Have we seen the light?

2011-06-21 00:00

THE day is drawing closer when South Africa may pass a law banning the use or manufacture of the old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs. Many other countries have begun to phase out the old-fashioned light bulbs and are forcing consumers to adapt to the energy-efficient lightbulbs known as CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps).

The aim is to encourage the use and development of more energy-efficient lighting alternatives, such as CFLs and LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Brazil and Venezuela started to phase them out in 2005, and the European Union (EU), Switzerland and Australia banned them in 2010.

Although the United States is not phasing out incandescent light bulbs, it has set minimum-efficiency standards for lighting, which do not include the old incandescent light bulbs.

The Indian government took the plunge and decided to lead by example, and rolled out a plan to install energy-efficient lighting in all of their government buildings and regional development buildings. They have also passed laws to ensure that all government-affiliated organisations and public-service organisations comply with the rules.

The EU have passed regulations to make lighting more energy compliant, making exceptions only for specialised bulbs, which will be gradually phased out by 2016. Australia estimates that their ban will cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 800 000 tons (Australia’s current emission total is 564,7 million tons) — a saving of approximately 0,14%.

South Africa has also been party to the gradual implementation of the energy-saving light-bulb revolution, and has since saved 1 800 megawatts of electricity — enough to power a city the size of Durban — through replacing power-guzzling incandescent bulbs with energy savers.

Since 2004, about 43,5 million CFLs have been distributed in South Africa with no cost to customers. South Africa has led the way globally in its phase-out campaign, followed by Mexico.

But in many parts of the world, there has been a revolt against the way consumers have been forced to buy more expensive bulbs. It has been dubbed “light-bulb socialism”. Many people complain that the bulbs are ugly and not as bright, and that governments have given consumers no choice in the matter.

Two thirds of Austrians surveyed stated they believe the phase-out to be “nonsensical”, with 53,6% believing their health to be at risk of mercury poisoning. 72% of Americans believe the government has no right to dictate which light bulb they may use. The trend in South Africa is that people are not adverse to becoming energy efficient, but they don’t like the price of the new CFLs.

Many consumers may not be aware that the new CFLs contain mercury and have to be safely disposed of or they are hazardous. The quality of the lighting has also been a point of contention and many consumers say that while the wattage may be equal to the incandescent lightbulb, the quality of the light is not good.

There are other energy- efficient options beside the CFLs — the LEDs and the electron-stimulated luminescence lamps (ESLs). They are both mercury-free and offer a longer life than the incandescent bulbs.

A United Kingdom campaign group called Spectrum has been formed to raise awareness of the health issues related to CFLs.

Their campaign highlights the plight of those who are sensitive to the side effects of CFLs — skin reactions and migraines have been reported as side effects, despite denials from the light-bulb industry.

Eskom has urged consumers to realise that while CFLs are more expensive initially, they will pay for themselves in the long term by resulting in cheaper electricity bills and providing longer use than incandescent bulbs. On average a CFL bulb will last four times longer than an old-fashioned bulb.

Eskom general manager of integrated demand management, Andrew ­Etzinger said: “The electricity saved as a result of the marked reduction in consumption by lighting in homes and buildings across the country, takes us closer to achieving our energy savings targets.”

He said barriers discouraging the widespread use of CFLs have been overcome in the past six years. The growing demand for CFLs has resulted in prices decreasing from between R60 and R80 for a single bulb in 2004, to about R15 currently.

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