European Union Bans Incandescent Light Bulbs

  • Published on October 11th, 2008

incandescent light bulb breakingEU energy ministers meeting last week in Luxembourg have given final approval to an EU-wide ban on incandescent light bulbs that would begin in 2010. The switch to energy-saving bulbs, first ordered at last year’s Brussels summit as part of an aggressive energy policy to fight climate change, was approved at the negotiations leading up to a meeting of European heads of state, being held next week.

>>More on European energy policy at RG&B


Traditional incandescent cost around 1/3 as much as standard compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). But the CFLs last longer and use less energy while illuminated. Incandescent filament light bulbs use up to five times as much energy as standard CFLs.

Advocates claim that replacing the worst-performing lamps with today’s best available technology will reduce domestic energy consumption for lighting by 60 percent; equivalent to preventing 30 million tons of CO2 pollution every year. The move would help EU member states meet their proposed emissions reductions of 20% by 2020, targets that may currently be in question because of the lingering economic crisis.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about switch the CFL technology. Opponents to the measure argue that the fluorescent bulbs take a long time to warm up and sometimes have a tendency to flicker. The bulbs are also too big for some (very) old-fashioned fittings and are generally more expensive – although the EU has vowed costs will come down before 2010. CFLs also carry the added baggage of potential health risks and environmental problems because of the mercury found in each bulb.

However, all of the arguments used against compact fluorescents cannot be levied against LED technology. Light emitting diodes, are said to be brighter, safer, and longer lasting than even the best CFL technology. However, until the cost of LEDs comes down, a large-scale switchover to that technology remains several years away. But with directives like this latest one from the EU, it is quite likely that the price of LEDs will come down as businesses ramp-up development and production.

The new light bulb scheme will initially apply to bulbs of 75 watts and higher and the phasing out of the traditional bulbs will come into effect beginning March 1, 2009.

Image credit: laszlo-photo via flickr under a Creative Commons License

About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.
  • Once again we see the EU at it’s worst. Making rules without considering all the consequences. Many thousands like me who are nearly blind or partially sighted need 75 & 100 watt conventional lighting just to get around. These new bulbs beside containing Mercury do not give out a 1/4 of the light of their equivalents. But so long as a German or French firm wants to force it’s products on us the EU will say yes every time.

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  • anton

    What about the low wattage 15 watts incandecent used for decorations for feasts,in christmas etc.,no other bulb replaces the normal incandecent ones,they are low priced and only used once a year?

  • Carl R

    I will be stocking up on incandescent bulbs before the ban in the US; maybe a thousand of them. I do use CFLs but also use incandescents. How well will the CFLs work on exterior light fixtures when the temperature is -15F? When I use incandescents in the winter they simply augment our natural gas fired heating system. Our heating systems runs five to six months a year even in our super insulated house.

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  • James O

    Has anyone even mentioned that CFLs cannont be dimmed! I am a stage Lighting Designer in Canada and I would never use any flourescant bulb in any theatre (or my home)! the color temp is "ugly" and no dimming control is just dumb! I have always hated CFLs, and I hope that no such law gets passed in Canada!

  • Tom Cat

    This is typical of a government ignorant of real energy issues. My Fiat Punto can consume around 50Kw when I put my foot down. i.e. 500 x 100 watts. That means in one second the car uses as much energy as a 100w bulb in 5 minutes. Reducing the allowed power in car engines would make a huge difference but instead the humble light bulb which is not one of the main energy issues takes the rap. Of course most people don't understand the physics so governments use this crap to look green when in reality they are not. Also the problem is that these fluorescent and LED bulbs do not have a proper white spectrum and so distort colours this is very important when doing any artwork.

    Sadly this is the age of ignorance where everybody has a right to have an opinion and decisions are taken by the vote. Sadly a democratic decision is only better if the majority bother to study the subject. Otherwise the result is desaster.

    Into the valley of death rode the ….

  • lighting tech

    Will the ban apply only to domestic fittings in the home or would it affect businesses like theatres who would typically be using 500w tungsten bulbs or larger?

  • Mani Pangan

    Cars emit more heat than incandescent lamps. Hence a serious look into the total technology change for Electrical cars would be the need of the hour

    EU can lead the world for this!

  • Mani Pangan

    A perfect ban need to be verified, if implemented. Normally when a product reaches a major modification and becomes popular, the design and manufacturing machines are scrapped out and reaches the poorer countries. Ex: Non flat TV products, became popular and cheaper when advanced countries went for only flat TVs. So EU should form the rules such that the scraps should not move out of EU, which will be a perfect ban

  • Andrew Pullen

    Although C.P.F's/C.F.L.'s do contain mercury, the ammpount is pifflingly small, less than 3mg for most models and some manufacturers are aiming for less than 1mg per lamp. Compared to conventional fluorescent tubes, sign tubes, high pressure mercury and sodium lamps and metal halide lamps, which contain about 100 microgrammes per watt of lamp power, and many of which have been in use for nearly 70 years, this is supprisingly good for a technology which is unlikely to last for more than a decade. L.E.D. sources will untimately replace C.F.L.'s, amd these contain mo Mercury at all, they do, however contain vinishingly tiny quantities of Arsenic ans Antimony.

    To place it in perspective a bottle of Mercurochrome topical antiseptic contains enough Mercury to make at least 50 C.F.Lamps, and Mercury has been used in many types of lamps, other than C.F.L.'s for a long time. Small amounts of Mercury, ingested or inhaled as vapour can be eliminated from the body by consuming large amounts of garlic and onions, which contain amimo acids with sulphur containing groups wwich bind to the Mercury cerating a compound of Mercury which is easily excreted. Mercury is an element, (Atomic Number 80 on the Periodic Table), and as such, has always been pesrent on Earth ans always will be, it is just a matter of concentration and location. (In some volcanic areas, Mercury vapour is emitted from subterranian heated Mercury compounds and minerals in considerable quantity.) So, in a nutshell, the small quantity of Mercury in C.P.F.'s should be respected, not feared.

    AS for the banning of relatively innefficient incandescent filament lamps, governments suould legistlate a pricing structure which increases the price sharply for the most inefficient models, thus people requiring thes lamps for special purposes, such as egg incubator warming, pyrometers or special projection apparatus, can still continue to obtain lamps, albeit at an increased price. Sales of the most inefficient models will decrease to the point that they will become economically unviable, and dissapear from the market.

    • I have to admit that energy and its distribution involves some special kind of kinetic anesthesia.
      We wind a coil through a magnetic field and spooky action at a distance takes over. Quantum Relativity is so weird so strange no wonder it leaves most people in the dark. At present rate of usage, has anyone bothered to collect the data as to when the number of users of a system and the resources they consume/exude on a daily basis is so huge that the system can no long sustain itself? The list of resources is as finite as the periodic table. The number of molecules that are stable is finite. The kinds of crystal structure is finite. The number of cells in your body are numbered. The number of atoms in a body are numbered. Six billion stories and the temperature from them x 150 watts per person makes a terror ific heater.

      Thank you for paying attention.

  • Uncle B

    We switched to Fluorescent bulbs chiefly for economic reasons! The run very much cheaper, last a lot longer, and give similar enough light to justify the savings. The Europeans are trying to stretch an already over-loaded nuclear based electric system. They will also advocate microwave cooking and plug in cars to re-arrange energy consumption. Here in America, where oil, gasoline, electric power and natural gas are really free, we don't have to concern ourselves with saving anything, not even the environment, because we have a President that can change the value of the world's unit of trade, the dollar bill, on a whim, thus printing more money than we will ever need to buy energy! Wake Up America, Last Call, Last Call!

  • Carl Rosenberg

    Compact fluorescent bulbs are large energy savers and money savers. For the average U.S. home lighting is the second or third largest home energy use and the first or second largest electric use. Changing lighting from standard lightbulbs to fluorescent can result in the single largest and most cost effective electrical energy saving in a home, resulting in as much as 14 million Btu's per year or 2.5 barrels of oil equivalent. The amount of mercury in each bulb is smaller than this period-.! This is less mercury than is released into the atmosphere from coal power plants powering a conventional lightbulb!

  • Edward

    What is almost never mentioned about energy efficient lighting is the temperature control issue. Where I live (Northern Ireland) there is usually only about one month when the outside temperature is high enough that I would like to have air-conditioning at home. In my opinion that is the only time when energy efficient lighting makes sense. When a lamp is not very efficient, much of the energy it consumes is dissipated as heat which helps (in a small way) to heat my home. If the lamp is more efficient, then the thermostat turns up the heater a little bit. Where exactly is the saving?

    For outdoor lighting it's different. There's not a lot of point in heating the streets.

  • Donna

    The mercury in the cfl should be of great concern. Yes they cost less by lasting longer, but won't these savings be lost due to the cost we will incur to clean up the mercury when they are disposed of in our landfills. Even now municipal garbage collection sites do not know what to do with mercury filled parts i.e.: thermostats. I was told they are being "held" and not going into landfills. But what will the average household do with these bulbs. We will simply toss them into the trash and that goes where????? Lets stop and really look before we leap, its that called prudence which we should expect from our legislature leaders.

  • I've heard that this is going to happen and it's a total over reaction. The incandescent bulb is a better product than the florescent in many applications. It turns on instantly, while many of the florescents I buy take up to a minute to achieve full brightness. It does't contain poisonous gasses internally. It's cheap and proven.

    I'm not an energy waster – I have changed most of my lights to floresent, but on the ones where I need instant illumination, I have retained the good old incandesent.

    Europe might be better focusing on other energy wasters, such as all the bazillions of AC/DC adapters left plugged in with noting attached or other unused appliances just sitting there sucking juice, or inefficient AC, ect. This is just too much regulation.

  • Eng.

    Absolutely dumb idea. An example of people that have no idea what they are doing trying to look good.

    Sure, CFL’s are great for alot of lighting applications. However not all. Most notably in applications where lights will be turned on and off frequently, the life of the CFL decreases 80-90%. At that time any energy savings and feel goodery are lost by adding unecessary mercury to the environment. Not to mention it just outright costs more.

  • Inquisitor

    Oh, well so nice to know the EU is “protecting” us. Where would we be without it?!

  • Jim Jones

    Very well written indeed.

  • erin

    its talked around easily in the article, and not adressed- does it give more than it takes? is the output of energy more than the intake? ( including marketing and distribution?) tax? what can you afford a ban on? this one is easy, whats next…..careful

  • Joe

    Fluorescent bulbs trigger migraines for me. I also do professional audio and these bulbs can cause an audible hum in some of my equipment. So, I am not happy about this.

    BTW, has anyone done a total cost of ownership study on these things (including safe disposal), or is it just another "feels good" program with unintended negative consequences.

  • MD

    Great decision. Apart from the warm light of incandescent bulbs, there's really nothing to be kept.

    I've completely switched to CFLs (really expensive ones too, 20 EUR per bulb but they're worth the built in electronics warming them up slowly, giving them a longer life, and the warmer light) and LED lighting over 1.5 years ago.

  • Ryan

    Hey Dan,

    There is nothing to say that you cant have a socialist democracy, Communism and Democracy are not mutually exclusive.

  • Andrew

    @Ray: i do agree that some things about the global climate change crisis are a little sketchy; however! CO2 in the atmosphere is very different from CO2 being used by plant life to make Oxygen and sugars…..also, the increase in ice is meant to tell you that it's probably breaking off from the ice cap and falling into the waters

    (idk if you know this, but water just doesnt freeze in random spots in the middle of the arctic, it freezes generally from the edges inward, anything found floating in the middle of the water is generally because it broke off from somewhere else, or a warm jetstream is under the water melting everything around it (which means that at one point, it was all frozen…)

    as to the move to ban incandescent lightbulbs: it's bloody stupid, and it will not do any good for at least 10+ years, in which time, cfl bulbs will be more or less outdated (im an optimist…i hate cfl bulbs, they give me migraines a lot…)

  • wxwax

    Hey Dan, you might want to check out the US law on incandescent bulbs.

    I believe it was passed under Republican leadership.

  • Bilobit

    This is THE normal empty, thoughtless incomplete article.

    So: When is the ban planned to become effective? OR Is this still something that member states need to ratify in their own legislation, is it something they all need to "strive towards"? Well, we might have a man on mars before this one is signed into law. (not to mention markets sheding the old incandescent lightbulb of their own).

  • Joel McBeth

    From my understanding, the savings from switching to CFL's will not be very significant.

    It's pretty much taking one of the things that consumes the least amount of power in your house and reducing the amount of energy it uses by 80%.

  • Gregory LD

    This is well intended but ultimately, a potential disaster. Flori sources contain mercury, and unless disposal and recycling nears 100% (highly unlikely) the amount of mercury in the groundwater due to improper disposal will skyrocket, with attendant spikes years hence in birth defects and related cancers. Legislation should be driven by experts, not by the legislators themselves.

  • Ray

    I'm a little sceptical about this climate change idea.

    Especially since around three thousand scientists have signed a petition denying climate change.

    All life on earth depends on CO2 in the air, without it plants would die and so would we.

    Also I read recently the following contrary messages:-

    "As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic"

    –Barack Obama, Berlin, July 24, 2008.

    "New data from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute shows that there is more ice than normal in the Arctic waters north of the Svalbard archipelago. In most years, there are open waters in the area north of the archipelago in the month of July. Studies from this year however show that the area is covered by ice, the Meteorological Institute writes in a press release."

    –Barents Observer (Kirkenes, Norway), July 24, 2008.

    But then what would meteorologists know.

  • Dan

    The EU has showned the true face Eu is a communist union that hides behind a so called democratic government.

    This ban is against the Human Rights