Swedish Consumer Tests Autumn 2012

There were two major Swedish tests made during fall 2012. Råd & Rön and Testfakta. The former is issued by Sweden’s leading consumer organisation, Sveriges Konsumenter, and the latter is a privately owned consumer testing company supplying independent testing of consumer products for major newspapers in Scandinavia.

Råd & Rön

Compact Fluorescent Lamps

I won’t bother making translated tables of the CFL data as they still have the same inherent problems as reported from earlier tests, so nothing new there. Instead I’ll let a translation of the CFL part of the Råd & Rön article summarise their test results:

The quality is more varying among the fluorescent lamps than in LEDs. Our test shows that there are many bad CFLs. Durability is a sensitive subject. Sure, only some lamps had gone out after 2000 hours. (We tested five samples of each lamp.) But many of the poorer quality fluorescent bulbs cannot withstand many on-and-off cycles. Philips Softone 20W can handle just a little over 5 000 on-and-off cycles. Manufacturers indicate lifetimes of 6 000 to 12 000 hours, resulting in a life expectancy of 10 years. This is hardly true for the worst lamps in the test. Sylvania Mini-Lynx Fast Start is a really bad lamp. As all lamps had gone out before 2 000 hours, we could not do the remaining tests.

Not for outdoor lighting

The fluorescent lamps have been on the market for a long time. Many have complained that they take time before reaching full brightness, and this is still the case. This is particularly true in low temperatures. There is a clear disadvantage if you want them in outdoor lighting, or for example in bathrooms and closets where you are anxious to reach full brightness quickly. Philips Softone Candle 8W for example, reached only 2 percent of its light output after 10 seconds when it was lit at plus 5 degrees and 1 percent of its light output at minus 10 degrees [Celcius]. The fluorescent lamps have also consistently slightly worse color accuracy than the old bulbs.

Well, lo and behold! This is the first time Råd & Rön have totally dissed the precious CFLs, even though these problems have been found in every one of their previous tests, and usually a lot worse too – as CFL quality has improved slightly over the last few years compared with the really really bad earlier specimens – which previous Råd & Rön articles have still insisted were mostly great, despite their own test results showing a different story.

So why this sudden change of tune? Ah, because now there is a new, even more politically correct lamp on the market, which makes manufacturers even more billions.

LED bulbs

From September 1st 2012, incandescent bulbs are no longer manufactured in the EU. They are very inefficient, only 10 percent of the energy becomes light, the rest is heat. They have been phased over several years and now the last models are gone.

Interesting that a supposedly independent and neutral consumer test article feels a need to insert the PR line about the alleged – but disproven – energy inefficiency of the now banned incandescent lamp. They don’t seem to realise that this is the equivalent of adding that one of the soda pops in a test “gives you wings” or “because your’re worth it!” when testing face creams.

And then the unabashed PR for their new pet lamp, the LED, just goes on and on:

Now even the LED are entering the market in a big way. They are even more durable and efficient than the fluorescent lamps. Previously, there has not really been models adapted for the fixtures we have in our homes. LEDs have also been very expensive. Now, there are LED lamps in a form that fits into standard fixtures. The prices are also coming down, LED – lights in our test cost from SEK 400 down to 100 each.

Oh hooray! Aren’t we lucky now that we can get a 400 lumen bulb (less than the equivalent of a 40W incandescent) for ‘only’ 10 to 40 €! Old bulbs were 5 SEK (half a euro) and gave a much better light. The lamp industry must be laughing their socks off all the way to the bank: “There’s one born every minute.”

Said to last for 25 years

LEDs are incredibly durable. We have in this test so far let them burn for 2000 hours, and only one copy of all the lights (we tested five samples of each lamp) went out during that time. Since previous tests, we know that LED bulbs can burn longer than that, 5,000 hours. We will let them burn as long this time and will be back with updates of the results. Manufacturers usually specify lifetimes for LED lamps of 15 000 – 25 000 hours, that is, a life expectancy of 15-25 years. There are values ​​that we obviously have not been able to verify.

So, how can Råd & Rön state as a fact that they are “incredibly durable”? Sounds more like a “probably the best lamp in the world” slogan to me. And why not actually test them for the full stated life? Or at least half? Then we would see how little light comes out of them by then, and how durable they really are.

LEDs are also very effective. They consume less energy than fluorescent lamps and much less than halogen lamps. Not to mention the old incandescent light bulbs – an LED bulb uses 80 percent less energy than an old bulb.

For this to be true, they would have to give 5 times more light per lumen than an incandescent, and consistently over time. From their own numbers I get a mean of 4.6 initially and this will decrease over time. Taking the heat replacement effect into account, this number should be cut in half. IKEA, Philips and other lamp producers often claim as much as 85% more effective to make it sound more worthwhile buying these hilariously expensive lamps instead of the CFLs that have now become less profitable.

Lights up at once

LEDs provide plenty of light as soon as you turn the switch, unlike fluorescent lamps. Another advantage is that LED lamps also work well at cold temperatures, the lamps actually work even better then. And even at cold temperatures, the tested bulbs light up immediately. Suitable for outdoor lighting in other words.

Well, not all of them: the Verbatim lamp took longer to light up, according to test data. But yes, LEDs are often a better choice for outdoor fixtures than CFLs in countries with cold winters.

One disadvantage is that the LEDs can have a well cold, almost bluish white light. They also reproduces colors slightly worse than halogen and incandescent bulbs.

But technology advances and the number of lights in the test have received a warmer light, and also a better color reproduction. Osram LED Parathom ClasA60, Ikea Conductors 8, 1W and Philips Led MyVision have received the best results for color among LEDs.

Yes, they are getting better. But they will still never be able to reach the same light quality as incandescent and halogen incandescent lamps because the light is still a composite light, from a mixture of phosphors trying to emulate the real thing.

If in doubt, ask to see how the LED lights in the store before you buy it.

This piece of advice is only partially helpful since the store is not dark. It helps you weed out the clearly blue-white, green-white or violet-white lamps. But as can be seen in my previous LED reviews, a warm-white lamp can look great in the shop. But then when you switch it on at home you’ll find that the colour is a bit off, that it produces a duller ambiance and generally doesn’t feel as good as more natural light sources such as sunlight and incandescent lamps.

Here are the test data put into my own table for easier comparison with old incandescent lamps (click to enlarge):

R&R 2012b LED

I will also add a copy to the Consumer Tests LED page to keep them all together.

Halogen bulbs

The Råd & Rön article continues:

Halogen lamps, on the other hand, have good colour properties. They reproduce colors accurately, just like the old bulbs did. They are also considerably less expensive than both LED lamps and fluorescent lamps, and cost SEK 15-30 each. But they are far less energy efficient and have a shorter lifespan. Ikea 70W Halogen was the only lamp in our tests where all samples still burned after 2000 hours. This means a life of about two years and more promises nor manufacturers.

The table actually shows quite poor results for all the tested halogen lamps. All top quality when it comes to colour rendition and light quality, of course – except one IKEA lamp which also had a higher colour temperature, so they must have done something to it. But quantity-wise, these halogen energy savers appear only marginally more effective than the original equivalent incandescent lamps.

When this happens year after year, despite the fact that it is quite possible to produce halogen lamps with both higher efficacy and durability, I’m starting to suspect that this is by design so as to help these last incandescent-family low-profit lamps out of the market when up for review by the EU Commission in 2014. This is not acceptable!

2012b Halogen

Testfakta

LED bulbs

This test doesn’t measure durability over time but some other interesting features such as flicker and how the light spreads. It also adds an incandescent lamp for reference. Translation of the test article [emphases added]:

Testfakta have investigated eight omnidirectional LED bulbs and compared them with their glowing predecessor. The lamps test correspond to about a 40-watt incandescent bulb in brightness and color temperature.

– One major difference lies in how LEDs spread the light. But what surprised me most was the time it took to light a couple of lamps, and some gave excessive flicker, says Håkan Skoogh, test manager at the Swedish Technical Research Testing.

Together with fluorescent lamps, LED technology is the incandescent-replacing alternative that provides the greatest energy savings.

The Testfakta test also shows that LEDs provide between five and seven times as much light per watt as incandescent lamp. While it differs as much as 30 percent between the most efficient lamp from Jula and the least efficient from Ikea.

– In this context, Ikea’s energy efficiency is on the low side. On the other hand, it has the good color rendering and these things usually go together – if you want good color, you often get poorer efficiency, says Håkan Skoogh.

But it is possible to have both high efficiency and high color rendering. It shows the overall test winner V-Light from Clas Ohlson, which is also among the least expensive lamps in the test. V-Light is the only lamp that comes close to the incandescent bulb’s ability to reproduce colors. Osram, Megaman and Cosna on the other hand, fall just below the limit of what is recommended for home environments.

– Unfortunately, this is a problem that we have to live with for a while in terms of LED technology. If you want the perfect color in the bathroom or above the hall mirror, for example, to see how the clothes match, you may unfortunately put up a halogen lamp instead, says Håkan Skoogh.

Another challenge for the LED industry is that the light from small LEDs is so directional. It is ideal for spotlights, but worse when you want to replace the incandescent bulb’s omni-directional effect. Laboratory measurements clearly show how most of the LEDs spread the light at an angle forward and not so much to the sides.

– If you have for example a decorative lamp with a side shade, then you want some of the light to come through it. But with lamps such as the Osram lamp, a large part of the light rather goes straight up to the ceiling.

The exception among the tested lamps is Connect from Jula. Here, the manufacturer uses another technology with a light guide that leads the light from the diodes and outward.

– It works quite well even if the light ahead will be somewhat weaker than in the bulb, says Håkan Skoogh.

There may also be advantages to different types of light scattering. Forward-facing light is preferable, for example, a desk lamp.

– It would be best if the producers had a light distribution curve on the package so that you as a consumer can see which bulb fits best.

The laboratory also examined how much flicker the lamps produce. Research suggests that flicker from screens and lamps can have adverse medical effects such as fatigue and stress. It was found that the lamps from Jula and Cosna flickered unnecessarily much.

– It shows very clearly and is not good. Flicker has primarily been a problem in old fluorescent and should not be in the LED lights. It must be about poor construction, says Håkan Skoogh.

Another thing that should not have to occur with LED technology is long ignition times. And yet the lamps from Osram and Star Trading clearly react slower later the rest.

– It is unnecessary and distracting, says Håkan Skoogh.

2012 LED Testfakta

Link to Testfakta test table

Article: Billig lampa ger bäst belysning

 

CFL Mercury – Watch Your Feet!

I just stumbled on this link with the story of a man who dropped a too hot CFL globe lamp and could not avoid stepping on the mercury-contaminated glass as he stepped off the chair.

This “smaller than a ball point pen” amont of mercury, which CFL proponents try to dismiss as negligible and totally harmless, rotted away the man’s foot down to the bare bone!

(Warning! Very graphic pictures in the link so open at your own risk!)

Energy Saver Globe – Mercury Exposure

This could happen to you or your children or pets if a CFL was knocked over or dropped and accidentally stepped on.

Update 2014: It may have been the phosphor powder from the inside of the CFL tube which caused the foot to rot, as phosphor stops the blood from coagualting and the would from healing, in combination with the toxic mercury.

The Fluorescent Lighting System

Light Impressions Update

Last week I revisited the ‘Average Joe’ family to help them improve their lighting.

I came equipped with an assortment of different lamps from my well-supplied stash, including a few CFLs and LEDs, as those might be appropriate for some luminaires.

On closer inspection, it turned out they had replaced almost all their 60 watt incandescent lamps with 11 watt CFLs, like good and responsible citizens have been encouraged to do by their trusted authorities – despite the fact that you get visibly and measurably less light and poorer quality light from such an ill-advised switch. As described in my earlier post, the result was quite appalling.

Worst of all lamps was the one over the kitchen table, a dim yellowish CFL that made the whole kitchen very gloomy and hard to see in. The lovely elderly couple complained over the dimness but it never occurred to them to use another lamp because they had been told an 11 watt CFL should suffice and had missed that halogen replacements even existed. I put in a clear 53 watt halogen energy saver and it was like switching on the sun in their kitchen! The difference really surprised them. Now they could see!

I did the same in the 2 identical living room wall lamps. First I replaced only one of them to let them see the difference both in brightness and how the colour of their rusty red sofa looked more grey in the CFL corner. Also tried the Philips LED lamp and that too did not make colours as vivid as the halogen lamp.

Living room sofa – Halogen energy saver

The dining table already had a beautiful crystal chandelier with a halogen lamp in the middle so no need to do anything there.

A floor lamp with a dim 11 watt CFL got a 28 watt halogen energy saver. We tried different wattages but the family thought 28 W gave just the right cosy feel, with the light still clear enough to see well.

A table lamp that had a sad 7 watt CFL ball got a 15 watt clear incandescent ball. This corner was more grey and gloomy than it looks in this picture:

Table lamp – CFL

Here the difference in light clarity when it was replaced with an incandescent bulb shows very clearly:

Table lamp – Halogen

Then I replaced two frosted incandescent 15 watt ball bulbs in their window luminaires with clear ones. No reason to waste a frosted bulb behind a shade. This made only a slight difference of course, but I wanted to put the precious last specimens of the now extinct frosted bulbs to better use.

Living room window lamp 1 – Clear incandescent ball

The frosted ball got moved to the entrance window lamp (with the 7W CFL ball as backup for when it burned out) to replace a very unwelcoming blue-white clear 3W LED lamp with glaring little light dots seen through a partly clear glass shade.

Entrance window lamp – Frosted incandescent ball

Remember this rule of thumb, folks:

• Frosted or opaque lampshade where you don’t see the bulb – use a clear lamp.

• Clear lampshade, no shade or open shade where you see the bulb – use a frosted lamp.

The difference from these small changes was more striking in real life than shows in the pictures. Being very much an amateur photographer, I found it difficult to capture it on film as the camera keeps trying to compensate for what was lacking in the dimmer and poorer quality bulbs.

All in all, I added another 163 watts to their lighting use. If all those lamps are on an average of 5 hours a day all year, that would make about €9 per year, but as all lamps were indoors and about half the heat from the incandescent bulbs is estimated to help lower the energy bill, that makes about €4.5 per year. That’s about the price of one glossy magazine or two bottles of coke – to be able to both see well and have a nice ambiance in their own home for a whole year.

So do try for yourself and experiment with different lamps to see what type and wattage looks and feels best. It’s not going to cost you as much as you have been drilled to believe. Just turn the light out when leaving the room and it will cost you even less.

DEFRA CFL FAQ

Time for more Q&As from some typical pro-ban sites. These sites can be divided into categories:

a) Lighting industry representatives and lobby organisations
b) Energy saving lobby organisations
c) Energy labelling organisations
d) Utilites
e) Environmental organisations, websites & blogs
f) Government agencies trying their best to explain and justify the ban of their federal masters and/or plug CFLs as the greatest thing since sliced bread (now with LEDs as close runner-up).

None of the latter ever seem to double check the PR information they receive from the former. So, let’s have a closer look at one of these constantly issued Q&As and CFL ‘Myth-busting’ pages. I will comment with the most truthful and updated information at my disposal.

DEFRA

First up is UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA, on their energy savers info page. Even if a bit dated now (created at the first step of the phase-out) it gives such good examples of how the ban was spun then and keeps being spun now. The arguments have not changed much, as will be shown in subsequent posts.

The government has been working with all major retailers who sell light bulbs and UK energy suppliers to phase out traditional energy guzzling bulbs, replacing them with energy efficient light bulbs such as Compact Fluorescent Lamps  (CFLs). This is in advance of a EU-wide mandatory phase out of incandescent bulbs that began on 1 September 2009 and which was agreed by EU Member States in December 2008.

My comment: Auccumbinging to lighting industry lobby to get a national ban ahead of schedule is nothing to brag about… And “energy guzzling” (which the EU commission also uses to describe incandescent bulbs, despite them using less than 3% of home energy) is a juvenile phrase no doubt picked up from some ‘green image’ blog. It has no place in what tries to present itself as a respectable government information page.

The traditional light bulb has not changed for over a hundred years since Edison and Swan – the time of Queen Victoria – and these bulbs waste 95% of electricity as heat.

Cheap rhetoric trying to make them sound outdated when they are not. They haven’t changed much because they are already perfect! (If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!)

And the heat is not ‘wasted’. While giving top quality light at home, it helps the house the same time. A 2003 study by DEFRA’s own Market Transformation Programme, found that throughout the year in a typical British house, about 60% of the energy from lighting turns into useful heat. (Same thing again as with the Swedish Energy Agency in my last post…)

Why have this initiative?

Climate change is the biggest threat facing our planet today. It is happening and it is happening now. Everyone – governments, businesses and individuals – needs to work together to tackle climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

Yes of course. But if the EU Commission was truly serious about that, they would ban things that could actually make a difference, such as SUVs, junk food, soft drinks and bottled water, and start developing those alternative energy sources promised for decades. But that’s not going to happen, because they are not serious about it.

By phasing out the traditional light bulbs, we will all be using less energy so will need less electricity. CFLs are up to 80% more efficient then incandescent lamps.

First of all: no they are not. For a CFL to save 80% compared to an equivalent incandescent lamp, an 11 watt CFL would need to have an initial light flow of at least 730 lumen in Europe and 800 lumen in North America and lose no more than 6% over its lifetime. As both manufacturer catalogues even with their nominal lumen values show and consumer tests confirm, this is not the case. A scant few of the most effective top brand spiral CFLs now, over 30 years later, reach that number initially, but they still lose much more light over their life, even under optimal lab conditions. See also Equivalence Charts. With this + poor power factor + the heat replacement effect, they save not even half that.

Secondly, the percentage they claim to save is not the fictitious 80% (or more realistic percentages) of your entire electricity bill – it’s just made to sound that way – but of the small portion that lighting uses. And lighting uses on average less than 3% of total home energy consumption in the EU (3.85% in the UK) according to EU Energy Statistics, it can never be more than some percentage of those 3-4%.

What are compact fluorescent lamps?

They are small fluorescent lamps which fit into standard light sockets, usually referred to as CFLs or energy saving light bulbs.

They last longer and use less energy than traditional (or incandescent) light bulbs, because they are much more efficient at changing electricity into light.

CFLs are also cost effective. Advice from the Energy Saving Trust suggests that as they will last up to 10 times longer than a traditional bulb, just one energy saving bulb could save up to £3-6 a year and, depending on the length of time lights are in use every day, could save around £40 before it needs replacing.  Fit all the lights in your house with energy saving bulbs and you could save around £37 a year and £590 over the lifetime of all of the bulbs.

Funny how a government agency is so concerned with everyone’s private economy and doesn’t hesitate to forwards the inflated life rate & savings advertisement straight from the lobby organisation. Exactly in the same astounding way supposedly neutral agencies have acted in so many other countries. But perhaps not so surprising when the sources given at the bottom of their page are all lighting industry and their lobby organisations.

What other alternatives are there to incandescent lamps?

CFLs are the most energy efficient alternative technology, however halogen lamps are now available to fit into standard light sockets and emit light not dissimilar to incandescent lamps, but with only a 25-40% energy saving.

Not even 25% it turned out…

In the longer term, lamps based on Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technology promise to be highly-efficient alternatives even to CFLs.

The Energy Saving Trust’s website provide useful information on alternatives.

Already paving the ground for the even more profitable alternaties (profitable for the lighting industry, that is) and referral to one of the lobby organisations itself.

Are CFLs bad for my health?

Energy efficient light bulbs are not a danger to the public.

Like many household products, they must be disposed of sensibly and there are suitable facilities available for this purpose. Although they contain mercury, limited at 5mg per lamp, it cannot escape from a lamp that is intact. In any case, the very small amount contained in an energy efficient bulb is unlikely to cause harm even if the lamp should be broken.

True that it probably can’t escape unless the lamp is broken, but they cite no studies showing that it is harmless if broken. In July, 2011, a study showed that:

Once broken, a compact fluorescent light bulb continuously releases mercury vapor into the air for weeks to months, and the total amount can exceed safe human exposure levels in a poorly ventilated room, according to study results reported in Environmental Engineering Science, a peer-reviewed online only journal published monthly by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

The amount of liquid mercury (Hg) that leaches from a broken compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is lower than the level allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so CFLs are not considered hazardous waste. However, Yadong Li and Li Jin, Jackson State University (Jackson, MS) report that the total amount of Hg vapor released from a broken CFL over time can be higher than the amount considered safe for human exposure. They document their findings in the article “Environmental Release of Mercury from Broken Compact Fluorescent Lamps.”

As people can readily inhale vapor-phase mercury, the authors suggest rapid removal of broken CFLs and adequate ventilation, as well as suitable packaging to minimize the risk of breakage of CFLs and to retain Hg vapor if they do break, thereby limiting human exposure.

Tests of eight different brands of CFLs and four different wattages revealed that Hg content varies significantly from brand to brand. To determine the amount of Hg released by a broken CFL, Li and Jin used standard procedures developed by the EPA to measure leaching of mercury in liquids and used an emission monitoring system to detect Hg vapor.

“This paper is a very nice holistic analysis of potential risks associated with mercury release from broken CFLs and points to potential human health threats that have not always been considered,” according to Domenico Grasso, PhD, Editor-in-Chief and Vice President for Research, Dean of the Graduate College, University of Vermont (Burlington).

Mercury Vapor Released from Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Can Exceed Safe Exposure Levels for Humans, Study Finds

See also my earlier post: Mercury Problem Worse Than Suspected

Do CFLs contain mercury?

Yes, they need mercury to generate light efficiently. The mercury is used to produce ultraviolet light, which is then changed into light we can see by a special coating in the lamp. The coating is inert and poses no health risk.

Nowadays, the typical amount is 3 – 4 milligrams per lamp (and limited at 5mg per lamp) – just enough to cover the tip of a ball point pen and just enough to last the expected life-time of the lamp.

This reply immediately sets off my lobby alarm. That “ball-point pen” counter-argument is just one more in a long line of desperate attempts to downplay the still embarrassing and rather alarming fact that a supposed ‘green’ lamp contains mercury. I’ve seen it a thousand times on the internet. It seems to originate from – surprise! – Harry Verhaar, Philips Lighting, 2007 and was posted on Nils Borg’s energy lobby organisation eceee’s website:

However a number of concerns still exist regarding CFLs. These lamps contain minute amounts of mercury, which is needed to create light in an efficient way. Despite the fact that the mercury used would fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen, there is a justified worry about this mercury being disposed of in the ground. CFL’s fall under the EU WEEE recycling laws and it is expected that in the future the great majority will be recycled.

Why would a government agency with the stated mission “to protect the environment for future generations” try to downplay mercury contamination risks with minising statements like “the size of a ball point pen” – which may still be over the ‘safe’ limit when that evaporates and spreads in a room. Quoting an article I’ve cited earlier, Mercury in CFLs – special investigation (emphases added):

“First off, the often-cited claim that bulbs contain only 5mg of mercury was clarified: it’s an average. (..) The average amount of mercury in a CFL is 5 mg with a range of 0.9 to 18 mg. Obviously, the smaller (in watts) the bulb, the less mercury. Higher power (brighter) bulbs generally have more, although there can be fluctuations between brands as well.”

“‘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,’ the report confirms.

“That’s up to 300 times higher than the recommended safe level of inhalable mercury vapour. From just one light bulb. According to the DEP scientific study, while the 300 ng/m3 limit is the maximum allowable daily dose of mercury for the sake of legislation, there is in fact no known safe level for mercury exposure.”

Shouldn’t DEFRA know this? Isn’t that part of their job?

Will the mercury in CFLs cause damage to the environment?

Over the life time of both lamp types, energy efficient bulbs produce less mercury. This is due to the fact that mercury is emitted from power stations during electricity generation and energy saving bulbs are more energy efficient – therefore saving on the amount of electricity that needs to be generated.

Ah, here we got the next tired old PR argument that has been recycled over and over since early 1990s. This too is rehashed by Harry Verhaar via eceee:

However, mercury is also omitted in the atmosphere from the power system, and the mercury contained in lamps need to be weighed against that emitted from power plants. Studies show that indirectly the additional energy usage of incandescent bulbs is responsible for more mercury entering the environment than that is contained in a CFL.

This argument was invalid when it was created in 1991, and is even more so today. I believe was done on behalf of the Danish Market Transformation Programme, and spread via Nils Borg’s other energy lobby organisation IAEEL through other Market Transformation Programmes such as the Swedish one by STEM (see CFL Analysis – Mercury for more details, references and a pdf copy of the Danish ‘study’).

It was 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). 

Of course, we’ve done a lot to reduce mercury emissions in the UK in recent years. Total emissions have fallen by 80% since 1990 and stand at 7.6 tonnes a year (2005 NAEI figures – see www.airquality.co.uk); power generation accounts for about 31% of this total.

Amusingly, DEFRA is clearly unaware that they just confirmed the invalidity of the first paragraph with the information in the second, (stating coal production is now only 31%) and the earlier point above (mercury content being 3-4, max 5 mg)!

This is what happens when you only repeat the arguments that the lobby organisations feed you, without doing your homework and actually understanding what you’re saying.

Does the mercury in a CFL pose a risk?

The mercury cannot escape from an intact lamp and, even if the lamp should be broken, the very small amount of mercury contained in a single, modern CFL is most unlikely to cause any harm.

But it makes sense to avoid unnecessary contact with mercury; and any light bulb – broken or intact – should be dealt with sensibly.

Again downplaying the risk, instead of warning of use around children, pregnant women and the elderly and sick!

‘Sensitive populations are of particular concern with mercury exposures for a number of reasons.’ ‘Elderly and unhealthy individuals may already be at comprised health and be more susceptible to mercury effects than a healthy individual. For example, mercury does kidney damage which could exacerbate an already existing kidney disease’.

‘Infants and toddlers have much more vulnerable brains.’ ‘Mercury exposures have serious impacts on fetal and infant brain development. Elemental mercury can cross the placenta from a mother to fetus.’ ‘It is well established that the developing organism may be much more sensitive than the adult to neurotoxic agents,’ reports Maine’s DEP study. ‘For example, methylmercury exposure can produce devastating effects in the fetus, including cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, and even death, while producing no or minimal effects in the mother‘.

Source: Mercury in CFLs – Special Investigation See also Mercury in Fluorescent Lighting

Is a bulb likely to break?

Like all household products energy efficient bulbs can break, but they are actually harder to break than traditional bulbs: they are often coated with plastic as a protector and as they’re of a smaller diameter than traditional bulbs they’d have higher stress limits. According to trade figures, breakage rates are less than 1%.

Only some of the CFLs with outer bulb have an extra protective coating. Naked U- and spiral tubes do not. (Especially the spiral tubes seem particularly thin and vulnerable to breakage, but I’m not going to test that.)

An even if the 1% breakage rate reported by the industry reflected reality – which I doubt – that’s still a lot of broken CFLs! According to this Oxford report, “LIF (Lighting Industry Federation) estimate that 7 million CFLs were sold into the domestic [UK] market in 1999.” That makes 70 000 broken bulbs per year in the UK alone! (Can’t find fresher numbers but sales have probably more than doubled by now.)

How should I deal with a broken CFL?

Although the accidental breakage of a lamp is most unlikely to cause any health problems, it’s good practice to minimise any unnecessary exposure to mercury, as well as risk of cuts from glass fragments.

Revised advice issued by the Health Protection Agency is to:

  • Ventilate the room
  • Wipe the area with a damp cloth, place that in the plastic bag and seal it
  • Sticky tape (e.g. duct tape or similar) can be used to pick up small residual pieces or powder from soft furnishings and then placed in a sealed plastic bag. The plastic bag doesn’t need to be air tight, but should be reasonably sturdy.
  • Place it in another, similar bag and seal that one as well (this minimises cuts from broken glass).

The public should contact the local authority for advice on where to dispose of broken or intact CFLs as they should be treated as hazardous waste and should not be disposed of in the bin. All local councils have an obligation to make arrangements for the disposal of household hazardous waste at a civic amenity site or household waste recycling centre. The National Household Hazardous Waste Forum runs a website with details of these centres for chemicals, but which also applies to other hazardous wastes (www.chem-away.org.uk/). Alternatively contact your local council direct.

Mercury in CFLs – Special Investigation found this advice quite insufficient:

But the most up to date safety study available says 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,” report the Maine scientists. The best method of containing bulb waste is inside a glass jar with a hermetically sealed lid.

Surprisingly, plastic jars, like large peanut butter containers with screw top lids were little better than plastic bags, also failing to prevent mercury vapour from leaking into the house.

The scientific experiments proved that debris “sealed inside two polyethylene plastic bags and then placed in a clean room”, sent atmospheric mercury levels up to more than three times the maximum allowable limit, for more than eight hours – the mercury vapour simply leached out of the bags into the air.

“Of the 12 different types of containers tested during the 23 different tests, the plastic bag was found to be the worst choice for containing mercury emissions. Based upon this study, the DEP now suggests that a glass container with metal screw lid with a gum seal be used to contain debris.”

All of which means the current disposal advice given by New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment is dangerously faulty, based on the most recent scientific studies. If a bulb breaks, disposing of it in two plastic bags will not prevent it from poisoning your house. Only a glass jar with a hermetically sealed screw-top lid is safe enough to hold the debris.

Clearly, many agencies around the globe have received – and posted – the same useless information on best clean-up procedures, thereby putting millions at risk.

How should I dispose of unwanted CFLs, e.g. at the end of their life?

From 1st July 2007, waste CFLs have been subject to the requirements of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations. Those who sell items such as energy efficient bulbs must provide information to the public about where they can take waste bulbs and other WEEE. Some retailers will also take them back in store. However, most retailers have funded Designated Collection Facilities, in the main at local authority civic amenity sites. From this point, producers of the equipment fund the transport, treatment and recycling, where most of the mercury can be recovered.

This is a good and necessary step, but not everyone has the time, energy and opportunity to get their burned out CFLs to the right place for recycling, so the easiest thing would have been to simply ban the mercury-containing CFLs for home use in line with the RoHS directive:

  1. Lead (Pb)
  2. Mercury (Hg)
  3. Cadmium (Cd)
  4. Hexavalent chromium (Cr6+)
  5. Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB)
  6. Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)

Amazingly, CFLs are exempt from this hazardous substances ban due to their false claims of saving so much energy.

How does this amount compare to other articles that contain mercury?

A typical mercury thermometer may contain 0.5 to 3 grams of mercury, whilst a typical mercury barometer may contain 100 to 600 grams of mercury, around 25,000 to 150,000 times more than an energy saving bulb.

Again trying to downplay the significance of the mercury content in CFLs with another of the popular propaganda retorts handed out by lobby organisation for government agencies, environmental organisations and a gazillions of ‘green’ bloggers and commentating trolls to repeat ad nauseum, despite being totally meaningless:

What a typical thermometer contains is irrelevant since they are banned for that mercury content. According to this Canadian news site, 5 mg of mercury is “enough to make 6,000 gallons of water toxic“. (That’s why Canada decided against an incandescent ban.)

(The third popular retort is the one comparing with dental amalgam. DEFRA very wisely skipped opening that can of worms…)

Is the light from CFLs bad for my skin?

In October 2008 the Health Protection Agency issued precautionary advice regarding the use of certain types of CFLs in close range for periods of time over one hour. Their advice is that that open (single envelope) CFLs should not be used where people are in close proximity – closer than 30 cm or 1 ft – to the bare light bulb for over 1 hour a day. At these distances CFLs might emit Ultra Violet (UV) light at a level less than equivalent to being outside on a sunny summer’s day.

If bulbs are required at these distances then an encapsulated (double envelope) CFL should be used. These are cost around the same as open CFLs and offer similar levels of energy savings.

All CFLs are safe for normal usage and the HPA does not advise removing CFLs from your home.  More information can be found on the HPA website.

Through EU legislation, mandatory limits will ensure that all CFLs will not emit UV light above safe levels from September 2009. The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks also published a report into this issue recently and this can be found on the EC website.

Good, but I don’t think they’ve actually done much to enforce such a needed supervision. SCENIHR seems to accept most of the industry claims that their lamps are perfectly safe. See these posts on Health issues for more details.

What about those with light-sensitive conditions?

The Government has been in discussion with groups representing a small number of individuals for whom the use of CFLs can aggravate pre-existing light-sensitive conditions. The Government was successful in pressing the European Commission to introduce mandatory standards for UV emissions.

The Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks published a report into this issue recently and this can be found on the EC website.

As an alternative to CFLs, halogen lamps (like the one pictured) are now available for use in standard sockets which operate in a similar way to incandescent bulbs, however these offer only relatively small energy savings.

That “small number of people” are estimated by SCENIHR to be around 250 000 in the EU. And asking the affected themselves, it seems to be rather 2 million in the UK alone! Ban on incandescent bulb in U.K raising concerns on health issue of two million people

Don’t efficient bulbs take a while to warm up?

Modern, good quality, efficient bulbs should take little more than a couple seconds to warm up to full brightness, the short delay is due to the way they work.

The best CFLs have generally gotten a bit faster, but according to the latest CFL consumer tests, there are still big variations in start-up time between various CFL models. They are generally not (even by the EU Commission) recommended for bathrooms, closets, stairways and other spaces you only visit briefly and need full light instantly.

But aren’t efficient bulbs too big for most fittings? And don’t they give off  ‘gloomy’ light?

The technology of energy efficient light bulbs has improved massively in recent years. Manufacturers have now developed “look-alike” bulbs for the majority of light fittings and they give the same standard and quality of light as existing bulbs and in the same shapes.

At the moment, many efficient bulbs are not compatible with dimmer switches. However dimmable bulbs are on the market and will be made increasingly available in the UK during the phase out period. As an alternative to CFLs, halogen-based lamps are now available for use in standard lamps sockets, though these only offer relatively small savings.

In the past, the variety of colours available from CFLs was limited and they usually came as a ‘cold blue’ colour. Energy efficient bulbs now come in a range of colours from the original ‘cold blue’ to the traditional ‘warm white’ that you get from incandescent lights. Look for the Energy Saving Trust’s ‘Energy Saving Recommended’ logo as these have to emit the same warm light level as old fashioned bulbs.

True that the best CFLs look decently incandescent-like now. But they still only have limited colour rendering capacity (CRI 81-83).

True that there are more models now to fit a wider variety of luminaires (light fittings). But there are still many home luminaires where the replacement lamps don’t fit well or are unsuitable for other reasons.

True that there are now a few dimmable CFLs, but they are very expensive and don’t dim very nicely. But at least they may not fry existing dimming circuits like standard CFLs.

True that there are halogen energy savers, and that these dim beautifully. But only clear ones are permitted which can be quite glaring at full power. [Edit: And only  to 2018, after which most halogen lamps will be banned to.]

Aren’t these bulbs more expensive?

Whilst the upfront cost of efficient bulbs can be greater than traditional bulbs, according to the Energy Saving Trust efficient bulbs last up to ten times longer than a normal bulb and can up to £3-6 a year each in energy bills (for a 100W bulb), saving consumers up to £60 over the lifetime of the bulb in reduced energy bills and replacement costs.

Retailers are now selling efficient light bulbs at prices well under £1, and in some cases prices are not much more than traditional bulbs.

If the CFL is ‘cheap’ it is often either poor quality, and/or subsidised with (your) tax money (see CFL Subsidies).

Life rate varies widely between models, individual lamps and how they are used. Many either burn out prematurely or get so dim with age they have to  be replaced before they burn out. In such cases, savings are not what those ideal numbers promise. But quality has been improved somewhat over the last years since this FAQ was written.

Doesn’t switching the lights on and off use more energy than leaving them running?

No. Switching on an energy efficient bulb only uses the same amount of power as leaving it on for a minute or two. Turning the bulb on and off repeatedly may shorten a bulb’s life but normal use should not do this.

The recommendation from Osram is to leave them on for at least 15 minutes before switching off again. More frequent switching than that may dramatically shorten life.

A study published in 1998 examined CFL performance with five different operating cycles. It found that when the length of time the lamps were on was reduced from 3 hours to 1 hour, the lamp lasted for 80 percent of its rated life. When reduced to 15 min and 5 min, the lamp lasted for 30 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of its rated life.

Even the pro-CFL Energy Saving Trust confirms that frequent switching may reduce CFL life:

Regularly flicking a bulb on for a brief moment and then off again is not recommended as it can shorten the lifetime of the bulb.

See my post CFL Analysis – Life Span for more details and sources.

Does the law require me to replace all my traditional light bulbs immediately?

No; while the intention of both  the UK’s retailer-led voluntary initiative is to phase out the sale of inefficient bulbs in participated retailes, the EU’s mandatory measures under the Energy-using Products Directive will phase out the manufacture and import of inefficient bulbs and retailers will be able to sell on existing stock if they so wish.

So what is the timetable for these bulbs being phased out across the EU?

  • 1 September 2009 – From this date, manufacturers will not be able to place on the market clear lamps equivalent to 100W incandescent lamps, or above, must be minimum C class energy rating (leaving only halogen retrofit halogen lamps). Non-clear (frosted / pearl) lamps must be minimum Energy Label A-class.
  • 1 September 2010 – From this date, manufacturers will not be able to place on the market 75 W clear incandescent lamps.
  • 1 September 2011 – From this date, manufacturers will not be able to place on the market 60 W clear incandescent lamps.
  • 1 September 2012 – From this date, manufacturers will not be able to place on the market all remaining clear incandescent lamps (i.e. 40W and 25W).
  • 1 September 2016 – Raising the minimum level to B class for clear retrofit lamps (i.e. phasing out C-class retrofit halogen lamps).

Where can I find out more?

Page last modified: 29 October 2009
Page published: 11 January 2008

Blue Light Hazard?

The blue light issue has several aspects. First one needs to separate between the tiny bright blue diods used on some electronic devices, the blue-white light from white LEDs, CFLs and xenon arc car headlight lamps, and the (more or less) warm-white light from incandescent-mimicking CFL and LED.

This blog is primarily about replacement lamps for general illumination, not signal lights, monitor backlighting and the like, but the information on bright blue light may still be relevant for the cool-white light as well.

Blue light

Let’s start with the bright blue lamps. From the Wikipedia LED page:

Blue hazard: There is a concern that blue LEDs and cool-white LEDs are now capable of exceeding safe limits of the so-called blue-light hazard as defined in eye safety specifications such as ANSI/IESNA RP-27.1–05: Recommended Practice for Photobiological Safety for Lamp and Lamp Systems.

This web article Blue LEDs: A health hazard? explains the problems with bright blue light in detail:

Blue appears brighter at night

Firstly, blue light appears much brighter to us at night, or indoors where ambient light is low – an effect known as the Purkinje shift. This is because the rods – the sensitive monochromatic rod light detectors which our retinas rely on more at night – are most sensitive to greenish-blue light. (Some hypothesize that animals evolved the rods in underwater and jungle environments, hence the bias to blue or green – later we developed separate full color vision on top of that system, but the sensitive rods remained).

A practical example of the Purkinje Shift: a cool blue power LED on a TV might catch your eye and even attract you to buy it in a well-lit store. But after you take it home, the same LED appears distractingly bright when you watch the TV in a darkened room.

And blue is brighter in peripheral vision

The Purkinje shift also noticeably brightens blue or green lights in our peripheral vision under medium to low light conditions, because there are comparatively more rods towards the edge of the retina – hence complaints that blue LEDs are distracting even when they’re not the focus of attention.

“Glaring LEDs on displays that you need to see at night… that’s poor design,” says Brandon Eash. Remarkably though, it is a mistake that manufacturers continue to make.

Blue does not help you see clearly

We tend to associate blue with coolness, accuracy and clarity. But paradoxically, our eyes cannot focus blue sharply. We actually see a distracting halo around bright blue lights.

“It’s well recognized that blue light is not as sharply focused on the retina as the longer wavelengths. It tends to be focused in front of the retina, so it’s a little out of focus,” explains Dr. David Sliney, a US Army expert on the physiological effects of LEDs, lasers, and other bright light sources.

The various wavelengths of light focus differently because they refract at slightly different angles as they pass through the lens of the eye – an effect known as chromatic aberration.

For similar reasons, blue scatters more widely inside the eyeball, says Dr. Sliney, who answered questions by phone last year from his office at the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine in Maryland.

We’re half blind in blue

The modern human eye evolved to see fine detail primarily with green or red light. In fact, because we are poor at distinguishing sharp detail in blue, our eyes don’t really try. The most sensitive spot on the retina, the fovea centralis, has no blue light-detecting cones. That’s right: we’re all color blind in the most sensitive part of our eyes.

In addition, the central area of the retina, the macula, actually filters out some blue light in an effort to sharpen our vision. Snipers and marksmen sometimes improve on nature by wearing yellow-tinted ‘shooters glasses’, which block the distracting blue light.

“You throw away a little bit of color information in order to have a sharper view of things,” explains Dr. Sliney.

Blue glare interferes with vision

The twin effects of fuzzy focus and blue scatter both make intense blue light from a point source, like an LED, spread out across the retina, obscuring a much wider part of our visual field.

Although our retinas simply don’t handle blue very well, nobody told the rest of the eye that. If blue is the strongest color available and we want to see fine detail, then we strain our eye muscles and squint trying to pull the blue into shaper focus. Try to do this for too long and you’ll probably develop a nauseating headache. This won’t happen in a normally lit scene, because the other colors provide the sharp detail we naturally desire.

A dazzling pain in the eye

By the way, the physical pain some people feel from high intensity discharge (HID) car headlights and particularly intense blue LEDs seems to be a combination of these focus and scatter effects, together with a third. We have a particularly strong aversion reaction to bright blue light sources, including bluish-white light. “Pupilary reflex is down in the blue [part of the spectrum]. The strongest signal to the muscles in the iris to close down comes from the blue,” says Dr. Sliney.

Intense blue light can cause long-term photochemical damage to the retina. Now, nobody is claiming that you’re likely to suffer this kind of injury from a normal blue LED (unless you stare fixedly at it from a few millimetres for an hour). However, it is theorized that this may be the evolutionary driving force behind the immediate feeling of pain we get from bright light with a very strong blue component.

Our body’s instinctive reaction is to reduce blue light entering the eye by closing down the pupil. This means that blue light spoils night vision. After a brief flash of blue, you can’t see other colors so well for a while.

White light

When it comes to lamps for general illumination, the issue gets more complex. Cool-white or daylight-mimicking indoor illumination may not be as good for vision as previously assumed. But can it be harmful?

CELMA-ELC-GLA (lighting industry):

In June, PLDA Greenpages blog reported on new studies that “have concluded that LEDs present no greater optical hazard than other common artificial lighting sources”. The link required business and registration to be accessed, but the abstract appears to be the same as in this March 2012 white paper of the Global Lighting Association on The Optical & Photobiological Effects of LED, CFLs and Other High Efficiency General Lighting Sources, which in turn appears to be fairly identical to the July 2011 position statement from CELMA and ELC (European luminare and lamp manufacturers, respectively): Optical safety of LED lighting.

If it is the same document, I wouldn’t exactly call it a study as it only gives technical explanations of why LEDs and CFLs belong to risk groups 0 or 1, which may be correct, but cites no studies on actual health effects; it’s all just extrapolation of their own data. Quoting some relevant parts of the document (not all in original order):

Potential effects on the eye
Commonly discussed hazards affecting the eye are blue light hazard (BLH) and age‐related macular degeneration (AMD) which can be induced or aggravated by high intensity blue light. Furthermore, UV (ultraviolet) may affect the eye, causing cataract or photokeratitis (sunburn of the cornea); IR (infrared) radiation can induce IR cataract (also known as glassblower’s cataract); and, radiation of all wavelengths can lead to retinal thermal injuries at extreme intensities.

Potential effects on the skin
Optical radiation, particularly UV can be harmful to the skin. By far the most hazardous source to consider is the sun. Sunburns (UV erythema) and skin cancers due to long‐term exposure to the sun are well‐known problems caused by radiation. Moreover, patients with autoimmune diseases such as lupus or photodermatoses can be highly sensitive to UV radiation, and sometimes also blue light. There is concern among some patients who suffer from such sensitivities that phasing out of the known incandescent lamps will leave them without lamps for indoor use that are low in radiation of UV and blue light. 

4.1 Conclusions on blue light emission
Evaluation at a distance producing 500 Lux: Taking the 500 Lux criterion as the measurement basis, none of the LED products belongs to risk group 2. This was also confirmed by a study of the French agency for food, environmental and occupational health & safety (ANSES) in 2010 which found that even high‐output discrete LEDs are classified into risk groups 0 or 1 if the 500 Lux criterion is applied.

Precautionary measures with regard to children
The lens of a child’s eye filters blue light less efficiently than an adult’s lens. Children are thus more sensitive to blue light hazard. Therefore, at places frequented by children particular care must be taken to ensure that lamps and luminaires are chosen and installed in such a way as to avoid people looking directly into the light source. It is not necessary that LEDs (or blue light in general) are avoided in an environment with children present, for the reasons stated above. If used across a broad surface or area, in a way which does not produce glare, even “pure” blue light is completely harmless; regardless of whether it is the blue in daylight or produced by LEDs or other light sources.

Guidance for people with high sensitivity for blue light
The above statements are valid for healthy people in the general public. People with highly sensitive skin or eyes for blue light may be wise to investigate alternative light sources that operate on a more specific radiation band not covered by the applied action curves that cover a broad range of radiations. The comparative data given in the annexes of this paper serve to give guidance in selecting the best available type of light source for a given sensitivity.

The biological importance of blue light
It needs to be mentioned that blue light exposure is important to human beings. Blue light with a peak around 460‐480nm regulates the biological clock, alertness and metabolic processes. CELMA‐ELC has installed a special working group to translate these findings into practical application norms and standards. In natural conditions, outdoor daylight fulfils this function. Yet, people spend most of the day indoors (offices etc.) and are often lacking the necessary blue light exposure. Blue and cool white light sources can be used to create lighting conditions such that people will receive their daily portion of blue light to keep their physiology in tune with the natural day‐night rhythm. Due to the highly flexible application possibilities, LED based light sources are particularly well suited for that purpose. 

Annex 3: Blue light radiation data of light sources
When evaluating the risk of blue light hazard posed by LED (and other) light sources, two fundamentally different cases need to be considered:

Case A: Looking at an illuminated scene
[…] Case A can generally be considered safe. To give an example, looking at the scattered blue sky (high blue irradiance but low radiance) is completely safe, and so are artificial light sources, containing way less blue irradiance than daylight.

Case B: Looking at a light source
[…] Looking straight at a light source (case B) is also in general safe for diffuse and warm white light sources, like frosted or white diffusing lamps. Yet, caution is advisable for cool white or blue, bright (high intensity), point‐like light source, for instance an incandescent filament, electric arc or an LED die, even an LED die behind the lens of a directional lamp.  Such point‐like sources are projected on the retina as a concentrated light spot and can damage that spot on the retina when the intensity is high enough and the spectrum contains blue light in congruence with the blue light hazard action spectrum curve.

4.2 Conclusions on ultraviolet radiation (UV) 
LED based light sources do not emit any UV radiation (unless specifically designed for that particular purpose). Therefore, they are not harmful to people with a specific sensitivity for certain UV radiation and can bring relief to certain groups of patients. In this respect, LED based light sources provide advantages over traditional incandescent, halogen and Compact Fluorescent lamps. For more details see Annex 2.

4.3 Conclusions on infrared radiation (IR)
In contrast to most other light sources, e.g. halogen and incandescent lamps, LEDs hardly emit IR light (unless specifically designed to emit a certain type of IR). For available types of indoor light sources the IR radiation is not powerful enough to pose any risks to human.

To summarize the key findings, LED sources (lamps or systems) and luminaires are safe to the consumer when used as intended.

Which is: Don’t sit too close to a UV-emitting light source. Don’t look straight into cool-white or bright light sources (risk increases with proximity, brightness and time). Always use low-voltage halogen mini bulbs and halogen mini tubes on luminaires with glass cover (regular glass filters out the UVC which the quartz glass lets through). Use warm-white LED, CFL or halogen in frosted outer bulb if UV-sensitive.

In terms of their level of photo biological safety, LED lamps are no different from traditional technologies such as incandescent lamps and fluorescent tubes. The portion of blue in LED is not different from the portion of blue in lamps using other technologies at the same colour temperature.

The last sentence seems a bit tautologous as otherwise it would not have the same colour temperature. How the blue portion can be “the same” for same colour temperature LED and incandescent despite their different spectral power distribution is given an explanation:

White LEDs typically show a peak in the blue (at around 450 nm when a royal blue LED is used) and more broadband emission in the green/yellow part of the spectrum. Next to the blue peak, a dip is visible at around 490nm that also falls under the BLH action curve (…). The blue peak of the LED lamps is “compensated” by the dip, therefore the total blue output (…) of LED of 2700K is comparable to an incandescent lamp of 2700K.

This still does not make the spectrum exactly the same, even if the net result is a similar blueness. And most LEDs available on the home market is very much bluer than the 2700 K of the very best (and most unaffordable) warm-white LEDs. 

Nevertheless, looking straight into bright, point‐like sources (LEDs, but also other strong point‐like light sources, like clear filament or discharge lamps and including the sun) should be prevented. However, when people happen to look into a bright light source accidentally, a natural protective reflex occurs (people instinctively close their eyes or look away from the source).

True enough.

A comparison of LED retrofit products to the traditional products they are intended to replace reveals that the risk levels are very similar and well within the uncritical range.

But that was for the 6 watt warm-white LED in a frosted outer bulb included in the comparison. White 4000 K LEDs and directional high power LEDs, as well as other bright point light sources, including clear tungsten filament lamps, fall into risk group 1.

The bar chart included in the document shows that the higher the CCT, the higher the blue light hazard, regardless of light source (as would be expected);

(Two other bar charts (fig. 5 & 6) quite strangely compared frosted warm-white LED lamps with clear incandescent lamps, in order to make incandescent light appear to to have more blue light, rather than to compare it with the other point-like sources. In those charts, the frosted incandescent lamp seemed to be the safest.)

SCENIHR (EU):

In 2011, the European Commissions Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (one of the independent scientific committees of the European Commission, which provide scientific advice to the Commission on consumer products) issued an updated report on Health Effects of Artificial Light which seems partly based on the information given by European Lamp Companies Federation, ELC (extracts, emphases added):

Abstract

A: Potential health impacts on the general public caused by artificial light

In general, the probability is low that artificial lighting for visibility purposes induces acute pathologic conditions, since expected exposure levels are much lower than those at which effects normally occur, and are also much lower than typical daylight exposures. Certain lamp types (quartz halogen lamps, single- and double-capped fluorescent lamps as well as incandescent light bulbs) may emit UV radiation, although at low levels. However, according to a worst case scenario the highest measured UV emissions from lamps used typically in offices and schools [usually fluorescent tubes] could add to the number of squamous cell carcinomas in the EU population.

Household lighting involves an illumination level which is so low that exposure to potentially problematic radiation is considered negligible. There is no consistent evidence that long-term exposure to sunlight (specifically the blue component) may contribute to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Whether exposure from artificial light could have effects related to AMD is uncertain.

No evidence was found indicating that blue light from artificial lighting belonging to Risk Group 0 (“exempt from risk”) would have any impact on the retina graver than that of sunlight. Blue light from improperly used lamps belonging to Risk Groups 1, 2, or 3 could, in principle, induce photochemical retinal damage in certain circumstances. There is however no evidence about the extent to which this is actually occurring in practical situations.

There is mounting evidence suggesting that ill-timed exposure to light (light-at-night) may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, and can also cause sleep disorders, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular disorders, and possibly affective states. Importantly, these effects are directly or indirectly due to light itself, without any specific correlation to a given lighting technology.

But bluer light (such as from cool-white or daylight LEDs and CFLs) has a greater effect on melatonin, even at very low intensities if used at night (see Circadian Rhythms below).

B: Aggravation of the symptoms of pathological condition

The SCENIHR opinion on Light Sensitivity identified that some pre-existing conditions (epilepsy, migraine, retinal diseases, chronic actinic dermatitis, and solar urticaria) could be exacerbated by flicker and/or UV/blue light. At that time there was no reliable evidence to suggest that compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) could be a significant contributor. More recent studies indicate a negative role for certain CFLs and other artificial light sources (sometimes including incandescent bulbs) in photosensitive disease activity.

UV, and in some patients, visible light can induce skin lesions of true photodermatoses. Although sunlight is reported by most patients as the main source of disease activity, artificial lighting is reported to play a role in some cases. The blue or UV components of light tend to be more effective than red components in aggravating skin disease symptoms related to pre-existing conditions such as lupus erythematosus, chronic actinic dermatitis and solar urticaria. UV and/or blue light could also possibly aggravate the systemic form of lupus erythematosus. It is recommended that all patients with retinal dystrophy should be protected from light by wearing special protective eyeware that filters the shorter and intermediate wavelengths.

3.3.3. Lamp emissions

Based on emissions from the lamp, the Standard EN 62471 (and also IEC 62471 and CIE S009, since they are all identical in this sense) categorizes the lamps according to the photo-biological hazard that they might pose. The different hazards are:

1. Actinic UV-hazard for eye and skin (see section 3.4.3.2);
2. UVA-hazard for the eye (section 3.4.3.2);
3. Blue-light hazard for the retina (section 3.5.2.3);
4. Thermal retina hazard (section 3.4.3.1) and
5. IR-hazard for the eye (sections 3.4.3.1 and 3.4.3.2).

According to the standards, measurements should be performed according to two approaches; viz. at a distance where a light intensity of 500 lx is obtained and also at a distance of 20 cm (…). Based on these measurements, lamps are then classified according to the “Risk Group” (RG) to which they belong. RG0 (exempt from risk) and RG1 (minor risk) lamps do not pose any hazards during normal circumstances. RG2 (medium risk) lamps also do not pose hazards because of our aversion responses to very bright light sources, or due to the fact that we would experience thermal discomfort. RG3 (high risk) include only lamps where a short-term exposure poses a hazard. This classification is based on acute exposure responses (a single day, up to 8 hours) and applies only to individuals of normal sensitivity.

The contribution from the European Lamp Companies Federation (ELC) included six lamp types from eight manufacturers, considered by ELC to be “representative lamp types”.

3.5.2.3. Assessment of effects on the healthy eye

Glare

Discomfort glare does not impair visibility but causes an uncomfortable sensation that causes the observer to look away from the glaring source. It increases when the light source is facing the observer.

Disability glare is due to the light scattering within the ocular media which creates a veil that lowers any contrast and renders viewing impossible.

The luminance of the sky is rather stable at about 5,000 cd/m2. This value can be exceeded on bright surfaces on clear days when luminance can reach several tens of thousands cd/m2. The sun is never viewed directly except when it is at sunrise or at sunset when its luminance is about the same as the sky and its colour temperature low or moderate. 

It is when both the luminance and the colour temperature of the light are high that the blue light hazard increases.

The UV/blue light risk on the healthy majority is considered by ELC to be very low and SCENIHR accepts this, but with some questions regarding high power LEDs, wrong use and “non-representative lamps” (= lamps other than the “representative lamps” submitted to SCENIHR by the ELC):

The results presented in the ELC report suggest to SCENIHR that there is little or no risk to individuals of normal sensitivity from the UV, IR or blue light optical radiation emission from lamps which are considered to be “representative” of the type of lamps selected to replace incandescent lamps. SCENIHR however considers that “non-representative” lamps may emit levels that are much higher than those included in the report; however quality control limits applied by lamp manufacturers were not reported. Further consideration should also be given to the “intended” vs. “reasonable foreseeable” use of lamps. Further consideration also needs to be given to the risk classification of high power LEDs. Also, halogen lamps that are intended to be used with an external glass filter must not be used without the filter because of the risk of exposure to UV radiation.

3.5.3.1. Circadian rhythms

Recent studies indicate that ill-timed exposures to even low levels of light in house-hold settings may be sufficient for circadian disruptions in humans.

A comparison between the effects of living room light (less than 200 lx) and dim light (<3 lx) before bedtime showed that exposure to room light suppressed melatonin levels and shortened the duration of melatonin production in healthy volunteers (18-30 years) (Gooley et al. 2011).

Cajochen et al. (2011) compared the effects of a white LED-backlit screen with more than twice the level of blue light (462 nm) emission to a non-LED screen on male volunteers. Exposure to the LED-screen significantly lowered evening melatonin levels and suppressed sleepiness.

In another study from the same group (Chellappa et al. 2011) 16 healthy male volunteers were exposed to cold white CFLs (40 lx at 6,500 K) and incandescent lamps (40 lx at 3,000 K) for two hours in the evening. The melatonin suppression was significantly greater after exposure to the 6,500 K light, suggesting that our circadian system is especially sensitive to blue light even at low light levels (40 lx)

However, no study has investigated whether the impact of warm white CFLs and LEDs (2,700-3,000 K) on melatonin suppression is in any way different from that of incandescent lamps.

Conclusions

There is a moderate overall weight of evidence that ill-timed exposure to light (light-at-night), possibly through circadian disruption, may increase the risk of breast cancer. 

There is furthermore moderate overall weight of evidence that exposure to light-at-night, possibly through circadian disruption, is associated with sleep disorders, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular disorders, and with affective disorders

The overall evidence for other diseases is weak due to the lack of epidemiological studies.

It seems that bright white light in the daytime can be helpful in keeping one alert for work (though preferably the real thing rather than a daylight-mimicking copy). But at night – very bad idea! Unless you’re doing shift work and really need to stay awake.

I have started noticing the effect of bright white light at night. My macbook has a LED screen and the cool-white background on most pages tends to be a very bright. Great in the daytime, not so great at night… So I’ve installed the f.lux app that adjusts the screen light temperature to follow the sunset at one’s particular location, and a similar app for my OLED screen Android.

I also try and make sure to get enough real daylight in the daytime and then I dim indoor lights more and more as the evening progresses. With these simple measures, my very easily disrupted circadian rhythm has gotten markedly more normal, almost miraculously so.

ANSES (France):

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety have issued official warnings about selling white LED lamps to the general public due to the toxic effect of blue light.

The principal characteristic of diodes sold for lighting purposes is the high proportion of blue in the white light emitted and their very high luminance (“brightness”). The issues of most concern identified by the Agency concern the eye due to the toxic effect of blue light and the risk of glare.

The blue light necessary to obtain white LEDs causes toxic stress to the retina. Children are particularly sensitive to this risk, as their crystalline lens is still developing and is unable to filter the light efficiently.

These new lighting systems can produce “intensities of light” up to 1000 times higher than traditional lighting systems, thus creating a risk of glare. The strongly directed light they produce, as well as the quality of the light emitted, can also cause visual discomfort.

Blue pollution

From the Wikipedia LED page:

Blue pollution: Because cool-white LEDs with high color temperature emit proportionally more blue light than conventional outdoor light sources such as high-pressure sodium vapor lamps, the strong wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering means that cool-white LEDs can cause more light pollution than other light sources. The International Dark-Sky Association discourages using white light sources with correlated color temperature above 3,000 K.

So, no cool-white LED or metal halide streetlights please!

Ban The Ban – Sign The Petition!

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:

-> Avaaz petition to repeal the EU ban

Edit: Two more German petitions to sign (thanks to Lighthouse for the links):

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/pro-gluhbirnen.html
https://www.openpetition.de/petition/online/aufhebung-des-gluehbirnenverbots

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

EU Light Regulations Expanded

Updated Aug 20

Translated and condensed from Swedish Energy Agency’s website.

Reflector lamps, LED and halogen

Now LED and reflector lamps will be included in the regulation and energy label reqirements.

On July 13, the Committee for Eco-design agreed on the regulation proposal for reflector lamps, LED lamps and related equipment. If accepted, the new requirements will take effect from September 1, 2013. With this new regulation virtually every light source is covered, as the requirements for omnidirectional, road and office lighting is already in place.

The new requirements are introduced in four stages so that manufacturers, importers, retailers and consumers will have time to convert:

Step 1: September 1, 2013 
Between Steps: March 1, 2014 
Step 2: September 1, 2014 
Step 3: September 1, 2016

The requirements set for reflector lamps such as halogen lamps (230 V and low voltage), discharge lamps and LEDs. Omni-directional LED bulbs, which previously only had the energy efficiency requirements, are now also included, as well as related equipment, i.g. the driver and controllers for lighting.

OLED lights are still excluded because this technique is still regarded as immature, but may be included in future revisions of the regulation. 

The regulation includes both energy efficiency and function. Typical performance criteria are longevity, number of ignition and extinction cycles, start time and color capabilities. In addition there are demands for expanded information about the light that should be on the lamps themselves, packaging, and specific sites. This makes it easier for both common and professional users and clients in the selection of lighting solutions.

It seems then, that the original time table for different lamps, as described in my 2009 ban summary, is being kept by the EU. Meaning that from 2016, all halogen lamps must be Energy Class B, which only the very expensive Philips halogen bulb with infrared coating and integrated transformer achieves. And that lamp is currently nowhere to be seen… (I managed to locate one in a small special lamps shop in Stockholm a couple of years ago and it was nice and bright but didn’t last very long.)

This may mean that all the mini halogen bulbs for low-voltage reflector lamps are also banned from that date! The industry wants to see all halogen lamps gone and replaced by much more profitable CFLs and LEDs, and EU politicians willingly oblige. Some of the more attractive metal halide lamps that have made many shops more brightly and beautifully lit since the 90’s may also be at risk. But no one is really sure exactly which lamps will be removed, even professional lighting designers are being kept in the dark! And possibly for quite appalling reasons:

From PLDA Greenpages (emphasis added):

The current draft legislation for reflector lamps, the final draft of which is dated January 2012, will result in the phasing out of several types of lamps, with mains, low voltage and metal halide reflector lamps most likely to be affected. The signals are clear that there will be significant reductions in the availability of these lamps from September 2013, with further reductions scheduled for 2016.

The concern is that specification of these lamp types could lead to a risk of Professional Indemnity Claims if said lamp types could not be provided for installation after September 2013.  Specification of products which then become unavailable from September 2013 would likely result in claims from clients regarding delays and mis-specification.

The main problem is that there is insufficient data available to determine exactly which lamps will be phased out, the specification of which should be avoided accordingly, as manufacturers and legislators have not, at the current time, provided the necessary information.

Changes in Reflector Lamps Legislation may prove problematic for Lighting Designers

This seems to be quite in line with EC behaviour openly on their website too. For the general public, one graph is provided that makes it seem like halogen energy savers (class C ‘improved incandescent bulbs’) will be permitted indefinitely, while the timeline in the information material for professionals tells another story.

Public timeline from Changes – bulbs and packaging

Professional timeline from Frequently asked questions

Tighter standards & new labels

Looking at this last regulation installment, one thing that strikes me is the stunning amount of regulation and label info needed for CFLs and LEDs to cover all the technical issues they have, in order to produce just a little more light per watt:

(a) Nominal useful luminous flux displayed in a font at least twice as large as any display of the nominal lamp power;

(b) Nominal life time of the lamp in hours (not longer than the rated life time);

(c) Colour temperature, as a value in Kelvins and also expressed graphically or in words;

(d) Number of switching cycles before premature failure;

(e) Warm-up time up to 60% of the full light output (may be indicated as ‘instant full light’ if less than 1 second);

(f) A warning if the lamp cannot be dimmed or can be dimmed only on specific dimmers; in the latter case a list of compatible dimmers shall be also provided on the manufacturer’s website;

(g) If designed for optimum use in non-standard conditions (such as ambient temperature Ta ≠ 25°C or specific thermal management is necessary), information on those conditions;

(h) Lamp dimensions in millimetres (length and largest diameter);

(i) Nominal beam angle in degrees;

(j) If the lamp’s beam angle is ≥90° and its useful luminous flux as defined in point 1.1 of this Annex is to be measured in a 120° cone, a warning that the lamp is not suitable for accent lighting;

(k) If the lamp cap is a standardised type also used with filament lamps, but the lamp’s dimensions are different from the dimensions of the filament lamp(s) that the lamp is meant to replace, a drawing comparing the lamp’s dimensions to the dimensions of the filament lamp(s) it replaces;

(l) An indication that the lamp is of a type listed in the first column of Table 6 may be displayed only if the luminous flux of the lamp in a 90° cone (Φ90°) is not lower than the reference luminous flux indicated in Table 6 for the smallest wattage among the lamps of the type concerned. The reference luminous flux shall be multiplied by the correction factor in Table 7. For LED lamps, it shall be in addition multiplied by the correction factor in Table 8; 

(m) An equivalence claim involving the power of a replaced lamp type may be displayed only if the lamp type is listed in Table 6 and if the luminous flux of the lamp in a 90° cone (Φ90°) is not lower than the corresponding reference luminous flux in Table 6. The reference luminous flux shall be multiplied by EN 22 EN the correction factor in Table 7. For LED lamps, it shall be in addition multiplied by the correction factor in Table 8. The intermediate values of both the luminous flux and the claimed equivalent lamp power (rounded to the nearest 1 W) shall be calculated by linear interpolation between the two adjacent values.

If the lamp contains mercury:

(n) Lamp mercury content as X.X mg;

(o) Indication of which website to consult in case of accidental lamp breakage to find instructions on how to clean up the lamp debris.

So, 16 different parameters to learn and keep in mind, plus websites to consult for safety instructions, just to buy a simple lightbulb!!

When buying an incandescent bulb, all you needed to know was watts and type of base.

All incandesent bulbs switched on immediately; worked with timers, dimmers and sensors; dimmed beautifully; worked just as well in the oven as in the freezer; worked in any position; power factor was perfect; colour rendering was perfect; light colour adjusted itself perfectly along the Planck curve according to brightness; life span was predictable and was not shortened by switching it off within 15 minutes of use. You knew that if you wanted to save energy, you either dimmed the lamp or simply turned it off when not needed.

And when producing it, you stuck a piece of tungsten in a glass bulb, put a metal screw base on it, replaced the air with some inert gas and that was it. Easily done in a local factory.

You did’t have to go mine for toxic metals and phosphors, manufacture various components all over Asia and then ship them to China for assembly, then ship the finished lamps to Europe, then collect them again after use to recycle the toxic elements. Or keep tweaking it for 3o years to get it to only almost resemble incandescent light, almost give as much light as promised, and almost (but often not) last as long as promised, while still having all those issues that the EU Commission now finally sees fit to regulate and require on the label.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s excellent that this info is now required on the label! That’s what national and federal authorities should be there for, to keep the free market in check and make sure it delivers what it promises. These mandatory labels should have been required years ago, but then the Committee either didn’t know about all these issues or chose to ignore them. I only hope these requirements will be forecefully enforced, with regular tests and fines and sales bans on any lamp that doesn’t live up to its label info.

But legislating on product labels and doing quality controls is one thing. Banning safe and popular products is truly taking things to extremes.

Link to EC label guide for consumers: How to read the new information displayed on light bulb packaging

See also Freedom Light Bulbs post about the new labels.

The Lightbulb Conspiracies

The 1st Conspiracy (1924-1939) – The Incandescent Bulb

The first conspiracy was presented earlier this year in the documentary The Lightbulb Conspiracy, about planned obsolescence. (Freedom Lightbulb has review, comments and links to the full movie.) Here is a summary of the lightbulb part of the film:

In the early 1900’s, the goal was to make the light bulb last as long as possible. Edison’s lamp lasted 1500 hours, and in the 1920’s, manufacturers advertised lamps sporting a 2500 hour life. Then leading lamp manufacturers came up with the idea that it might be more profitable if the bulbs were made less durable.

In 1924, the Phoebus cartel was created in order to control global lamp production, to which they tied manufacturers all over the world, dividing the various continents between them. In the documentary, historian Helmut High shows the original cartel document that states: “The average life of lamps may not be guaranteed, advertised or published as more than 1 000 hours.” The cartel pressured its members to develop a more fragile incandescent bulb, which would remain within the established 1000-hour rule. Osram tested life and all manufacturers that did not keep the lower standards were heavily fined. Bulb life was thereby reduced to the required 1000 hours.

The film claims that there are patents on incandescent light bulbs with 100 000 hours lifetime, but they never went into production – except Adolphe Chaillets bulb of Livermore Fire Department in California, which has burned continuously since 1901. In 1981, the East German company Narva created a lamp for a long life lamp and showed it at an international light fair. Nobody was interested. (It later became accepted as a special ‘long-life’ lamp but was never a commercial hit.)

Wikipedia states that the Phoebus cartel included Osram, Philips, Tungsram, Compagnie des Lampes, Associated Electrical Industries, ELIN, International General Electric, and the GE Overseas Group. “They owned shares in the Swiss corporation proportional to their lamp sales.”

“The Phoebus Cartel divided the world’s lamp markets into three categories:

  1. home territories, the home country of individual manufacturers
  2. British overseas territories, under control of Associated Electrical Industries, Osram, Philips, and Tungsram
  3. common territory, the rest of the world

In 1921 a precursor organisation was founded by Osram, the Internationale Glühlampen Preisvereinigung. When Philips and other manufacturers were entering the American market, General Electric reacted by setting up the International General Electric Company in Paris. Both organisations were involved in trading patents and adjusting market penetration. Increasing international competition led to negotiations between all major companies to control and restrict their respective activities in order not to interfere in each other’s spheres.”

According to the documentary, the cartel officially never existed (even though their memorandum remains in archives). Their strategy has been to rename all the time, but still exists in one form or another. The film mentions The International Energy cartel, but that seems to be more about controlling world energy production rather than light bulbs specifically.

See also: Freedom Lightbulb: Light Bulb Testimonial

Update: Ceolas.net found an Osram pdf (nicely spotted!) where the Pheobus is mentioned, though of course not called a cartel but “an agreement”. Quoting from pp. 31-33:

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 such a move were favourable. Preparatory negotiations lasted many years until finally in 1924 Dr. Meinhardt’s initiative bore fruit in the form of the “General Patent and Development Agreement”. A company called Phoebus S.A. was founded under Swiss law. Its highest decisionmaking body was the general assembly. The chairman of the administrative board (supervisory board) was Dr. Meinhardt.

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 its success. It was nullified in 1940 because of the war.

To maintain the effectiveness of the agreement it was necessary to set up a streamlined organisation. The arrangements were generously adapted to suit the purpose of the agreement. 

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.

The 2nd Conspiracy (1938 and onwards) – The FL Tube & HID Lamps

OK, this one is perhaps more of a Zeitgeist thing than an actual thought-out conspiracy since at the time it was generally thought that, after millennia of dim lighting, light quantity was always a blessing and quality of no importance at all. It was also an era of industrial optimism and a complete unawareness of environmental and health effects of various toxic chemicals found useful in everyday applications.

So, in the 1929s and 30s, along with functionalism in architecture, there was a great rush to find new and more efficient ways of illuminating work places and public areas. The fluorescent tube (FL) seemed to be the answer and the first tubes were marketed in 1938. But then came WWII.

The situation after the war was ideal: a clean slate upon which to build massive functionalistic buildings lit by overly bright fluorescent light everywhere. Again, likely by the coordinated effort of the lighting industry, the FL tube became the standard light in offices and residential building common areas, as well as in home owners’ kitchens and basements – despite the light quality being outright appalling.

High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps such as the Mercury Vapour lamps were used factories and cast a harsh eerie blue-green light on public streets; in the 60s joined by Sodium Vapour and Metal Halide lamps (which are Mercury Vapour lamps with halogens added for improved light colour and colour rendition). Not that there was a better alternative at the time: short-lived and ineffective incandescent lamps would not have been practical for road illumination (though there were combination lamps for a time, where the incandescent helped ignite the MV lamp). But some might have preferred to have more quality light than quantity indoors, e.g. in schools and offices, like in earlier decades.

Mercury-based FL/HID light continued through subsequent decades to be spread into every area of human life, eagerly pushed by lighting industry organisations (e.g like Belysningsbranschen in Sweden and their equivalents in other countries) who issue professional lighting standards for all public spaces.

By the 1980s, mainly private homes and some commercial areas such as restaurants, hotels and small shops remained incandescent. But even such romantic sanctuaries were not to be left alone.

The 3rd Lightbulb Conspiracy (1985 and ongoing) – The CFL

This self-confessed conspiracy by lamp companies and utilities and national energy agencies has already been outlined in The Global Anti-Lightbulb Campaign, and on the New Electric Politics site Shining a Light on Politics and Light Bulbs.

When I wrote that first post two years ago, I was not aware of the first lightbulb conspiracy, but the info about the Phoebus cartel provided the last pieces of the puzzle as to how lamp manufacturers were able to pull off the CFL scam and get a global ban of their by then unprofitable product (the incandescent bulb) in such a short time. One only has to check the ELC (European Lamp Companies Federation) website to see that lamp manufacturers are still extremely well organized, and now brag openly about their lobbying:

We represent the leading lamp manufacturers in Europe. 95% of total European production. 50 000 employees in Europe. 5 billion EURO European Turnover  – view lamp statisticsWe are an international non profit-making association under Belgian law with a secretariat in Brussels. We are a flexible, light & efficient decision-making lobby organisation. See our views on climate change & energy efficiencyRecent newsWe were created in 1985 – view our structure.

Interesting date 1985… right before the CFL was released on an unsuspecting public.

Utilities and national market transformation programmes now also brag openly about how they managed to increase public acceptance of substandard CFLs by addressing consumer concerns with blatant propaganda (see The Global Anti-Lightbulb Campaign for details).

As for utilities’ part of the scheme, see New Electric Politics

Then in 2009, the conspiracy moved up to United Nations level, with a chance for lamp manufacturers to get subsidies for dumping their unwanted CFLs on unsuspecting Asian and African countries – who a) won’t be informed of the mercury content and other issues and b) are very unlikely to have efficient recycling plans and facilities set up – while getting a green halo for their saintly ‘environmental’ efforts.

“There is growing momentum now, and a very aggressive timeline to address the emerging issues of climate change. We have learned a lot in Europe and the United States over the past few years, and need to apply that in the emerging marketplaces of developing countries,” said Kaj den Daas, CEO, Philips Lighting North America.

I suspect the “aggressive timeline” has more to do with a need to squeeze out as much remaining profit as possible from the CFL before environmentalists wake up to the scam and mercury-free alternatives take over the market. It’s not like they’re going to give away free LEDs or halogen lamps to poor people in developing countries…

The result of this UN – lighting industry cooperation was the en.lighten initiative. Wikipedia has a handy description of it:

“As part of global efforts to promote efficient lighting, United Nations Environment Programme with the support of the GEF Earth Fund, Philips Lighting and OSRAM GmbH has established the en.lighten initiative. The initiative seeks to accelerate global commercialization and market transformation of efficient lighting technologies by working at the global level and providing support to countries.”

See my post Global Ban Craze for details on the deceptive numbers used in the 2009 press release, now perpetuated on the new site.

“Electricity for lighting accounts for almost 20 per cent of global power consumption and close to 6 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If a global transition to efficient lighting occurred, these emissions could be reduced by half.”

See also Freedom Lightbulb for info and comments on the en.lighten initiative.

Edit 1 aug: Yesterday, Freedom Lightbulb posted more proof of the bulb ban conspiracy with an article from 2010 by two dutchmen about the findings of journalist Syp Wynia on how the incandescent bulb ban was achieved through cooperation between Dutch Philips and Greenpeace. Original article:  The Unholy Alliance between Philips and the Greens

Philips, the company involved, started in 1891 with the mass production of Edison lamps, at its home base, Eindhoven, Netherlands. There existed no international court of justice at the time, so they could infringe on US patent law with impunity. In the past 120 years it has expanded continuously, to become the multinational electronics giant it is today. Because nostalgia seldom agrees with the aims of private enterprise, Philips started lobbying to phase out the very product on which its original success is based. They started this campaign around the turn of the century, ten years ago.

Their line of thought is clear: banning incandescent bulbs creates an interesting market for new kinds of home lighting, such as “energy savers” (CFL’s, compact fluorescent lamps) and LED’s (light emitting diodes). The mark-up on these new products is substantially higher than that on old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. The rapid expansion of the lighting industry in China makes the profit margin on ordinary bulbs from factories in Europe smaller yet.  (…) 

Multiple government campaigns, aimed at promoting the idea that energy savers contribute to the well-intentioned goal of reducing the energy consumption of households, failed to convince citizens. 

The spectre of catastrophic climate change offered a new opportunity for the strategists and marketing specialists at Philips headquarters. They changed their marketing concept and jumped on the Global Warming band wagon. From that moment on, energy-saving bulbs could be put on the market as icons of responsibility toward climate change. This would give Philips a head start in the CFL end LED business. The competition would be left far behind by aggressive use of European patent law. That strategy fitted like a glove with that of the environmental movement. For them, ordinary light bulbs had become the ultimate symbol of energy waste and excessive CO2 emissions. Seeing the opportunity, Greenpeace immediately made a forward pass with the ball thrown by Philips’ pitchers. The incandescent bulb would serve as an ideal vehicle for ramming Global Warming down people’s throats. No abstract discussions about CO2-emissions any more: a ban on bulbs would suffice.

The 4th Conspiracy (c. 2005 and ongoing) – The LED

Since at least 2005, the U.S. Department Of Energy (DOE) Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy department have had their main focus on solid state lighting (SSL), which is a fancier name for LED. Market Studies and Technical Reports

Naturally in cooperation with leading vested interests such as Philips, Cree, Lumileds Lighting Company, Dow Corning, General Electric, Osram Sylvania and Eastman Kodak (examples from this document: Energy Savings Potential of Solid State Lighting in General Illumination Applications) who made projections spanning 20 years, from 2007-2027, and seem to consider LED (and eventually OLED) to be the optimal replacement for pretty much all other  lamp types in all sectors, but especially for the “high CRI” (CFLs and T8 FL tubes) and “very CRI” (incandescent, halogen) groups in the residential and commercial sectors.

“In both the LED and OLED scenarios, SSL displaces light sources in all sectors by the end of the analysis period, but the significant energy savings are primarily from the displacement of incandescent lamps in commercial and residential applications.”

So, with the pesky incandescent bulb out of the way, and more and more people becoming aware of or experiencing first hand the many drawbacks of CFLs, now the whole circus starts over again with yet another hyped incandescent replacement. Again at ridiculous prices, with more or less appalling light colour, suboptimal colour rendition, dimming problems, heat sensitivity and a promised life that still remains to be seen.

Does this sound familiar? Story of the CFL, for which millions have paid hefty prices to get substandard lamps which only now, after 20 years, appear decently incandescent-looking, decently affordable (due to heavy sibsidies) but still have most of the other problems left. So, do we now have to wait another 20 years for the LED to become decent-looking, affordable and working as promised, while paying even more hefty prices for being consumer guinea pigs in the mean time?

Alas, the Lightbulb Conspiracy film maker didn’t see through this one. Instead a younger generation Philips got to present ‘his’ new generation bulb: the LED, as if he personally made the whole lighting industry suddenly wake up with a bad conscience and now truly wants home bulbs to last for 25 years, hahaha! I predict that future consumer tests will show LEDs lasting a lot less than 25 000 hours, or become dim enough to be useless long before that.

Epilogue

I also suspect that those of us who have spent years revealing all the dirty little secrets of CFLs, are probably in a way just helping to prepare the ground for the LED. (Like with pharmaceutical drugs… First they’re so great. No end to how great they are… Then, when patents start running out, suddenly there is a flood of articles, news snippets and anecdotal reports in less discriminating media revealing all the problems with them – which, of course, have been there all along. But, as it happens, the good news is always that there is now a new and better medicine for that particular health issue. Which is of course is really great… Until that patent starts running out, then it may turn out that the new drug had even more problems than the first one.)

Those of us who genuinely believe that natural, healthy, beautiful light is as basic a human need and right as clean water, food and air, are of course no willing participants in such a scheme, but something to be mindful of.

Consumer Tests

Update Aug 9: The Swedish consumer tests in this post have been moved to separate pages, with tables updated and 2012 test info added:

Incandescent (1997, 2004)
Halogen (2010, 2011, 2012)
CFL (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
LED (2011, 2012)

Swedish Mercury

CFL recycling problem update

I wanted to know more about the previously reported recycling problems where people throw CFLs in glass recycling containers in Sweden (same as reported in Denmark a few years ago).

So I called Svensk Glasåtervinning and asked. They said this is still a big problem for them. They had found elevated mercury values in several locations of their recycling facility. I asked about the health of their workers and they said they had been tested for Hg but were OK. The person I spoke with pointed out however, that by the time the glass arrives at the factory, much will already have evaporated and possibly affected the trucking entrepreneurs who collect the containers. I suspect also those using the local recycling facility – some of which are indoors (in residential buildings).

I asked if they had tested the containers (in Sweden called “glass-igloos” due to their round shape). He said that doing such a test had not occurred to them, but that it was a good idea to test at least a few of the thousands of igloos used around Sweden. (I’m thinking that if containers are contaminated by Hg that they may keep contaminating ever new batches of glass, at least in the cold season when it does not evaporate?) Some of that glass is turned into new food grade glass, some into what we call “glass wool” (not sure of the English word) for house insulation.

He said that they do not get reimbursed for all the extra risk, cost and trouble that Hg contamination causes to their glass recycling, and that they were rather frustrated with those who have the producer responsibility not having done enough to inform the general public and supply enough easily accessible recycling opportunities for CFLs.

When it comes to outdoor recycling stations, they are prohibited from doing so by the fact that Hg is classed as hazardous waste, and we can’t have hazardous waste containers sitting unattended on the sidewalk. And so many of those who are not fortunate enough to have a separate bulb recycling bin in their residential building, or a ‘red box’ collected by the local municipality for home owners, throw their CFLs in the glass container instead as many don’t have time, knowledge, opportunity or transportation to take them to an out-of-the-way recycling plant or to one of the often equally out-of-the-way retail chains who collect bulbs for proper recycling (after which the Hg is stored indefinitely).

So I called El-Kretsen, the organisation that has been appointed in Sweden to handle the so-called producer responsibility (according to the WEEE directive). The representative said they are working hard to remedy the situation (and have a PR webpage bragging about this). I suggested they mail all residential building owners in Sweden with information on the importance of adding (and paying a little extra for) a hazardous waste bin in their recycling rooms, information on how to handle mercury contamination, and signs to put up to inform residents. He seemed to think this right-to-the-source approach was way too much work and referred to their their own information- and annual electronic waste collection campaign.

CFL breakage information

After hearing from an aquaintance spotting someone drop a CFL in a supermarket, I thought I’d find out how the leading food chains in Sweden handle such accidents.

Ica’s website has a CFL info page (complete with the usual propaganda lies) that includes info on both recycling and what to do in case of accidents. I called their HQ to ask if it happens that lamps break in their stores and she said “Yes”. I asked if their staff was informed on what to do and she said they were actually planning an information campaign in a few weeks.

Coop’s website only refers to a recycling site for what to do with CFLs after they burn out, nothing about how to handle mercury spills. I called and asked. They said information has been sent out to stores, but when I called one of the biggest Coop supermarkets in Stockholm, the manager could not recall having seen any such information. He said there were no breakages that he was aware of. I asked what they would do if there were and he said “Just sweep up the pieces and throw in the garbage, I guess”-  and also confessed to just tossing burned-out CFLs in the bin at home. I informed him of the mercury content and that mercury is hazardous waste. This jolted a memory that perhaps he’d heard something to that effect… I asked if he could make sure to inform his staff from now on, but he said such an incentive needs to come from HQ. So I tipped HQ off that their biggest competitor is having a campaign soon.

When you think about it, isn’t it rather stunning and alarming that a fairly easily breakable product containing mercury is sold together with food

Light Impressions – CFL

Thought I’d share som personal light experiences here. (Click on thumbnails for bigger photos.)

Now that leading manufacturers have finally managed to get their phosphor mix right so as to create a more natural looking light, I don’t so much mind warm-white CFLs and mini-tubes, e.g. in wall lanterns or downlights in various office buildings, hospitals, garages etc., where they create a softer and more varied lightscape than the more uniform lighting from fluorescent tubes.

CFL spotlights, Arlanda, Sweden
(photo: Halogenica)

CFL in recessed downlights SEB bank office, Sweden
(photo: Halogenica)

What I do mind is if they use only CFL, as that tends to feel as inspiring as a cloudy november day… Many retail store lighting designers have learned to combine fluorescent, HID and halogen light for best effect. Linear or compact fluorescent for general lighting, HID (often warm-white Metal Halide) for bright floodlighting, and halogen for sparkly spotlighting of special items. In my opinion, this works well enough in a commercial environment.

One might also assume that more CFLs get safely recycled along with the other mercury-containing FL tubes and HID lamps in the public, commercial and industrial sector, than in private households.

At home, alas, CFLs do not work so well…

Most of my friends and family use very little light, but go for quality instead of quantity. They use incandescent or halogen lamps but only a few low watt or dimmed down lamps at a time, and naturally turn them off when leaving the room. Some have pre-installed fluorescent tubes in the kitchen or bathroom. Some use CFLs here and there. But I’d never seen a whole house lit only by CFLs.

The ‘Environmentalist’ family

Then I was invited to the home of a family of passionate alternativists, the type that lives in an eco village and only buys organic food etc. Wonderful people in every way. Unsurprisingly, they had not waited until the ban to replace all their incandescent bulbs with ‘eco-friendly’ CFLs.

This was the most poorly lit house I have ever visited! And I’m not one who likes bright light anyway (I’m often fine with a 7 watt window lamp for room lighting and a dimmed down 40W bulb for reading) so it wasn’t that. It was the combination of very poor light quality and and the CFLs having passed that best-before-date when the light was still bright enough to compensate somewhat for the poor quality. The effect was as if someone had filled the house with a grey mist. I was struggling to see anything and thought it a shame  to show such a nice home in such an unflattering light.

The scary thing is that if one lives in that poor quality and gradually weakening light every day, one adapts to it and doesn’t notice until someone else points it out (which I did, as politely as I could). But it must surely still be straining to never really see well in one’s own home.

It was an interesting experience as I had only suspected it from the information in manufacturer catalogues and consumer tests but never actually seen first hand how dysmal CFL light gets towards the end – except for in a test bulb at IKEA where it was very obvious to me that the CFL did not give anywhere near as much light as the ‘equivalent’ incandescent they showed for comparison.

“Economic life”

Since this light loss is well known in the lighting industry, lamps used commercially are usually replaced long before they burn out. When life rate is calculated, something called “economic life” is used, which it is never the whole life of each individual lamp. That’s why you don’t so often see in public how weak the light gets with time. This “economic life” is of course nothing private consumers are informed about, only that the lamps last so and so many hours before they burn out (on average, at optimal temperature, if not turned on-and-off too often etc). But if that light is pretty much useless for half or one third of those hours, then it follows that their useful life is markedly shorter and that you have to remember to replace them before they burn out.

Compare visually instead of trusting labels

My suggestion is to always keep one new incandescent bulb of each wattage for reference. When you buy a CFL, e.g. one that claims to give the equivalent output of a 60W bulb, compare them to see that it really does so in the beginning, and then again after some time to see if it still does. Keep doing this now and then. (And dust them off  while you’re at it.) Yes, extra hassle, I know. But everything about them from cradle to grave is extra hassle, that’s part of the deal. If you want hassle-free lamps, try Halogen Energy Savers.

The ‘Average Joe’ family

In May, I was invited to the house of a family who I suspect are fairly representative of most middle class Swedes today. They also had a very nicely designed home. But again I was struck by the poor lighting. They had probably not had their lamps for as long as the Environmentalist family, so one could still see well enough. But the light quality left much to be desired.

Dull light from CFL bulbs in the living room, which really took away from the otherwise cosy design. In the entrance hall a floor lamp with a CFL bulb which gave even dimmer light, accompanied by a sharply glaring cool-white LED of the clear bulb type with little dots in it (not meant for use in open luminaire). In the restrooms were glaring CFLs with a pinkish tint that did not complement the otherwise pretty design. And over the kitchen table was a dim CFL bulb with a yellow tone that made the kitchen even more dull than the rest of the house. The only real light in the house was a tiny halogen spotlight in the kitchen that sparkled and glowed. Compared with the golden white, crystal clear halogen light, the kitchen table CFL looked really bleak and dead.

Public restrooms

Using a public restroom in Sweden after the bulb phase-out is a real lottery as far as lighting goes.

• Some restaurants have installed 12V halogen spotlights, which gives an exclusive impression, even if the cheapest wall materials are used.

Halogen in restaurant restroom
(photo: Halogenica)

• Others use recessed downlights with old type compact fluorescent tubes. That works well enough, but doesn’t give that warm and luxurious feeling of halogen, even with better tiling.

CFL tube in gas station restroom
(photo: Halogenica)

• A growing number of shops, restaurants etc have unfortunately started using CFL bulbs in their restrooms – which is The Number One Application CFLs Should Never Be Used For!

1. because of the poor light quality (where many want to check their looks or touch up their make-up); 2. because the bulbs expire quicker and get dimmer sooner if flicked on and off often; 3. because that single bulb is not where you make energy savings; 4. because most CLFs take way too long to light up. One flicks on the switch – almost nothing happens… a dim yellow-grey mist… (Lighting a match would probably give more light, and quicker.) By the time one is finished, the light might have worked itself up enough so that one can see to wash one’s hands. Barely. This is not acceptable.

I’ll post a photo next time I find another poorly lit restroom. In the mean time, here is a picture from a supermarket, where one can see clearly the difference in brightness between curly tube (to the right) and enclosed bulbs (and this is at their brightest and not enclosed in a sealed luminaire):

CFLs in supermarket
(photo: Halogenica)

One day at my local supermarket, I got fed up with the slow and dim CFL and told them they need a regular incandescent or a halogen in the restroom. Nothing happened for another couple of months… So then I went and found a 53W Halogen Energy Saver  bulb in their lamp stall, took it to one of the staff and said: “Put this in! NOW!!” He complied and now one can see again. 🙂

Feel free to do the same if you’re not happy with the light in public restrooms. 😉

Outdoors

CFLs are rarely used for street lighting as they are not as bright or long lasting as High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps. Here, in a cobbled old part of Södermalm near Mariahissen in Stockholm, I found one exception: warm-white CFLs in downward-facing luminaires with white diffusers. The light colour was good enough but as always with CFLs, it lacked sparkle and life. Some of the luminaires had blackened for some reason, and that did not look good. But overall, they looked better than the horrid old cool-white Mercury Vapor lamps which they replaced.

CFL, Stockholm
(photo: Halogenica)

Another example from the same area. These porch lights had clear glass with a droplet pattern (possibly original from the 1920s). One had a Halogen Energy Saver and the other a fairly new-looking warm-white CFL. The Halogen sparkled and glowed while the CFL looked generally flat (even more so in real life). The indoor lamp in the middle looked like a cool-white CFL in a white globe.

Halogen vs CFL, Stockholm
(photo: Halogenica)

Tip of the day: Never use different types of bulbs together – unless you want to study visible differences in light quality, quantity and colour. 

U.S. Incandescent ban – will it save the planet (and my economy)?

Possibly not as much as you may have been led to believe. But decide for yourself with the official government data from my newly updated Energy Statistics post:

A. The residential sector (private households) total energy consumption is 12% of total delivered U.S. energy.

B. Of total delivered energy to the residential sector, 58% comes from various fuels (oil, kerosene, natural gas, renewable etc) and most  is used for space heating. The remaining 42% comes from electricity and is split as follows (my own pie chart, from two different EIA ingredients):

C. Lighting uses around 15% of household electricity and 6% of total household energy consumption.

DIf all household lamps were incandescent, the replacement bulb might save (depending on what type and quality of lamps one replaces them with, how often and how long they are used, how long they last etc) 25 -75% =  1.5 to 4.5% (optimistically) of total household energy consumption.

E. But not all household lamps are incandescent since many have already switched to CFL or LED, and already had about 5% linear fluorescent lamps. According to a July 2011 Energy Star report, CFLs accounted for nearly 28 percent of all residential light bulb sales. This leaves 67% standard incandescent. Of which not all are suitable for replacement (e.g. in bathrooms, hallways, in small or antique luminaires or luminaires designed specifically for halogen or LED etc). So, say 50% left that could be switched = 0.75 to 2.25% potential savings savings of average total home energy use (could be more or less in any individual household).

This is not a lot, is it? True that every little bit counts, and any little bit that can be saved is for good of everyone. But at what cost?

I. The first cost is light quality.

CFLs have a Color Rendering Index of 82-85. This means you get a duller light and won’t be able to see colours as well. A simple trading of quality for quantity, just like in the office. If you don’t mind that in your home, that’s fine then.

LED quality can vary widely between manufacturers. LED lamps have CRI of 75-92. They often reflect more of the spectrum, but the light color can still be off and it will lack the vibrancy of incandescent light.

Halogen Energy Savers will save less (25-30%) but give top quality light with perfect color rendering capacity, as it is also a form of incandescent light.

II. The second trade-off is health & safety.

CFLs contain small amounts of highly toxic mercury vapor and should never be used around children, pets or pregnant women, in case they break. There are silicon-covered bulbs on the market that don’t shatter as easily, but most don’t have that protection. All CLFs must be recycled safely and never thrown in the trash. Some CFLs also emit some UV-radiation at close range. May not be enough to pose much of a risk to a healthy person unless used very close for prolonged periods of time, but persons with UV-sensitive conditions may have adverse reactions.

LEDs have been shown not to be quite as green and non-toxic as assumed either, but probably safer than CFLs.

•  Incandescent lamps, including halogen, contain no toxins and pose no known health risks.

So, why go after the tiny portion that is used for lightings pecifically, while we keep using more and more other electrical gadgets? A chart from the EIA page Share of energy used by appliances and consumer electronics increases in U.S. homes shows how the electronics pie slice has grown to almost twice its size since the 1970s:

Isn’t it interesting also that the total household energy use has hardly changed since 1978 (!) while the proportions of how that energy is spent has changed dramatically? This seems to me pretty solid proof of the often-scoffed-at Jevons paradox and may pose more risks when switching to energy saving lighting.

1. The first is that one may feels one has done so much for the environment that not much more needs to be done. This impression is enhanced by the fact that the switch may make a big change in a room’s apperance (and not always to the better) and by the fact that CFLs have been promoted by everyone, from gazillions of bloggers and journalists to state presidents as the one thing that will make a difference. (And they in turn have been targets of two decades of multi-million dollar lobbying to make them belive that.)

2. The second is that since one belives one is saving so much on the lights, one can leave them on for a bit longer. An article comment illustrates this sentiment well:

“My dad switched to CFLs, but now he just leaves the lights on all the time because he says ‘they use so little power, I can’t be bothered to turn them off’.”

3. Many CFLs are also supposed to be turned on for 15 minutes to 3 hours at a time in order not to shorten their life dramatically.

But if you still want to save a little, and if you opt for the least less energy saving but non-toxic, top quality halogen lamp, you can easily save the remaining 1.5% by turning the heating or cooling down a degree or two, taking shorter showers, skipping coffee & toast, using dimmers and turning lights off when you leave the room and still have a green conscience.

Q&A about the U.S. Incandescent ban

Q: Is it a ban or not?

A: Yes and no. It is not a ban per se (such as in EU and other countries) but a raising of the efficacy standards to a level which normal incandescent lamps cannot reach. The end result is still the same, as far as the original Edison bulb is concerned.

Q: What lamps are affected? 

A: In this first stage of the gradual ‘phase-out’, starting January 1st, 2012: incandescent bulbs of 100 watts or more.

New edit: After debating whether 75 watts are also prohibited or not – which they officially are not until next year – Freedom Light Bulb discovered that the regulation is even more bizarre than we first thought:

US Regulation Absurdity: Dim 100W bulbs allowed, Bright 100W bulbs banned!

If you want incandescent you can still buy 72 watt tungsten halogen Energy Savers and get as much light as from a 100 watt lamp (see my Halogen Energy Savers review). If you can find them. Amazon sells them, Home Depot only have reflector lamps, Lowe’s have more flodlight reflector models, but they can be hard to find in regular stores (ask for them).

Q: So now 75 and 100 watt bulbs can’t be produced or imported?

A: Yes and no. In the words of Kevan Shaw: “The ban is still effectively in force in law however it cannot be enforced.”

Read the longer explanation of this confusing issue here: The American Ban Collapses

And here: After the Funding Amendment: Clear Explanation of American Light Bulb Regulations

Follow the progress state by state here: Progress Track of US Federal and State Ban Repeal Bills

NEMA:

The inability of DOE to enforce the standards would allow those who do not respect the rule of law to sell inefficient light bulbs in the U.S. without fear of enforcement, creating a competitive disadvantage for compliant manufacturers.

As standard incandescent lamps are no longer as profitable to make or sell, the risk of that happening is probably negligible. If you can find a higher watt bulb anywhere you’re still free to buy it, but people have been hoarding.

Leading manufacturers couldn’t wait to get rid of the bulb, so they started closing their North American bulb factories in 2009 and the last major U.S. bulb plant was closed in September 2010.

And just a few days ago IKEA proudly announced that they will not sell any incandescent lamps (spinning more-$$$-for-IKEA-from-new-$14-LEDs to sound like “IKEA-saving-the-planet”). More retailers may follow, regardless of how the dispute ends.

And California started the phase-out a year early.

So choices and availability for top quality incandescent light are shrinking, while choices for lower quality but somewhat more energy efficient CFL and LED lights have increased to a confusing profusion which can make finding the right lamp rather difficult.

Q: So, whose fault is this anyway? Who came up with the idea? Those pesky treehugging-commie Democrats, or the reactionary out-of-my-cold-dead-hands Republicans? 

A: Well, both. The original light bulb legislation was written by Fred Upton (R-MI) and Jane Harmon (D-CA) says CNS News.

“In 2007, Harman and Upton introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation–which became law as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act–that bans the famously inefficient 100-watt incandescent light bulb by 2012, phases out remaining inefficient light bulbs by 2014, and requires that light bulbs be at least three times as efficient as today’s 100-watt incandescent bulb by 2020,” explained a 2009 press release put out by the two House members.

The bill was passed under the Republican Bush administration and signed by president G.W. Bush in 2007. President Obama and the Democratic party have embraced it. However, Upton later changed his mind, as did many other Republicans (and many didn’t think it was a good idea in the first place). And now this issue has been turned into a symbolic item for both parties to fight each other over.

Hope that cleared it up. 😉

Edit: Good article about the ban: Five Myths About the Federal Incandescent Light Bulb Ban

“CFLs an environmental problem”

This piece of news announced in Swedish press and TV makes me really worried about our future, as it supercedes even my worst fears:

SvD 21 november 2011

Every year 200 000 CFLs are wrongly thrown into glass recycling bins, according to an analysis by Swedish Glassrecycling (SGÅ). This means a health risk for those who work with recycling and a risk that the environmental toxin is spreads in the natural environment, according to Svenska Dagbladet.

The motive for replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs was to save electricity and thereby save the environment, but environmental expert Minna Gillberg condemns the drive for CFLs as “absurd”.

This means a risk not just to recycling workers but actually to everyone. Especially when the recycling bins are indoors, since mercury vaporises at room temperature and contaminates the surrounding area pretty much permanently.

And note: This is happening in SWEDEN  – where we have extremely well organised recycling practices and pride ourselves on being informed, consciensious and spearheading environmental awareness! If even we can’t do it, then again I shudder to imagine what happens to CFLs in poorer countries where many may not even be literate, much less care what happens to their burned-out lamps, or know what to do if they did.

The CFL is a toxic product that should never have been allowed on the market! 

Earlier posts about the mercury in CFLs:

https://greenwashinglamps.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/3c-cfl-analysis-recycling/

https://greenwashinglamps.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/mercury/

https://greenwashinglamps.wordpress.com/2009/09/13/mercury-problem/

Northern Light Fair

Yesterday I was at the Northern Light Fair in Stockholm to check out the latest lamps.

CFLs

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by most CFLs displayed. Both Osram, Megaman and italian Leuci had CFLs in good incandescent-like colour, looking decently bright too.

One of Osram’s displays. The lamps left and middle are CFLs, and the 5 to the right are decorative incandescent (which looked brighter in real life).

LEDs

While the LEDs certainly have improved since my last visit to the Light Fair two years ago, there are still huge quality differences between different types of LEDs.

First I checked out the holiday lights; strings, icicles, candelabras etc.

As usual, coloured ones were great, the cool-white horrid, and the warm-white ones of varying quality. Some were pink-white, others ugly yellow, but a few were actually very incandescent-looking, so clearly they are improving. However, only in light colour, not in light output.

In this picture the difference between the somewhat pale LEDs (to the left) and the glowing traditional incandescent strings (to the right) is clearly visible, even though it is clearer in real life.

Strings with many little light points still work as decorative lights, but in the candelabras there wasn’t enough light to radiate outwards, just a dull and gloomy glow inside the little bulbs, clearly not nearly as bright as the incandescent candelabra next to it and not at all giving that warm Christmas feel that you want from an electric candelabra.

In this picture the real incandescent candelabra is the glowing one in the lower left corner. The duller ones that don’t radiate are LED.

Next, I looked at non-decorative LEDs. Again I found great quality variations in the various attempts at producing bright warm-white light. I was not impressed with any of the LED retrofit bulbs from Osram, Megaman and Leuci. Bleak light, colour not quite right, still insisting on the less-than-great idea of putting LEDs in a retrofit bulb etc.

The best LEDs came integrated in luminaires from Norwegian luminaire company Lampkonsulenten. Their high power LEDs were of a completely different quality class and came in white and warm-white light which both looked decently incandescent-like and decently bright and radiating (as far as I was able to tell in this well-lit commercial setting; I’d have to try one at home to see if this impression holds). Compared to these quality LEDs, all others on the fair looked like a joke. But it made me a bit more optimistic regarding the options available for professional lighting designers even if their output is still limited and the quality not quite as high as real incandescent light. But I think they would do well compared with metal halide for example, at least quality-wise.

Halogen

Both Osram and Leuci had excellent halogen energy savers. The Osram representative said it is technically possible to make halogen lamps much more effective even without the integrated low-voltage transformer (which Philips use for their B-class halogen lamps) but it requires more R&D so they want to be sure there is enough market for it before investing and didn’t seem in a hurry to do so before EU bans C-class lamps in 2016.

So do let them know if you’re interested in even more effective halogen lamps now! If you like real incandescent light, this is the replacement to go for.

Luminaires

On the luminaire side, I found a great variety and much creativity. General trend seems to be softer shapes compared to the cold, hard designs that totally dominated the market just a couple of years ago, fewer black lamp shades (finally!) and much playfulness, e.g. integrating decorative LEDs in the design, using new materials in creative combinations, and making crystal chandeliers that truly look like something from this century.

Just a brief example.

CFL Reviews

Splitting up my review of various energy saving retrofit lamps as I test them in a home environment. This post will focus on compact fluorescent lamps. The first lamp review is moved from my original post, the second is new for today. (Prices include 20% VAT and may vary between countries.)

* 7W Osram Duluxstar ‘warm-white’ E14 frosted CFL mini globe

Info: Appearance-wise, one of the most incandescent-like CFLs on the market, with a correlated colour temperature (CCT) at 2700K. CRI around 80 = standard (mediocre) colour rendering capacity. Price: about €10, but if you want a decent-looking (and decent-performing) CFL, be prepared to pay for it.

Impression: Visually, the light looked very soft and incandescent-like in the shop, but at home it still has a touch of that pink shade typical of flourescent light, though less markedly so than its early predecessors, more warm-pink than cool-pink, and admittedly an improvement compared with older CFLs and all the cheap budget lamps on the market.

Size-wise it only fit in one of my reflector luminaires.

As for colour rendering capacity, my do-it-yourself-spectral analysis with the back of a DVD shows the spectrum cut up into distinct bands with all the wavelenghts inbetween missing, as is normal for standard-quality FL light.

It does look bright enough to replace the promised 40W bulb (now in the beginning, will fade with age) though it took several minutes to reach full output. And the light was actually nicest before it did. Now it has turned a little more pink-white and makes the room look uniform and sterile. Many may not notice that much of a difference from an incandescent, or care if they did. But as I have a very well-developed sensitivty to such nuances, I could not relax in such a light and would never use it in my home.

* 8W Osram Duluxstar Mini Twist ‘warm-white’ E14 spiral CFL

Info: Correlated colour temperature (CCT) 2500K (“warm comfort light”). CRI around 80 = standard (mediocre) colour rendering capacity. Light flow: 470 lumen. Price: about €6. Made in China.

Impression: With even warmer light (= lower CCT) this one actually looks very much like incandescent light colour-wise = more golden than pink. Still a bit flat due to the lower CRI but definitely the best incandescent-copy I’ve seen so far.

Size-wise it is too big for all my different reflector luminaires, even though this is the most compact spiral CFL model I’ve seen. I can screw it in just fine but half of it sticks out. The part that is visible is very glaring. Calling my bf:s attention to the experiment, his first response was a loud “ouch” as the glare pierced his eye, and I got a dark afterimage in my visual field for several minutes afterwards from looking at it just briefly. I’d recommend it only in luminaires with shades.

Brightness seemed OK too. 470 lumen is even a bit more than the equivalent 40W incandescent (410 lm) with margin for the eventual light loss.

Nice job, Osram! Only took 2 decades to finally get it (almost) right.


Various short stories

CFL-lit restaurants – ack!

This week I was invited to a Christmas dinner at fine country restaurant. Lovely old building, great company, delicious food, but the lighting put a bit of a damper on the otherwise enjoyable event. It consisted of CFL downlights only, exept for a few halogen wallwashers to illuminate the beautiful brick walls. The effect was dim and gloomy as the dimmed CFL light was too weak to reach the tables and floors – unlike halogen light which does this very effectively – and made the room look dull and grey instead of sparkling and lively. If it hadn’t been for the halogen wall-washers, it would have been even more gloomy. Dimming the CFLs also changed their colour to dim blue and dim rose, and made some of them flicker perceptibly!

New LED traffic lights can’t melt snow

Just as some of us have been warning about. How hard can it be to just use the right lamp in the right place? Incandescent (halogen) lamps for regions with cold and snowy winters, LEDs for warmer regions.

Energy Efficiency: How NOT To Do It

Utilities billing their customers for ‘free’ CFLs, and with a profit margin on top of it, much to the surprise and dismay of their customers when they found out. LOL! Do people think their utilities are Santa Claus or Mother Teresa? As I pointed out in an earlier post, if you get something for free, you usually end up paying for it one way or another.

New Lamps for Old – Light Changing and Burglary

CFL light exchange programs may also attract thieves and scammers seeing an opportunity to get into your home, as well as companies handing out free low-quality CFLs in order to lure you into buying something else. Beware!

Compact Fluorescent Lamps Could Nearly Halve Global Lighting Demand for Electricity

“Aggressively replacing the world’s incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) could reduce lighting energy demand by nearly 40 percent and cut greenhouse gas emissions from day one, according to the latest Vital Signs Update released by the Worldwatch Institute.”

Obviously, World Watch Institute haven’t done their math right. As I clarified in the latter half of my Global Ban Craze post, incandescent lamps are used mainly in the Residential sector, which in turn uses only 15% of world energy (whereas the Industrial and Commercial sectors use 62.5%, the majority of which is already FL or HID). Of those 15% only a small part is used for lighting, and only some of the lamps in the Residential sector are still incandescent.

Stepping out, stepping lively

980 incandescent lamps to light up a slipper?! Ouch! What will happen to Las Vegas when incandescent lamps are phased out? The almost obscene overflow of high quality dazzling light is a huge part of Vegas’ special appeal, I wonder how casinos and hotels will manage without it? (Not that I’d be overly sorry if casino owners get one tool less to manipulate gullible people’s senses with, but I’m sure they will be.)

Ingo Maurer’s Euro Condom

For those EU residents who miss the now banned frosted incandescent bulb and forgot to stock up.

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