EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

Regarding ‘EU light bulb ban attacked from all sides as phase-out starts‘:

The ban on ordinary light bulbs is an extraordinary consumer ban on a product that is safe to use.

We are not talking about banning lead paint here – and light bulbs don’t give out any CO2 gas. Power stations do.

Note therefore the consumer legislation irony,forcibly replacing a cheap, simple, safe, popular product with an expensive, complex, mercury-releasing, unpopular product as the main proposed alternative.

Europeans (like Americans) choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 9 times out of 10 (European Commission and light industry data 2007-8).

Banning what people want gives the supposed “great savings for them” – no point in banning an unpopular product!

If new LED lights – or improved CFLs etc – are good, people will buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point).

If they are not good, people will not buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point).

The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy-using radio valves/tubes were banned…they were bought less anyway.

The need to save energy? Advice is good and welcome, but bans are another matter. People -not politicians – pay for energy and how they wish to use it.

There is no energy shortage – on the contrary, more and more renewable sources are being developed –
and if there was an energy shortage, the price rise would lead to more demand for efficient products – no need to legislate for it.

Supposed savings don’t hold up anyway, for many reasons to do with CFL brightness, lifespan, the power factor, lifecycle, the heat effect of ordinary bulbs, and other referenced research.

If energy use does indeed fall with light bulb and other proposed efficiency bans, electricity companies make less money, and they’ll simply push up the electricity bills to compensate (especially since power companies often have their own grids with little supply competition).

Energy regulators can hardly deny any such cost-covering exercise, in which case less money savings.

Conversely, since energy efficiency in effect means cheaper energy, people simply leave appliances on more than before, as shown by Scottish research previously reported on EurActiv (and in the case of “energy saving” lights, CFLs, they’re supposed to be left on more anyway, to avoid cutting down on their lifespan) – in which case less energy savings, adding to all the other reasons against supposed savings, as linked above.

That is not to deny that savings can be there – but not to the extent supposed, and insignificant in an overall view, compared with proper politics dealing directly with any energy or emission problems: a positive worldview believing in the ability to supply and deliver, not a negative world view of let’s-all-cry-into-our-beer-and-cut-down-and-save.

This type of petty interventionist banning politics, that Brussels is so good at, only serves to alienate people from cooperating in future more significant lifestyle changes in the pro-ban climate change agenda:

The only real “energy saving” going on here is in the mental activity of politicians in Brussels, London and Dublin.

Emissions? Does a light bulb give out any gases? Why should emission-free households be denied the use of lighting they obviously want to use?

Low-emission households already dominate some regions, and will increase everywhere, since emissions will be reduced anyway through the planned use of coal/gas processing technology and/or energy substitution.

The taxation alternative

As previously said, a ban on light bulbs is an extraordinary consumer ban, it’s not about banning a product that’s not safe to use. This is simply a ban to reduce electricity consumption.

Even for those who remain pro-ban, taxation to reduce consumption would be fairer and make more sense, also since governments can use the income to reduce emissions (home insulation schemes, renewable projects, etc.) more than any remaining product use causes such problems.

A tax of a few dollars that reduces current sales (the EU, like the USA, records 2 billion sales per annum, the UK 250-300 million pa) and raises future billions would retain consumer choice. It could also be revenue-neutral, lowering any sales tax on efficient products.

When sufficent low-emission electricity delivery is in place, the tax would be lifted.
http://www.ceolas.net/LightBulbTax.html

Taxation is itself unjustified: it is simply a better alternative, for pro-ban politicians as well as for everyone else.

Of course an EU ban is underway, but in phases, supposedly with reviews in a couple of years time…maybe the debate in the USA and Canada will be affected by the issues being raised over here?

Finally:
Anyone interested in the strange background EU and industrial politics that led up to this ban can read
http://www.ceolas.net/#li1ax

Peter Thornes, ceolas.net

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Comments

  1. Dear Peter,

    Thanks for your post which saved me a lot of work – I was planning on writing a letter on the idiocracy of the European Commission in relation to the ban of the incandescent bulbs.

    I would just like to mention though that I do not find any logic in banning mercury thermometers “as a part of a larger strategy to end the use of the highly toxic substance across the continent” [1] (see [2] for the text of the directive for the EC’s legal database Eur-Lex), which can last decades if handled carefully (I myself used to have a thermometer I inherited from my grandma until recently), and at the same time forcing the whole continent buy MERCURY-CONTAINING “environment-friendly” light bulbs that only last few years…

    Some videos based on tests carried out by the German independent although pro-governmentally oriented organisation ÖKO-TEST and showing the deficiencies of the most common mercury-containing “environment-friendly” lamps are available online ([3], [4], in German).

    Best,

    Svetoslav

    References:
    [1] CBC News. 2007. European Union bans sale of toxic mercury thermometers. [online]
    URL: http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/07/11/mercury-ban.html (page last accessed on 14.09.2009).

    [2] European parliament, European Council. 2007. Directive 2007/51/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 September 2007 amending Council Directive 76/769/EEC relating to restrictions on the marketing of certain measuring devices containing mercury. Official Journal L 257, p. 0013.
    Available online: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2007:257:0013:01:EN:HTML (page last accessed on 14.09.2009).

    [3] Spiegel TV. 2009. Nicht jede Birne ist eine Leuchte.
    URL: http://www.spiegel.de/video/video-1019236.html (page last accessed on 14.09.2009).

    [4] You0tubehater. Wahrheit Energiesparlampen Spiegel TV 23.08.2009. [online]
    URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4RCDRkp-5k&hl=de (page last accessed on 14.09.2009).

  2. Thanks Svetoslav,

    Yes, there is something rather strange about forcibly replacing a cheap, simple, safe, popular and easily bright product,
    with an expensive, complex, mercury-releasing, unpopular and more difficultly bright product as the main suggested replacement.

    Many say wait some years until better LEDs are available,
    but of course the ban is wrong in itself,
    whatever the suggested replacement
    — inefficient products have advantages too, or noone would buy them
    — suggested savings don’t hold up, for many reasons as given
    — the fundamental need to force (rather than advice on) the saving energy that people themselves want to pay for and use can be questioned, as there is no shortage, many new energy sources are developed, and with any fossil fuel shortage the price rise would lead both to a renewable energy switch, and to an increased desire to buy efficient products anyway – without the need for legislation
    — emissions don’t come from light bulbs, and can be dealt with directly
    — if all else was wrong, taxation is still more logical,
    since the objective is just to lower electricity consumption,
    not to ban a dangerous product.

  3. Note:

    The light bulb ban is only the start.

    Refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers, boilers, heaters, TV-sets, plasma screens, computers and much else are up for efficiency based bans.

    A natural reply might be
    “Well isn’t it good to only have efficient products?”
    But efficiency is only one advantage a product can have.
    Inefficent products have advantages too – or noone would buy them.
    Whether TV sets or dishwashers or other products,
    performance, appearance , construction, cost and indeed savings can all be negatively affected by
    imposing efficiency standards on them.
    Anyone who wants an understanding of this
    can read http://ceolas.net/#cc2x onwards.
    Energy or emission problems can and should be addressed directly,
    there is no need to ban what people want to buy.

    See Commissioner Piebalgs announcement of most of the above mentioned bans – and the comments:
    http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/piebalgs/switching-on-to-energy-efficiency/

  4. Well – this might make sense if the cost for powering the appliance over its lifetime were also given – this is difficult because of differences in electricity tariffs, of course.
    People being people will tend to buy the cheaper product, this is why we tend to buy everything from Asia – if they had the cost included, be it only indicative, then consumers (and manufacturers) would have an incentive to become more energy efficient.

  5. Thanks John,

    As said, energy efficiency is only one advantage a product can have,
    products using more energy have other advantages as mentioned
    – Cheapness indeed often being one of them.

    The notion you mention is a common one used to excuse the bans:
    “Market forces fail, people only buy cheap inefficient products,
    they won’t buy expensive energy efficent products even if they would save money by doing it, so banning is the next logical step”

    Banning what people want to buy is odd in itself
    – as said, we are not talking about banning lead paint here
    and energy and emissions can be dealt with directly

    Put it this way:

    1.
    You don’t keep buying a cheap product if it doesn’t satisfy what you want from it.
    This can therefore relate to many other properties apart from efficiency
    It also means that people may be happy to pay more for electricity use if – for example – they feel that the light quality from ordinary light bulbs warrants it.

    2.
    Nor do you avoid buying expensive alternatives just because they cost more to buy:
    Otherwise no expensive alternative products anywhere would ever be bought.
    “Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run”:
    In normal advertising manufacturers themselves highlight such a possible advantageous feature of their products.

    Think of long-lasting batteries and Duracell/Energizer rabbits, think of washing up liquids that wash piles of dishes.

    CFL/LED manufacturers wrongly rely on public campaigns and bans to make sales.
    Of course, if people don’t like the products, the products won’t sell well anyway.

    3.
    You may not want all your product purchases to be of one type.
    For example, different lights have different advantages.
    The idea to “Switch all your lights and save lots of money”
    is like saying “Eat only bananas and save lots of money”.

    As it happens, many households already have at least 1 CFL (the UK is typical, 1/2 of households there and in most countries have at least 1 CFL and the average UK and European household has around 2 CFLs and 20 light bulbs, Commission research).
    So maybe they feel that is enough:
    There is no reason to only use CFLs or any other type of light, all lights have their own advantages and different uses.
    Of course, maybe people simply don’t like CFLs enough to use more of them, however good the marketing might be.

  6. //editor, please delete previous comment
    and use this one instead -thanks //

    Thanks John,

    As said, energy efficiency is only one advantage a product can have,
    products using more energy have other advantages as mentioned
    – Cheapness indeed often being one of them.

    The notion you mention is a common one used to excuse the bans:
    “Market forces fail, people only buy cheap inefficient products,
    they won’t buy expensive energy efficent products even if they would save money by doing it, so banning is the next logical step”

    Banning what people want to buy is odd in itself
    – as said, we are not talking about banning lead paint here
    and energy and emissions can be dealt with directly

    Put it this way:

    1.
    You don’t keep buying cheap products if they don’t satisfy what you want from them.
    This can therefore relate to many other properties apart from energy efficiency.
    It also means that people may be happy to pay more for electricity use if – for example – they feel that the light quality from ordinary light bulbs warrants it.

    2.
    Nor do you avoid buying expensive alternatives just because they cost more to buy:
    Otherwise no expensive alternative products anywhere would ever be bought.
    “Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run”:
    In normal advertising manufacturers themselves highlight such a possible advantage of their products.

    Think of long-lasting batteries and Duracell/Energizer rabbits, think of washing up liquids that wash piles of dishes.

    CFL/LED manufacturers wrongly rely on public campaigns and bans to make sales.
    Of course, if people don’t like the products, the products won’t sell well anyway.

    3.
    You may not want all your product purchases to be of one type.
    For example, different lights have different advantages.
    The idea to “Switch all your lights and save lots of money”
    is like saying “Eat only bananas and save lots of money”

    As it happens, many households already have at least 1 CFL (the UK is typical, 1/2 of households there and in most countries have at least 1 CFL and the average UK and European household has around 2 CFLs and 20 light bulbs, Commission research).
    So maybe they feel that is enough:
    There is no reason to only use CFLs or any other type of light, all lights having usage possibilities.
    Of course, maybe people simply don’t like CFLs enough to use more of them, however good the marketing might be.

  7. “Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run”:
    In normal advertising manufacturers themselves highlight such a possible advantage of their products. Completely agree the thing I am concerned about with LED lights is their recycling, I think with the mass use not all countries are prepared to deal with lamp once they resume working and the planet gets polluted because not all people know about the hazardous impact on the nature. People have to be aware and reasonable about electricity that it’s not a one way energy source and it leads to nature outbreaks and mishaps.

  8. Climate change is a global problem, and yet each one of us has the power to make a difference. Even small changes in our daily behaviour can help prevent greenhouse gas emissions without affecting our quality of life. In fact, they can help save us money!

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