News and editorials

News and editorials (2)

A global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world's electricity bill by nearly one-tenth.
That is the conclusion of a study from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which it says is the first global survey of lighting uses and costs.

The carbon dioxide emissions saved by such a switch would, it concludes, dwarf cuts so far achieved by adopting wind and solar power.
Better building regulations would boost uptake of efficient lighting, it says.

"Lighting is a major source of electricity consumption," said Paul Waide, a senior policy analyst with the IEA and one of the report's authors.

"Nineteen percent of global electricity generation is taken for lighting - that's more than is produced by hydro or nuclear stations, and about the same that's produced from natural gas," he told the BBC News website.

The carbon dioxide produced by generating all of this electricity amounts to 70% of global emissions from passenger vehicles, and is three times more than emissions from aviation, the IEA says.

Not many inventions last for more than 100 years without major modifications.

The incandescent light bulb, developed a century and a quarter ago by luminaries including Sir Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison, is one, and still produces almost half of the light used in homes around the world.

But incandescent bulbs are very inefficient, converting only about 5% of the energy they receive into light.
The biggest consumer is the fluorescent tube. Commercial and public sector buildings account for 43% of the electricity used for lighting; and here, fluorescents dominate.

The report notes that the efficiency of tubes can vary widely, between about 15% and 60%.

Regulations on their use vary widely, too. Health and safety concerns dictate what light levels should be achieved in various buildings, but the IEA found the levels prescribed by regulatory authorities vary by a factor of 20 from one country to another.

The IEA reserves particular ire for that favourite of the western middle-class lounge, the halogen uplighter.

"This... is the least efficient of all commonly used electric lighting systems," it says. "They add a large amount of heat into the living space as a by-product... this heat might require additional air-conditioning energy for its removal."

It is concerned too that a significant proportion of the world's population has no access to electric lighting at all. Instead, they rely on burning fuel, which is expensive, inefficient, produces poor light quality and contributes to respiratory disease.

Bright Idea

Energy-efficient lighting can seem such an obviously good idea that it is hard to comprehend why it is not used everywhere.


Incandescent bulbs,
Low-efficiency fluorescent tubes,
High-loss "ballasts" for fluorescent tubes,
Halogen uplighters,
High-loss halogen transformers,
Mercury discharge lamps (often used in street lighting),
Low-efficiency vehicle lighting, and
Fuel-based lighting in developing countries.

"There is no single panacea," said Dr Waide. "What we suggest is setting up a comprehensive set of policies.
"There is a strong case for introducing lighting measures into building codes. Currently codes have a lot of energy measures in them, but with few exceptions there aren't specific provisions for lighting."

Such codes could, for example, mandate the use of highly efficient fluorescent tubes and ballasts, the devices which regulate input voltages for the lamps; at worst these can consume 40% of the energy going into the system.

China, the IEA reports, has recently developed such codes. If they are implemented in all new build, this would "...offset the need for a new Three Gorges Dam project every eight years".

For the individual, the most obvious switch to make is from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent systems (CFLs), marketed in many countries as "energy-saving bulbs".

The IEA calculated the total costs to the consumer associated with buying and then using the two types, and found a significant difference.

"The overall cost of 10,000 hours of light provision from incandescents is 85 euros," said Paul Waide, "but for CFLs it's 25 euros, because they use so much less energy, and because you might have to buy only one CFL for every 10 incandescents."

He acknowledged there were concerns about the quality of light coming from some CFLs, and that some consumers reported lower lifetimes than manufacturers claimed; the key here, he said, was better regulation of the product sector by governments.

"There is also a lot that governments could do to reduce the price differential between CFLs and incandescents; it's extremely efficient from a societal perspective."

The future may see even more efficient systems. LEDs hold out the most promise; currently four times as efficient as incandescents, manufacturers are aiming for 80% efficiency by the end of the decade, which would represent a 16-fold improvement on the traditional bulb.

Policy measures and individual action to bring the switch would slash 38% from the global electricity bill for lighting by 2030.

(The excerpt above was taken from the article By Richard Black, Environment correspondent, BBC News website)

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With so much misinformation consumers are not being given good information about lighting. Especially the particularly poor reporting about the ongoing elimination of 100w, 75w, 60w, and 40 incandescent lamps. In fact, incandescent lighting is not being eliminated or outlawed, but what is being eliminated are the least efficient, commonly used versions. As long as people pick the right bulb for the result they want, in terms of lighting quality and color, the alternatives available right now can do everything that incandescent do while costing much less and consuming far less energy.

A typical misinformed assertion will be that, “a 75w incandescent lamp is less expensive than a CFL [compact fluorescent lamp]”.  This is irresponsible, given that the statement is true only if you use the incandescent lamp for something like a paperweight. People need to know not the cost of buying one type of lamp or another, but rather the cost of owning and using one type lamp or another. Once people have that knowledge, they quickly realize that the incandescent lamps they grew up with are just about the most expensive there are, not the least expensive.

The table below can also be of value. It compares the ten-year cost of relying on 75w incandescent lighting to the cost of owning three alternatives: a 53w high-efficiency (halogen-filled) incandescent lamp, a 13w CFL, and a 17w LED lamp. As can be seen, the ten-year cost of owning and using a 75w incandescent lamp is more than five times the cost of owning a CFL that produces about the same amount and quality of light.

Keep in mind that the cost of ownership doesn’t consider a number of other costs, such as the additional carbon dioxide and mercury that’s put into the air by coal-fired power plants and by the planes, trains, ships, and trucks used to transport lamps from the factory to a distribution centre, then to a warehouse, and then to a store. That’s ten times as many trips for conventional incandescents compared to CFLs; 25 as many trips for conventional incandescents vs. LEDs.

There’s also all the extra packaging that has to be manufactured, and all the packaging and spent lamps that wind up in a landfill. If people were simply given the facts, they’d realize that all this fuss about losing incandescent lamps is a tempest in a teapot, based on misinformation. When people stop using conventional incandescent lamps, they lose nothing, they save money, and they’re gentler on the environment we all have to share.”

Many of the same people who have nothing to say about the significant environmental problems that conventional incandescent lamps cause seem to be extraordinarily concerned about the miniscule amount of mercury in CFLs, as though it were really something for the nation or continent to worry about.  Here are some


  1. Fact: The amount of mercury in a typical CFL is not enough to coat the head of a pin.
  2. Fact: The typical swordfish contains 20 times more mercury than a typical CFL.
  3. Fact: When a CFL is broken, most of its mercury adheres to the glass and does not disperse into the air.
  4. Fact: Coal-fired electricity-generating plants comprise the nation’s most significant source of air-borne mercury.

 Focusing on the link between airborne mercury and coal-fired generation of electricity, the truth is that reliance on inefficient incandescent lamps as “freedom of choice” is unacceptable. If my neighbour decides to hoard 100w incandescent lamps and keep using them, my neighbour causes unnecessary generation of electricity. The unnecessary generation of electricity forces me to inhale mercury that would otherwise not be there. What happens to my freedom of choice? What happens to my family’s freedom of choice? It’s like being forced to inhale second-hand cigarette smoke simply because some people equate freedom of choice with doing what they prefer to do even if it harms others.

The new lighting-efficiency targets require people to give up nothing in terms of lighting quality, convenience, and versatility. The only thing they really require people to do is decide about the kind of lamp they want to use and how much money they want to save and that is not a bad thing.



75w incandescent

53w Halogen Incds.

13w CFL

12w LED

No.  of Lamps used in 10 years





Assumed cost per lamp (=N=)





Lamp Cost in 10 years (=N=)





Operating hours per year

1000 hrs

1000 hrs

1000 hrs

1000 hrs

Total KWh in 10 years





Cost per KWh (=N=)





Energy Cost





Ownership Costs