Goodbye to the lighting bulb

By Benedict De Meulemeester

By Benedict De Meulemeester on 1/09/2009


It is more than just equipment, it is an icon: Edison’s lighting bulb. When making a presentation and looking for a picture to represent ‘electricity’, most of us choose the lighting bulb. The glowing thread inside the glass sphere is for most of us the best representation that we have of the electrical current that is so important in our life, yet so intangible.

Today, the EU death sentence for the lighting bulb starts its execution. In EU countries, 100 Watt lamps will disappear from the stores. It is the start of a gradual phasing out which ends on the first of December 2012 when no traditional lighting bulbs can be sold all over Europe. The European consumers will then have to sell more efficient types that give the same amount of light with less than 10% of the energy.

This regulation will have a huge effect on the European power consumption. The EU expects power demand to drop by 40 TWh, which is equal to the total consumption of a country like Romania or equal to the total consumption of 11 million households. It also earmarks the strong desire of European policymakers to get serious on greenhouse gas reduction policies.

What surprises me most, is that legislators need to impose this policy upon citizens. Not using energy saving lamps is in every perspective irrational. A classical lighting bulb will transform just 5% of the incoming electricity into useful energy (light). All the rest gets lost as waste heat. Moreover, they are so delicate that they break down after just a few months, which means that you constantly have to run to the store to buy new ones. The technology of classical lighting bulbs hasn’t developed much since more than 100 years. If you would ask anyone to drive to work daily in a car made with technology developed in 1900, they would most probably refuse. Still, people keep buying the technologically outdated classical lighting bulbs. Stores reported sales of them going up six-fold in the past days, as people scramble to buy some stock of them to avoid the ban.

The reason for that? The up-front cost of an energy saving lamp is higher. As they lie in the store, their price tags are 3 to 4 times higher. If you take into account that the average energy saving lamp will keep burning six times longer than a traditional lamp and that it consumes a tenth of its electricity, it becomes clear that this higher up-font cost is more than compensated. But apparently, a large part of the population is unable to make such calculations when standing in the store. This is clear proof of the irrationality of Homo Economicus.  Proof also of the need of legislative intervention to support more rational energy consuming behavior, such as making more light with less power input.

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