EU incandescent ban
Now it has been three years since the first step of the incandescent phase-out was enforced in the European Union. In a few weeks, the last of the regular incandescent bulbs, 25 and 40 W, will be prohibited from production and import into the European Union. Remaining stocks may be sold until they run out. Next year reflector lamps are up for restrictions and 2016 most halogen lamps will be banned.
Was this a good idea?
Evidence is mounting that this was a very poor decision.
But CFLs are so great?
Since the ban, we have had a never ending flow of reports on CFL issues, from dimming problems, slow start-up time, poor performance at cold temperatures, lamps burning out prematurely, starting fires, emitting UV, radio frequencies and causing disturbances on the grid. Plus consumer tests showing much still to be desired when it comes to producing promised brightness etc.
And worst of all: Chinese workers and environment poisoned to produce ‘green’ lamps for us, risk for toxic contamination of your home, poor recycling rates, and recycling plant workers at risk from people throwing CFLs in glass recycling bins.
But incandescent lamps use more mercury than CFLs..?
No, they don’t. This clever PR lie was invented in 1993 by the EU-funded anti-lightbulb lobby organisation IAEEL and based on a fantasy calculation exercise at a Danish university in 1991, with an imaginary scenario of a CFL containing only 0.69 mg mercury (impossible to attain at that time, and still is), while electricity production from coal was assumed at a whopping 95% (as was the case in Denmark at that time but nowhere close to true for the rest of EU then, and even less so today).
So poof, the main argument that has gotten environmentalists, politicians, journalists and the general public alike to believe a mercury containing product is the best product for the environment, has no substance at all.
See my Mercury posts for details and references on mercury issues above.
See also Good Greek Philosophy
But what about LEDs?
LEDs (and OLEDs) are great for TV and computer monitors, for coloured Christmas decoration, signal lights, possibly road illumination, stage lighting, spectacular lighting design (such as could be seen during the last Olympics) and many other creative purposes, just not as replacement bulbs for home illumination. Even industry leaders don’t seem to believe in that concept, as they know of the many challenges and that this is not the area in which LEDs perform best.
Most LED replacement bulbs available to consumers today are a joke when it comes to light colour, output and price. There are a few decent looking ones from top brands, but the prices on those are even more of a joke, and how long they last and give a useful light is still unknown. Many have electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) issues and may cause grid disturbances. Most are not dimmable, and the ones that are do not dim well.
But what about halogen energy savers?
Well, they give the same type of top quality light, can be dimmed nicely and have all the other advantages of incandescent light, plus longer life. But recent consumer tests disappointingly show that they don’t save as much as promised. They also contain bromine or iodine and can be quite glaring unless shaded or frosted.
Unfortunately, frosted bulbs were also banned by the EU in the first stage of the phase-out 2009, due to wanting to force the majority who likes frosted glare-free lamps at home to buy CFLs instead – that was the whole point of the ban. (Not that CFLs are always glare-free, but they can pass for ‘frosted’ by their phosphor coating.)
That the halogen energy saver is still permitted for a few more years was a temporary compromise, as there exists no clear bright point replacement for when such is desired. Its existence on the market – although at first, very hard to find – has been used by the Commission to stifle all the numerous complaints about CFL shortcomings: “But for those applications, you can use a halogen energy saver!” What the commission doesn’t tell the general public is that halogen lamps will also be banned – unless this regulation hysteria is put to a halt by EU citizens!
Time to ban the ban!
Freedom Lightbulb explains How bans are wrongly justified. Quoting from just one of the many excellent points:
CFLs are simply not suitable for all locations and uses: Hot or cold ambience, vibration, dampness, enclosed spaces, recesses, existing dimming circuits, timers, movement sensor switching, use in chandeliers and small and unusual lamps, aesthetical use if clear bulbs are preferred, rare usage when cheaper bulbs are preferred – and so on – apart from light quality differences, particularly noticeable when dimming. Usage in children’s rooms might be restricted on breakage and mercury release issues, see point 10 below.
LEDs offer an alternative choice especially for directional lighting – but otherwise, with several similar location and usage issues to CFLs, as well as having their own light quality issues in spiky emission spectra. LEDs also have even more light output problems than CFLs to achieve bright (75-100W and over) omnidirectional lighting equivalence, and at reasonable cost.
To put it bluntly:
Incandescent technology is optimal in BULB form,
Fluorescent technology is optimal in TUBE form,
LED technology is optimal in SHEET form.
Fluorescent and LED lighting technology advantages are compromised in trying to replace what incandescents can do.
You don’t make savings by regulating what products are on the market – unless they’re toxic, then you remove them for environmental and health reasons. You do it by using the appropriate lamp type and brightness for a particular environment and task, and by tuning it down or switching it off when not used. Lighting designer Kevan Shaw points out the obvious in Ecodesign Regulation Failure? (emphasis added):
As has been shown in previous studies the amount of lighting energy used in households is far more dependent on behavior than the type of lighting equipment used. Ultimately the length of time a light is left switched on has significantly more influence on total energy used than the wattage of the lamp. Another interesting point is that the proportion of electricity used in households for lighting is now being overtaken by that used for Audio Visual and Computers in the home. Despite this no one so far is proposing that plasma large screen tellys are banned in favour of LED types that use a fraction of the electricity!
Also, you can make an incandescent or halogen incandescent both use less electricity and last longer by simply dimming it – something many are already doing! Jim on Light:
Dimmer maker Lutron says that by dimming a halogen lamp by 30% will give you many of the same benefits as using a compact fluorescent lamp. Lutron also says that a 3,000 hour halogen lamp will last 12,000 hours when dimmed by that 30%.
As Freedom Lightbulb frequently points out: people are not stupid. If there was a better product that truly saves both money and the environment and last as long as promised, we would buy it without being forced. We gladly buy energy-star fridges and washing machines. We have willingly followed energy authorities’ advice on better insulation of our houses; taking a shower instead of a bath; switching appliances off instead of leaving them on stand-by; turning lights off when leaving the room; installing sensors, timers and dimmers. We recycle and try to be as green as we can manage and afford.
All EU authorities need to do is enforce the energy and performance information on the package label, make tests to check that it’s accurate, and leave us all free to make our own informed choices on what we want to spend our hard-earned money on.
The market failure of incandescent replacements is a product failure, and banning the original high quality product in order to force an unwilling public to pay more for a problematic and lower quality replacement is just too absurd for words!
Save the bulb – sign the petition!
Here is a German petition to revoke the ban. It’s not very well written, but please sign anyway – every vote counts:
Edit: Two more German petitions to sign (thanks to Lighthouse for the links):
Update: The incandescent ban is actually illegal as the replacement lamps have not fulfilled criteria a, b and c in the Ecodesign Directive. Se my updated post New EU Ecodesign Directive