Wasteful halogens kept on to please German industry

By Jack Hunter

Arguments for keeping wasteful halogen light-bulbs on the European market were blown away in a government-backed report yesterday showing that advanced, cost-competitive LEDs have arrived in force. In a sign of the times, the Sistine Chapel has just had an LED make-over, the Nobel Prize for physics gone to LED inventors, and a UK inventor just unveiled an LED that lasts a staggering 40 years.

This week's paper (press release) co-authored by the Swedish and Belgian governments along with CLASP and ECEEE pours more cold water on the shaky, industry-influenced European Commission proposal to postpone a long-agreed ban on general service mains-voltage halogens. The Commission’s proposed two year postponement will cost Europe more than €8 billion / 37 terrawatt hours in lost energy savings.

Halogens are bad news for everyone except their makers, including Osram and Philips. They are energy guzzlers, eight times less efficient than LEDs. With grid operators in several European countries this year warning that it's going to be a struggle to meet electricity demand this winter, it's no wonder the EU in 2009 pointed halogens towards the great technological scrapheap of history. Halogens were given their marching orders in good time for industry to adapt, all except a niche type of clear halogen lamps, a minor product that has since grown into a major headache. For the last few years, wasteful clear halogens have been grabbing market share from what was once a growing market for efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.

The CFL market being eaten by clear halogens


Contrast halogens to LEDs, hugely efficient and broadly available at the right price, notably in Germany. LEDs have excellent colour rendering and excellent correlated colour temperature. Dimibility is there if needed. Buy a modern LED and it will have paid for itself in less than 10 months through energy savings. To be fair, they seem more expensive on the shop shelf, at around €10 compared to €2 for a short-lived halogen, but because they last 20 times longer and use 80-90 percent less electricity, consumers would be mad not to go LED. It seems that may be the tip of the iceburg - a UK inventor has just created an LED lasting an incredible 40 years, or so he claims. No wonder the Nobel Prize went to its makers last month. And this month the Vatican became the latest to give a high profile crown jewel building the LED upgrade, installing thousands in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

So why would the European Commission want to give halitosis halogens a two year reprieve? These bulbs are a lucrative cash cow for manufacturers in no hurry to see them disappear. As such, they are a handy weapon in a fight with Asian rivals who have made the jump to LED production quicker than old Europe businesses and are responsible for availability of affordable LEDs. Firms are successfully flogging what should by rights be a dead horse for as long as they can. Philips CEO talked in this investor report about a ‘golden tail’ (p19) for conventional lamps that are ’under pressure, but not going away’.

'Not going away' is putting it lightly. With the ban fast approaching, OSRAM, German trade union reps and LightingEurope visited German former energy commissioner Oettinger early in 2013, talking up job losses. Coolproducts accepts there will be job losses, but as a result of the postponement of the ban - among the new small and medium-sized start-up European companies wanting to get on with pushing out advanced LED lamps. Is it fair to them to overturn a ban agreed five years ago? Before meeting the Commission, OSRAM had already begun sacking workers. Yet, United Nations trade data shows that Europe exports half of its halogen lamps, lessening the impact of any ban. As superior LEDs take over, halogen jobs will be gone in a few years anyway, and no-one disputes this point. The Commission seemed to recognise all this at first, stating that the ban poses no risk of factory closures [p17]. 

Nevertheless, Mr Oettinger appears to have bought the big lighting industry delegation's supposed jobs threat. A study was published by the Commission arguing the European market isn't ready to lose halogens. In the 'suspect job-losses' vs 'accelerated growth of hugely efficient LEDs' toss up, the Commission went with the former and proposed a two year postponement of the pre-agreed phase-out.

The Danes were first to beg to question the research underpinning the postponement, producing a counter study. Yesterday's fresh contribution from the Swedish and Belgian authorities, CLASP and ECEEE, shows that delay is completely unnecessary because LEDs are today 3-5 years ahead of where the June 2013 study said they would be. In other words, LED price and performance has moved faster than they expected, so the two year delay has been superseded by a 3-5 year technology acceleration.

CLASP, one of the co-authors of the new study, was cited as the source of the efficiency projection in the June 2013 study. As an author of the new study, it states: “it is therefore notable that CLASP is one of the co-authors of this testing report, and wishes to make a correction to the forecast due to the fact that CLASP was too conservative our earlier estimate; LED technology has moved faster than was anticipated."

Unless the Commission pulls the plug on its proposal, based on this new evidence, the matter is set to be voted on by member state representatives in early 2015. If the vote goes the wrong way, as seems likely, Europe faces two more years with wasteful, increasingly redundant bulbs on the market. Consumers will keep buying the wrong ones, leading to what CLASP estimates will be lost EU savings of over 37.54TWh / 13.1 megatonnes of CO2 / €8.6bn (CLASP, 2013).

In the run-up to the vote, Coolproducts will be whispering words of wisdom, to LED it be.


Photo credits: BBC / Flickr - Mike Deal


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