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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 13:29 GMT
Green Room: Light bulbs - not such a bright idea?

Incandescent light bulb.  Image: BBC
Matt Prescott argues that phasing out incandescent light bulbs using financial incentives or even banning them outright would be a good idea. What do you think?

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we received:


Focusing on light bulbs may help people see the light, but it doesn't address the upstream issues that trickle down to all our energy use decisions: the price we pay doesn't reflect the true cost of production and distribution. Tax electricity (which is easier than taxing bulbs) and you'll see usage go down. Use the proceeds to subsidise training or low-power capital expenditure - including for electricity companies - if you want to avoid annoying business.
Ant Evans, London

I am an Electrical Engineer. This idea had always been brewing in my mind until I found your article. Truly, it's high time we archived the incandescent light bulb.
Wale Olamiju, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

I believe traditional light bulbs should be banned and there should be a fine for anyone who uses them after the date in which is declared. This mainly is because that the new energy saving light bulbs save so much more energy with the same amount of light produced. It is not expensive and it would save this high energy demanding country a considerable amount of money and less pollution through oil and coal. In addition I also believe that petrol prices are too high as cause of burning oil for electricity.
Sara Simpson, Norwich, England

The sad truth of most environmentalists is that in promoting energy efficient technologies, they rarely present information on the manufacture of those technologies. How much energy is consumed in manufacturing a single CFL, compared to the standard incandescent? I notice that statistic is significantly absent here. Do the energy savings of the bulbs outweigh the energy use to manufacture and ship to end-user? If not you've just off-shored your energy consumption.
Josh Berkow, Buffalo USA

I find the fluorescent bulbs last no longer than incandescent ones, I guess the starter electronics fails. This makes them costly to me and a much greater pollution risk when disposed of. I heard circuit boards take thousands of years to decay in landfill. Regarding waste, the waste is heat, and as my house has heating that kicks in when the thermostat says it's cold, is there really waste, just because the bulb generates the heat rather than the electric heater?
Neil, Liverpool

Excellent idea! I'm all for banning light bulbs. Energy saving bulbs may cost slightly more and take longer to warm up but they certainly cost less in the long run. People might be up in arms about the idea to begin with but it's amazing how quickly everyone will get used to the change. In fact, I reckon that within three months of any possible ban everyone will realise what a great idea it was and start to wonder how they ever did without their more energy efficient lighting!
Joe, Derby, UK

Banning or taxing tungsten light bulbs in favour of fluorescent ones is a good idea. What about other energy saving sources of light, eg LEDs? I understand that there are patent difficulties in this area, but surely these could be overcome, given the huge energy savings that would ensue? There are already existing alternative technologies that could solve our energy needs, whilst reducing emissions of harmful gasses into the atmosphere. What is needed is the willpower to fight against the vested interests, the politics and greed of those supporting the energy status quo!
Roger Holloway, Lmapeter, Wales

Fine in theory, but with the multitude of shapes and sizes of incandescent bulbs, its not changing bulbs that is the problem, its the cost of changing the fittings as well. And how about dimmers - few of them work with discharge bulbs
Dave, Shrewsbury, UK

Does the stated reduction in emissions take into account the pollution from manufacturing? Energy efficient bulbs do appear to be more precisely engineered than filament bulbs, which could mean more pollutants during manufacture. However filament bulbs have a much shorter lifespan, so their manufacturing costs must be multiplied. Plus they take greater landfill space when they are disposed of. I'd be interested to see if this alters the figures in any way.
Graham Stewart, Edinburgh, UK

Banning the bulb is a "no-brainer" as an option to reducing emissions. Why are local authorities not being "encouraged" (forced) in to making the change. What about solar-power? Wouldn't it be appropriate for all new builds to have this technology built in at design? New houses and offices are springing up all over the country, could we not make some savings in this arena?
Duncan Parker, Basingstoke, England

A very interesting idea but it will meet with a lot of opposition unless the technology can meet the requirements. I use energy saving bulbs wherever possible and have done so for many years. Apart from the money this saves on my bill, it also means less time standing on a chair changing a bulb - we have a couple that are used for several hours daily, have been in at least 7 years and are still going strong. However, energy saving bulbs takes a couple of minutes to reach full brightness - which is annoying in a bathroom for instance. Until recently, it's been very difficult to get energy saving bulbs small enough to fit in some light fittings and I still haven't found an energy saving bulb that has a quality of light that matches the halogen spot-lights in my kitchen (shame on me - 4 bulbs at 50 watts each!).
Gillian BC, Bucks, UK

The low energy bulb is very good, but it can't be used with dimmer switches. Is this true? I have seven low energy bulbs in my house.
Gary Beck, Leicester, Leicestershire

I use energy saving bulbs where I can but find that it is difficult to use them in existing fittings because of their size. What about putting pressure on light fitting manufacturers to design for energy saving bulbs?
Mike Cleator, Mansfield UK

I have long thought this about CFLs. But, a more fun way would be to have an 'energy aid day' with pop groups and an iconic environmental pop star, maybe Sting? At a given time in the evening, on the day of the 'energy aid show all UK households with no CFLs (who have been given a free one previously, as they did in one famous US state years ago and closed down a power station!) could replace one incandescent bulb with their free CFL and hey presto, watch the demand go down!! The other idea for lighting is for football clubs and large industrial estates to pay towards PVs on their massive sloping roof tops (as in Middlesbrough football club), light up their clubs and work spaces with renewable energy and contribute the extra energy to the grid to light up nearby homes. There are so many creative solutions, but we just get hung up over wind farms and watch the planning applications being turned down with depressing regularity. About time for galvanized national action and end to complacency by national and local governments and regional agencies.
Pat Sykes, Totnes, Devon

While incandescent light bulbs do use much more electricity than compact fluorescents, what Dr. Prescott chooses to ignore is the quality of the light they produce. Incandescent lamps produce a white light spectrum that is nearly equivalent to that of the sun, whereas fluorescent bulbs always have certain colours missing, even if they are the so called "sunlight" or "full spectrum" type. The chemical composition doesn't allow most red and green frequencies to be produced by a fluorescent light; even if it has been modified, it will never equal the output spectrum of an incandescent lamp.
Marit, Ithaca, New York, USA

Whilst the author is presenting a one-sided view in order to start a debate, during any substantive discussion on this issue it will be necessary to include health issues. I know several people who have migraines induced by fluorescent lighting and HAVE to use incandescent bulbs at work and home. By extrapolation, there may well be a sizeable minority similarly affected.
Stephen Phillips, Herts

Agree totally. I am single person with a mortgage going broke because of higher utility bills and council tax. Certainly the utility bills would be lower if everybody conserved more. I have these energy saving bulbs in every room, I do not leave anything on standby and am very conservative in water usage to keep the bills down. But it does not make any difference to higher and higher bills until everybody does it.
John Ingram, London, UK

Banning incandescent light bulbs is just the first of many steps we need to take to improve energy efficiency. Another case is to replace the central heating boiler with a condensing type, which saves at least 10% of the input gas. We also need to characterise the energy we use by the temperature we use it at. Waste heat from high temperature applications can become the source for low temperature applications and low temperature applications have a wider choice of sources. For instance domestic water heating to say 60?C can be readily accomplished be solar water heaters in summer and preheated to a useful temperature in winter whereas central heating running at a water temperature of 80?C is more difficult to satisfy by this means. I believe that regulations governing new buildings should aim to make them utilise as much solar heat as practical. However if we were to adopt underfloor heating the increased surface area for heat radiation would reduce the required water circulation temperature to a level where solar heating could be practical. Now if we could satisfy our domestic heating from self contained sources and reduce our lighting consumption by 80%. How much would we then need to generate in power stations?
Charles Booth, Yateley, England

LED lights save even more electricity than the fluorescent. As far as I am aware, no one is manufacturing LED lights that could be used in standard receptacles. Also the amount of light that is wasted to light our night skies is ridiculous. Thanks for the article.
Michael Maurer, Jackson, Wyoming, USA

Would love to save electricity this way, but few of our bulbs have energy-efficient alternatives ... the range just isn't large enough yet to cope with the myriad fittings, wattages and bulb sizes we've ended up with. And, of course, the manufacturers will say there's no market ... !
David McCarthy, Eastbourne, UK

Matt, agree with the principle behind your ideas, but you can't literally ban incandescent bulbs as they're needed for safety on power tools - the strobe effect of a fluorescent light makes power tools appear stationary. Rather than banning this single items it'd be better to introduce a sliding tax scale based on energy wastage, pricing inefficient appliances out of the market.
James, Leeds UK

It's articles like this that really make me angry at how wasteful we are. I'm not going to say i don't waste, because i do. However i am always aware at how a small change can make a big difference. Taxing the conventional lightbulb is a brilliant idea, one that would raise extra revenue for the government to be put into schools, hospitals & police or even - while those sensible enough to not buy them will also enjoy the savings it makes on your bill.
Chris Howard, Reading, UK

Unfortunately the light produced by these bulbs is horrible, and the eyes tire much quicker. This is because they do not produce all the light spectrum, making them bad for the eyes.
Gordon Nudd, Ulm, Germany

Wow - I knew they saved money in the long term for the user but didn't realise it would make that much difference. About 60% of my light bulbs are energy saving - I am going to check if I can change the others also now.
Fiona Macartney, Rugby, UK

I live in a house - a rented house - where the electricity supply seems to be rather 'rough'. This means that low-energy bulbs tend to have a very short life - typically they start going dimmer after only a few months. Traditional bulbs not only last longer but are much cheaper to replace. In addition, traditional bulbs are the only ones that are supposed to be used with many timer and automatic switches. It is clear the current generation of low-energy bulbs are not as sustainable as they are portrayed.
Steve Phillips, Brussels

I totally agree. The US government is so worried about building new power plants, when simple energy reduction plans like this could have drastic affects immediately and cost less. I replaced my incandescent bulbs 2 years ago, and I still haven't needed to replace them.
Daniel Barber, Orlando, FL, USA






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