Sunday, 18 March 2007

Low Energy Light Bulbs - A more Balanced View

Following the lead of Australia, the EU is planning to outlaw the use of old-style filament light bulbs as early as 2008. On the surface, this edict to adopt low energy fluorescent devices looks a great way to reduce energy consumption worldwide. Some analysts claim a saving of 10% energy worldwide if this were adopted by the whole planet which is likely to save much more CO2 than any green generation schemes in a much smaller timescale.

However, my training as a chemical engineer tells me to look at the full environmental life cycle of any new product. Any fluorescent light uses mercury to produce the light as high voltage is applied to vaporise and excite the mercury atoms.

Mercury is particularly bad for the environment because it does not get destroyed and can cause catastrophic effects for the food chain, for example see this article.

Traditional filament bulbs use no mercury - so should we stop this inexorable move towards compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL's)?

In short, no, because the story isn't quite that simple. Ironically, the majority of mercury released into the atmosphere actually comes from burning fossil fuels. A US study found that a filament light bulb actually released over double the mercury into the atmosphere that a CFL did due to this indirect effect. The argument may be more marginal for countries such as France, where a high percentage of power is generated from nuclear.

Another welcome development is that some manufacturers, such as Phillips, are working the reduce the mercury content of the lamps they are producing.

The other thing to remember when you change your CFL after many years of saving the environment is not to toss it into the environment - CFL's are one of the many products subject to the EU's WEEE recycling scheme - the manufacturers are obliged to recycle the products.

Convinced now? If not, see this great video - short and well to the point.....

How many people does it take to make a difference?

A production of Tamarack Media. Concept by Florence Miller.


Anonymous said...

Whilst I agree with the philosophy I am concrned that yet again a sledge hammer is being taken to crack a nut and citizen choice and freedom is being eroded further, by mandating the use of low energy bulbs.
One of my problems with low energy bulbs is that the ones I use tend to throw out low levels of light, which in turn can cause all kinds of safety issues. Has anyone thought to eatimate the increased number of falls and trips which may occur as a result of low lighting levels - then the increased number of ambulance journeys (and accompanying emisions) required to ferry people as emergencies, to hospital.
Or are there low energy bulbs out there that do throw out similar light levels to our existing filament bulbs?

Helen said...

I think the sad fact is it will take the sledge hammer approach before anyone does anything.

I am all for it being mandatory - in the long run people will end up saving time and money investing in energy saving bulbs so it's a win win of sorts.

Top Tip - 100W energy saving bulbs do exist although maybe not in your local supermarket.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Helen - will look out for them