Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Incandescent with rage...

A mailing this week from Lightbulbs Direct (my source of the otherwise unobtainable halogen bulb that I like to have in the uplighter, as well as whatever supplies of traditional light bulbs are still available) confirms that the EU have gone ahead with their threat to ban incandescent light bulbs. Such bulbs (the cloudy sort first) will start to become unobtainable from September (or rather before that, since most of us will panic buy whatever stocks can be supplied before that time). Clear ones may be around for a bit longer but eventually they'll be ruled out too.

Why are we to be deprived of the right to light? Presumably in the interests of saving CO2.

I wonder whether they've actually calculated the saving of CO2 correctly, though. The thing is, an incandescent light bulb produces both light and heat. A flourescent tube produces more light and less heat. The amount of energy put in (watts of electricity) is the same amount of energy as comes out (light and heat). Less energy in, less energy out. More energy in, more energy out.

If you use incendescent bulbs in a room that you are also heating, you will need less heating to keep the room warm than you will if you use a flourescent bulb. So in the winter, nothing is lost if you use an incandescent bulb in a room that is also heated by electricity. Your electricity usage will not go up or down by changing your light bulb.

Perhaps you heat your house by gas, and light it by electricity. Then your electricity usage will go down and your gas usage will go up if you change to cooler bulbs. But now, is this a good thing? It won't be saving CO2 if your gas and your electricity are both causing CO2 to be burnt off.

There is a risk (increasing as more of us join Green tariff electricity) that your electricity was actually coming from a renewable resource, wind power or solar or water or something, and not causing any CO2 emissions at all. So your incandescent bulb was giving you light and heat at no cost to the environment. Then the gas is worse than the electricity. In that case you are doing more damage to the environment by fitting the low wattage bulbs and adding heat from the gas fired heating instead.

So the only occasions on which you will assist the environment by going for the horrid low wattage bulbs is if the light is out doors, if the light is in a room you are not intending to heat or which tends to be too hot already, or if you are burning the light in the summer. But those are a tiny proportion of the occasions for switching on a light, and can be solved if we are all taught to fit a low watt light bulb in a room we never use or in outdoor fittings, and if buildings are built with adequate natural light so that no lighting is needed in the daytime, particularly on summer days. It can't be necessary to make incandescent bulbs illegal to achieve that!

And what about those of us who will have to resort to reading by candle light or gas or oil lamps, since we can't stand the flashing light of the flourescent lighting?

You don't think it flickers? Try this experiment. Sit in a room lit by a flourescent light, and try taking a picture with a digital camera (e.g. the one built into your computer if you have one). Now you'll see. That's why it's so uncomfortable to read by and why it makes you tired and brings on a headache.

My thanks to Bob De Wolf for pointing out how simple the physics of this is, and how dotty the policy is as a result.


Anonymous said...

All very well...BUT the issue is not so simple.

Incandescent bulbs have to be replaced much more often. Have you calculated how much extra energy goes into their manufacture and disposal?

A great many people do not switch their light off when they leave the house - any heat produced is then wasted.

Adrian Windisch said...

The lights you are talking about were replaced years ago, the new ones are much improved.

My favourite are the led lights that fit into halogen units but use less than one watt instead of 60. With no flicker, a long life.

Catherine Rowett said...

They keep saying the new ones are better, but none of them seem to me to give enough light for those of us over 50 with reluctant focus.
Also the supposed length of life seems to me to be overstated (one that my mother fitted lasted only a few weeks). And I really doubt that the EU directive is about the environmental costs of the manufacture. I think they suppose that the reduction is electricity usage will enable them to meet their carbon reduction targets without doing any of the uncomfortable things like reducing the use of air travel and private cars, and I think they may find the reduction in power consumption is not as great as they imagined.

Philip said...

I'm so glad that you've picked up on the concept that, if you're heating your building anyway, then any heat isn't wasted.
Of course there is some room to argue about the relative efficiency of converting gas to heat directly in a domestic heating boiler or in a power station followed by a generator and a transmission system, but generally a big power station is pretty efficient, and once it gets to your home there's 100% conversion of electricity into heat.
The example the UK is following in banning incandescent lamps is Australia. Australia is a hot country, wher most domestic homes are air-conditioned, so everybody's trying to get rid of heat in their houses. In the UK we're mostly trying to keep our houses warm.
Although the EU is intending to ban the use of incandesent lamps, the rules don't come in for several years. It's a domestic decision by the UK government that's bringing the ban in immediately. One also has to ask which country is most likely to have put up the idea to the European Commission in the first place - probably the one that then implemented it years ahead of the deadline!
All lamps working off a 50Hz A.C. supply will flicker. Discharge lamps such as flourescent lamps flicker very sharply (as well as the digital photo test, you can sometimes see the strobe-light effect if you move your hand fast against a dark background). Filament lamps flicker rather softly, as the glowing filament can't heat up and cool down quickly enough to respond to the A.C. frequency. LEDs only work on D.C. current, so need a rectifier in the circuit. If this rectifier includes a smoothing device, they won't flicker, but if it doesn't, they will still flicker!
I've had some compact flourescent lamps that have lasted for years, and one or two that only lasted a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

It is very unlikely that it was the UK that suggested the ban. The general pattern is that countries that have no intention of ever enforcing EU regulations suggest them, they get implemented, and only the UK bothers to comply with them.