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BSRIA calls for more clarity from Government on change to domestic low energy light bulbs

08 January 2008

BSRIA believes that a wholesale switch to CFLs will not maintain or improve the quality of electric light in homes nor lead to long-term energy savings.

The Government’s strategy to ban sales of traditional tungsten filament light bulbs in favour of compact fluorescent lamps is insufficient and misguided, says the consultancy and testing organisation, BSRIA. BSRIA believes that not enough attention has been paid to lifecycle issues, the waste problem posed by compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and their light performance.

BSRIA believes that a wholesale switch to CFLs will not maintain or improve the quality of electric light in homes nor lead to long-term energy savings2. The organisation also calls on Government to issue more informative guidance to householders on the appropriate use of CFLs.

Although CFLs can be more energy efficient than tungsten halogen lamps, OFGEM is not doing enough to persuade the electricity supply industry to change its billing practices so that savings from CFLs become apparent to householders, added BSRIA. The difference in technical performance between CFLs and conventional light bulbs is poorly understood by customers, says BSRIA. “CFLs are marketed as having no significant difference in the quality of light they provide compared with tungsten filament lamps. Thisneeds to be addressed by the manufacturers, who should provide more user-friendly information,” says BSRIA’s lighting expert, Richard Forster.

BSRIA believes that simply ignoring the differences will not improve customer acceptance of CFLs. “The power of persuasion is needed rather than the imposition of regulation,” said Forster. “A ban on the manufacturing of GLS tungsten filament lamps may also force other types of lamp to cease production, as it would no longer be viable to manufacture materials such as glass bulbs, drawn tungsten wire and even bayonet lamp-caps.”

CFLs contain environmentally harmful materials in their manufacture, such as lead and mercury. CFLs cannot be part of normal domestic waste. By contrast, no environmentally harmful materials are used in tungsten filament lamps.

The standard for tungsten filament lamps provides specific conditions for life testing, with individual lamps to be not less than 70 percent of rated life. The standard for CFLs defines average life to be after 50 percent failures based upon a three-hour switching regime. “This is typical of commercial premises but not of domestic premises, where lamps may only be switched on for a couple of minutes,” says Forster.
Instant light?

All CFLs are low-pressure lamps which take time to warm up and emit full light output. Most
CFLs will reach over 80 percent light output in 2 minutes or less, but the initial light when
switching on is not quoted. “However, in my own research, only two examples from one manufacturer were found, one lamp reaching 80 percent after 2 minutes, and the other reaching 85% after 1 minute,” said
Richard Forster. “CFLs are therefore not appropriate in domestic situations where instant light is required,”
says Richard Forster. “Tungsten filament lamps fulfil the requirements better.”

While CFLs produce light similar to that of fluorescent tubes used in work and leisure environments, the domestic environment is very different. Domestic tasks such as food preparation, colour discrimination of fabrics and décor will be adversely affected by the colour rendering of CFLs.

The major cost associated with lighting is the electricity it consumes. Changing to CFLs can reduce electricity consumption by 75-80 percent, which is a clear economic advantage,” said Richard Forster. “However, the initial cost of the lamp is 10-20 times more than the humble light bulb. Supporters of CFL technology argue that break-even costs can be achieved in about 12 months. However, the savings are rarely apparent,” he added. “This is because UK electricity bills do not show savings from lighting. Electricity bills are not only quarterly, but also mostly estimated and therefore inaccurate. All electricity use from lighting, and cleaning, cooking and entertainment devices are lumped together, which means that savings from small items like CFLs are not visible.”

BSRIA believes that the truth of CFLs must be tackled now, with a degree of realism and recognition that the lighting will not be identical and CFLs may not be the best answer in all domestic situations. GLS lamps are subject to strict British Standards (BS EN 60064:1996) and their size, ratings, light output, lumen maintenance, average life, and testing methods are clearly defined. This provides consumer confidence and the necessary information for lighting equipment to be made compatible with the lamps to be used.

“For CFLs there is no equivalent standard,” says Richard Forster. “The performance standard BS EN 600969:1993 only sets down methodology for testing and does not create a standard range or minimum performance values. Consequently it is necessary to rely on the information provided by individual manufacturers. Websites can help but data is often sparse: light output or life is often not quoted. The
packaging includes some information but it should be noted that “equivalent to” in light output is often a comparison with soft-tone filament lamps and not the normal high-output lamps. Government must work with the lighting industry so its skills and knowledge can be used to improve the long-term energy efficiency of lighting in domestic dwellings."

1. Richard Forster IEng MCIBSE MSLL MILE is a lighting engineer.
2. Most of the UK’s electricity is generated by burning hydrocarbons. One way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to cut back on the consumption of electricity. The domestic consumption of electricity is about 33 percent of total national use. This is growing steadily per household, while the stock of housing is also increasing.
3. Three sets of regulations cover the disposal of CFLs: the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations, the Restriction of the Use of certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2006 (which complement the WEEE Regulations), and he Landfill (England & Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2005. The latter defines fluorescent tubes as hazardous materials and thereby dictates how they should be stored, moved, and disposed of.
4. To assist policy making, the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) produced evidence in its 2006 Market Transformation Programme that quoted the following figures:
• Domestic lighting is mainly by GLS lamps
• Eighty nine percent of the total number of lamps covers the wattages 40 W, 60 W and 100 W.
• The average household had 21.6 lamps in 1996. The Market Transformation Programme assumes this will rise to 25.9 lamps by 2020. The Electricity Association originally prepared these figures in 1996.
5. The Market Transformation Programme (MTP) has produced a technical briefing note on emerging lighting technologies. The paper is available at The MTP is also developing a domestic lighting policy brief that will be available on www.mtprog in September 2007.

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