EU to switch off traditional light bulbs by 2012

EU national representatives voted yesterday (8 December) to phase out energy-guzzling incandescent light bulbs and inefficient halogen bulbs between 2009 and 2012 in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security.

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. 

Positions

Energy Commissioner Andris Pielbalgs commended the decision as the most visible measure of the Eco-design Directive. "This groundbreaking measure delivers a clear message about the EU's commitment to reach its energy efficiency and climate protection targets. By replacing last century lamps by more performant technologies, European homes will keep the same quality of lighting, while saving energy, CO2 and money," he said. 

The UK government welcomed the decision, which "saves consumers money and helps reduce their carbon footprint". "Last year, we announced a voluntary initiative - led by UK retailers and energy suppliers - that has already started phasing these bulbs out and we are pleased that this is now going to be made mandatory across Europe too."

MEP John Bowles, the UK Conservatives' health and environment spokesman, criticised the early decision as a risk for human health, because conditions such as epilepsy, migraine and autism "can be adversely affected by fluorescent lighting in homes, offices, shops, streets and even hospitals to the extent that it makes it impossible for sufferers to go there". "This is one of those occasions where we must strike the right balance between the environment and health," he said.

The European Lamp Companies Federation (ELC), representing leading lamp manufacturers in Europe, and CELMA, representing luminaire and ballast producers in Europe, welcomed the decision. "The phase-out of traditional lamps represents a substantial change for consumers and the industry. As lamp manufacturers, we are prepared to mobilise our production capacities to help Europe make the switch to energy efficient lamps," said Gerald Strickland, ELC secretary-general.

Greenpeace criticised the incremental approach, labelling it a "half-hearted attempt". "The EU has watered down its ambition and has not brought in the highest existing standard. While incandescent light bulbs will be phased out from 2012, the most efficient bulbs will not be mandatory until years later." 

Background

In October 2008, EU energy ministers invited the European Commission to draft a regulation to phase out the sale of all incandescent and poorly-performing light bulbs by 2010. This was to be done within the framework of the Eco-Design Directive, providing performance requirements for energy-using products.

Actual measures under the directive are decided by the Commission on a product-by-product basis, under the supervision of a designated panel of EU member-state experts as part of the fast-track 'comitology' procedure. 

The first 19 energy-using product groups for which the EU executive wants energy-efficiency standards to be established - including heating equipment, lighting, domestic appliances and electric motors - was selected during a transitional phase after the adoption of the directive in July 2005. 

In October, the Commission unveiled the next batch of ten groups, including such product groups as air-conditioning and ventilating systems as well as food preparation and refrigeration equipment, for which energy standards will be established in the next three years.

So far, implementing measures have been approved for simple set-top TV boxes, tertiary sector lighting, external power supplies and appliances in standby mode.

Timeline

  • Parliament will scrutinise the plans for three months.
  • March 2009: Target date for formal adoption by the Commission.

Further Reading