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Michael Hanlon skewers light bulb Eurobureaucrats

A columnist for the UK’s Daily Mail, Michael Hanlon explains how foolish it is for European bureaucrats to ban incandescent light bulbs:

It’s all so dispiriting — and so utterly illogical.

For while no one disputes that we must all do our bit to save energy and conserve resources, from a scientific perspective this piece of legislation is so wrong, muddle-headed and infuriating that it is hard to know where to begin.

First, banning light bulbs on eco grounds is simply greenwash — a meaningless nod to environmental correctness that will have no measurable impact on the planet whatsoever.

Supporters of the ban claim that by eliminating incandescent bulbs entirely Europe could ‘save’ as much as 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

Even if that figure is correct (which is dubious to say the least) it is a mere sneeze in a hurricane compared to the four billion tonnes of CO2 produced by the EU every year.

Put simply, banning 100W bulbs while still allowing, say, aircraft to fly, cars to drive or power stations to burn coal is an exercise in pointless meddling, officiousness and bureaucracy that will save not a single polar bear….

To see why, we need to understand how these new ecobulbs work.

The most popular variety, Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs), are simply coiled-up fluorescent tubes, identical in the technology they use to the strip-lights that have been common in the workplace for decades.

In theory, it’s a far more energy-efficient way of producing light. While only 5 per cent of the energy drawn by a conventional bulb is actually turned into light (the rest is wasted heating the bulb), CFLs turn as much as 20 per cent of the energy they consume into light.

But there is a problem — several problems, in fact. Perhaps most seriously, some experts doubt the touted energy savings for CFLs. To work efficiently they need to be left on for long periods to allow the bulb to reach full brightness — negating any CO2 savings if light is only needed for a short time.

Replacing all the lights in a busy office or shop with CFLs may make some sense; but in the home, where lights may be needed for only a few minutes at a time, the green argument is less valid.

Then there is the important fact that CFLs are simply not very good.

The manufacturers claim that today’s generation of CFL bulbs are so good that ‘no one can tell the difference’, but this simply is not so.

Whatever it may claim on the box, CFLs simply do not give out the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb — something verified by independent tests.

For example, one consumer comparison published at the weekend showed that while traditional clear 60W bulbs provided around 120 lux of illumination the comparable CFL substitutes produced, at best, 79 lux and, at worst, just 60 lux, depending on the brand — and that was after they were given a 10-minute ‘warm up’.

You have probably experience this at home yourselves. I know I have.

Turning on the CFL ‘light’ above our dining table is a process now described in sarcastic terms not as switching the light on but ‘switching the dark on’.

Small wonder, then, that CFLs are despised by those, such as artists and illustrators, whose job depends on a good quality of light.

What’s worse, the new bulbs work badly in cold weather, usually do not work at all with dimmer switches (though there now are expensive versions which do) and simply do not fit into many existing light fittings.

Then there are the potential health risks: the small amount of mercury vapour contained in each CFL bulb is toxic.

And many people claim that the high-frequency ‘flickering’ of these eco-bulbs gives them headaches, exacerbates skin conditions and can trigger epileptic fits.

Even if we accept that some of these risks have been exaggerated, it seems strange suddenly to force people to use a product about which so many consumers are unhappy….

Replacing a perfectly good technology with one that is far more expensive, of dubious environmental merit and that simply does not work as well as the old one is an extraordinary retrograde step.

Shoppers all over the European Union are stocking up on incandescent light bulbs while they’re still available, clearing the shelves in stores across the continent.

Similar madness is coming to the United States, but it’s not too late to reverse course.  Send your used compact fluorescent light bulbs to your Congressman or Senator in Washington, along with a note telling them you think they should repeal the upcoming ban on incandescent light bulbs.

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Bad light

Compact fluorescent light bulbs aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be, says Howard Brandston in today’s Wall Street Journal:

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will effectively phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2012-2014 in favor of compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. Other countries around the world have passed similar legislation to ban most incandescents.

Will some energy be saved? Probably. The problem is this benefit will be more than offset by rampant dissatisfaction with lighting. We are not talking about giving up a small luxury for the greater good. We are talking about compromising light. Light is fundamental. And light is obviously for people, not buildings. The primary objective in the design of any space is to make it comfortable and habitable. This is most critical in homes, where this law will impact our lives the most. And yet while energy conservation, a worthy cause, has strong advocacy in public policy, good lighting has very little.

Even without taking into account people’s preferences, CFLs, which can be an excellent choice for some applications, are simply not an equivalent technology to incandescents in all applications. For example, if you have dimmers used for home theater or general ambience, you must buy a compatible dimmable CFL, which costs more, and even then it may not work as desired on your dimmers. How environmental will it be for frustrated homeowners to remove and dispose of thousands of dimmers? What’s more, CFLs work best in light fixtures designed for CFLs, and may not fit, provide desired service life, or distribute light in the same pleasing pattern as incandescents. How environmental will it be for homeowners to tear out and install new light fixtures?

Add “bad light” to “health hazard” and “environmental damage” on the list of drawbacks to compact fluorescent light bulbs.

The arrogance of our federal government in banning traditional incandescent light bulbs is outrageous.  When your compact fluorescent light bulbs burn out, send them to Washington.  Let the experts there handle the dangerous disposal problem.

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