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Switched On

14 March 2008

Europe cannot make enough energy efficient alternatives to incandescent bulbs to meet growing demand. However, the lighting industry is gearing up production, relying heavily on manufacturing in China, as Jane Fenwick reports.

LAST YEAR, IRELAND BECAME THE FIRST EU MEMBER country to announce its intention to ban the sale of inefficient incandescent light bulbs by the beginning of 2009.

In June 2007, Europe’s lamp manufacturers announced an initiative to phase out the least efficient household lamps from the European market by 2015. Some thought this to be a ‘timid’ target. The EU is developing a Framework Directive for the Eco-Design of Energy Using Products that will set specific and potentially compulsory standards for several of the least efficient lighting products destined for the European market. Street and office lighting will be targeted first and proposals are expected by the end of this year.

Last September Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, announced a ‘voluntary’ initiative involving major retailers, lighting companies and energy suppliers to see energy efficient light bulbs replacing the least efficient equivalents in the shops in the next four years. (see right). Benn said, “The aim is to save up to 5 million tones of CO2 a year by 2012 – equivalent to the output of a 1Gigawatt power station.”

The momentum is growing for tubular and compact fluorescents (CFLs), the most common and most widely accepted energy efficient lamps currently available on the market. A typical 20W CFL gives as much light as a 100W incandescent bulb and lasts up to 12 times longer, saving consumers £9 a year.

According to the Energy Efficient Lighting Products Report 2007 published late last year by AMA, the market for energy efficient lighting is estimated at £189m currently, having grown by 18 per cent in the last two years. Lamps comprise just 34 per cent of the market, with the rest being luminaires and controls. As plans for phasing out GLS lamps progresses, market growth should accelerate at least until 2011, the report says.

Each household in the UK has on average 26 light sources; workplaces have many more and a wider variety of capacities, sizes and fittings. Currently less than 20 per cent energy saving bulbs sold in the EU is made in the EU, and future capacity is only likely to meet 25 per cent of European demand. The rest must be
imported, mainly from China.

Anti-dumping duties on Chinese
manufacturers have been in place since 2001 to protect the European producers from Chinese manufacturers who can sell energy efficient light bulbs in Europe much cheaper due to state intervention and other market distortions. The EU decided last year to extend these duties for a further 12 months but Peter Mandelson has stated, “The European Commission will recommend to Member States that it is in the
interest of the EU to remove these duties in the next year (2008). This case has once again shown the complexities of managing antidumping rules in a global economy and against the broad range of EU interests.”

According to the AMA report, Energy Efficient Lighting Products Market UK 2007, these tariffs have added up to 66 per cent to the price of bulbs and inhibited take up of energy efficient technology. However, promotional offers particularly for low income householders have help combat the price differential. The Energy Efficient Commitment (EEC) has from 2002-5 seen nearly 39.5million CFLs distributed direct to consumers, and a further 43million since 2003 mostly to low income households. In one initiative, IKEA gave low energy light bulbs to its entire workforce of 9,600 in a ‘Bulb for Life’ give away – totaled 60,000 lamps –saving about £400,000 per year on the total energy bill of its workforce. They can be returned and replaced when they stop working.

With nearly 500million people in the EU’s 27 countries, the switchover to energy saving lighting at home and at work will require huge numbers of bulbs to be produced. Gearing up for the future is the German brand, Megaman, one of the leading brands in energy saving lamps. Since 1997, it has been producing CFL light bulbs in Xiamen, China. The Megaman’s CFL ranges are made by Neonlite Electronic & Lighting (HK) at the Lisheng Electronic & Lighting (Xiamen) plant. The high quality production methods meet both client and European standards including ISO9001 for quality management and ISO14001 for environmental management. The 330,000 sq m plant, employs 9,000 people and produces 600,000 lamps a day. More production capacity is under construction to increase CFLs production by 50 per cent to 300million lamps a year.

The plant is a showcase, and the UK MD for Megaman, John Murphy frequently shows it off to UK clients such as B&Q and IKEA. “We have a full range of products which are tested to the highest standards and will perform in the way customers expect them to. Another highlight is the onsite recycling facility that processes the plant’s own waste products and includes mercury recovery and the treatment of waste water.” In fact mercury content of its lamps is less than 3mg, which Murphy says, leads the industry.

The Megaman brand has pioneered developments in CFL design in decorative lamps such as its Classic and Candle series. It invented the CFL GU10 reflector which can effectively replaces the traditional halogen GU10 lamps – now in 21 different models, culminating in the launch of the first dimmable energy saving lamp – the DorS DIMMING - which can be dimmed with a conventional light switch. Last year the DIMMERABLE series was launched which enables smooth dimming with a normal dimmer switch.

The UK market runs a close second to the German market where Megaman has an established retail presence. Here, Megaman’s strength is in the commercial and wholesale market, and is a major supplier to IKEA, and DIY retailers B&Q, Homebase and Focus, as well as Powergen and Eon for their marketing and promotions and offsetting schemes. Orders for lamps come by the million. Murphy explained that one power company tendered for 26million lamps, and other tenders currently range for four to 12million.

According to Mr Foo Onn Fah, founder and Chairman of Neonlite, makers of Megaman brand lamps, the company will always be in the quality lamp business.“ We position ourselves in this high position, and aim to meet not only European standards but also those of Japan. “We have a strong environmental record. It is at the core of our thinking from design through the manufacturing process and disposal. We constantly set internal targets to reach external requirements. This year Megaman lamps will only use unleaded glass. The use of mercury is already minimized and soon we will only use mercury in solid form because this evaporates only above 45º. This is much safer for an indoor environment where in gas form it would evaporate if broken. Now if you break the glass mercury will stay in a solid form.”

Mr Foo explained that CFLs will get even more efficient in future as the electronics components improve. “The technology is improving and the electronics manufacturers are designing components specifically for CFLs. In addition, ‘fast start’ technology will soon be incorporated in Megaman lamps ranges for the 15,000 hours market. This will be popular for building management applications. You can imagine the benefits of this technology for lighting a stairwell, for example, where safety is an issue and full lighting is required when needed.”

Murphy reported that CFLs are particularly beneficial in the hotel and leisure market. “We have been working with Accord Hotels across Europe,” he explained. “The temperature in their hotel corridors was 33º but by switching from Halogen to CFLs, the temperature was reduced to 18-19º. Our product range is very strong for the hotel and leisure market, particularly in replacing the candle shape bulbs and small lamps.“

He said that increasingly companies are making strategic and global decisions to change to CFL technology.

Although China is a major producer for energy saving lighting across the world, at home its record is not as strong. The quality lamps produced by Megaman are too expensive for the local market. However, things are changing in China. Now all new buildings must be fitted with electronic ballasts and energy saving lamps; the facilities built for the Beijing Olympics incorporate energy saving lighting, and the Chinese government is proposing a scheme to subsidise 50 per cent of the cost of CFLs to the end user.

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