The decision taken by a national expert committee endorsed a proposal by the European Commission to switch to more energy-efficient lighting. The Commission estimates that it will allow EU households to reduce their electricity use by 10-15%, saving up to 50 euro a year, a "balanced, realistic figure".
There has been concern about the higher costs of more efficient lamps, but a longer lifetime and price reductions expected from more production and lifting of excise duties is expected to render them competitive.
"This draft legislation is important not only for the energy savings it offers but for the very symbolic character for the citizen," said French Minister of State for Transport Dominique Bussereau, who chaired the meeting of European transport, telecommunications and energy ministers on Monday.
The decision is an implementing measure under the EU's 2005 Eco-Design Directive, which aims to reduce the energy consumption of consumer products running on electricity. "These decisions will confirm the EU's leadership in the transition to a more sustainable energy future," Bussereau commented.
According to the conclusions adopted by the energy ministers on Monday, these rules on the energy use and efficiency of consumer items like washing machines and refrigerators should be extended to a range of 'energy-related' items like insulation. If approved by MEPs in the first months of 2009, the 'eco-design' requirements for energy-using products would be updated to include the new product list. The Commission recommended broadening the scope of the directive in its July 2008 strategy on sustainable consumption and production (SCP), part of a wider strategy to 'green' the EU's product line.
Scope of the decision
The phase-out scheme only covers non-directional lights, emitting light equally in all directions. It also makes exemptions for some technologies, including halogens with specific lamp caps and special purpose incandescent lamps such as traffic lights and infrared lamps. This was justified as ensuring that EU citizens have access to the same standards they are used to while taking care that they do not end up with empty luminaires, which can only take a certain type of lamps.
The new directive thus only bans incandescent light bulbs, Thomas Edison's invention, which are now regarded as last-century's technology due to their energy wastage. It sets minimum standards for energy efficiency and functionality. This gives consumers the choice between long-life compact fluorescent lamps yielding up to 75% energy savings compared to incandescent lamps, or efficient halogen lamps, which have the same light quality as traditional bulbs but provide only 25-50% savings.
The shift away from incandescent lighting is likely to move light bulb production away from the EU. According to estimates, around 2,000 to 3,000 jobs will become redundant, mainly in Eastern Europe, where Hungary and Poland have big factories. However, the Commission says that that some of these jobs will move to halogen production and savings of five to ten billion euro from energy bills can be injected back into the economy to create new jobs.
Today, 85% of lamps in European homes are inefficient in terms of their energy consumption. Many countries are planning to switch off their incandescent lights with US draft legislation in place for a 2014 deadline and plans already decided for countries as diverse as Australia and Cuba. If Europe does not make its move now, "all incandescent lights will end up being dumped into the EU," the Commission warned.