costs have steadily declined through use and increased competition and they now retail for about four times the price of an incandescent lamp."
Since, as seen earlier, ban proponents also keep saying "how much better new CFLs are",
and "how good new LEDs will be",
then presumably consumers would voluntarily buy these
ever cheaper and better light bulbs in greater numbers, making a ban on ordinary incandescent bulbs meaningless or at least reversible.
The forced switchover of a ban is even more meaningless,
from the small savings involved.
As the Cambridge scientists go on to conclude in the above statement, reviewing both VITO
and EU energy usage data:
"Looking at overall energy consumption, including transport and industry, domestic lighting represents 0.76% of the total used in the 27 Member States.
If we assume that all remaining filament bulbs are replaced by CFL at some point in the future (unlikely, as use of halogen bulbs is likely to increase),
that these bulbs are used to the same extent as those they replace and that the energy reduction per bulb is 80%, the total reduction in EU energy use would
be 0.54 x 0.8 x 0.76% = 0.33%.
This figure is almost certainly an overestimate, particularly as the
inefficiency of conventional bulbs generates heat which supplements other forms of heating in winter.
Which begs the question:
Is it really worth it?"
No, scientists, it isn't, but try explaining that to anyone who commutes to Brussels.
Besides, if people happen to prefer replacement Halogens (which as seen is hardly the case, that rather being low-voltage side-lamp type Halogen use), then by EU logic that door must - and will - of course be shut too,
as laid out in the December 2008 EU regulation specifications linked above.
A Cheap Product
The assumption is that people only buy light bulbs because they are cheap.
Certainly they are cheap -no crime- but you don't keep buying something that does not satisfy your requirements, and attractive features of light bulbs will soon be given.
Nor do you avoid buying a CFL or anything else just because it is expensive:
Otherwise no expensive alternative products anywhere would ever be bought.
In normal advertising manufacturers themselves highlight advantageous features of their
Think of long-lasting batteries and Energizer bunnies, think of washing up liquids that wash piles of dishes.
"Expensive to buy but last long":
CFL/LED manufacturers wrongly rely on public campaigns and bans to make
So, when politicians say "a ban is the only way" for the public to buy an expensive product that
"people will find very attractive when they do buy it",
advertising by manufacturers could highlight that,
and people would buy one and then buy more if they are so good, as with the other products.
That said, many households already have CFLs.
As mentioned previously, US Dept of Energy data
shows 70% of American households have CFLs.
In the EU, the UK is typical, 1/2 of households there and in most countries have at least 1 CFL
and the average UK and European household has around 2 CFLs and 20 light bulbs, Commission research).
Maybe people simply don't like CFLs enough to want to buy more, having tried them...
This leads the proponents to emphasize that "New CFLs and LEDs are much better":
But if that is so, there is still no need only to use such lights for the many different usage
45-light American households, or 20-light European households.
The endless "Switch all your lights" campaigns take no account of this.
A Useful Product
Ordinary light bulbs have many attractive features, apart from being cheap.
As incandescent lights, they share some of these features with any incandescents that may be allowed now or in the future, such as replacement halogen lights (though not in the EU, were halogen replacements are due to be phased out too).
Besides, as will be seen, halogens still have many differences, and cost much more for a relatively small light efficiency gained.
A warm bright light quality:
This is probably the biggest loss, in banning the light bulbs.
Incandescent lights have a smooth broad light spectrum,
which in ordinary light bulbs rises more towards the red end, giving the characteristic warm glow
(fluorescent and LED lights give out a very different types of light, more below).
The light bulbs have a pleasing simple appearance, are versatile with
dimmers and sensors, are quick to come on in the cold, and are easy to make bright, including in small sizes.
Incandescents also have advantageous use in very hot or cold conditions, or where a lot of vibration or rough use is expected (with thicker filaments and bulb walls etc, if needed).
Any shared features with CFLs or LEDs can still leave the incandescents having advantages.
For example, as regards dimmability,
it is often countered that this is also possible with some LEDs and with specially modified (expensive) CFLs.
However, there is a marked contrast in the pleasant use of the feature:
Incandescents increase their warmer, redder quality as they are dimmed, giving a relaxed ambience.
It is a common objection to CFLs that their dimmed light has a cold eeriness to it.
Moreover, the heat of the light bulbs can be useful (see next section) also in space heating applications, greenhouses, hatcheries, pet keeping etc.
In the form of cheap, small, bright, colourful lights they are also useful as Christmas lights and
Transparency, shape and appearance makes their use in some lamps, lanterns, and chandeliers attractive.
For displays and in some home decorating schemes, designers use the sparkle effect that one can get with transparent point source incandescent lighting.
Also the beam can be focused, by lamp shades in reading lamps for example.
Small bright incandescent lights are particularly useful, since small CFL or LED lamps technically can't be made as bright, and the less bright types that actually can be made, are particularly expensive.
A Heat Benefit
Many do not understand this, while others choose to ignore it.
In temperate or cooler climates (most of the USA, nearly all of Europe, all of Canada, and the greater part of the
industialized world), light bulb heat benefit far outweighs its detriment in working against air conditioning cooling. When
it is dark and lights get turned on, the overwhelming requirement is heating, not cooling.
Now, no-one is going to use light bulbs to heat a room. However, that does not mean ignoring additional effects of such lighting - good or bad.
The US Government -and at least some European- building construction efficiency directives have extensive information on the heating effect of ordinary incandescent light bulbs, in the USA often to see the
relevance of how much can be saved, in states where air conditioning cooling is extensively used in offices etc. Notably, the
directives also go into the benefit of not replacing incandescent lighting in some states and
Research example "Interactions
Between Lighting and Space Conditioning Energy Use in U.S. Commercial Buildings" (Osman Sezgen and Jonathan G. Koomey,
Berkeley National Laboratory University of California).
Also, an easily understandable general overview is the USA Government Energy Star building lighting
Again, in Europe, for example Germany, there is extensive research into the secondary heating effect of electrical appliances -including light bulbs - regarding building construction with regard to energy and insulation. These often rely on efficiency measurements by institutes like the
ECPE in Nuremberg.
Note the irony when pro-ban officials talk about this:
Light bulb heat is called a "significant problem" as regards room cooling,
and in the next breath ridiculed as irrelevant
as regards room heating.
"Replace your lights and save lots of money" campaigns never take the heating effect into account.
Readers can draw their own conclusions why they do not do this.
In fairness, the idea might seem absurd that little light bulbs can lower your heating bills.
Nevertheless, research in a number of institutions has shown why this is so.
The UK Government Market Transformation Programme research in the early years of this century held that the energy provided by ordinary light bulbs as heat contributes significantly to the domestic environment so the actual energy use savings by changing to CFLs are only somewhere between 17% and 33% of the quoted amount (yes, seemingly ignored or forgotten by the UK Government).
Also the Heat Replacement Study (Bruce
Young, John Henderson of Building Research Establishment, UK 2003-6) found that around half of the light bulb heat contributed usefully in heating. Of course the results of this kind of research depends on several factors, such as lamp enclosure of the light bulb, room insulation, the size of a room and the length of time it is used: a lot of light bulb heat waste is not because they are poor heaters for their size (more below), but because they are not used long enough.
Canadian and Swedish research have similar or higher benefit findings.
Buildings in the UK, and other less cool regions, need less heat and so light bulb heat
is proportionately a greater part of all the room heating that is used.
On the other hand, buildings in colder countries are usually better insulated, so less heat is lost, such as light bulb heat through the ceiling.
Note that, ironically, the energy efficiency drive that also seeks to insulate people's homes better, therefore also improves the heat benefit of their light bulbs - if they are allowed to keep them.
Canadian research also shows up plenty of other anomalies.
For example, "To Switch or Not to Switch: A Critical Analysis of Canada's Ban on Incandescent Light Bulbs"
(Department of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto 2007-2008), by
Professor Bryan Karney, Energy Scientist Michael Ivanco, and Graduate student Kevin Waher.
This paper (see article) also goes into the relevance of bans in emission-free versus emission causing states
(hydropower-rich Manitoba and Quebec is compared with fossil fuel powered Alberta).
More regarding the CO2 emissions from the Finnish research, below.
There are also the findings by The
Canadian National Research Council, Manitoba Hydro, and the University of Manitoba Physics Department: that the heat benefit of
light bulbs means that the the gross 67% savings quoted of switching to CFLs, turn out to be net energy savings of 17%, which is
17% off the just 3% that lighting itself is said to represent in total household energy use.
As Manitoba Physics professor Peter Blunden sums it up,
"We're really talking about a very small slice of the energy pie"
But isn't Canada banning light bulbs?
An announcement by Environment Minister Baird was made in 2007 to phase out light bulbs starting 2012.
Research findings after that meant a re-evaluation, and in December 2008 following concerns a Federal investigation into the safety of CFLs was launched. .
In November 2011, after further consultation, the various switchover concerns have officially put a Canadian ban implementation on hold, until 2014 anyway (more)
Questioning the logic of the EU ban,
from the English transcript of a Finnish TV programme October 26 2009:
Professor Matti Lehtonen and his research team at the Helsinki University of Technology's Department of Electrical Engineering wanted to find out how people adjust their home energy consumption if incandescent light bulbs are replaced by CFLs.
Matti Lehtonen estimates that about 80, maybe even 90% of an incandescent lamp's "wasted heat" can be captured for heating, if it's in an insulated room (as is common in such countries).
Lehtonen's team figured out how much extra heating energy is needed to replace the wasted heat from incandescent light bulbs after they have been replaced by CFLs. The team was particularly interested in how much effect the switch has on carbon dioxide emissions.
The results might seem surprising.
Since around the same energy saved by using CFLs is found to be needed as extra energy to heat the room,
then in a house with electric heating, the climate benefit is going to be very small.
And if the house has oil fired central heating, as is commonly the case in Scandinavia,
then even with a conventional electricity generating mix, that (as in Finland) might only be partially emission-free,
there is an increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
Support for these findings, and the increase rather than decrease of CO2 emissions, are also seen in this
by Halldor Steinn Steinsen M.Sc (Thank you to Kevan at Savethebulb.org
for this information).
Excerpt from the conclusion
Iceland is not the only country in Europe with a high percentage of its electrical energy coming from
sources that do not emit greenhouse gases. If the benchmark is set for example at 60% or more, it is
found that Austria, France, Lithuania, Norway (EFTA country), Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and
Switzerland (EFTA country) fall into this category.These countries have a combined population of
ca. 106.3 million people.
The emission-increasing effect is therefore most notable where low emission electricity is supplied
and a lot of heating is used during the year.
Ironically, such countries (and states/provinces like British Columbia) tend to be the most fervent "environmentally conscious" supporters of light bulb bans!
Banning the most popular lamp type on
the market with the possible negative side effects shown in this research is questionable public policy.
Note: The research findings are only taking the heating effect into account.
There are of course also all the other reasons against the stated supposed savings, regardless of climate, as outlined later.
You do not have to be a scientist to understand these or any other researches done on the topic.
You can see it for yourself.
Look at your light bulb again...
It's not really a light bulb that wastes energy as heat.
It's really a cheap heat bulb that "wastes" energy as light: 95% heat, 5% light (still, the wasted light can be useful too!).
When ban supporters use the big heat waste argument, they conveniently leave out that fluorescent lights and indeed LED lamps
also convert most of their energy use to heat, CFLs around 80% and LEDs 70%, making them respectively 20% and 30% light efficient
This in turn affects calculations that assume 100% light efficiency of the "energy saving" CFLs.
That's not all: CFLs internalize rather than externalize the heat. In other words, the CFL heat waste stays within the light and poses a fire risk, particularly for CFLs fitted in enclosed or recessed lamp fixtures, or as replacements in ordinary dimmer circuits etc: more.
A half-covered light bulb near the ceiling may not seem like much.
1. Heat rises.
Go to any heater:
Put one of your hands high above it (as high as you can), and the other the same distance in front.
This will show you how nearly all heat rises towards the ceiling (it's called "convection") and then spreads downwards from
Also: Rooms often have light bulbs that are lower down.
2. 20 x 100Watt = 2kW
Next: Put twenty 100W light bulbs (=2kW, or near enough at 95% heat output) beside a 2kW heater of your choice. Light up,
turn on, tune in.
If you actually do this, you understand the effect a single 100W bulb has, in relation to the
energy it uses.
Pretty "hot" after all, our little light bulb.
Also: Rooms often have several light bulbs.
So: The small benefit from one or two bulbs should be seen in terms of their low electricity use
and cost, of course cutting down on heating bills rather than heating rooms on their own.
Therefore ridiculous arguments like "well I don't want to heat my room with light bulbs" do not apply.
Air conditioning: As mentioned, if air conditioning is used to cool a room, then light bulbs will work against it, but
in Europe (as in any non-tropical area) when it is dark and the lights come on, the need for cooling is rare compared to the
need for heating.
One might here note that, while few countries have (until recently) actually as yet implemented light bulb bans,
ones that have (Brazil/Venezuela/Cuba) have mostly cited air conditioning as a reason, which of course again points to a heat
benefit in colder European and other climates.
It is wrong to ban light bulbs anywhere, consumers can be informed and then decide themselves what lighting they want to use and when, they can of course also switch between lights if they wish.
The saving of energy use or of money, to the extent applicable, is not the only reason for using a certain light bulb, given the light quality and other advantages of different types of lighting, as already described.
To look at light efficiency alone is not to consider the whole situation.
When light bulb heat is welcome, it is not an energy waste, and often when it's dark, heat is welcome.
That's not all:
From what was said, 100 Watt light bulbs can be called "95 Watt heaters", given the 95% heat output, and similarly with
The savings from such household bulb heaters are indeed small on most heating bills.
The savings are not small, when compared to the size of the lighting bill:
Yet only lighting energy savings, and corresponding lighting bill savings, are considered in the data supporting light bulb bans (as in the EU FAQ for example, more in the savings sections below).
A Ban on the Bright 100W+ Bulbs is especially wrong
In the EU, USA, and elsewhere, higher wattage light bulbs have been specially targeted for an early phase-out.
The reason is the greater energy difference in replacement with (supposedly) equivalent CFLs, compared with replacing lower wattage bulbs.
Ironically, a ban on such 100W+ light bulbs is particularly wrong:
Such bulbs have especially good brightness as well as heat benefit,
with 100W bulbs also being at the same low price as other bulbs.
Fluorescent "energy saving" lights are harder to make bright, particularly in small sizes,
bright lights are more expensive than other ones,
fluorescent lights dim with age,
encapsulation (with pear shaped outer envelope, recommended for close use) reduces brightness.
Cheap Chinese imports for rebranding, keeping down prices,
also means that brightness retention, lifespan and other issues remain with these lights.
LED lamps show promise (more below): But, again, achieving brightness with
non-phosphorescent standard LEDS of good light quality, is not only difficult and expensive,
they are also more directional than incandescent or fluorescent lights, and capping systems to spread the light again reduces the brightness.
All Lights are Different
The "Switch all your lights and save lots of money!" slogans
shows a lack of understanding of different lights and their uses.
Maybe that money focus is why the campaigns failed.
It's like saying "Eat only bananas and save lots of money!"
All lights have specific, different advantages. That is why they are on the market.
You can't just "replace" lights with one another.
Ordinary incandescent light bulbs,
have already been looked at extensively in the preceding sections.
Ordinary bulbs are typically judged as being around 5% light efficient with a 1000 hour lifespan.
There is a new commercial interest in improving those ratings, to achieve more light efficient and longer lasting incandescents,
in view of the banning decisions in several countries, and the continuing impopularity of fluorescent alternatives.
This "manufacturer stimulation" is used to justify the ban on ordinary bulbs.
However, that wrongly assumes that light efficient types aren't - or wouldn't - be developed anyway,
if proper market competition rather than political regulation was the steering mechanism,
as proven by the history of other product development, and as proven by the existence already of halogens.
The existence of halogen or other alternatives in turn does not mean having to ban the ordinary less light efficient light bulb, which may retain appearance, transparence, light quality, size and other advantages as well as a much lower price,
and whose energy use to give out heat is not necessarily wasteful anyway.
are as incandescent lights related to ordinary light bulbs, and GLS replacement types (mains voltage replacements for ordinary bulbs) are up for banning too in the EU.
They are slightly (10-20%) more light efficient and often last 2-3x longer than ordinary light bulbs. The efficiency and the lifespan tend to be trade-offs however, so that maximal efficiency and lifespan don't go together.
Since halogens can be made small, they can look good in recessed and other special
situations, though they also cost more, may need more handling care (also
due to their heat), usually look
very different, and may need transformers and different fittings as well
as still having a different, whiter, light spectrum quality.
Here are 3 ways being looked at to improve the light efficiency of incandescent lights:
1. Gas content
The mentioned Halogen lights are basically ordinary light bulbs with halogen gas inside, allowing higher filament temperatures and brighter light output for the same amount of energy.
Various new gases and gas mixtures will be introduced in new lights from Philips, Osram and other manufacturers.
2. Filament improvement
• Professor Guo of the University of Rochester uses lasers to blacken the tungsten filament:
"Our measurements show that the treated filament becomes twice as bright with the same power consumption", he says.
More in the May 2009 press release:
The process can be used to tune the colour of the light as well, although currently not to produce pure colours.
• Shawn-Yu Lin, a physics professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
has developed a silver/iridium filter surrounding the filament, that keeps infra-red heat waves in, but lets visible light through. That way the filament runs hotter, and so shines brighter.
According to the research
the light efficiency of an incandescent light bulb can be improved by as much as eight times.
3. Reflective bulb coating
The principle is a bulb coating that again keeps heat in, so the hotter filament gives out more light.
There are several developers involved in this:
• The major lighting companies themselves: General Electric, Osram Sylvania and Philips as well as Auer Lighting of Germany and Toshiba of Japan.
• Deposition Sciences in Santa Rosa, California USA. Its technology currently achieves a 30% light efficiency gain, but the company says it has achieved 50% in the laboratory.
• David Cunningham, an inventor in Los Angeles who has already put several lighting innovations on the market. He believes his new reflective coating and fixture design will make incandescents twice as light efficient.
For more on such developments, July 2009 New York Times article
While these and any other new incandescents that might pass allowable standards can be welcomed,
it still doesn't justify banning today's simpler cheaper ordinary type:
The reasons are the same as with existing Halogens.
Also, as with Halogens, electricity saving in usage is unlikely to be near
that claimed for CFLs/LEDs, so any uptake makes a ban on ordinary incandescents (even more) pointless for politicians to defend.
That is why the CFL and LED alternatives are politically pushed and subsidised.
LEDs, light emitting diodes,
show promise and might make interior lighting radically different in form
They are particularly noted for lifespan and light efficiency advantages:
Typically lasting lasting 50 000 hours or more and 30% light efficient (compared to around 5% for ordinary light bulbs).
However, that is a focused, directional light efficiency:
They are much less efficient when required to reproduce, or to try to reproduce, the all-around spread of light like from ordinary light bulbs,
as shown when bulb capping or other light spreading attempts are used.
In turn, this also unfortunately reduces their brightness, which is already a problem to achieve beyond c.60 watt equivalent,
for a ceiling-type replacement lamp that spreads light around a room.
Again, they look different from the ordinary light bulbs:
LEDs either have a multimodular structure, usually with pure colour light combinations to produce white light,
or, as "white LEDs", have a phosphorescent coating producing the light.
Also, they cost much more and give out a different light spectrum:
Like CFLs, they can be colour temperature adjusted (to produce a warmer, ordinary light bulb type of light):
But like CFLs, that is an approximation rather than a copy of such incandescent light output.
In particular the white LEDs that are being pushed as simpler LED replacement lights, are like CFLs (more on CFLs below), producing light in
a similar way, with UV or near UV radiation stimulating a phosphorescent coating, with similar drawbacks in terms of
spikes and omissions in the colours of the spectrum released.
Still different from ordinary light bulbs then.
So LEDs have 5 main problems and disadvantages, as household light replacements, particularly in ceiling lamps:
1. The complex structure required to produce sufficient (and white or whitish) light
2. The alternative mere similarity to CFLs, with a simpler structure.
3. The difficulty in achieving bright lights
4. The difficulty in achieving lights that spread the light around well - rather than being directional.
5. The difficulty in achieving such lights at a reasonable price.
For further discussion of these and other LED issues, see the relevant later
Regarding omnidirectional standard (non-phosphorescent) replacement LEDS of good light quality,
currently there are some 40 Watt equivalent lights at 50 US dollars from different suppliers, and a 60 Watt equivalent light for 120 dollars (July 2009).
Brighter household replacement lights at CFL comparable cost is not expected for at least another 5 years
(Professor Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University, who in a July 2009 BBC radio
interview also goes into the latest research findings).
One problem is the so-called droop effect.
August 2009 article: As the current in LEDs increases in an effort to increase brightness, the brightness suddenly plummets.
Also, a critical review of LEDs in current development by David Shepard
(October 2009 in link via Professional Lighting Designers Association)
However, since the OLED sheet lighting form (more below) might become a common way of lighting larger areas,
then a lack of such omnidirectional capability in ordinary LEDs may not matter, and the 2 lighting forms might simply complement one another.
compact fluorescent "energy saving" lights, have ionized mercury containing gas that cause the coated walls of tubes to fluoresce, so that light is given out.
CFLs keep improving in design, newer types with electronic ballasts (internal current change devices) unfortunately get
confused with older less stable types.
Their light efficiency and long life are again recognized advantages compared to ordinary light bulbs, though not as great as LEDs and not as great in practice as in theory (ratings typically assume 20% light efficiency and 6000-8000 hour lifespans) because of the way brightness and lifespan are tested (more below).
Achieving small bright CFLs is a problem since their brightness is proportional to their radiating surface area.
Regarding light quality, there are daylight similarities that can give a preferable light for some,
and new gas mixtures and filters on the market can to some extent emulate incandescents.
That said, the colour omissions and colour spikes that remain in the spectrum of all ionized gases, can also make fluorescent lights seem unnatural and/or cold to some, and with an eerie quality when dimmed.
Lighting expert Professor Howard Brandston is an active US campaigner against banning ordinary light bulbs,
and particularly highlights the quality of light problems with CFLs:
more, WSJ 30/8/2009
There are also quality issues due to the encouragement of cheap Chinese imports of the lights, or their parts.
Cold or moist conditions affect CFL operation and lifespan, as does heat, including the heat of enclosing them.
Health and environmental concerns also apply, mainly due to radiation and to mercury content.
Using Lights at Home
Appearance, price and light quality can influence any decision of what lights to use at home.
That said, let's compare CFLs and ordinary light bulbs, by location.
In a kitchen a fluorescent light is very suitable:
Relatively frequent use and left on while doing so, and kitchens may not be specifically heated.
Also, the better white balance of fluorescents can make them better in seeing and using food in cooking.
large tube type fluorescent lights are twice as light-efficient as
In hallways and shared spaces too, a CFL might be better:
Again, perhaps no ancillary heating, and may be left on a while.
An outside porch or a garage would use an ordinary light bulb:
Even modern CFLs are slow to come on in the cold,
porch sensors or auto-switches make light bulbs more suitable,
and porch/garage lights may be switched on and off for short periods only.
There is a case for living rooms and other frequently used rooms to vary seasonally:
wintertime light bulbs, with heat benefit and an appealing "warm glow",
summertime CFLs, with a cooler white light and better light-only efficiency.
Also, light bulb heat works against air conditioning cooling systems.
Rarely used rooms and lamps might use light bulbs:
Even if fittings allow other light types, cheap to buy light bulbs may also work out cheaper per year.
Reading lamps may use light bulbs:
For UV radiation reasons encapsulation is recommended for CFLs in frequent close use
which adds to cost and may make fitting more difficult, small sized fittings may necessitate light bulb use anyway.
Moreover, small bright CFLs or LEDs are hard to make, and are unavailable in the brightest types.
CFLs dim with age, and can't be focused like point-source ordinary lights can, under a lamp shade.
That adds to the reasons why "there never seems enough light" with a CFL (more).
allowing for any special fittings, can often be used instead of light bulbs. However that is obviously no light bulb ban
justification, as halogens still have different properties as described already.
In their own right, their small size brightness gives them advantages in recessed lighting, as down-lights, and also as side-lights, often in the 12-volt transformer based format.
are as mentioned still under development for general lighting purposes,
currently mainly used as spotlights, downlights, sidelights...
Organic LEDs (OLEDs) offer an interesting contrast to ordinary LEDs
- and indeed to LCD screens.
Unlike ordinary LEDs, which need a light distribution element, they use organic compounds in a thin light emission layer.
OLEDs emit less light per unit area than LEDS - so are unsuitable as small light sources, unsuitable to directly replace current lights in the way
ordinary LEDs might to some extent do.
But the thinness of OLEDs makes them suitable as sheet lighting.
In this way they can complement current LEDs - diffuse large area OLED lighting, compared to bright limited area LED lighting.
So in future houses, several panels - or a whole sheet - may cover the ceiling, giving a diffuse variable daylight
OLEDs might also be used on table tops and some floor areas.
Moreover, since OLEDs remain a distribution of a large number of individual solid state units,
they can be used as screens for computers and TV-sets,
this time contrasting favourably with
LCD displays, since the latter need backlighting:
OLEDs can display deep black levels (giving better contrast), draw far less power,
and can be much lighter as well as thinner than an LCD panel.
Oled-Display.Net is a good site for the latest on
all forms of OLED use. It includes a useful description and illustration
of OLED lighting sheets.
"Although OLEDs used in lighting applications are not expected to become popular in the next few years and will initially target niche markets, the technology has several advantages over that of conventional lighting.
First among the advantages is slimness. The thickness of OLED panels for lighting applications could reach less than 1mm. Such a characteristic could allow OLED lighting placed directly on ceilings rather than hang from them. In addition, flexibility is another advantage, which may allow OLED lighting to be used when designing for spaces with limited conditions.....
OLED will substitute existing lighting technologies, but will mainly generate new applications, owing to the unique properties of large-area diffuse light generating with adjustable color. Starting in the near future, OLED lighting will boost the OLED fabrication worldwide. The market research company IDTechEx expects already for 2011 a billion dollar market."
From the above, various developments of sheet lighting can be deduced:
As sheets on ceilings, they might simulate large skylights.
As sheets on walls (particularly), different colours or patterns could be chosen according to mood.
Also, doubling up as computer or TV screens, they could be used for displaying say
still photographs or graphics as desired, or be used to watch TV or movies or to communicate over the Internet.
Lighting Energy, Emissions and Cost
The following sections deal first with the principles of implementing a light bulb ban to save energy, money and emissions,
and how that might affect users, with a particular look at temperate climate states.
That is then followed by a rundown of the specific factors involved.
The lack of justification of a ban to specifically save energy (whatever the energy savings amount) has already been dealt with extensively
in the energy efficiency part of the text, and been described in the above summary as it relates to light bulbs, and will be returned to
in a later special section.
The society energy savings from light bulb regulations will be seen to be a fraction of 1% of overall energy usage in the USA and EU.
Emissions do not justify a ban
Whatever about the relevance of reducing CO2 emissions in society to actually achieve a lower global temperature,
the 3 main reasons why light bulbs should not be banned for that purpose are
• the small effect from small energy savings
• light bulbs don't release CO2 - power plants might not either
• the taxation/market alternatives to reduce CO2 emissions
The small effect relates to the fractional amount of society energy savings,
as covered later.
But the CO2 savings are even less, in relative terms.
Firstly, the power plant may not be giving out any gas emissions (nuclear, hydro, solar, wind etc).
Secondly, it may have reduced emissions (treated coal, gas plants).
Indeed, the worldwide planned increased use of renewable and low emission energy is conveniently forgotten:
Ban proponents simply project old emission data into the future and hail the "great savings"
A comparison with cars comes to mind:
Cars give out CO2 emissions, light bulbs don't.
Cars correspond to power stations (power plants).
To give an idea of the comparative emission amounts,
In the UK, Department of the Environment figures give 2.3kg CO2 per litre of petrol, 0.5kg CO2 per kWh electricity.
Now, that's in a country where only 1/4 of electricity generation is emission-free, most UK power stations give out emissions.
But that is not all.
Untreated coal is the biggest problem, but even when untreated "dirty" coal dominates,
the mantra "We save lots of CO2 emissions from coal power plants"
shows a lack of understanding of how power generation works.
The issue is covered in more depth in refuting the USA Obama administration's coal power plant savings argumentation
In short, coal plants are on most or all of the time without great output variation.
Slow and cheap.
They are supplemented at peak times (eg 5-7pm temperate zones), typically by quicker responding gas or hydro powered turbines. While this is also when lighting tends to come on, it is therefore at best at such times saving some gas related CO2 emissions, which is much less than from coal - on top of the already small savings in grid electricity use.
[Note the same for mercury:
Untreated coal plants are by far the main source of mercury emissions,
so that other mantra "power plant mercury emissions from incandescent use
is worse than CFL usage and mercury content" does not hold up either even where coal dominates, quite apart from the
US, EU, Canada and other mercury emission mandates being applied, and other factors as covered later]
The whole CO2 emission issue can of course also be looked at in terms of
taxation or market alternatives to reduce emissions - rather than regulatory type enforcements, whether on
power plants, cars, or light bulbs.
This is partly covered in part 1 of the text,
though I have in this newer website version mainly focused on energy usage to keep argumentative clarity.
Suffice to say that taxation-subsidies at various stages from fuel source to power plant emission, to emission related electricity delivery are more relevant ways to deal with CO2, than a blanket ban on everybody from using popular electrical products - no point banning unpopular products! - when they may not even be causing emissions in the first place.
The market alternative typically involves CO2 permits (Cap and Trade), although they have proved problematic in implementation for many reasons not relevant to take up here.
Continuing the light bulb comparison with cars,
cars that emit more CO2 are (in the EU for example)
taxed for such emissions, not banned.
Light bulb taxation is obviously less justified,
given that the bulbs as seen have very little relation to actual power plant CO2 release.
Light bulb taxation is covered in a closing essay below.
It is still preferable compared to bans, for all sides,
with governments gaining direct income on the reduced sales, an income that can fund the reduction of society CO2 emissions more than remaining light bulbs cause the emissions, and consumers keep choice,
a choice that can include cheaper CFL and LED lighting, since governments can reduce today's taxes on them
within an overall tax shift.
As for the market alternative, it will also be described in that section, and is a still better way to achieve energy (and thereby emission) reduction, particularly when applied throughout the energy usage chain from power plant generation downwards
to the manufacturers of light bulbs, for reasons described, always remembering that competition pushes to energy efficiency since it lowers energy costs for producers, as well as being a product advantage for consumers.
Since simple incandescent light bulbs remain the most popular lighting choice today, where available,
the decision to ban them (and other products) means, as extensively reported in Europe, hoarding, cross-border and perhaps Internet purchases.
In turn, less emission benefit from any banning decision, especially in the first few years.
But a future ban also makes no sense:
Not just because of new LED or other lights with less supposed associated emissions, that people might actually want to buy
not just because of rapidly developing technology to deal with coal, oil and gas emissions themselves,
not just because of the increased deployment of nuclear and renewable
energy without CO2 emissions,
but also because of grid interconnections that quickly spread such energy use, regardless of where it comes from,
in turn resulting in more and more emission-free households, unfairly denied choice.
Banning light bulbs to get rid of CO2 is like shooting flies with elephant guns.
Very small flies.
Money savings do not justify a ban
Energy and emission savings may be reasons to consider a ban.
Money savings are not.
To begin with, as covered in the introductory sections,
consumers will hardly save money anyway:
In assuming that people use less electricity, governments are already compensating electricity companies,
allowing them either to raise charges giving bigger electricity bills
or by direct subsidies with taxpayer money.
- see the North America and UK examples in the Light Bulb Politics section.
No longer should it be seen as surprising that electricity companies happily dole out fluorescent bulbs that are supposed to reduce their electricity sales!
There are also many usage-related ways the money savings are less than supposed,
see the energy efficiency regulation price/savings section for overall arguments, and the
following section for more specific reasons why consumer savings from "switching all your lights" are not as great as political proponents
and public environmental agencies like to say they are.
But regardless of the amounts that may or may not be involved,
it is a murky moral ground to justify banning what people want to buy
because it saves them money....
So, firstly, consumer savings do not justify a ban on what they obviously want to buy, anymore than it is
justified to stop consumers from buying any other products they want to buy and use.
Otherwise of course half of everything in the supermarkets could be banned, to make our shopping days really easy.
More specifically, a running cost reasoning could for example see cotton trousers/pants being banned too, "cheap to buy but
expensive in the long run" compared to woollen trousers.
Secondly, regarding public finances,
and unlike with light bulb bans, governments gain directly from light bulb taxation that also lowers sales,
although free market competition in turn is a better choice than taxation, as covered later, including in overall savings terms.
has written a good general rundown on why light bulb bans make poor economic sense
(september 2009 CNN article, my emphases in the text):
"The European Union's new ban on incandescent light bulbs violates simple economic principles and imposes substantial hidden costs on the economy.
Fluorescent bulbs don't work as claimed and have considerable disposal problems. If the new bulbs were better, consumers would choose them naturally, and could be nudged to do so by a carbon tax.
The EU ban is an attempt to forward a policy goal -- combating global warming -- by statutory means. As such, it resembles the Corporate Average Fuel Economy restrictions, imposed on the U.S. automobile industry by Congress in 1975.
Such legislation imposes substantial costs on both consumers and the economy, but hides them so that legislators avoid blame. It often has perverse consequences; in the case of CAFE standards consumers switched to sport-utility vehicles, less fuel-efficient than comparable saloons but outside the scope of the initial law. The long-term cost of those standards arguably included a significant contribution to the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler.
Such policy goals can better be met by explicit taxes, which are not fully dead-weights on the economy, but fund government and substitute for other taxes. They also impose clear costs on oil consumption or carbon emission, allowing consumers to make their own purchase decisions with those costs taken into account.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs' up-front cost, while higher than that of incandescent bulbs, is now low enough that if the claimed energy savings were real and inconveniences modest, rational consumers would switch.
However, CFLs emit considerably less light than is claimed, and a substantial percentage burn out before their expected lifespan, somewhat offsetting the net cost saving from installing them. Moreover, consumers are heavily inconvenienced in their disposal, since they contain toxic mercury, which is illegal to discard in ordinary trash.
Had governments enforced truthfulness in claims of CFLs' efficiency and lifespan, and provided convenient disposal mechanisms, many consumers would have switched voluntarily. Then the additional energy usage by the holdouts would have been modest and declining.
Forcing consumers to switch imposes arbitrary costs, especially on those who for health or other reasons want to remain with incandescent bulbs. It also violates market principles of consumer freedom of choice."
Energy, Emission, and Cost savings arguments do not hold
Since money, energy and emission savings are linked,
they will be looked at together here, under different categories.
Some introductory points:
The energy savings should be put into its right perspective:
In the US and the EU, only 1-2% of grid electricity usage is saved from a lighting switchover (see US Dept of Energy, EU statistics and other data below).
The corresponding money savings are even further reduced,
in considering factors beyond the simple lab tested energy usage of individual lights.
The most obvious point is in the heat output of ordinary bulbs, and how it can reduce room heating costs.
But there are other factors too.
Note that running cost = purchase price + usage cost.
Running cost calculations should therefore also take into account breakage/loss/malfunction with subsequent replacement purchases, especially important with expensive bulbs - but that is ignored, as is the rare usage of many lights in say a US household (45 light average).
There are also many general reasons why energy efficiency regulations can backfire so that supposed money savings do not apply. Not all will be taken up here, even though they are also relevant: see above.
(as seen, savings backfiring also in that switching to CFLs actually increased energy use by 10% in a locality, on the "cheap energy = use more energy" principle).
Regarding the emission savings,
in the EU documentation (similar to recent Obama statements in the USA June 2009, and to Australian Government statements
2008) they talk about “multimillion ton CO2 savings” of power station emissions by 2020, 2030, 2042 or other future dates, on further analysis just projecting current emission data into the future, without allowing for the planned emission reduction in electricity generation:
An emission reduction which they on other statements are keen to emphasize, with mandated renewable energy projects, emission trading, "clean" fossil fuel technology, and so on.
Talk about one lot of bureaucrats not knowing what the other lot are saying (or, as some of us would hold, they know very well what the other lot are saying....).
Of course, exactly the same political doublespeak holds for coal power mercury emission savings from a ban on light bulbs,
projecting historic mercury emissions of a few years back into the future:
Yet new mercury emission reduction technology is already being applied to dramatically reduce levels,
incidentally also meeting the local and international emission limit regulations which are being phased in: more.
Turning to the proposed lighting replacements,
the savings arguments of ban proponents is based on replacement with CFLs, "energy saving" lights, so that is also the focus here:
Any replacement with incandescent lights that might still be allowed (like Halogens) markedly reduces the supposed savings.
Regarding LED lamps,
they are not yet ready for general and bright omnidirectional light substitution.
Of course their availability still does not justify banning other lighting alternatives,
and one might anyway note that their undoubted promise of both energy saving and long life comes at a much greater purchase expense than ordinary bulbs.
As mentioned, the many light outlets in households don't all have great use, and don't all need expensive 30-50 year lasting LED bulbs.
Also, LEDs have their own light quality and other issues, as dealt with here onwards.
For more on LEDs and their energy use, as well as environmental issues generally in relation to lighting,
see the Green Pages blog
of the multinational Professional Lighting Designers' Association.
// PRICE: //
Halogen and LED lights:
These are more expensive than ordinary light bulbs.
In particular standard omnidirectional LEDs, that don't mimic CFL light quality by being phosphorescent as "white LEDs",
and in particular when brightness is required, costing 50 US dollars July 2009 for just 40W equivalent lighting,
120 dollars for 60W equivalence).
Any subsidies for incandescent manufacturers' conversion to Halogen manufacturing are a hidden extra price factor, to the
extent replacement type halogen lights survive.
CFLs, compact fluorescent lights, are not only more expensive to begin with,
it is also technically harder to manufacture bright fluorescent lights in a compact format.
This means that brighter good quality fluorescent lights cost more than
ordinary fluorescent lights (while
bright 100W ordinary light bulbs cost the same as 40W bulbs).
Dimmers: Specialized CFLs for dimmers etc cost a lot more.
Encapsulation: Pear shaped fluorescent lights with an outer envelope may look nicer to many,
and is recommended for close use, but cost more.
Recycling: Subsidies for recycling fluorescent lights are a hidden extra price factor to
CFLs and LEDs:
On a general note, it is sometimes suggested that if everyone has to buy CFLs or LEDs, it will make them cheaper, on economy of scale.
This might seem a valid point.
But extensive existing subsidies that keep down prices in the shops,
as seen with CFLs, will no longer be judged necessary.
In this regard, in post-ban UK, April 2011, there has been a rebound price increase of CFLs
from subsidy removal, as covered by savethebulb.org.
Besides, CFL manufacturers will increasingly have to pay for product collection/recycling,
with Vermont in May 2011 becoming the third US state requiring CFL manufacturers to pay for such a program. Any financial burden on manufacturers is of course likely to see more expensive CFLs, to cover costs.
Note, in this regard, the calls for collection/recycling also of LEDs (more).
In turn, the money and inconvenience cost to consumers of having to transport properly packaged burned-out bulbs to recycling collection points (more of which
below) should also be added to the overall price of such light bulbs...
Moreover, cheaper in production is not the same as cheaper on the market place:
• manufacturers charge what they can on the marketplace, regardless of the production cost, or of the product quantity they deliver.
• competition is what keeps prices down, and of course gives variety of choice for consumers.
• competition from cheap light bulbs, sometimes from the same manufacturers,
that keep down prices also of other lighting, have been removed.
• there are fewer manufacturers making complex lighting, again reducing competition.
Also: Any CFL or LED cheapness without quality is itself of questionable value,
given the controversial mass imports of Chinese lights.
See the politics section for more on this and other industrial politics involved in the ban.
// USAGE: //
The likely extensive hoarding of a cheap popular product (9/10 lights bought in most jurisdictions),
as well as cross-border and Internet purchases,
reduce any money/energy/emissions savings benefits from a banning decision, especially in the first few years.
Lack of Use
EU households typically have around 20 light bulbs (Environmental Change Institute and European Commission sources),
Northern European and American households many more (over 40 ordinary bulbs in the USA out of about 45 lights in total, US Government Energy Star and
lighting industry sources).
Switching to expensive lights that are rarely used does not give the
suggested money savings,
nor does any loss/breakage/malfunction of such lights.
Early phase-outs are targeting ceiling lighting by bans on higher wattage brighter bulbs,
lights difficult to replace, since CFLs or LEDs either can't be made to equivalent brightness and light spread, or involve an even greater expense than other such lights.
Despite this the political push to use CFLs is seen, particularly in the EU:
Not only is there a ban on all 100W+ light bulbs, but also a ban on all frosted incandescents (including halogens) - and frosted, non-clear, lights happen to be the most popular type of light bulbs, as they give no glare. The idea is to compel people to replace both ceiling and other lights, with equally non-clear CFLs (or LEDs).
Unfortunately, Bad Citizens do not necessarily do what their Political Masters want....
1. Inasmuch that mentioned hoarding or clandestine imports don't work, and people refuse to use CFLs or LEDs,
they might simply fit twin lower wattage bulbs of ordinary incandescent type (while such bulbs are allowed).
2. The use of recessed lighting, spotlights, and sidelighting will likely increase too,
as not only low wattage ordinary bulbs but sidelamp low voltage halogens can be used,
and where the combined wattage when used together again reduces supposed savings.
3. Even where energy saving LEDs are used, their usual directionality
means several might be lit when general spread is required.
4. CFLs might not be used, whether in ceiling or side lamps, as they may not fit the lamps,
from being bulkier especially at their base, and can be significantly longer in size too, as Canadian technician Doug Hembruff
also points out.
So, for example, CFL small candle or golfball shaped lights may not fit in reading lamps, ornamental lamps, chandeliers etc,
and CFL size reduction as said means brightness reduction too.
5. CFLs should not be used with conventional dimmer circuits, they should not be enclosed in small spaces, they are more sensitive to bathroom moisture etc...
CFL (and other light) suitability or even possibility of use in different locations was covered earlier, while the savings issue on this is returned to in the "switchover" section that follows.
These points alone markedly reduce the supposed savings from households switching to CFLs, LEDs, or any other particular light.
A note on LED (or other non-incandescent, non-CFL) Usage:
Usage of lights not incandescent or fluorescent are not as greatly covered in this text,
in being emerging technologies.
However, clearly there are parallels in several of the principles mentioned.
Regarding LEDs, which (as of 2011) is also getting its own section below, it should also be seen that attempts to get round the cost and omnidirectional brightness problems by using single emitters inside a phosphorescent coated bulb ("white LEDs") just mimics CFLs.
The use of ordinary incandescent light bulbs is itself covered by the comparisons made with other lights.
This will mainly focus on the touted development and use of light efficient varieties,
commonly called "energy efficient", although light bulb heat energy is not necessarily a waste...
The Heat Effect
Light bulb heat is not necessarily wasted energy, it can make them more economical, cutting down on the need for ordinary
heating as described.
That of course also works against air conditioning in hot weather for the same reason, a North/South Europe split, with
local, seasonal and diurnal variations also in the USA, Canada, and Australia for example, though overall in temperate
climates the heat benefit is greater.
As always, different lights have different advantages at different times and in different places, and can of course be used
as consumers wish, rather than as governments dictate.
Light Efficient Incandescents
Several new types of energy efficient incandescent light bulbs seem possible,
by recent research, as covered
Any such uptake would save energy - without a ban on simple cheap alternatives.
But ban proponents like to highlight how it is in fact the ban announcement that
has spurred such development:
"Manufacturers are stimulated by regulations to make ordinary incandescent light bulbs more energy efficient,
light bulbs which they otherwise would not have made".
Surely that seems right, you might say:
Incandescent light bulbs that would indeed never otherwise have been made, because then the bulbs would have cost too much on a competitive
market, and cost too much for the energy savings provided for customers.
The question is the extent that manufacturers voluntarily make
better bulbs, better in terms of energy efficiency or lifespan.
Basically, manufacturers seek profits, while politicians/consumers want "better bulbs".
Without running through previous argumentation, a look at the case in hand:
Correct, that manufacturers do not necessarily make incandescent bulbs as good as they could.
Incorrect, that regulatory enforcement is the right way to deal with it.
Stimulated free market competition between manufacturers, is the right way.
Certainly, one can point to several announcements some years ago, following ban legislation on simple incandescents,
of "High Efficient Incandescent" development by General Electric in the USA (more),
and by Philips in Europe in relation to the EcoClassic Halogen type bulb that was going to be made more energy efficient
compared to first generation types:
But it turns out they were politically placative plans, quietly demoted, if not actively dropped as in the Philips case.
Follow the money: Where are the profits?
Already in 1924 light bulb companies chose not to make the better incandescents they undoubtedly could have
- see the Phoebus cartel and "planned obsolescence" discussion, as in the Standards and Markets essay.
Rather than making better incandescents, making profits from CFLs and LEDs:
See the Light Bulb Politics section on more profitable CFL (and LED) policies, politically backed, as referenced.
Energy efficient incandescents like Halogens are nevertheless made and sold for the advantages they can have,
indeed their existence before ban announcements proves the point that such energy efficiency developments are made anyway on free markets.
So, to ensure that "manufacturers play ball" in regard to improving this kind of lighting, competition stimulation -rather than regulation- is the best way to ensure that consumers (and politicians) get what they want:
People have always desired energy saving improvements, improvements made throughout history to many different
kinds of products, without having to ban older energy demanding versions of those products.
See the energy efficiency section introduction, and the concluding essay on light bulb markets.
The envisaged increasingly stringent standards will likely see the end also of Halogens and other energy efficient incandescents, 2016 in the EU and at the latest 2020 in the USA,
as covered earlier.
But, as regards the supposed savings by a CFL switchover that is dealt with in this section,
notice how those savings do not apply from alternative purchases of Halogen type bulbs,
Halogens being much closer to ordinary light bulbs in energy use.
So, for example, the savings claims made in mentioned USA, EU, Canada or indeed Australia ban documentation don't hold up, for this as well as for many other reasons.
Politicians run around saying "notice you can all still buy incandescents!" and then say how much is saved "from everyone buying CFLs".
As seen, people might try to avoid using CFLs.
But when used as replacements, they still don't offer supposed savings
- and the already existing use of fluorescent, LED and Halogen lighting that
uses less energy than the simple incandescents to be replaced, should be remembered too....
No savings from switching to what is already being used!
The 10-20% household use of non-incandescent lighting is regularly quoted, as covered in earlier sections.
A particular use that is worth pointing out here,
is that the most frequently used household light, in the kitchen, is often fluorescent
already - in the form of fluorescent tube lighting.
"With household lighting, the light most used is the kitchen light, the first turned on, and usually the last turned off.
This light is already a high intensity fluorescent light as housing construction convention mandates that this is a work area
and requires bright lighting, and the brightest are those fluorescent lights. This one light alone consumes 60% of all the
lighting power usage requirements for your house."
More in this Australian
analysis (July 2009) of the Obama savings statement.
American surveys, as by US Dept of Energy in their
or the US Kema research for utility companies, quoted here,
also both show how kitchen lighting is more than any other lighting, quoting 3 and 3.5 hours daily use respectively, although not dominating in the way the Australian source suggests.
It should also be added that kitchen lighting as 40W fluorescent tubes is not consuming as much power as some other lighting might.
That said, some domestic tubes have a low power factor which effectively means a greater energy use (industrial users are more careful about this, as they are hit by higher bills from such uncorrected power factor use - see power factor section below).
Switch savings calculations either completely ignore the existing household use of fluorescent or LED lights
(Ireland and some other European countries),
or ignore kitchen tube fluorescent lighting,
when - like the US Dept of Energy - they go on to just focus on "11% existing CFL saturation".
More on US switch policies in the politics section.
Greater energy use than stated:
[Power and energy are often confused. Energy is the same as power for a given length of time.
1 kW of power for an hour represents 1 kWh of energy. In ordinary speech it doesn't make much difference, a big power station delivers a lot of energy]
Common fluorescent CFL "energy saving" bulbs effectively use more than twice as much energy than what the local electricity meter - or CFL rating - shows.
Without going into technicalities, this has to do with current and voltage phase differences set up when CFLs are used.
No free lunch:
The consumer ends up having to pay anyway through higher electricity bills or taxpayer utility subsidies, for any energy usage and any grid correctional maintenance that is required from the imbalances caused.
The problem is defined by the so-called
"power factor" (PF) of the lighting used.
As in the Wikipedia explanation:
"The significance of power factor lies in the fact that utility companies supply customers with volt-amperes, but bill them for watts. Power factors below 1.0 require a utility to generate more than the minimum volt-amperes necessary to supply the real power (watts). This increases generation and transmission costs"
While industrial electricity company customers are cost penalized if they present a low power factor load to electricity companies,
until now that has not been considered a problem with ordinary households.
Explaining power factor is not easy.. but people do their best.
The US Department of Energy compares with a horse pulling a load, while Sylvania light bulb manufacturer uses a foamy glass of beer analogy, before going into technical details - and light bulb comparisons.
There are several reasons why extra energy use and costs
arise from a CFL low power factor:
1. The direct CFL power factor compensation.
The typical CFL PF of 0.5 to 0.55 means nearly twice the energy is used, to what the CFL wattage implies.
Balanced CFLs that have the same power factor as ordinary incandescent lights (PF=1) are expensive,
and the power factor of such CFLs tends to decrease with age anyway, due to the heat effect on the internal (ballast) components.
2. Grid transmission loss compensation
"Every transmission line and every transformer in the grid is subjected to resistive losses in the wire that are related to the current being drawn by every customer attached to the power grid. A bad power factor increases the losses by a ratio that is inversely proportional to the total power factor of the attached loads. A total PF of 0.5 means that twice the current is drawn for the power delivered, and the [transmission] losses are not merely doubled, they are quadrupled."
3. Electricity generation capacitance compensation
"A poor power factor will also reduce the capacity of power generating equipment, so more machines [and inductors, capacitors] are needed to provide the same total load power."
In fact, there is also an issue that meters themselves may be affected by CFL use:
CFLs generate high frequency transients that are said to cause ordinary induction disk electric meters to read higher than they should, giving "pure profit to the electric company" (more, though I have not found other sources on this).
More information on CFL Power Factor and related problems:
Australian Rod Elliott's analysis.
Also good, the relevant section in a lengthy New Zealand report.
A USA magazine for electrical professionals, The Electrical Construction & Maintenance magazine,
also covers the problem well, in an analytical article "The Hidden Costs of CFLs":
For a variety of reasons, U.S. manufacturers have not produced many power factor-corrected CFLs. A lower power factor allows them to keep the cost of the bulbs down, which greatly helps market penetration. “The original thought was to let the power factor go a little bit lower to reduce the first costs of the lamps,” Morante explains. “For a rating above 0.5, you have to add something to the electronics, so that will up the cost of the lamp.”
Size is another factor in setting the power factor rating standard. “Any device that uses some sort of power supply or power filter is going to put some harmonic distortion into the load, because the only way to make it yummy and clean is to make it huge and expensive,” says Alex Boesenberg, technical manager for the Lighting Systems Division of NEMA. “There are people that make high power factor CFLs — I think all my manufacturers have a design handy if they need it — but the cost and the footprint of those things have made them undesirable.”
Even so, CFLs can cost three to 10 times more than comparable incandescent bulbs. In general, the higher the power factor, the higher the cost of the lamp.
Under this rule, you get what you pay for, says Doreen LeMay Madden, founder and principal designer for Lux Lighting Design, Belmont, Mass., and chairman of the Residence Lighting Design & Application for the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), New York. At a power factor rating of 0.5, a 15W screw-in CFL will actually use 30VA of energy and, in some cases, the consumer may not be receiving the same light output the incandescent provided. However, the consumer may be unaware of this exchange rate...
Power quality has traditionally been thought of strictly as an issue for the electric utility. The electric meters on residences measure watts, so consumers realize the wattage savings indicated on the lamp's packaging through savings in their energy bill. “They'll see that 75% savings,” Morante says. “The meter on the house doesn't measure power factor.”
This is still only the beginning of the CFL power utilizing woes.
Because of the way CFLs draw power in an irregular fashion (with, as mentioned, current and voltage phases out of alignment) they also set up what is known as "harmonic distortion" in the grid, contributing to
"It is worth noting that mains waveform distortion is now becoming big business. There are more and more companies selling large inductors for use as mains filters for critical applications. Likewise, complete filter units are becoming more readily available than ever before, because the cost of replacing motors that fail because of high harmonic currents is considerable ... both the cost of the motor and machine down-time make failures very expensive."
"Harmonics can cause a variety of network problems: transformer and cable overheating (hence lowering lifespan), motor overheating, premature ageing of capacitors, interference with telecoms systems, possible disturbances in ripple control systems (hot water).
Yes, the prospect of cold showers once all households are converted to CFLs ..."
...as the New Zealand report wrily observed, before New Zealand abandoned plans to ban the ordinary light bulbs.
The mentioned US electrical magazine article also deals with these problems:
....electric utilities must still correct for the THD [Total Harmonic Distortion] caused by devices with power factors less than 1. To do so, they either add capacitors to the distribution system as close to the load as possible or increase generation capacity. A study from New Zealand estimates that correcting for low power factor electrical devices could cost electric utilities as much as $4 million for every million low power factor CFL bulbs installed. “Utilities have to compensate for this low-power factor
distortion by purchasing more capacitors,” says LeMay Madden..... “They're using twice the amount of energy, plus they're causing distortion in the sine wave. The lower the power factor, the more distortion you get.” ....
“Obviously, there is a cost to make these corrections,” Morante says. “It's there today. For residential customers, it's in their kilowatt-per-hour charge.”
It is no surprise therefore that politicians are very happy to hide the true cost to consumers,
in pushing low power factor CFLs.
This is called smart politics:
What you don't see now, you will not complain about later, because you will never know that your electricity bill is not as low as it should be.
Moving on from such greater than supposed energy use,
there are then several factors why CFLs do not deliver their rated brightness for their rated lifespan,
again giving misleading savings figures.
Rated brightness is an issue:
To begin with, from not using a recommended lighting position:
Unlike with incandescents, lights pointing upwards can have a different light efficiency than lamps hanging from the ceiling or facing
downwards within table lamps.
Downward pointing (base up) is taken as the norm, also in
Why is it that people "can't see anything" using CFLs?
Because of the way CFL brightness is measured (more, as part of a Kevan Shaw presentation of CFL problems, also see Rod Elliott's
they are in practice not as bright, and never seem as bright, as the supposed equivalent light bulb.
What people have sensed and suspected for years was also borne out (29 August 2009) in a simple light meter comparison test by the British
newspaper the Daily Telegraph.
Another brightness comparison with incandescents
found the CFL brightness claims to be false, for several reasons.
Even the EU Commission is changing it's tune about CFL brightness
(more on the EU and its post-ban FAQ shortly)
BBC December 2009 article:
The European Commission's [new] advice is to divide the wattage of a traditional light bulb by four to get the equivalent brightness. So, to get the brightness of a traditional 60-watt bulb, choose a 15-watt CFL bulb.
As covered in other references, the USA Lighting Research Center is arguably the most authoritative American voice on the issue,
also administering the
National Lighting Product Information Program.
But the Lighting Research Center in the United States goes further.
"We believe in the divide by three rule," says associate director Russell Leslie, who recommends a 20-watt CFL to match a 60-watt incandescent bulb. "The equivalent ratings you see on the box are usually got by testing in a laboratory environment."
So why do US government information agencies prefer to use manufacturer data?
That's far from all the CFL brightness issues, as Ed Kirshner explains,
"The amount of light in lumens which is produced by a CFL, as shown on the packaging, is based on the peak output of the CFL, not its average level.
Further, the CFLs are not expected to reach their peak lumens until after 100 hours of use. In effect, there is a 'burn-in' period.
Projecting these figures over the life of a CFL, even the better ones would be considered acceptable if their average lumen level turns out to be only 75% to 80% of the amount stated.
Also, the light from an incandescent and that from a CFL is not perceived the same way by our visual system.
To obtain the same apparent brightness from a CFL as that from an incandescent, the CFL must generate about a third more lumens and thus use a third more energy.
For example, the environmentally friendly City of Seattle, which has its own municipal electric system and advocates CFLs, recognizes this feature and uses an efficiency factor of two-thirds, not the usual 75% shown on the CFL packaging. This lower factor is rapidly becoming the standard most often cited by organizations.
Moreover, most current CFLs do not distribute their light in the same way as a standard incandescent.
This (again) makes the CFL light, for example on a reading surface, effectively dimmer than an incandescent with the same lumens. This means still more lumens are needed from the CFL in order to match the apparent brightness of the incandescent light at the reading surface.
When all of these factors are considered, the energy savings of the CFL over the incandescent is (also) significantly reduced"
Continuing with CFL light output, and the time taken to achieve it:
The 100 hour burn-in time for CFLs that Ed Kirshner mentions
is borne out by the above lab testing references. But that is not all.
As Ed Kirshner also covers in his document, it can take several minutes for CFLs to reach full brightness, after being switched on.
As covered earlier, modern CFLs react quicker than older types, but
still take some time to reach full operating brightness.
CFL test standard times reflect this fact:
Stabilized Light Output
The time to 75% of stabilized light output after switch-on shall not exceed 100
seconds, or, the time to 80% of stabilized light output after switch-on shall not
exceed 120 seconds (measured in accordance with IEC 60969).
That is not all!
The temperature of the surroundings also affects CFL brightness.
The double irony here:
Not only do CFLs perform best at a relatively high 25°C (77°F) temperature,
they are also tested and rated for that 25°C (77°F) temperature.
As will shortly be seen, cooler - or indeed warmer - temperatures therefore mean less bright CFLs than switchover proponents suggest.
[Those with a more cynical bent - see the Light Bulb Politics section - might not be too surprised
that stated performances, as with CFL lifespan and CFL energy usage (ignoring mentioned Power Factor and THD),
and indeed as with LED brightness and lifespan ratings as covered later,
is destined to maximize the positive glow around profitable CFLs and LEDs,
data handed over by manufacturers to politicans for happy reiteration by them and their agencies and by the uncritical media,
to an unknowing and unsuspecting population]
"A compact fluorescent light is designed to provide maximum light output at 25°C"
Lighting Research Center director Russell Leslie, in the aforementioned BBC article
(as also seen on LRC information sheet and below links).
Temperature test conditions:
As with CFL lifespans (covered shortly), the CFL temperature test conditions do not reflect common use.
USA National Lighting Product Information Program (NLPIP), CFL testing 2005 (supplement):
The average ambient temperature measured at the center of each row of CFLs was 24.5 - 25.2°C (76.1 - 77.4°F).
The testing temperature inside the sphere was 25°C (+-1°C) or 77°F (+-2°F)
But 18-20°C (65-68°F) is a more common room temperature and central heating level,
and clearly many lighting situations would not even have such ambient temperatures,
in much of the world during the year.
In other words,
taking light bulb response and temperature together, higher or lower surrounding temperatures
not only slow down the lamp response,
the lamp is also dimmer at the end of that response time.
There are various ways to reduce these problems, all of which add to cost, are rarely found in common cheaper CFLs, and which still leave a certain brightness reduction.
More on environment temperature and other brightness reducing effects can be seen on the Lighting Research Center website of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York.
There are other aspects to a less-than-supposed brightness.
As the EU technical report admits, any encapsulating outside envelope, giving the pear shaped CFLs, further lesssens their brightness, and being bigger, particularly at the base, may not fit reading lamps anyway.
Additionally, CFLs become dimmer with age - sometimes rapidly so (more below). The fact that US Energy Star labelled CFLs must not lose more than 10% of total light output at 40% of rated lifespan, that is at less than half their supposed life, is not particularly good.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that smaller lights are technically harder to make bright - whether for CFLs or LEDs - and when they are possible, are considerably more expensive. Currently, mid-2009, candle shaped small CFLs are at a rated 35-40 Watts maximum equivalence, bearing in mind the dubious testing mentioned.
With reading or other close up lamps, that might use smaller lights, the CFL brightness issue is particularly marked.
To summarize the bright small lights problem:
• CFL brightness equivalence rating is an issue, and brightness decreases
as the lights are used.
• Small CFL or LED lamps technically can't be made as bright as
incandescents - from the start, and whatever the rating.
This is likely to remain a problem particularly with CFLs, for the simple physical reason that their brightness is proportional to their coated surface
radiating area - smaller tubes, less light, all else being equal.
• The brightest possible CFL or LED types are expensive.
• The base of CFLs always has to be bigger to accomodate their internal ballast circuitry,
this gives particular problems in fitting them to smaller reading type lamps.
• Encapsulation (covering fluorescent tubes) is recommended by health authorities like the UK
Health Protection Agency to reduce close up UV and other CFL radiation but both increases size, and reduces brightness.
Capping LED lamps to try and spread their directional light more, poses similar problems of making them bigger and dimmer.
• Clear incandescent point source light can be focused by lamp shades, maximizing brightness to make reading and other tasks easier.
CFLs can't be focused, while LEDs are directional, but in return don't spread the light well.
• Frosted incandescent lights are popular as they soften the light and don't have the glare of naked filaments,
and can still be manufactured to great brightness, but they are in the EU banned earlier,
(without any justifiable efficiency reason, but simply to push people to use CFLs).
Switching on and off is an issue:
Modern CFLs are still slow to come on in the cold,
they have a switch on power surge,
and every time they are switched on and off their lifespan is lowered,
far more than doing the same with ordinary light bulbs.
Frequent on and off use can bring lifespan right down to light bulb levels: more in the following section.
For all these reasons CFLs tend to be left on, which itself of course also increases energy
usage and running cost:
Not least because people then tend to forget to turn off the lights.
As covered in the general lack-of-savings section above,
a related issue of energy-efficient products may be "cheaper energy use = use more energy", such that in any case the switch to CFLs in the mentioned Iowa locality actually increased energy use there by 10%.
Rated lifespan is an issue:
Part of the problem, it turns out, is that the "lifespan" of a CFL bulb has been artificially measured.
See the long and referenced New Zealand analysis (scroll half way).
International standards currently require a manufacturer to run the bulb in three hour cycles in the lab, only switching it on at the beginning and off at the end. In other words, the bulb burns for three hours straight with no interference.
In the real world, things are very different.
Many householders, particularly in these energy-conscious times, switch on and off lights frequently as they enter and leave rooms. Many modern CFLs are not built to withstand short switching cycles. One recent study shows the lifespan of a CFL can be shortened by a massive 85% under normal domestic household use conditions. In other words, if the lab lifespan was 2,000 hours, you might get only 300 hours (four months) out of that CFL if you were unlucky. A 6,000 hour bulb (five years) would give you only 12 months or so of light before dying unceremoniously."
Or, as the NCPA (National Center for Policy Analysis) in the USA
states in regard to CFL usage:
Applications in which lighting is used only briefly (such as closets, bathrooms, motion detectors and so forth) will cause CFL bulbs to burn out as quickly as regular incandescent bulbs.
The mentioned US Lawrence Livermore National Lab (University of California) study echoes the above, showing that for realistic household use where a light is used for an hour before being turned off, it suffers a 50% reduction in its rated lifetime. The loss to incandescent lifetimes was about 20%.
Even worse, if the use of the light is only a half hour, the life of a CFL is reduced by 85%, whereas incandescent bulb lifetimes suffer only a 25% loss.
Meanwhile the official advice...
"The cost effectiveness of turning fluorescent lights off to conserve energy is a bit more complicated. For most areas of the United States, a general rule-of-thumb for when to turn off a fluorescent light is if you leave a room for more than 15 minutes" USA Dept of Energy, which goes on to list several situations when leaving lights on for longer may be better or worse. Of course, "leave a light on if you might come back soon" is going to mean many lights left on much longer than foreseen - probably simply forgotten about - with the energy use that involves, in a US household with on average 45 lighting points.
The US Dept of Energy figures also show that the average household has only 2.5 lights that are on four hours or more per day — typically in the living room and kitchen.
Kitchen lights are often already fluorescent tubes or Halogen/LED downlights, leaving the living-room...
The "great household switchover savings" thereby involve a significant reduction in the lifespans assumed.
That is not all: The encouragement of cheap Chinese imports may have lowered quality, including lifespan.
German consumer testing October 2008 in any case showed lifespan problems (in whatever way multiyear lifespans are
measured!). In the USA, the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (University of California) study concluded that the lifetime of the average CFL on the
consumer market had a median life well short of its reputation or rating.
The gradual loss of brightness also reduces effective lifespan.
The US Department of Energy measurements have shown that a 1/4 of
excellent (Energy Star) rated compact fluorescent lights do not reach rated brightness after 40% (less than half) of their
life. To be passed they must not have lost more than 10% of light output: still a significant amount, at such a relatively early stage of their supposed
Ordinary light bulbs simply cut out, at the end of their life.
CFL use in dimmers for ordinary lights not only shortens CFL life, it can be a direct fire hazard (more).
However, early failures also apply when used with other equipment, such as timers:
"While CFLs can be used with mechanical timers, electronic or digital timers may cause interference with the
electronic ballast, and can adversely affect product performance. Typically, CFLs used on electronic or digital timers will fail far before their rated lifetime"
(US Energy Star information)
Lack of sufficient warranty (guarantee):
Ordinary light bulbs are typically supposed to last 1000 hours, usually equated to around 1 year's use.
Since they are the price of a postage stamp, few would bother to complain if they did not.
Similarly, the supposed 6000 or more hours lifespan for a CFL are held to equate to 5 or more years of use.
But, as the above New Zealand study mentions, manufacturers certainly don't back up their lifespan claims - and they are not pressed to do so either...
See the US Energy Star
Basic warranty information,
further details (pdf document, scroll to warranty):
To qualify for ENERGY STAR, CFLs must have a rated lifetime of 6,000 hours or greater.
For residential use: ENERGY STAR requires a minimum warranty of 2 years from the date of purchase.
Product packaging must state “Warranty” or “Limited Warranty” and have an "800" number, or mailing address, or web site address (if applicable) for consumer complaint resolution.
For Residential Applications:
Warranty or limited warranty statement must cover at least a minimum of 24 months, or 2 years, from date of purchase based on no less than 3 hour per day of use (follow the chart below):
ENERGY STAR Qualified CFL
Rated Lifetime Number of Years Claim, Based on minimum use of 3 hours/day
6,000 hours = 5 years
8,000 hours = 7 years
10,000 hours = 9 years
12,000 hours = 11 years
The point is that Energy Star clearly equates usage, even the heavy usage, of a 6000 hour bulb with a 5 year lifespan,
and yet only asks for a 2 year warranty:
Also bearing in mind that it is a warranty that assumes a manufacturer defect, that consumers have to describe in filling out the claim forms, which in turn they'd hardly bother doing for a bulb costing a few dollars,
unless they had good cause to do so.
US urban planner ED Contoski has unravelled much that is unsavoury behind the push to use CFLs, and the fire and other risks associated with them,
as covered later.
He also covers the anomalies behind CFL guarantees,
and the great difficulty faced by consumers not only in having to mail back CFLs to manufacturers
(rather than just going back to the store with the CFL), but also in the special packaging then required...
Extract from a May 2011 American Thinker article:
In recognition of the problems of fires and exploding CFLs, Armorlite is marketing a product with a package labeled "A Safer CFL." It is a CFL inside what looks like the shell of an incandescent bulb made with some special coating. Notice that is says a "safer CFL" - not that it is "safe," just "safer." In other words, less dangerous. The package states: "We do not make any claims or provisions that mercury or glass cannot escape coating."
Armorlite claims a lifetime of 10,000 hours, or nine years, based on 3 hours of use per day, but the warranty is for only two years. So much for all the B.S. about how CFLs last so many thousands of hours longer than incandescents.
If the bulb fails in two years, you can get a replacement from the company. The package states: "This replacement is the sole remedy available and LIABILITY FOR INCIDENTAL OR CONSEQENTIAL DAMAGES IS HEREBY EXCLUDED," except for some states which do not allow such exclusion. So if your house burns down, all you are likely to get is a new bulb. And to get it you have to have saved your proof of purchase and your register receipt for two years and mail them together with the broken bulb to the company's Florida address. The warranty explicitly states: "Do not return to the store."
Of course, as I pointed out previously, state and federal environmental laws have effectively eliminated the mail-back programs of CFL manufacturers.
Researchers found the only legally acceptable shipping container is "a double box with a zip closure foil-plastic laminate bag between the cardboard layers" if CFLs are to be shipped by U.S. Postal Service or common carrier. To ignore this requirement would subject violators to the penalties of the law, which would surely exceed the value of a replacement bulb. The cost of the acceptable container and the postage/shipping charge must also be paid by the consumer returning the product.
The result is that probably nobody is ever going to return a broken CFL to Armorlite. It's not worth it. And I would wager that many disappointed customers will not consider it worth their time and gas to deliver a failed bulb to a recycling collection point either. Even if the government inspected everyone's trash - think of the cost of that! - to prevent people from "smuggling" CFLs into their discards, I suspect we would see an increase of CFLs in other people's trash or strewn along roads.
Putting all this in a political context:
Once a government ban on simple light bulbs is in place, with the attendant promises regarding the alternatives,
what government official is going to care too much, when people complain that their CFLs are burning out a year or two later?
As for the manufacturers, for a general discussion of product obsolescence, involving shorter than expected product lifespans, short warranties,
and other manufacturer tactics that consumers should be aware of, with a focus on light bulbs,
see the "Standards and Markets" essay in the preceding section on Energy Efficiency.
More about the CFL issues covered above:
According to my research, EU and National government agencies do not acknowledge any of these factors,
though end-March 2009 the EU in a new (post-ban!) FAQ admitted some of their calculation errors/omissions.
See the Greenwashing Lamps site runthrough of that
and indeed subsequent EU FAQs, as the EU Commission tries to answer the considerable criticism of the ban.
The BBC, December 2009, in an article
did not "buy" the EU arguments either,
showing how the CFL brightness, lifespan and other measurements were exagerrated by the EU,
and referring to actual measurements by various institutions.
As for the USA, this NCPA (National Center for Policy Analysis)
by H. Sterling Burnett and Amanda Berg covers some of the the above factors in the lack of user savings from switching to CFLs.
A long referenced account of CFL v Incandescent figures
by an American (Montana) environmentalist who has turned against the CFL promotional policies
(even then omitting the "power factor" and other mentioned ways CFL energy use is still higher than expected),
can be found here.
Also, US lighting designer Don Peifer's referenced ban criticism (pdf document) with CFL related factors.
The March 2011 GSALCA paper with references
also goes into the extensive California CFL subsidies involved.
Canadian electric/electromagnetic professional Walt McGinnis's April 2009 CFL
Good and extensively referenced Austrian website (by Peter Stenzel, in German)
covering CFL problems and other light bulb ban issues, from a European perspective.
A judgment by the US Lighting Controls Association (administered by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) which supports the ban on ordinary incandescents) as reported by E3Living, which also supports the ban:
Department of Energy testing found many manufacturers of LED fixtures and replacement lamps overstating performance and offering performance equal to or only marginally better than incandescent, proving that just because a product is LED does not automatically make it energy-efficient. One LED A-lamp, in fact, promised 80-90% energy savings but produced less than 5% of the light output of a typical A17 or A19 incandescent that it was intended to replace. Sadly, these poor-performing LED products are not regulated by the (January 2012 commencing) Act, beyond the minimum CRI requirement, and so will continue to be marketed and sold as an “energy efficient” product.
Note: The original Dept of Energy testing references have changed, and I cannot find the sources (or dates). Nevertheless, it shows how specifications can mislead, as will be covered here.
Given the well known problems with CFLs, LEDs are increasingly touted as alternatives.
In a wider context, that includes any form of LED lighting, including OLED sheet types
(see the earlier coverage of such light types).
However, OLEDs are in 2011 still in early development stages, with even greater cost/brightness issues,
and the main focus here will be on LED bulbs as replacements for regular incandescent light bulbs.
The 2 main development directions are, as seen, "modular" LEDs using combinations of pure color light diodes to produce white light
and "white LEDs" using single (blue) light diodes to stimulate a phosphorescent bulb coat to give out white or whitish light.
All types of lighting have their advantages, so also LEDs, in terms of low energy use, long life,
flexibility in appearance, and variability in light spectrum (especially with "tunable" modular bulbs).
As with CFLs, the focus here on LED disadvantages
is simply because of their political promotion as being adequate replacements of regular incandescent bulbs - which they are not, just as the reverse is not the case either.
What then are relevant factors to consider in this section,
that relate to LED cost and energy use and thereby to savings?
is the most obvious disadvantage for consumers.
50 dollar or so LEDs are the extreme lighting example of "paying lots upfront for possible savings over the following years",
but not only can those savings be questioned,
it is also hardly likely that an average 45-light US household would get enough use out of many of the replacement lights to make them worthwhile (let alone in breakages, losses etc).
is of course a main reason for their high cost.
They are even more complex than CFLs, since they must include conversion to DC (direct current),
and additionally a heat sink system since, as with CFLs and unlike with incandescents,
the heat is internalized rather than radiated externally, and adversely affects performance and lifespan,
as well as giving a fire risk (more below).
So the heat reduction issue in particular therefore "limits the total LED power that can practically be fitted into replacement lamps",
the problem of combining heat and power in LEDs dealt with in this wikipedia
is the major constructional issue, in particular in all directions,
and is the reason to mimic the fluorescence of CFLs with coated "white LEDs" to keep down cost,
though achieving 60W+ incandescent equivalent brightness is still expensive.
As with CFLs, ambient temperature also affects LED efficiency and brightness, as well as lifespan,
see the below links.
A main problem is the so-called droop effect mentioned earlier.
Spectrum 2009 article: As the current in LEDs increases in an effort to increase brightness, the brightness suddenly plummets....
April 2011 Photonist article reiterates the problem,
although current blue LED research (more)
and research based on nitride use (more) may offer solutions.
is another issue, especially with phosphorescent "white LEDs" that mimic CFLs,
not only cutting down advantages specific to LEDs, including lighting efficiency,
but of course also bringing back many of the mentioned CFL light quality and other issues.
Whatever the type of LED lamp, there are also other light quality issues (Wikipedia, highlighted edit):
Apparent to the end user is the color rendering index (CRI) of low quality LEDs. CRI measures a light source's ability to render colors, with 100 being the maximum. LEDs with CRI below 75 are not recommended use in indoor lighting. Better CRI LEDs are more expensive, and more research and development is needed to reduce costs.
Also, criticism of LED light quality as reported in May 2011 from a lighting and architectural designer meeting in Milan.
Variations of CCT (color correlated temperature) at different viewing angles present another obstacle against widespread use of white LED. It has been shown that CCT variations can exceed 500 K. This is clearly noticeable by human observers, who normally can distinguish CCT differences of 50 to 100 K in the range from 2000 K to 6000 K, which is the range of CCT variations of daylight.
is quoted as being much longer than with CFLs and incandescents,
typically 25,000-50,000 or even 100,000 hours.
However, one problem, as with CFLs, is a gradual decrease of brightness,
so it depends on what brightness cut-off point is used.
With white LEDs bulb coating degradation adds to the gradual brightness loss.
Also, from the mentioned heat sensitivity, ambient heat affects lifespan, including any restrictive
enclosure in which the LEDs are fitted.
("An increase in operating temperature of 10 °C can cut the useful life of an LED in half",
Humidity does too, regarding bathroom or similar placement.
LED lifespans and measurement problems are covered in this
New York Times
("How long is a piece of string? When talking about how long an LED lamp will last, that certainly seems to be the state of the question")
White LED lifespans are also covered in this Lunar Accents document, edited shortened extract:
White LED life span can vary according to environmental and design related items.
White LED lifespan is ultimately determined during the engineering phase of a specific custom LED lighting design.
In some cases, design engineers may intentionally limit LED lifespan in lighting applications where longevity is non-critical....increasing the luminous output dramatically decreases lifespan if thermal management is not considered.
It is also possible that budgetary restrictions will not allow for advanced forms thermal management, unnecessary heat can lead to a dramatic reduction in lifespan.
High ambient temperatures as well as humidity can therefore affect lifespan.
Regarding LED lifespan specification data,
LED manufacturers therefore need to provide test data pertaining to the specific die temperature during the lifespan test period, although many LED manufacturers do not publish such data.
Lifespans also need to quote luminous output, for example when light output reaches 50% of the rated luminous output, not when it reaches zero. The luminous output will diminish so gradually, most people do not even realize a loss has occurred.
(Moreover) since a LED lamp can produce light for many years, engineers rely on extrapolated data to determine the luminous output (rather than) actual physical lifespan test results.
As it happens, LED lifetime seem limited by component failure rather than
from a gradually diminishing light output of the light emitting diodes themselves:
article by Smartplanet editor Mark Halper.
June 2011, American Consumer Reports investigation:
In our tests, several bulbs didn’t even make it to 3,000.
We’re still testing and we’ll publish the results in early September (2011).
Allied to these concerns are the LED lifespan warranty terms offered,
which do not cover anything like the supposed lifespans:
More from Smartplanet
("Philips is offering a 5-year warranty. Why not a 17-year warranty?").
The LED lifespan (and the LED warranty periods) being shorter than supposed of course mirrors what was already said about CFLs above,
and in turn raising issues of "planned obsolescence", how manufacturers don't want long-lasting products, to encourage repeat purchases, see Standards and Markets essay.
It might be noted that light bulb manufacturers have a history in this regard, with the past "Phoebus" cartel
of manufacturers agreeing to maximize regular incandescent light bulb lifespans to 1000 hours, as also covered in the earlier light bulb politics section.
// LIGHTING LIFECYCLES: //
While focusing here on CFL-Incandescent comparisons as much more data is available on that
compared to recent LED (or other) replacement lighting,
clearly the complexity and possible recycling demands
on LEDs, which also happen to be largely manufactured in China, means that what is said about CFLs
is also applicable to them.
Instead of locally made simple lights, giving local jobs and giving minimal emissions from manufacture or transport, what do we have?....
CFL energy use and carbon emissions relating to manufacture, transport and recycling:
In manufacture, the standard argument is that CFLs require 4-6 times more
energy to make than ordinary light bulbs, although ZVEI, the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association,
have given around 10x as the figure.
But that is only counting the assembly of previously made parts,
parts themselves particularly energy consuming in manufacture, taking into account the energy usage chain all the way from the mining of the substances used:
A truer figure is therefore many times higher for CFLs than ordinary light bulbs,
as confirmed by this
research (pdf document in German, a somewhat stilted translation
being a wide ranging ecological impact assessment of CFLs originally made by Dr. Klaus
Stanjek for Greenpeace Hamburg in Germany, so it is hardly commission-biased research!).
Edited extracts relating to CFL manufacture:
Producing compact fluorescent lamps – with all pre-fabrication steps
for the control gears taken into consideration – will require at least 40 times the
energy. This is why the compact fluorescent lamp deserves to be called "energy
To begin with, in contrast to incandescent lamps, fluorescent lamps
contain a complex mixture of substances which are indispensable for the production
Phosphor compounds, zinc beryllium silicates, cadmium
bromides, vanadium compounds, rare earths (europium, terbium, etc.) – depending
on the model. Sourcing these elements and chemically processing them requires substantial technical facilities and corresponding energy consumption.
The manufacture (and assembly) of component parts
then considerably add to the energy consumption of fluorescent lamps.
That is, with every single lamp comes a set of
electric control devices for ignition, current limitation, stabilisation, assembled in the control gear which is usually housed within the luminaires....
This includes recent electronic control ballasts (housed in the base of modern CFLs), containing a
series of diodes, resistors, capacitors, a commentator, a chopper, a transformer
and a filter for radio-interference suppression.
Each of these components is produced under high energy consumption. The
fabrication of the circuit boards alone requires a substantial amount of electricity.
And each further module has to go through a series of steps until the
semiconductors are ready, the insulation layers have the right shape, the contact wires fit, etc.
The production of a compact fluorescent lamp
therefore involves a lot more energy than to fabricate an incandescent lamp.
...and that is just the manufacture of ordinary cheaper type CFLs:
Correcting for the low power factor of such CFLs, which increases electricity bills,
itself adds considerably to CFL complexity and cost as previously referenced, in turn with greater use of energy in their manufacture.
A similar need for more energy applies to the manufacture of specialized CFLs, such as CFLs for use in cold conditions, CFLs for
use with dimmers, and CFLs that are modified to increase their brightness.
Also: Because they are made in coal-powered China, a CFL made there can it seems produce 75 times more
carbon emissions than an ordinary light bulb made in essentially emission-free France. More from SaveTheBulb.org here.
Even comparing like for like coal-powered manufacture, a Chinese coal power plant releases about twice as much CO2 per kWh of energy produced, as a western
coal power plant does.
However, it is not just the energy and emissions of manufacture that should be taken into account (after all, CFLs have longer lifespans, which gives some compensation).
It is also the greater emissions from the longer transport from the fewer centra in which CFLs
are economical to make (China),
and it is also the further CFL transport emissions to recycling plants and the emissions of
their reprocessing there, and the further transport of reprocessed parts
to different locations.
This means that inter-continental transport between China and North America/Europe can take place twice,
since CFL content including mercury may be shipped back to China for reprocessing and new manufacture.
Even more significantly, shipping use of bunker oil, the worst CO2 emitting type of oil, greatly increases the emissions involved (more).
As for recycling, it can not only involve the China transport emissions,
the recycling processing itself, wherever it takes place, involves significant energy use:
an environmental agency suggests it could cost US$1,300 to recycle one wheelie-bin full of CFL light bulbs - with the energy use
It is hardly a relief if CFLs don't get recycled: they then leak mercury vapour on dump sites
instead (more about mercury issues below).
// SWITCHOVER: //
• For households:
In the UK, the Market Transformation Programme (MTP)
has stated that less than 50% of the existing light fittings are suitable to fit a compact fluorescent lamp, with associated
large switchover costs.
Problems include use with certain switches, enclosed lamps, recessed lighting,
track lighting, dimmer circuits, (electronic/digital) timer circuits, where
there is vibration (such near fans or machinery, garage door openers etc), and moisture (bathrooms).
The US Department of Energy estimates there are more than 500 million recessed lights alone, in residential buildings.
More about the use of CFLs in ordinary light bulb fixtures below.
A good rundown by consultant Rod Elliott of the switchover problems - and costs - that households face,
Also, many of the 20 (EU) to 45 (USA) household light bulbs may be small or unusual
lights in reading/wall/ornamental lamps:
So new (CFL/halogen/LED) lights may not even fit into these lamps, because of light size or
The cost of buying any new lamps should therefore be added, also the cost
of other new fittings, and new
expensive dimmable CFL lights, auto-switches and the like, where surviving halogen lights might not
Halogens are also subject to eventual phase out,
so having specific halogen fittings/transformers and lamps can eventually come to grief for those
owners too (in the EU, a B class transparent low voltage transformer requiring type with special fitting has a mentioned possible respite, although that will
• For society:
In the EU, the European Commission admits that thousands of European job losses will occur with a
changeover, adding to the ones that have already taken place in preparation, also because of the EU import policy regarding Chinese CFL light and light parts (more).
In the USA as well, General Electric and other manufacturers have shut down light bulb factories.
Certainly, major manufacturers might have shifted to cheaper foreign locations anyway with incandescents as with CFLs,
but the ban clearly hastens the local shutdowns of incandescent manufacture, also because of a lower profitability related to those bulbs.
There is the further point, that since energy saving light bulbs are costlier to make,
the energy standards also stop new locally owned low energy cost factories from starting up,
by manufacturers who can't afford getting involved in more complex manufacture,
including inventors of new bulb types that don't meet the standard.
Subsidies may also be given for increased CFL recycling facilities, again adding to cost.
Any dumping / donations by manufacturers or retailers of unused stock on banning dates, also adds
to the cost of switchover, at least for them.
Regarding the EU,
1 September 2009 was a stop date for EU manufacturing and import - not a sales ban.
Distributors and retailers can keep selling off stock they have.
Cue the profit killing: Smart light bulb retailers have built up massive stocks over the preceding year, only to release them once
competitors' stock runs out, to make a large - and legal - profit.
Maybe not so great for consumers, but when was concern about consumers and their choices ever a priority...
Bans in Canada, and similar countries and states
As will be seen, there is a particular irony that the most fervently ban favouring politicians in the EU and North America tend to come from Canada, North / Central Europe, coastal and northern USA,
as their populations are particularly hit by the light bulb ban, and the ban savings are less.
Their common CFL subsidies (more) also reduce the supposed savings from a ban, as fewer incandescents are then bought anyway (conversely, if consumers still prefer the simple incandescent light bulbs, the wisdom of banning such lighting again comes into question!).
Since politicians keep saying "the CFLs are better than people think", then presumably the subsidies could simply be discontinued after a while, without people going back to their old ways - while those who really like the incandescents could still buy them.
Similarly, if new LEDs turn out to be as good as the ban supporting politicians say,
again a ban is questionably needed:
Even if it is really seen as necessary to keep manipulating what light bulbs people should buy
(it should be clear that it isn't), then taxation on incandescents could help pay for price-lowering subsidies on LEDs as with CFLs, equilibrating the market while keeping choice.
Why then is a ban in Canada and similar locations particularly wrong?
1. They often have abundant energy alternatives, including renewable and low emission energy sources (usually hydropower or nuclear):
Think, for example, of Canadian provinces like hydropower-rich British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec, or of coastal USA, with hydropower/nuclear power being around half of coastal North-West use, and half of some East Coast states (USA power source map).
In the EU, think particularly of France (nuclear dominant) and Sweden (hydropower dominant),
with most of the electricity supply in Finland, Austria, Latvia and Lithuania being similarly relevant.
First of all, as light bulb bans typically give overall society energy savings of less than 1%, and grid electricity savings of 1-2% (referenced rundown), it may seem irrelevant to bring this up.
However, given the energy saving propaganda surrounding the banning of bulbs (not least in the regions relevant here), it is worth pointing out why a ban is wrong, even if such savings are assumed.
Citizens pay for the electricity they use - restricting electricity use when there is no energy shortage is hardly justifiable, particularly when the energy supply meets whatever environmental criteria one wishes to put on it.
An energy shortage of say coal or oil raises price and reduces use anyway - without the need for political interference - as covered earlier on this website.
Besides, as in the world generally, there are of course also wind, wave, solar and other energy alternatives, locally or via grid interconnection, that again questions the need to stop people using what light bulbs they want (or to use electricity, that they pay for, as they please).
As for "Governments saving power plants", it is the electricity users that pay for them,
and in any case a light bulb ban does not save power plants, even if the electricity savings were as great as supposed, for reasons laid out later.
As for CO2 emissions,
there's not just the often low emissions from generated electricity,
but the overall CO2 emissions may in fact rise rather than fall with a light bulb ban,
since household heating from CO2 releasing sources may then replace the heat from incandescent bulbs using low emission electricity.
In this regard, see the CBC news article.
As seen both there and earlier on this website, there are many reputable institutions and researchers raising heat benefit and CO2 reduction issues and indeed the token savings from a ban, such as Professor Bryan Karney and associates (Department of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto), Physics professor Peter Blunden at the University of Manitoba, The Canadian National Research Council, the Canadian Centre for Housing Technology, BC Hydro (British Columbia),
and outside Canada for example
Professor Matti Lehtonen and his research team at the Helsinki University of Technology's Department of Electrical Engineering.
Therefore, the next point:
2. They particularly benefit from the light bulb heat effect:
• There is a likely year-round reduction of heating bills as described, from heat given off the light bulbs.
That is, even in the summer, when it is dark, it may be cold enough to turn on room heating in such locations.
In any case heating is used more often than air conditioning cooling, and of course other lights can then voluntarily be used, if incandescents are not desired for their other advantages.
• The house insulation factor:
The better built houses that they have are particularly well insulated, which gives a greater light bulb heat benefit compared to more poorly insulated ones elsewhere.
The heat from bulbs stays in the room, not escaping through walls and ceiling
(room heat rises and spreads downwards from the ceiling, so such a light bulb position is not as meaningless regarding heat effect as it might at first seem, again see the heat section).
Yet another point of irony: Governments are now increasing home insulation schemes to save on heating,
at the same time as they are banning bulbs which would help save on heating - particularly in such newly insulated homes!
3. They are more likely to enjoy the psychologically warm effect:
Incandescents tend towards the red end of the spectrum, while unmodified fluorescents and LED lighting have
more blue light, cooler in effect.
Also, when dimmed, the warm effect of incandescents increases: and people in these regions are more likely to entertain others in their homes for say dinner parties. Compare with warmer regions where people go out more to socialize, and have no control over the lighting used.
4. They are more likely to enjoy brighter light:
Having longer darker winters, and generally with less bright conditions than more tropical locations.
100W+ bright equivalent lighting is less easy to make in fluorescent or LED bulb form, is not often available for general household use, and is particularly expensive when it is (and is still not possible omnidirectionally with LED bulbs).
The importance is also seen from the existence of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, where the lack of light during winter months plays a role, as seen by the bright light phototherapy treatment that is involved.
5. They more often have cold conditions that can affect the lighting used:
Incandescent lights (ordinary light bulbs, halogen lights) come on quickly in the cold.
While modern CFLs with electronic ballasts are quicker than earlier types,
they remain unavoidably slower, the colder the surroundings are, as lab tests show (more), and simply can't be used in particularly cold conditions.
Specially made -and extra expensive- fluorescents made for use in cold conditions are still slower to come on.
There are also possible cold situations where CFLs can be unsuitable for other reasons:
Incompatibility with sensor systems and/or frequent on-off
switching, as with hallway and passage areas, bathrooms, outdoor porch lights.
An incidental outdoor lighting usage that might be mentioned is in traffic lights.
In Canada, replacing incandescents
with other lighting has seen lights being obscured by snow in wintertime, whereas before the incandescent heat would keep the lights clear.
6. The homes tend to be bigger, with more light bulbs:
For example, the average USA household has around 45 lights (source: Energy Star),
Northern and Central European houses have around 30 (source: European Commission).
• Increased variety of conditions where different lights are useful,
so a ban on any lighting type is felt more. This also increases the cold condition situations, mentioned above.
A previous section has more on incandescent (and other) lights, and their usefulness in different rooms and places
around the house.
• More individual rooms and lamps with lights that are not often used -
minimizing the supposed money savings from buying lights that are more expensive, not least when non-standard and/or narrow fittings can mean that whole new
lamps have to be bought too, while replacements with any allowed incandescents (themselves probably more expensive) alternatively reduce the supposed energy
7. Higher need and usage of lighting:
• Increased time indoors, also at home,
because of climate factors, the colder darker winter nights.
• Increased time indoors, also at home,
because the homes are bigger, better and more comfortable,
related both to the cooler climate and to a greater household wealth, compared with other countries or states.
8. Frosted light bulbs are particularly popular in such countries:
In Northern and Central Europe being up to 90% of the lights sold (Philips and Osram data 2009). Conversely, in Southern Europe, clear transparent incandescent bulbs are more popular.
But frosted lights are first in line for banning in the EU,
not really for any energy usage reason (they can be as energy efficient as clear lights), but simply to push the use of CFLs.
Clearly any ban should not be permanent, and should not apply throughout areas like the EU, the USA or Canada.
Update, May 2011: As linked above, there is a growing resistance to the North American bans, with
delay and repeal proposals federally (Canada) or by individual states (USA).
While bans had started to be implemented on higher wattage bulbs in California and British Columbia,
there were critical voices there too, as summarized in this Victoria Times Colonist (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
of Jan 30 2011, containing the sort of argumentation which seems to have influenced the Canadian federal government
to bring about the 2 year delay proposal (from 2012 to 2014) regarding a ban in the rest of Canada. Excerpts, my highlights:
This new technology has problems of its own. CFLs are expensive and can't be used in some light fixtures. They can take several minutes to reach full illumination. And there might be problems with dimmers.
Perhaps these are merely startup problems, which later versions will address. But more serious concerns are emerging that don't appear to have been fully considered.
The first concerns energy savings. It's true that incandescent bulbs generate heat. But in cold climates like Canada's, that's actually beneficial. The Vancouver Sun's Craig McInnes reported that a study by B.C. Hydro notes that if incandescent bulbs are replaced with CFLs, the lost heat will have to be replaced by other means. That will actually mean a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
The second emerging concern is health-related. CFLs contain mercury vapour, which is highly toxic....and extremely difficult to remove
[CFL mercury issues as extensively covered in the mercury section below]
....and broken or spent CFLs must be disposed of at a recycling site. (The Hartland landfill in Saanich has a depot.)
At a minimum, these formidable procedures raise questions of whether CFLs in their present form are safe for households or if we should wait for an improved technology.
With the federal government committed to a nationwide ban on incandescent bulbs in 2012, the matter is urgent. As it stands, this has all the feel of a rushed and potentially dangerous decision.
Whatever about caring about citizens, about their choices, about their safety, and about their less than supposed energy bill savings
(which includes all the earlier reasons given),
let's be clear - with official references - why governments don't save much in national energy usage either....
Actual Energy Savings: Small becomes Smaller
There is often talk of how "lots of power plants" are saved by the light bulb ban.
How true is this?
What are the actual savings, in overall terms, whether of energy or power plants?
How much of all electricity is actually used by the incandescent light bulb types to be banned?
How much household energy and electricity use is actually saved by banning them?
Power plants would not be saved even if the supposed energy savings were there,
which as will soon be seen they are not:
Less than 1% of US energy usage, and only the odd percent or two more in electricity use, might be saved by light bulb regulations from their usage alone.
This is all therefore only about the energy consumed in usage of lighting:
which still does not take into account the additional higher
lifecycle (manufacture, transport, recycling) energy use of CFLs and LED lighting alternatives.
There is therefore the question of whether any energy at all is saved, in an overall perspective for society.
As already covered, the savings for consumers is also less than supposed in terms of their electricity bills, but whatever such savings, the point of course is that society laws should be about society energy savings, and for environmentalists also about energy and emission savings wherever they may be, in the USA or China or elsewhere.
How can that be?
"Everyone" knows the savings are much higher - right?
The low energy usage figures are not dreamed up by me.
They arise from the USA Department of Energy's own statistics.
Let us begin with the latest
of the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) at the US Department of Energy (DOE), as of 2011.
The Department of Energy divides grid electricity consumption into residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation:
The commercial sector includes "commercial and institutional buildings and public street and highway lighting",
Comparative sector usage data
The industrial and transportation lighting usage can therefore be ignored,
both from involving small amounts, and from hardly involving relevant incandescent lighting:
Transportation electricity use is marginal,
while manufacturing, which dominates the industrial sector, only involved 62 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of lighting from last available 2002 figures
(likely to still be representative, since total industrial electricity use has stayed around the same, 2002: 990 billion kWh, 2009 882 billion kWh).
This can be compared with the 2010 estimate of 207 billion kWh for domestic lighting, 300 billion kWh for commercial lighting.
The EIA therefore estimates that in 2010, about 207+300 = 507 billion kWh of electricity were used for lighting by the residential and commercial sectors.
This is quoted as being equal to about 18% (2009, 19%) of the total electricity consumed by both of those sectors and 13.5% of total U.S. electricity consumption.
Regulation proponents have consistently misquoted the 2009 figure of "19% of electricity consumption" in talking about possible savings, which, as seen
• firstly, is not the actual percentage of total US consumption, but just of those 2 sectors
The regulations are of course aimed at simple incandescent light bulbs.
• secondly, also therefore arises from commercial buildings, street lighting etc - hardly any of which involves lighting affected by the regulations!
Note that the major use of lighting that does occur, commercially and for streets, points to where real lighting energy savings might take place:
"As lamps in the Commercial and Industrial sectors together represent 62.5% of world [lighting] energy consumption (US DOE estimate) and are usually left on all day and/or all night, isn’t it obvious that the greatest savings can be achieved by upgrading existing linear halophosphate FL tubes with magnetic ballasts to triphosphor tubes with electronic ballasts or metal halide downlights in offices, and to switch from mercury vapour street lights to ceramic metal halide and high-pressure sodium for highways? None of which requires a global incandescent ban.
How much is therefore relevantly residential,
of the 13.5% lighting usage by residential and commercial sectors, out of all electricity used?
From the quoted 207 billion residential and 300 billion commercial kWh portions in their 507 kWh total, around 2 parts in 5, or just over 5%.
This 5% residential lighting percentage of total electricity use,
is in turn said to represent about 14% of residential electricity use,
in the same DOE estimate.
As it happens, the likewise regulation supporting EU Commission's data says lighting is around 15% of European domestic electricity use.
Even so, reading more closely through the Department of Energy data,
for confirmed data they refer to 2001 figures.
Unfortunately, no DOE home survey since 2001 has clarified (rather than estimated) actual domestic lighting usage:
See their home energy surveys page,
2009, 2005, 2001 surveys and archives,
So, on the
2001 data, lighting is then seen to be 8.8% of household use, more clearly shown here.
Interestingly, the EU Commission's data is also challenged by Cambridge University scientists, similarly suggesting that lighting is 10%
of household electricity use, again close to the actually observed US data.
Maybe nearer to 3% of all electricity consumed is therefore likely to be used by domestic lighting,
if we are also to consider confirmed data.
How much of domestic lighting usage is relevantly incandescent?
How much of lighting used is not part of the regulations?
The DOE (and most other) surveys, are not clear on this.
Of interest, a good linked EIA
2005 study (pdf) "lighting usage indicator" (energy saving and other lamps on or off in households), unfortunately without comparative usage clarity, and also the
earlier study "What Types of Lights Are We Using?"
Like most surveys, also in the EU, a focus on households using any energy saving lighting, rather than comparative totals per household. This gives a high figure (perhaps the intention!) but no research clarity, when judging switchover energy savings.
Lacking domestic bulb usage data, bulb sales figures are often used.
According to a July 2011 Energy Star report, CFLs accounted for nearly 28 percent of light bulb sales.
But this can be misleading in translating to usage, since CFLs (and LEDs) normally last longer than regular incandescents.
Still, also considering the earlier USA linked references regarding CFL campaigns and handout programs, their data suggests maybe 25-30% of
residential lighting is now of energy saving type.
Also, the most used light in the household, in the kitchen, is often a fluorescent tube (more).
Small becomes smaller, perhaps 2% of all electricity used is by the banned type.
That is not all.
We now of course have the fact that replacement lighting also use electricity.
People are not being forced to use candles. Not yet, anyway.
In other words, 2% of electricity consumption would not be saved - only a proportion of it.
What are then the savings from using other lighting?
Costly LED lamps are not yet suitable for ordinary bright non-directional replacement use,
and any continuing use of halogens or other incandescent lights markedly reduce the supposed electricity savings.
Since "energy saving" fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are the assumed replacement, that brings in all previously mentioned factors regarding their use.
To recap, some key energy related factors regarding CFLs:
Lab-rated brightness is less than supposed equivalent incandescents in practice, and CFLs get dimmer with use,
meaning a higher energy use than stated from using true CFL equivalents.
Their usual "power factor" (not same as wattage, and not recorded by your meter) in basic terms means they use twice as much energy as supposed, and of course they should be left on, using energy, so as not to shorten their lifespan.
Turning up the heat:
The much criticized, and sometimes ridiculed, heat of incandescent bulbs gives significant heating savings when room heat is welcome, as it usually is in most developed and heavy energy using countries, when it's dark
(Use with air conditioning is a lesser problem overall, is voluntary, and the researched negative effects proves the point that incandescent heat release
should not be ignored).
As described earlier, one comes to for example Physics Professor Lehtinens findings that nearly the same energy saved by using CFLs is found to be needed as extra energy to heat rooms in the absence of ordinary light bulbs.
Or the Canadian National Research Council and Manitoba Physics Professor Peter Blunden with his team, not just echoing the findings of Professor Lehtinen and others, in that the heat effect means that the the gross 67% savings quoted of switching to CFLs, turn out to be net energy savings of 17%, but also that this in turn is 17% off the just 3% that they say that lighting represents in total household energy use....
...and yet these and other described researchers are only talking about the heat factor, given all the other factors mentioned before.
As Professor Blunden succintly sums it up,
"We're really talking about a very small slice of the energy pie"....
The Cambridge University Network science organization referred to before also show how small gets really small when going on to overall society energy use (my highlighting in the text):
"EU statistics show that lighting accounts for just under 3% of domestic energy consumption, about 10% of electricity use, but
remember that much of the energy used is for heating, and supplied by gas or oil. Looking at overall energy consumption, including transport and industry, domestic lighting represents 0.76% of the total used in the 27 Member States.
So, if we assume that all remaining filament bulbs are replaced by CFL at some point in the future, that these bulbs are used to the same extent as those
they replace and that the energy reduction per bulb is 80%, the total reduction in EU energy use would be 0.54 x 0.8 x 0.76% = 0.33%. This figure is almost certainly an overestimate, particularly as the inefficiency of conventional bulbs generates heat which supplements other forms of heating in winter.
Which begs the question: Is it really worth it?
The problem is that legislators are unable to tackle the big issues of energy use effectively, so go for the soft target of a high profile domestic use of energy.... this is gesture
Regarding the small switchover savings, one should also not forget the rebound effects covered before
such as how any usage effectively made cheaper simply leads to increased usage, seen from the exemplified municipal drives and handouts where citizens switched lighting and it did not lead to supposed energy usage reduction, sometimes the contrary.
As with other matters on this website, the accompanying Freedom Light Bulb blog brings up more relevant references, without necessarily copying them all here: The point here being to deepen the arguments as and when necessary.
To mention just one, as this is being written, "Overriding Consumer Preferences with Energy Regulations" by By Ted Gayer and W. Kip Viscusi, Mercatus Center, George Mason University, Arlington, Virginia, July 2012, covered on this post: it includes a lighting switchover analysis, where any usage savings by consumers are seen as negligible in the context of overall environmental savings.
So, even for fractions of 1% of total energy use to be saved (or around 1% of grid electricity),
one has to start assuming that people are willing to buy LED lamps,
don't heat their homes much, don't leave CFLs on, don't want bright lights...
See the Greenwashing Lamps
extensive and EIA referenced
US and international lighting usage analysis, a few years old, but still applicable in its principles. For the USA, residential sector, my highlight:
Lighting part of household electricity 2001: 8.8% = 1.94% of household energy consumption or 0.42% of total U.S. energy consumption.
New Zealand have decided to revoke a decision to ban light bulbs.
Why would they do that?
After all, governing politicians consider themselves very environmentally conscious, and they have recently introduced extensive CO2 emission lowering
Consumer freedom of choice comes into it, but also that the energy saving potential of a ban is so small,
as science consultant David Cogan told the government in a briefing paper
(more in this long New Zealand article).
So how should energy be saved then?
In the case here: How should electricity be saved?
(Assuming a need to save it - which is questionable for the reasons given in the introductory sections).
Regarding household electricity savings:
Clearly, any desire to save electricity around the home should be put in its proper perspective:
"A 40W incandescent bulb (used 2.7 hrs/day as is the standard calculation) doesn’t use more energy per year than a toaster or hair dryer; a 60W bulb about as much as a steam iron; and a 100W bulb less than a coffee maker."
It's easy enough to find data on appliances and energy use,
Silicon Valley Power (USA) has a good list:
Notice the comparatively great room heating, air conditioning, water heating, refrigeration costs, compared to light bulb use.
Unsurprisingly, in August 2010, Dr Shahzeen Attari (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as also covered by the Economist magazine),
in covering energy efficiency savings, also shows the much lesser light bulb switchover savings, compared to that of heating appliances, washing machines etc.
That is still not all...
We have just been talking about reducing supposed waste in electricity consumption
- not about reducing real waste, in generation and grid distribution.
For example, see
US Dept of Energy data, electricity generated
and electricity consumed, for different years.
Such figures are still only a small part of the savings picture:
Real and significant savings arise not only out of electricity grid upgrades,
but also out of promoting efficiency in electricity generation through supplier competition in neutrally administered grids,
smart and inter-connected grids making the distribution of electricity more efficient.
Moreover, the significant savings from smart metered homes and businesses that make the consumption of electricity more
On the one hand from encouraging a shift to off-peak use on a cost basis,
lessening overall electricity generation since the extra peak-time generators don't have to come on as much
(remembering that base load generation is on all the time anyway),
on the other hand from allowing easier switching between competitive providers, also in real-time.
that it takes too long, is too expensive,
that "banning light bulbs is better in being the easy low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency"
doesn't apply, not just for the low energy savings, but also for all the reasons given in the first part of this text.
Besides, even if light bulbs needed targeting, competitive market stimulation and taxation measures
are better energy efficiency alternatives as described in the closing essay.
The Power Plant Issue
President Obama, June 2009, announcing light bulb standards to apply from 2012:
Between 2012 and 2042, the standards will conserve enough electricity to power every home in America for 10 months, reduce carbon emissions equal to the amount produced by 166 million cars each year and eliminate the need for as many as 14 coal-fired power plants...
As summarized in New York Times,
or as seen in a longer Washington Post version.
As also seen, in Europe the EU Commission folks like to come out with
suitable media friendly massive-future-saving-quotable-figures, and - of course - again without any underlying explanation of how those figures are arrived at.
What is true is that coal is by far the main fossil fuel environmental concern with electricity use,
with around twice the CO2 emissions of either natural gas or oil in equivalent electricity generation (and, whatever about the relevance of CO2 emissions, untreated coal has other emissions of environmental concern).
However, light bulbs don't burn coal, and they don't release CO2 gas.
Power plants might - and they might not.
And if they do, then coal and its emissions can (and will) be treated in various ways:
Stacking up lots of coal or emission savings and projecting it to a distant future 2042 date
while ignoring already planned energy and emission changes, is irresponsible political posturing.
the small energy savings referenced in the last section already refutes the power plant savings arguments.
But even with supposed energy savings, "saving power plants" would never hold - and even less so, saving coal power plants...
Power plants normally supply energy locally.
Adding up lots of small local energy savings to a grand national energy saving total,
and saying "Hey, that equates to X number power plants" therefore makes no sense.
Besides, in terms of specifically saving coal power plants, they have to be saved where a power plant fuelled by coal is actually in use - or is planned - in the first place!
That's not all.
The yearly savings are as seen simply stacked up,
and said to eliminate the need for those power plants by the year 2042.
Even ignoring planned changes in energy supply and emissions, this is like saying:
"If we cut down on the number of school hours in a year, we eliminate the need for lots of schools!"
But of course the schools still have to be built and run, albeit not to full capacity.
Putting it in the mentioned 1-2% society electricity saving terms,
that is like saying if one has 1-2 pupils less out of a hundred, the building of schools is saved
- and for anyone disagreeing with that saving amount,
it is certainly a ballpark figure, similar to the fact that 5,6 or even 10,20 less pupils out of a hundred, do not "save the building of schools".
Electricity demand varies during the day, and spare capacity must be available.
Of course one could have fewer big power plants serving larger areas (like fewer, bigger, schools), but that is not the power plant saving, or real energy saving, that is supposed here.
As it happens:
Effectively the same coal gets burned regardless of whether your light bulb is on or off at night, or what light bulb you use.
Relevant domestic lighting is mostly used from 5pm onwards.
Coal plants are usually on all the time at levels that comparatively do not vary much.
Slow and cheap.
They can't really be turned off at night, as it takes too long to power up in the morning, and to some extent this is true of other base loading power, like nuclear energy. An APTECH coal plant cycle study here, covering the issues of turning power down and up.
Hence much fuel burned that noone uses.
Hence cheap electricity at night.
Hence the lighting causing little or no CO2 or mercury emissions, that would not have occured anyway.
Even at peak times (centering around 5-7 pm temperate zones),
limited coal use and emissions are caused relative to any electricity used.
Peak times brings on quicker responding electricity generation, such as gas or hydro powered turbines, because of heating, cooking stoves and kettles coming on (rather than any lighting).
Therefore at such times, the light bulbs proportionally use sources with much less emissions than from coal.
So the idea that even the 1% or so of grid electricity saved from banning the incandescents translates into 1% less fuel burned, does not hold.
It may seem tongue-in-cheek to suggest that no coal savings apply:
But in a context of just 30-35% efficient plants overcoming 6-8% grid transmission losses (USA, UK and elsewhere) it is in effect true.
But of course, it is much more "environmentally responsible" (and profitable) to push lighting switchovers that includes indoctrinating kids to switch bulbs to save the planet!
An Australian analysis similarly criticizes this supposition of saving lots of power plants,
For number crunching referenced analysis on energy usage and other lighting matters, see the Swedish site
(and past Greener Lights) blogs:
For example, how several (post-ban decision!) EU Commission FAQs belatedly acknowledge savings assumption fallacies
though playing them down, covered here
Gad Giladi, past president of the Professional Lighting Designers Association, has a critical analysis (pdf document)
regarding energy and money savings, in addition to looking at light quality and other issues.
notice that the ban proponents in different countries do not talk of any follow up research to see if they actually
got their assumptions right, once a ban is in place:
In this case, the question whether actual energy savings warrants a continued ban of this simple, safe, and
overwhelmingly preferred product that is the ordinary light bulb.
Given that energy savings are irrelevant as a ban motive in the first place, it's a
question that should not even need to be asked.
Lighting and the Local Environment
Lighting Choice: Light Quality and Esthetics
All types of lights have advantages for uses in different situations in homes
as covered earlier.
Here as elsewhere, the criticism of CFLs and LEDs, and of
Halogen (energy efficient) forms of incandescent lighting,
should be understood in terms of politicians pushing them as adequate replacements
for simple incandescent lighting, not that they in themselves are necessarily inferior.
Clearly the illuminating function of lights is closely tied up with the light spectrum they emit.
Since simple incandescents differ in this regard not only from CFLs and LEDs,
but also from energy efficient (Halogen) incandescent variants, there are situations when they are preferable.
Leaving aside health and safety issues until later,
most obviously this relates to particular lighting and interior design situations,
and to photography, films, movies, art installations, museums and exhibit illuminations.
It might be said that "ordinary Joe" does not care about fanciful light spectrum issues, just wants a cheap light bulb
(which incidentally he is denied too, of course).
It might also be said that CFL filters or the use of LEDs can allow for a "warmer" light, mimicking incandescents.
But that does not fully apply to CFLs or to common white (phosphorescent) LEDs,
and flexible modular LED lights are particularly expensive.
Besides, esthetics is not just about the light spectrum,
but also about brightness, and directionality (omnidirectional bright lighting being a particular LED problem),
as well as light bulb shape, appearance (including clear/frosted variations), size and wattage (or lumen) ranges,
all compromised to some extent even compared to Halogen replacements,
as seen in the reduced choice in post-ban EU.
Lighting designers like Howard Brandston (USA)
and Kevan Shaw (Scotland) consistently raise these issues,
Ingo Maurer (Germany) also via creatively designing a light bulb
to simulate the frosted light bulbs that were banned with immediate effect in the EU.
while the absurd official
response to such types of criticism can also be seen...
CFL mercury is dealt with below.
Fire hazard and other CFL failure problems
The broad division can be made into CFL use in certain fixtures,
and CFL risks regardless of how they are used.
1. CFLs in fixtures
See Australia technician Rod Elliott's thorough
relating to CFLs replacing ordinary bulbs in certain fixtures.
In the UK, the Market Transformation Programme (MTP)
has stated that less than 50% of the existing light fittings are suitable to fit a compact fluorescent lamp, giving considerable switchover costs, to avoid - or lessen - the risks, particularly the fire risks, involved in such usage:
Examples of fixtures and risks:
(CFL induced arcing in switches, with fire risk:
circuits (current increases for technical reasons, again with heat and fire
, heat build up from proximity)
and fully enclosed
fixtures (unlike ordinary incandescents,
CFLs can only be used where they have reasonable ventilation to prevent overheating)
2. CFL use regardless of fixture
In the USA,
several incidents of fires and even explosions caused by CFLs have come to light...
Urban planner Edmund Contoski has extensively researched the issue, also referring and linking to many incidents
in his American Thinker April and
May 2011 articles, following on from accounts of CFL fire and other experiences in a 2010 blog post.
Consumer organization reports are also linked, including major CFL recalls,
as with Telstar
[On CFL recalls: Canada too - November 2011, as the incandescent ban delay was being announced,
major recall of Luminus CFLs
for melting and fire risk.]
What better source than firemen themselves?
April 2011 article, and discussion, "Shedding Light on Another Potential Fire Hazard", in Fire Chief, a magazine for and by American fire officers
(with another local observation).
Burnout failures without fires can still be a problem, as covered in a New Zealand investigative
article (scroll to halfway, my editing):
A CFL tends to come to an end by charring around the base, producing smoke and emitting a bad smell.
As Ted Olechna of Ontario's Electrical Safety Authority confirmed to CBC Canada, that's normal and doesn't mean it'll catch fire.
But the smoke itself is a concern, and if the glass tube cracks then mercury vapour will be released as well.
Rod Elliott expands on the problem
again quoting how manufacturers consider smoking melted plastic to be normal as CFLs fail, and the dangers faced.
General Electric information:
"In some cases, electronic components in the ballast power supply (such as capacitors and resistors) may fail in a manner that will result
in some smoke, odor, or discoloration (browning) of the plastic housing. The failure of some electrical components can result in an audible "popping" or
"sizzling" sound. It is the function of the ballast housing to contain such failures and prevent the plastic or failed components from igniting."
US Government Energy Star advice:
"Unfortunately, there have been some instances of CFLs smoking or smoldering. While this usually occurs when the product is defective or
installed improperly, it is nonetheless a concern to consumers and the government.
The latest Energy Star CFL specification (which went into effect December 2, 2008) requires all Energy Star qualified CFLs to incorporate end-of-life
requirements and higher safety standards."
"If you have a product that does begin to smoke or smolder, immediately shut off the power to the CFL and, once it has cooled, remove it from the light
socket. Then, send us e-mail at email@example.com to alert us of this incident. Please include the product manufacturer's name and model information that is
included on the CFL base and if possible an electronic photo. Also please tell us how the CFL was used - open or enclosed light fixture; indoors or outdoors;
base orientation - up, down or sideways."
(Notice how the position of the CFL is mentioned, facing upwards, downwards or sideways, given how this can affect operation in other ways)
As mentioned there are even explosive
risks, as covered by the above Contoski articles, and by Rod Elliott here: moisture is held to be a particular concern, and the use of CFLs in bathrooms is not advised.
A good, if not updated, list of problems faced, comparing different makes and types of CFLs,
A related problem is the generally short warranty for CFLs, considering the long lifespans advertised,
as covered above and wherever they are sold:
Such that in the USA even
manufacturers producing Energy Star qualified CFLs are only required to offer a 2-year warranty for residential applications.
CFL radiation as a possible health issue is considered below.
Regarding other problems caused,
let's begin with CFL electromagnetic radiation in the form of ultra violet light, UV light.
"Over time, the UV rays fade the colors of anything they shine on, from carpets, to hardwood floors, to furniture."
(more on this advisory site, thank you to Ed Contoski for this and some other links relating to local UV effects)
CFLs are not least a problem with artwork, photographs, and fabrics, as covered in this
Or, as art conservationist Jack Thompson puts it:
"Fluorescent light, because of the amount of ultraviolet energy it transmits, ranks next to sunlight as a source of damage to art work.
Incandescent light is the least harmful source of illumination"
There are also lamp shade issues, light cover issues.
UV light can affect plastics and thereby light fixtures and lamp shades containing plastic, causing discoloration
or brittleness or other effects.
The admittedly not impartial VU1corp lighting company illustrates this
and, of course, the heat from high wattage incandescents can also be a problem in this regard.
However, a further issue arises:
As some official CFL promoting sites put it, to quote Edmonton Canada,
similarly Manitoba Hydro:
To protect from UV, instal the CFL in a fixture that has glass or fabric around it (e.g. a lamp shade or enclosed mount setting).
But of course, from the above, that may in turn bring fabric fading or enclosure fire risk problems...
As covered in the health section, there are of course double envelope CFLs, pear shaped rather than "squiggly",
that reduce UV radiation problems - but brightness and light efficiency are then also reduced,
something that savings calculations should take into account.
CFL electromagnetic (especially infrared) radiation may also interfere with electronic equipment in various ways:
This has been known for a long time,
both the interference in general (research),
as well as specific interference, such as with infra red TV controls (research).
Problems seem rarer nowadays, although
according to a briefing paper prepared for the New Zealand Government in 2008, interference with appliances is still common in households with several
"CFLs with electronic ballasts also interfere with wireless devices and, in New Zealand, ripple control systems (hot water).
Harmonics may also interfere with or even damage other equipment, especially electronic appliances,"
consultant David Cogan warned in his paper.
The interference is said to run from crashing wireless networks, to increased static noise on radios, televisions and the like,
and the mimicking of infra-red remote controls.
General Electric also acknowledge
the infrared radiation interference:
"Many electronic devices, such as radios, televisions, wireless telephones, and remote controls, use infrared light to transmit signals.
Infrequently, these types of electronic devices accidentally interpret the infrared light coming from a compact fluorescent bulb as a signal, causing the
electronic device to temporarily malfunction or stop working...[and] your television might suddenly change channels... To reduce the chance of interference,
avoid placing compact fluorescent bulbs near these kinds of electronic devices. If interference occurs, move the bulb away from the electronic device, or
plug either the light fixture or the electronic device into a different outlet."
The areas of main concern are:
1. Electromagnetic radiation, at both ends of the frequency spectrum (as ultra-violet radiation, micro waves, or radio waves), and which is further dealt with below.
2. Mercury content, of which the health and environmental consequences are dealt with in the next section.
3. Toxic chemical release, when switched on.
In April 2011, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Peter Braun and his team at the officially certified Berlin Alab analytic laboratory
found that CFLs emit several toxic chemicals including phenol, naphthalene and styrene when switched on,
chemicals also known to be able to cause cancer.
Peter Braun, in German reports (more), also said that all the CFLs they tested gave out these chemicals, it was not just the odd exception.
These findings will need further future confirmation, and are therefore not further covered here,
but are yet another cause for concern.
This applies particularly to the phenol findings, as Manfred Santen, Chemical expert with Greenpeace, agrees
(more, in German).
4. Light quality, affecting migraine sufferers
in various ways.
Firstly, from the characteristics of the CFL emitted light spectrum (with spikes of some light frequencies, omissions of others, which filters and different gas mixes can alleviate at extra expense, but still not completely overcome).
Some migraine sufferers are for example particularly sensitive to the blue light notably present in fluorescent lights;
a "soft colour" filter may or may not alleviate this.
Other causes of migraines are glare, highly contrasting, or inappropriate light levels: While not specifically related to fluorescent lights, notice that the ban on frosted light bulbs and halogens in the EU, with LEDs not yet suitable as replacement lighting, means that there are no real alternatives to fluorescents for unenclosed ceiling lights, even though regulating politicians try to say otherwise.
5. Light quality, affecting body melatonin levels and giving possible breast and prostate cancer risks with CFL use as night lighting,
as covered in a January 2011 Daily Telegraph article (my editing):
Melatonin, thought to protect against some breast and prostate cancers,
is produced and secreted by the brain's pineal gland around the clock.
Highest secretion levels are at night, but light depresses production, even if one's eyes are shut.
The problem with blue light in unmodified CFLs releasing melatonin has also been noted in Germany, as expressed by
sleep specialist Dr Dieter Kunz (Berlin), and by the Director of the Leibniz Institute Dr. Dirk Uhrlandt, in suggesting the use of
filtered "warm light" substitutes (more, in German).
A possible link between night time light exposure and breast cancer risk has been known for over a decade, since a study was published showing female shift workers were more likely to develop the disease.
Abraham Haim, a professor of biology at Haifa University in Israel said that a recent study by himself and fellow colleagues had found a much stronger association than previous research between night-time bedroom light levels and breast cancer rates.
Prof Haim explained that the bluer light that compact flourescent lamps (CFLs) emitted closely mimicked daylight, disrupting the body's production of the hormone melatonin more than older-style filament bulbs, which cast a yellower light.
The bluer light also made people more alert and increased their body temperature and heart rate.
6. Flickering, with concern for epileptics, which should not be an issue in modern lights with electronic ballasts, but in some lights with long usage and/or internal ballast imbalance and/or poor quality manufacture such problems can arise, and some people still
claim sensitivity to beating effects too fast for others to notice.
Buzzing noise of fluorescents, while more a nuisance than a health issue, was similarly mainly related to old magnetic ballasts, but can still occur,
particularly with dimmable CFLs (more from a Seattle Times article March 2009).
The Greenwashing Lamps site
has a referenced rundown of how CFLs affect health.
Ultra-Violet (UV) Light
Concern has repeatedly been raised by medical and healthcare organizations, such as, in the UK, the
British Association of Dermatologists and other skin care organizations catering for lupus sufferers, as well as solar urticaria, chronic actinic dermatitis, porphyria cutanea tarda, xeroderma
pigmentosum and other disorders. There is also the risk of skin cancer.
Dr Colin Holden, President of the British Association of Dermatologists, in an article on the topic:
"It is important that patients with photosensitive skin eruptions are allowed to use lights that don't exacerbate their condition. Photosensitive eruptions range from disabling eczema-like reactions, to light sensitivities that can lead to skin cancer."
The UK Government Health Protection Agency (HPA) recommended in October 2008 fluorescent lights in frequent close use to be
encapsulated (giving pear shaped rather than the classic tubular lights), mainly due to UV radiation concerns
In December 2009 The Canadian Federal Government Health Department finished a review of CFLs,
again mainly relating to UV radiation, but other electromagnetic radiation was also studied.
mirrored the UK HPA findings:
"it is recommended that single envelope CFLs [classic tubular type lights] not be used at distances less than 30 cm to avoid any long-term
health effects in the general population"
Other Electromagnetic Radiation, and Electromagnetic Fields
Many of the new energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs produce high levels of radio frequency radiation (measured in kHz).
Most also produce a high frequency electric field radiating several feet (measured in Volts per Meter).
There is also a magnetic field (magnetic flux density, measured in nanoTeslas).
Related to this is so called "dirty electricity", mainly referring to spikes of radiowave radiation induced in electrical wiring by modern electronic appliances:
"Dirty Electricity has become a growing problem in recent years due to our increased use of modern energy-efficient lighting and electronic
devices such as dimmer switches, computer and electronic entertainment centers. These modern electronic conveniences, although energy-efficient, tend to induce high levels of transients (high frequency spikes) and harmonics (multiples of the fundamental 60Hz frequency) back into a building's electrical system. These electromagnetic contaminates ride along on a building's electrical system."
"Dirty electricity" is also more broadly taken as synonymous with "electrical pollution" or "electrosmog",
relating to the radiation and field effects mentioned, however produced.
Particularly sensitive individuals are said to suffer from electrohypersensitivity, or radio wave sickness.
The effect on humans of electromagnetic radiation or fields, is a controversial topic
(including such radiation as microwaves, with mobile phones and masts):
Any supposed effect is usually ignored by governments and institutions, or it is typically emphasized that the exposure is below allowable limits.
The mentioned Canada Government study included a series of measurements, to prove the point.
That said, Swiss research,
undertaken for the Federal offices of Health and Energy, did find this "electrosmog" to be a problem, recommending that 30cm distance from the lights should be kept for such reason.
Similar warnings come from Germany, in 2011.
Andreas Kirchner, Environmental spokesman of the Federation of German Engineers warns against the mercury problems of CFLs, and continues, in relation to electromagnetic radiation findings:
"Electrical smog develops around these lamps. They should not be used in unventilated areas and definitely not in the proximity of the head."
Returning to Canada, there are also the findings of
Professor Magda Havas
of Trent University, Ontario, who has carried out extensive research into the health effects of the radiation and the fields caused by CFLs
(video presentations), for example this
paper from 2008:
"CFL's operate at high frequency using an electronic switching ballast to "chop up" our 120 volt AC electricity to low-voltage power - that's how they are able to use less energy when compared to an old-style incandescent bulb. This chopping results in voltage fluctuations (microsurges) that produce a ringing in the electromagnetic spectrum and is often measured in the radio frequency (RF) range frequencies above 3 kHz. A typical operating frequency for an electronic ballast in a CFL would be in the region of 50kHz to 100kHz. A frequency range know to produce adverse effects on one's health....this is something that most people can test with a portable radio on AM. As you bring the radio close to an energy efficient bulb that produces radio frequencies the radio will begin to buzz"
"According to General Electric (GE) their typical electronically-ballasted CFL operate in
the 24-100 kHz frequency range. This range is within the radio frequency band of the
electromagnetic spectrum and is classified as Intermediate Frequency (IF5) by
the World Health Organization. There is concern about electromagnetic interference
(EMI) associated with IF and recently [other] studies have [also] shown that IF are biologically active
and can have adverse health effects.......The GE bulb emits radio frequencies directly through the air and generates IF on
wires ......teachers who taught in classrooms [with such lighting] had a 5-fold increase risk of cancer (risk
ratio 5.1) that was statistically significant.....studies with diabetics and people who have multiple sclerosis
found that when [such radiation] is reduced their symptoms diminish."
Electrohypersensitivity is also considered in the paper, with symptoms given.
Dr. Martin Graham, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering at the University of California,
and David Stetzer of Stetzer Electric in Wisconsin,
have also drawn attention to these problems, as in a
radio interview scroll to October 17 2008).
More on the effects of electromagnetic radiation and fields, with references, here,
and an alternative site with video reports;
also Dr Bradford Weeks of Washington has a good
of some of the research that has been undertaken.
In summary, while the risks of the radiation - in ordinary use with healthy people - should not be exaggerated,
the radiation is unquestionably there, with uncertain long term effects.
The Mercury Issue
Products are normally banned for being unsafe to use:
The policy of banning a simple safe product like the ordinary light bulb in favour of complex CFL or LED lamps is
questionable enough, but the irony continues when it's held to be a ban for environmental reasons,
such as the CO2 emission justification, CO2 emissions that the light bulbs - and some power stations - are not even releasing in the first place.
Increasing the irony, the main suggested fluorescent replacement is a complex mercury containing light that has both health and environmental
questions surrounding it....
to which we now (March 2011) can add the LED bulbs too, with lead, arsenic, nickel and other toxic content:
Content giving both breakage and recycling concerns, just as with CFLs (more later).
What is said here about CFLs may therefore apply also to LED bulbs.
Mercury from broken CFLs
Fluorescent lights contain a small amount of mercury.
Typically 5mg of mercury is involved - about the size of a fullstop, as politicians and their agencies like to point out.
CFLs are being developed with a lower mercury content.
Of course, small amounts still matter if the toxicity is high.
Importantly, mercury vapour is involved:
The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) limit for human exposure to mercury in the atmosphere is 300 nanograms. To put that in context,
5mg is 5 million nanograms of mercury...
Therefore, stringent recommendations apply regarding broken lamps
relating to room ventilation and disposal of the lamp parts.
Typically, a room should be closed off with ventilation to the outside and vacated for about 15 minutes, and
then parts picked up into a plastic bag using rubber gloves, the bag sealed off and sent for recycling. Vacuum cleaning up the parts is expressly not advised.
See for example the US Environmental Protection Agency
Maine state (USA) government
in 2008 found the existing sometimes ridiculed EPA recommendations not only to be justified,
but in need of being made stricter still.
Edited from the report summary:
45 experimental trials where compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were broken in a small/ moderate sized room
were conducted in May through September of 2007.
18 trials, 3 trials each of 6 differing scenarios, were originally planned for this study;
however, additional trials were added to attempt to more fully address potential cleanup concerns.
Broken lamps were either not cleaned up, cleaned up using Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) pre-study cleanup guidance, vacuumed, or cleaned up using variations of the pre-study cleanup guidance.
The mercury concentrations at the five foot height (adult breathing zone) and one foot height (infant/toddler breathing zone)1 above the study room floor were continuously monitored. The most notable finding of the study was how variable the results can be depending on the type of lamp, level of ventilation and cleanup method.
Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the Maine Ambient Air Guideline (MAAG) of
300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3, and possibly over 100,000 ng/m3 from the breakage of a single compact fluorescent lamp....as a result of this study, the cleanup guidance was modified.
The above mirrors the
New Jersey state investigation of 2004:
Elevated airborne levels of mercury,
exceeding EPA’s reference concentration of 300 ng/m3, can
exist in the vicinity of recently broken bulbs. Potential
occupational exposure may exist for sanitation workers and
employees involved in recycling fluorescent bulbs in the
presence of broken bulb residue.
It was found that the mercury release rate varies proportionally
with temperature, which was expected because of the
greater volatility of mercury at higher temperatures.
One-third of the mercury release occurs during the first 8 hours after
Between 17% and 40% of the mercury in broken low-mercury fluorescent bulbs
is released to the air during the two-week period immediately following breakage, with higher temperatures
contributing to higher release rates.
The results are consistent with a
preliminary analysis of data collected during the operation of
a commercial bulb-crushing system in Illinois, which
suggests that approximately 18% of the mercury in fluorescent
bulbs is released over an 8-hour period during crushing
The pattern of emission, with an initially rapid release
declining to a slowly decreasing rate, suggests that at least
some of the mercury in the bulbs is in a form that can
quickly vaporize, such as tiny droplets of elemental mercury.
Recent confirmation, with similar findings in Europe,
according to tests released December 2010 by the
German Federal Environment Agency, UBA,
as reported in this article (my editing):
The energy saving bulbs show mercury levels 20 times higher than regulations allow in the air surrounding them for up to 5 hours after they are broken, according to tests released Thursday by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA).
The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZVB) encouraged the federal government to push for a suspension of the ban in Brussels until there was a safe and practical alternative.
“It can’t be that the state bans a safe product and replaces it with a dangerous one,” Gerd Billen, leader of VZVB, said.
UBA President Jochen Flasbarth recommended that consumers use energy saving bulbs with protective plastic casings in areas such as children’s rooms to avoid the danger in the short term.
A first point:
It is in many ways unfortunate that worries around mercury is such a focus against banning light bulbs:
It should be clear from all that's been said that banning today's simple light bulbs is itself wrong, whatever about the merits
of any alternative lighting offered, including any surviving halogens, or new LEDs.
CFLs have their advantages too,
the mainly negative focus on them throughout this text therefore simply being to highlight why it is wrong to ban simple incandescent alternatives, for the advantages they in turn have.
That said, the CFL findings do give some cause for concern.
Some points raised by the USA Maine government CFL testing, and USA EPA recommendations, putting them in perspective:
• "Homeowners [should] consider not utilizing fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken, in bedrooms used by infants, small children or pregnant women, or over carpets in rooms frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women."
EPA continues "If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away".
• Adding to the previous recommendations of ventilating the room,
"venting should continue for several hours after a lamp cleanup to be conservative."
• Even visibly clean floor surfaces, can emit mercury immediately at the source that can be greater than 50,000 ng/m3.
• Vacuum cleaning is particularly dangerous, especially of carpets, and can lead to repeated high dosages being released. Mercury remains trapped in the carpet fibres. To make matters worse, some vacuum cleaners in the tests were so contaminated that cleaning them was impossible, meaning not only was the carpet over and out, so was the vacuum cleaner.
The scientists say it is possible that one single "spike" dose of mercury could be enough to damage a baby or a child's brain, even if there is no further
ongoing exposure. The experiments show a 20 watt CFL bulb can produce a spike of 100,000 ng/m3, 300 times the recommended allowable maximum.
"Mercury sources left in the carpets, the mercury levels in the air that this can cause in certain circumstances, and the potential to
irreversibly contaminate the vacuum are all factors that point toward removal of the carpet section where
the lamp has broken. This is the easiest and surest means of eliminating the mercury source that remains in the carpet. We realize this is unpleasant and
could be the source of controversy. However, it seems the surest means of eliminating avoidable mercury exposure."
• In the USA insurance companies won't be covering the cost of replacing your carpet or other
materials, going by the official recommendation in the US state of Maine, which may become the national standard in the US.
• To put exposure levels in perspective, a study of workers who had been exposed on a regular
basis to 33,000 nanograms/m3 of mercury and compared in a neurological test to a control group of 70 unexposed people, found they scored worse on "mental
arithmetic, 2-digit search, switching attention, visual choice reaction time and finger tapping".
A similar study of dentists, where the atmospheric readings in their offices were 16,000 ng/m3, found similar drops in mental capacity.
• Plastic bags are next to useless for containing a broken CFL bulb.
"Double re-sealable polyethylene bags... did not appear to retard the migration of mercury adequately to maintain room air concentrations
below the MAAG... The significance of this issue is that cleanup material may remain in the home for some period of time and/or be transported inside a
closed vehicle, exposing occupants to avoidable mercury vapors when improperly contained... The best method of containing bulb waste is inside a glass jar with a hermetically sealed lid."
• The scientists note that the mercury contamination was considerably worse - nearly double in fact - at summertime temperatures (32C) than winter (23C).
For more on these issues, also see the extensive New Zealand analysis
"Mercury in CFLs – special
The described mercury problems has led to
Maine becoming the first US state to pass a law (May 2009) requiring manufacturers to limit mercury levels in the bulbs and pay
for recycling them (more on recycling below).
The UK Government Dept of Environment (DEFRA) has similar official recommendations to EPA.
However, the EU is very quiet, and in many if not most European countries there are
• no official guidelines,
• no warnings on or inside packages informing people what to do with breakages,
• no recycling advice on packages.
Recycling of CFLs
Unrecycled CFLs pose a major environmental problem.
The same seems to apply to LED type light bulbs
according to mentioned recent 2011 research (more),
mirroring CFLs not just in the LED breakage concerns,
but also in the need for LED recycling.
What is said here may therefore apply also to such bulbs.
CFL Recycling is obligatory, but household compliance in most countries is
low just as it is with batteries and indeed household recycling in general.
How many CFLs are actually recycled?
In the USA, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) jointly with the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers have investigated the issue.
They look at both fluorescent tubes and CFLs, calling them mercury-lamps.
research data, pdf document end 2004:
70.8% of the mercury-lamps used by business and 98% of such lamps used in homes were not being recycled.
NEMA are hardly likely to exaggerate:
They have actively (.doc document) pushed for and supported the ban on simple incandescents, as also seen from their involvement in US Congressional Hearings on light bulb legislation, see the first part of this text.
Recycling is organised by individual states, and increasing attention to the issue may have increased the recycling levels in recent years, but hardly significantly, from available information:
List of regulations and other individual US state information here.
The National Lamp Recycling blog has relevant updates.
In May 2009, following the breakage testing mentioned above, Maine became the first state to pass a law requiring
manufacturers to limit mercury levels in the bulbs and pay for recycling them. CFL manufacturers will have to provide free
collection of household CFLs by 2011, though the precise way is not specified. Note that similar free collection schemes in
shops etc of CFLs (and batteries) in the EU has not given much result.
There are other limited initiatives, such as the
green action project sponsored by the mentioned national recycler NLR, for non-profit organizations.
On a different take, US citizens might like to "send their CFLs to Washington",
via a website with more on CFL mercury dangers.
Also see Ed Kirshner's review covering this and many other aspects of CFL mercury.
The situation in Europe is similar:
Gad Giladi, past president of the European Lighting Designers Association, has written a critical account
(pdf document in German)
recycling facilities, lack of packaging instructions, and misleading comparisons with coal power mercury release, and also
looks at actual energy savings and other ban related issues.
None of twenty major recycling plants in the
EU from which we requested the information even acknowledged receiving our
communications. Inside information however indicates that only very few recycling plants
are currently setting-up for recycling CFLs; that their daily recycling capacity is very
limited and that they intend to return part of the Hg [=mercury] to lamp and pharmaceutical
manufacturing while most of it will be treated like radioactive waste, i.e. sunk in barrels in
deep sea. (Let it be known that no recycling company dealing with radio-active waste is
prepared to guarantee the water tightness of the containers for more than 100 years!
Whatever happens after that is “none of our generation’s concern”).
Deposit-refund schemes for all fluorescent lights would surely be a good idea, regardless of any
banning policy. Of course it still doesn't justify bans, alleviating rather than solving the problem.
It's not just about actually bringing the spent CFL to recycling either:
It's also about how the CFLs are brought to recycling.
Shouldn't just stick it in any old bag or box...
Results of a recent study [published in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association] conducted by my research team at the University of Minnesota suggest that most containers used for storage and transportation of used fluorescent lamps to recycling centers do not provide necessary levels of protection against mercury vapors emitted from broken lamps.
The above extract, with my emphases, from Lisa Brosseau,
Associate Professor at the School of Public Health, Division of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Minnesota:
Plus, mercury vapor can be emitted for weeks after a single bulb is broken.
The results indicate that emissions from packages not designed to contain mercury vapor represent a real health and safety concern.
[Rather than being recycled]...fluorescent lamps are usually placed in dumpsters or trash containers, presenting a considerable risk.
One study found that mercury is “strongly and persistently” emitted from dumpsters that contain broken fluorescent lamps.
In 2005, a provision was added [to the USA federal Universal Waste Rule] that requires packaging for mercury containing products to be “reasonably designed to prevent the escape of mercury into the environment by volatilization or any other means.” However, fluorescent lamps were excluded from this rule...
also summarized on the Vaporlok blog
This brings us to further consider mercury release into the environment, outside the home....
Mercury release into the environment
Problem from dumped CFLs
There are around 4 billion ordinary light bulbs in the European Union (ELC, European Lighting
Companies, 2007 figure, and European Commission data 2007-8), and 5 billion in the USA (lighting
industry data 2008), and obviously plenty elsewhere too.
Even a partial replacement of ordinary bulbs with fluorescent lights therefore leads to multiple billions of unrecycled broken lights around the planet leaking mercury vapour into the
Mercury impacted on CFL glass is still a problem:
With age, mercury is deposited inside the light
so that a spent CFL leaks out less vapour on breakage. This is sometimes held as limiting environmental impact. However, that just
means it is leeched into the ground instead, contaminating groundwater, river systems and so on.
As Gad Giladi, of the European Lighting Designers Association, puts it:
Our optimistic estimate is that at
the very best 50 per cent of the CFLs will eventually go for recycling. That means that at
least 50 per cent will reach landfills and through them, our ecosystem.
We are thus expecting, once the whole recycling process is effectively operative
throughout the EU, a minimum of two metric tons of Hg [=mercury] to reach our ecosystem
annually (beyond the terrifying quantities that already reach it today!). For illustration
purposes, it should be known that 1 mg of Hg suffices to contaminate 5,300 Litres of
drinking water! This means that the additional Hg reaching our ecosystem will be
sufficient to contaminate the entire Lake Geneva – the largest fresh water body in
Europe – within 8 years! Furthermore, studies have shown that it would take a
theoretical mass of soil of 18mx18mx17m to neutralize 1 mg of Hg!! Neutralizing 2 metric
tons of Hg would thus require 10, 835 km³ of soil!.
[The following is largely with acknowledgement to Guardian environment editor John
Vidal and to Daily Telegraph and The Times science and environment correspondents]
Mining for mercury
Partly due to the increasing demand for their CFLs, China is one of the few places left on Earth that still mines
specifically for new mercury. These mines may not meet western environmental and safety standards. Industry estimates are
that as much mercury is lost to the environment in the mining, processing and transport of mercury, as is made available for
subsequent use, with around 30% being lost in the processing stage.
More from the Times May 2009:
A surge in foreign demand, set off by a European Union directive making these bulbs compulsory within three years, has also led to the reopening of mercury mines that have ruined the environment....the government shut all the big mercury mining operations in the [Guizhou] region in recent years in response to a fall in global mercury prices and concern over dead rivers, poisoned fields and ailing inhabitants....the conditions were medieval, miners hewed chunks of rock veined with cinnabar, the main commercial source of mercury. They inhaled toxic dust and vapours as the material seethed in primitive cauldrons to extract the mercury. Nobody wore a mask or protective clothing.
Again, in the manufacture of CFLs in China, about half of the mercury used is released into the environment, according to
statements from industry representatives. The Times article again:
Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs....
In southern China, compact fluorescent lightbulbs destined for western consumers are being made in factories that range from high-tech multinational
operations to sweat-shops, with widely varying standards of health and safety.
Tests on hundreds of employees have found dangerously high levels of mercury in their bodies and many have required hospital treatment, according to
interviews with workers, doctors and local health officials in the cities of Foshan and Guangzhou.
That's not all.
A considerable amount of electricity is used in the manufacture of CFLs,
as already covered above.
Now apply that to China, were according to the sources 80% of the electricity used is from coal power plants that emit 10 times the amount of mercury (and twice the CO2) that US coal power plants emit, in delivering the same amount of electricity.
Compare with locally made light bulbs, in the USA etc:
Not only using less electricity in incandescent bulb manufacture, but using it from cleaner coal power plants or from power sources with no emissions in the first place.
[As covered in the local jobs section,
local manufacture of current forms of lighting might have ceased anyway in the US (and EU, and other developed regions) but was hastened by a ban, and unnecessarily prevents the start-up local manufacture of new and easily made simple cheap forms of lighting, lighting that might have advantages that people feel compensate for any extra electricity consumption in their usage].
Shipping transport release of mercury
CFLs are delivered from China to Europe and North America on ships using bunker oil, the worst of the fuel oils in terms of
emissions of mercury, CO2, sulphur and other substances. Legislating for international shipping is difficult, with ships
flagged for unregulated countries, a problem already seen with shipping taxation and labour conditions.
Also see the Economist article
(may require payment), and the transport section
More: Since spent CFLs, and/or their contents, including mercury, may be sent back to China for reprocessing
and reuse in new CFLs, that doubles the mercury and CO2 emissions of the inter-continental shipping transport, while dumped CFLs
leak mercury locally.
Compare with local transport of locally made simple ordinary lights in eco-friendly conditions using local workers...
Power Plant mercury versus CFL mercury
Untreated fossil fuel (coal) fired power plant emissions contain mercury,
and this has given rise to a point that might seem plausible,
that ordinary light bulbs can in fact be worse for the environment than
CFLs, since they use more electricity....
"The light bulbs cause more release of mercury than the CFLs can cause, even if the CFLs break,
and the mercury in CFLs is only released if they are broken anyway!"
First of all,
even if ordinary light bulbs were worse, 2 wrongs don't make a right:
CFL mercury clearly is a problem, wherever CFLs break,
while power plant mercury release itself doesn't justify banning light bulbs either.
Where there is a problem - deal with the problem:
Power plants give out the mercury emissions, not the light bulbs,
just like power plants give out CO2 and other emissions, not the light bulbs.
It is odd to see die-hard environmentalists justify banning light bulbs
on the grounds of the terrible mercury emission of the power plant it is connected to,
rather than to complain about the emission itself,
as they might once have done:
Especially since the mercury emission is there all the time, light bulb or no light bulb,
and especially since there are so many ways - as will be seen - that such emission can nowadays be treated.
Continuing by considering which of the two is actually worse,
the overall perspective should to begin with not be forgotten,
including the global factors just dealt with.
Moving on to the local factors,
beginning with CFL breakage release versus power plant release, as problems in themselves:
1. If CFLs do break at home, that is a mercury release under your nose - not a mercury release at a remote power station.
2. They are likely to break in being thrown away, if not recycled.
3. Even when recycled, the CFLs may be taken apart in ways contaminating the surroundings with mercury,
just as mercury is released when the CFLs are put together, as described.
4. They are likely to break in trash cans, dump sites or other locations which may themselves be nearer to you than the power station.
5. The thrown away CFL breaks in an unknown location.
The power plant chimney is in a known location.
Knowing the location of any mercury release is more than half the battle - it is then a matter of dealing with it at that site.
Continuing with "which is worse",
just in terms of the local mercury amounts involved,
that should - to be precise - take into account any local manufacture of CFLs,
firstly because of the greater energy use (with possible related mercury emissions) of such manufacture,
secondly because of mercury release in the manufacturing process.
Similarly, with any local CFL recycling, where again both the energy use of dismantling bulbs and the local release of mercury in the dismantling process itself, should be remembered.
Still, let us move on with the commonly repeated notion that
"the power stations give out more mercury from the light bulb usage, than what there is in fluorescent light usage and content, a
content typically of 4 or 5mg of mercury"
(often illustrated either with historic EPA diagrams, or with a recent diagram variation that largely excludes CFL mercury content as "not being an
environmental problem", but that has already been covered above).
This was hardly true even where untreated coal power dominated in the past,
and is certainly not true today in any developed country or state.
As will be seen, it is even less true in the future.
Recently (2010 and 2011) ban proponents talk of new CFLs using just a mg or two of mercury:
If supposed energy savings from CFLs are accepted,
that may shift the balance were untreated coal is used,
but doesn't change the argumentation as a whole.
Several wrong assumptions are made:
1. Assumptions with CFLs regarding their long lifespan, their low energy usage,
and in their equivalent brightness ratings.
CFL lifespan is more like half of the supposed 6000-8000 hours in calculations, and energy usage - at the power plants - is twice
the supposed amount for common CFLs, as described, a 4 times change on the CFL mercury side from these 2 factors alone:
See the relevant section above, and the official references.
2. The assumption that some/all electricity is coming from coal.
It is about 1/2 in the USA, 1/3 in the UK, 1/5 in Ireland, and of course substantially less (and decreasing) in many countries.
Local and regional variations within countries of course also occur.
A recent Yale study
(Eckelman, Anastas, Zimmerman, USA) directly
advises against switching to CFLs where coal power is not significant.
Ed Kirshner adds (slightly condensed by me):
"The DOE has recently published Hg [=mercury] estimates superseding the old misleading EPA figures. From power plant emissions they have Hg
on the average for a typical CFL in the US at about 1.7 mg, and 5.4 mg for an equivalent incandescent bulb. So assuming 5 mg of Hg in the typical CFL, the
CFL total would be 6.7 mg. Thus, on the average, the incandescent bulb is better than the CFL in terms of Hg.
To be a little picky, according to DOE estimates, the amount of Hg lost to the environment in the fluorescent light manufacturing process in the US is about
10%. Thus, the CFL figure would be 7.4 mg of Hg compared to 5.4 mg for the incandescent."...
....without taking into account the mentioned assumptions about CFL lifespans, energy use etc...
But more glaringly,
even when coal dominates, a fundamental point is always forgotten:
Coal plants are on all the time at basically the same output level.
Slow and cheap.
They are supplemented at peak times (eg 5-10pm temperate zones), typically by quicker responding gas or hydro powered turbines. While this is also when lighting tends to come on, it is therefore at best at such times saving some gas related CO2 and mercury emissions, which is much less than from coal.
3. The assumption that emissions will stay at the same level
This is perhaps the worst assumption.
Power plant mercury release has for a long time been
treatable, in various ways, for example with pre-emission processing like coal gasification (in California since the 1980s at Cool Water), which has the additional
benefit of making CO2 capture and storage more easy.
Emission processing itself has also existed, until recently mainly by using so-called
(chemical, not human, I hasten to add), expensive and not always fully effective.
As Drs. Adams and Senior (REI, Utah) explain:
"Wet scrubbers do a good job of removing oxidized mercury with removal efficiency greater than 75 percent in most of the
wet scrubbers tested to date. However, wet scrubbers do not remove elemental mercury..."
going on to explain how newer techniques can also remove mercury in the pure state.
New mercury reduction technology includes cheaper and more effective
injection and photochemical techniques:
study (Amrhein, Sjostrom) shows 90% total mercury reduction with activated carbon injections,
while photochemical methods can be equally effective, as shown by research in
New Hampshire (McLarnon,
The USA EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),
has been at the forefront to inform about mercury release both from CFLs (as already seen) and from coal power plants.
See EPA mercury emission reduction regulations (an update follows below):
90% power station mercury emission reduction by 2018, (phase 1 = 21% reduction by 2010, phase 2 = 69%
further reduction by 2018):
"On March 15, 2005, EPA issued the Clean Air Mercury Rule to permanently cap and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired
power plants for the first time ever. This rule makes the United States the first country in the world to regulate mercury
emissions from utilities."
Early in 2009, utility company complaints were defeated in the Supreme Court and incoming EPA administrator Lisa Jackson will
"vigorously pursue" the reduction policy.
In December 2011 this has been followed up by the Obama administration with further mandates.
EPA documentation, MSNBC article 12/26 2011:
"When fully implemented in 2016, the standards will slash mercury pollution from burning coal by 90 percent, lung-damaging acid gases by 88 percent and soot-producing sulfur dioxide by 41 percent."
When ban proponents use
EPA or other comparison diagrams that supposedly show that CFLs are worse than
coal power emissions, those diagrams, as the underlying data will tell,
not only ignore regional variations as to coal power usage (point no.2 above),
not only ignore the mentioned CFL power factor (doubling actual power station energy generation,
without it showing on electricity meters),
not only assume an effective 8000 hour lifespan and a 13W to 60W usage equivalence,
all erroneous for reasons previously given in this text,
and not only assume that CFLs will minimally release the mercury they contain,
but also uses data that is historic,
which, as seen EPA themselves show will not hold.
It is also noteworthy how Canada
is reducing coal power plant mercury emissions, 80% lower emissions by 2018, with 52% already to be lower in 2010.
As for the EU....
The ban proposing
EU Ecodesign Committee
(as can be checked, though seemingly not online) simply uses old emission data, extrapolates it to 2020, and - just as with carbon
emissions - assumes nothing will be done about mercury emissions,
justifying banning light bulbs in the EU by saying "1.5 million tons more mercury would be released" by that year, than would be
caused by CFLs!
If power station mercury release is a problem, perhaps there might be a will in the EU to do something about it, rather than
just use it as an excuse to ban light bulbs. Of course, given the recently announced global mercury control agreement, when the
EU Commission says they have been working on bringing down coal power mercury emissions, why do they justify bans on the basis that
they haven't? They want to have it both ways!
[Notice the parallel with carbon
The proposing politicians again face one way and talk of how banning bulbs gives X million tons of emission savings by 2020 based on
today's power station emission levels, and then facing the other way they say how they are cutting down
the same emissions over the next few years by direct action on power stations (via emission trading and via imposing emission processing and/or via
replacement with nuclear/renewable energy including its spread in grid interconnections)]
In a nutshell:
Where there is a problem, deal with the problem:
If mercury release from coal power plants is a problem - deal with the mercury release.
Banning bulbs is hardly the way to do it - even if all power plants were mercury releasing power plants, and even if light bulb bans brought savings.
Notice the parallel with justifying bulb bans as a means to lower power plant CO2 emissions:
Wrongly using energy efficiency measures - instead of emission measures - to deal with emissions, as and when required.
As for mercury release:
1. We know where the ever decreasing local coal power plant chimneys are and
we can treat their emissions with ever increasing efficiency at lower costs.
2. Compare that with a broken CFL at home, with mercury release on the spot.
3. Also compare that with
future billions of scattered broken CFLs elsewhere, when we do not know where all the broken lights will be, and so it is much harder and often impossible
to do anything about them.
4. Also compare that with any recycled CFLs, with its own mercury release, including the mercury release from any shipping transport back to China for new CFL manufacturing.
There can hardly be any question which is the greater environmental problem, not just locally but also globally, when the further
China mining and manufacturing factors are added to the all the other CFL mercury problems.
The irony of banning ordinary light bulbs on environmental grounds is now complete,
in that the recent international -and European - mercury reduction agreements excludes the mercury in CFLs!
LED Safety and Environmental Issues
The problems of forcing new unproven technology on the people (after all, the safe old regular light bulbs have been declared "obsolescent"),
is unsurprisingly shown also with those other complex lights, the LEDs (light emitting diodes).
The Fire Risk
The heat sensitivity of LEDs means they contain heat sink systems, as covered
The fire risk does not seem as great as with CFLs,
although as yet it is hard to say, given a lesser use.
Reported problems include this 2011
of replacement type LEDs,
of low wattage LED lighting, and issues with these
Toxic Content, Mineral Depletion issues
A February 2011 University of California (UC) press release, also summarized in a Reuters
is about a major University LED study across several departments, Davis and Irvine campuses
(Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, UC Davis,
School of Social Ecology, UC Irvine,
and Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention, UC Irvine)
The study shows that LED bulbs contain lead, nickel, arsenic, and a dozen more potentially hazardous substances, raising wide-ranging health and environmental issues.
Consumers should be aware of the potential harm from contaminants found in LED bulbs:
Toxins like lead and arsenic are linked to various cancers, brain damage, hypertension, skin rashes, and other illnesses.
The copper in LED bulbs, once released, can affect rivers, lakes, and infect fish.
If a bulb were to break, and somebody breathed in the fumes released, it could act as a tipping point on top of exposures to other carcinogens. Plus, because lead tastes sweet, it is possible that children may mistake small ornamental LED lights as candy.
Measures that could be put in place may be to wear personal safety protection when cleaning up a broken LED bulb, whether at home, or with a cleanup crew at a traffic accident.
Under today's law, LEDs are disposed of in typical landfills and are not classified as toxic, but the researchers are hoping that their study will change that.
The diodes are widely hailed as safer than compact fluorescent bulbs, which contain dangerous mercury. But, as Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention said, they weren’t properly tested for potential environmental health impacts before being marketed as the preferred alternative to inefficient incandescent bulbs, now being phased out under California law.
Since 1 January 2011 under California law incandescent bulbs are being phased out.
A long-planned state regulation originally set to take effect Jan. 1 would have required advance testing of CFL and LED replacement products.
But it was opposed and blocked by industry groups.
Even though a less stringent version was substituted, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger placed the law on hold days before he left office.
Turning to specifics, excerpts from the underlying University of California
LEDs leached lead at levels exceeding regulatory limits (186 mg/L; regulatory limit: 5).
Also, according to California regulations, excessive levels of [for example] copper (up to 3892 mg/kg; limit: 2500), nickel (up to 4797 mg/kg; limit: 2000), or silver (up to 721 mg/kg; limit: 500) render all except low-intensity yellow LEDs hazardous.
The environmental burden associated with resource depletion potentials derives primarily from
gold and silver.
The burden from toxicity potentials is associated primarily with
arsenic, copper, nickel, lead, iron, and silver.
Establishing benchmark levels of these substances can help manufacturers implement design for environment through informed materials substitution, can motivate recyclers and waste management teams to recognize resource value and occupational hazards, and can inform policymakers who establish waste management policies for LEDs.
It should be said that this preliminary study report focussed on small LED lights rather than replacement LED bulbs,
but the authors hold that the principles apply to LED lamps in general:
Results from the larger research into LEDs will be published later, but “it’s more of the same” according to Oladele Ogunseitan,
chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention which was one of the institutions behind the study.
LEDs are under constant development, and the study should
simply be a pointer of possib