An energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulb uses one-fifth of the energy required by a conventional incandescent bulb and lasts 10 times longer. It may cost a little more than a traditional lightbulb, but the investment pays for itself many times over. So why the heck do people continue using the antiquated bulbs, with their tungsten filament and quaint contact wires from another era?
That, apparently, is a question which has been occupying the European Commission in Brussels in recent months. According to the Wednesday edition of Germany's Rheinische Post newspaper, the European Commission is preparing a plan for a phase-out of incandescent bulbs that would begin in 2009. The new rules would place progressive bans on bulbs based on the number of watts of electricity they use and their energy efficiency class. The Commission is estimating savings for European consumers of €5 billion to €8 billion ($7.7 billion to $12.4 billion).
In Germany alone, if every household switched out its old bulbs and replaced them with more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, more than 7.5 billion kilowatt hours could be saved and carbon dioxide emissions could be cut by 4.5 million tons. Across the European Union, that would translate to CO2 emissions reductions of 23 million tons per year. The rules are part of the EU's new climate protection policies, championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which aim to increase energy efficiency across Europe by 20 percent by 2020.
"It's clear that incandescent lightbulbs will disappear in Europe during the middle of the coming decade," Jürgen Waldorf, an expert at the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers Association (ZVEI), told the newspaper. But he warned against implementing a complete ban before 2015. "If it comes any earlier, we won't have the capacity yet to produce the 2 billion bulbs that will be needed to meet EU demand."
Incandescent lightbulbs have been labeled "climate killers" in Europe because much of the energy they consume is transformed into wasted heat rather than light. It may have the side benefit of making a room warmer, but it's an expensive and inefficient way of producing heat.
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs, also known as low-energy lightbulbs, consist of a gas-filled tube coated with fluorescent luminescent material. They produce far greater light and less heat with the energy they use.
Last year, Australia became the first country to announce it would ban the use of incandescent bulbs by 2010. California is planning a phase-out by 2018. And on Tuesday, New Zealand said it would join the fray, ending the use of traditional lightbulbs starting in October 2009.