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World Governments Adopting A Bright Idea

From Australia to Russia, energy-efficient light bulbs are gaining political traction around the globe. Introduced decades ago, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are now being promoted and even mandated by governments concerned about rising energy costs and climate change. According to a 2006 International Energy Agency (IEA) report, lighting absorbs nearly one-fifth of global electricity generation, more than is produced by hydro or nuclear stations and about the same amount produced from natural gas.

Australia will be the first country to ban the inefficient incandescent bulbs, with a complete phase out planned by 2009. “By that stage you simply won’t be able to buy incandescent lightbulbs, because they won’t meet the energy standard,? said environment minister Malcolm Turnbull. Australians are among the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters per capita, and the country has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. But severe drought in the country has led to rising environmental concern. According to Turnbull, the new law will reduce Australia’s current emissions by 800,000 tons by 2012 and will simultaneously cut household lighting costs 66 percent.

Lawmakers in California, New Jersey, the United Kingdom, Canada, and a growing number of other locales hope to follow Australia’s lead. Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty estimates that a ban of the energy-sucking incandescents would save enough energy to shut down one coal-fired power plant, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail. European bulb makers announced March 1 that they would work together to promote energy-efficient lighting to European consumers, including light emitting diodes, or LEDs, which can save even more energy than CFLs. The European Lamp Companies Federation, with includes General Electric, Siemens, and Royal Philips Electronics, said it plans to promote “public incentives to encourage consumers to purchase more efficient products and [set] performance standards that will eliminate the least efficient products from the market.?

Even Russia, a country with huge oil and gas reserves, is beginning to promote CFL bulbs, though “It’s all about conserving energy supplies and nothing to do with the environment,? according to Igor Bashmakov, head of the independent Center for Energy Efficiency. But the nationwide billboard campaign to promote energy-saving bulbs may not need a climate-change angle to be effective. As Moscow resident Nastya Meshkova observed, “It’s important to save energy, and if it’s going to save my energy bill of course I'll do it.? The IEA reports that a global switch to efficient lighting systems would cut the world’s electricity bill by nearly one-tenth.

Alana Herro writes for Eye on Earth (e²), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e² provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

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Does anyone have opinions on the mercury issue involving CFLs? What about disposal? What if one were to break a CFL bulb in the house?

Posted by: JC on 7 Mar 07

... and following on from your article on building context connection, what is the cost of producing the things compared with an incandescent bulb?! How many hours operation would it take to recoup your carbon karma?

(Personally, I think it's a great initiative, but that doesn't stop me playing devil's advocate!!)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 7 Mar 07

In India, and this was purely for financial reasons, most middle class houses have used what we call tubelights (fluroscent lights) for years. While CFLs are probably better, at least inadvertently, that meant less incandescent lighting.

Posted by: Deepak on 8 Mar 07

For those concerned about mercury in lamps, you might have a look at the US EPA fact sheet on mercury in CFLs.

It says, 'If a CFL breaks in your home, open nearby windows to disperse any vapor that may escape, carefully sweep up the fragments (do not use your hands) and wipe the area with a disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments. Do not use a vacuum. Place all fragments in a sealed plastic bag and follow disposal instructions above.'

Interestingly, the same fact sheet says that CFLs will result in less mercury in the environment because of savings in energy from coal-fired power plants.

In terms of the economics, see Ask Leo in the Guardian newspaper. It seems that in the UK, it would take 200 hours to recoup the production cost.

I think the most important figure, though, comes from the European Commission -- 90% of lifecycle impacts come in the 'in use' phase of the lightbulb. This suggests that the production and disposal issues are less significant the energy efficiency ones.

I produced a poster on the life cycle design of the incandescent light bulb for my MPhil coursework. You can download the poster (.PDF, 190 KB).

Posted by: joanium on 8 Mar 07

Sorry, the link to the light bulb poster should have been

Posted by: joanium on 8 Mar 07

Thanks joanium for the info.

It looks like much still needs to be done on the recycling:

From NPR

General Electric has been making compact fluorescents for 20 years. Now the company admits that the little bit of mercury in each bulbs could become a real problem if sales balloon as expected.

"Given what we anticipate to be the significant increase in the use of these products, we are now beginning to look at, and shortly we'll be discussing with legislators, possibly a national solution here," says Earl Jones, a senior counsel for General Electric.

Posted by: JC on 8 Mar 07



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