The End of the Lamp as we know it

I suppose we should all be pleased to have the opportunity to use lamps that survive much longer than the miserly 1000 hours of the dear old incandescent lamp, or light bulb, as most of us call them. We should also celebrate the fact they are much cheaper to run.

Myself, I started to use ‘new technology’ lamps not long after they became affordable. For lights that are on a lot of the time, they seemed an obvious choice. Despite initially high first costs, they clearly paid for themselves and costs have subsequently dropped.
They were not perfect. The compact fluorescent types were an odd shape, took a while to warm up and early ones didn’t even light up for what seemed like several seconds. They wouldn’t dim. They clearly diminished in brightness as they aged, it seemed to me quite quickly. They were a nightmare to dispose of. Things are better now, but I still have the feeling that there are issues to be sorted out and that we are being propelled into a filament-free world too fast. I will continue to buy the new technology lamps and fit them where appropriate, but I find myself resisting the heavy-handed change being forced upon me where old-style lamps, in my view, do not have an appropriate replacement.
To me the issues do not seem very complicated.
·   There are not at this moment suitable (affordable) new technology lamp types for some of the threatened lamps.
·   Most types still will not dim.
·   The information put into the public domain is pitiful.
·   The new units of illumination are not understood by most people.
·   Having forced the change already on the most popular lamp types (and the kind that tend to be switched on the most) we are into diminishing returns on the rest, threatening to hack a lot of people off for negligible benefits.
·   In many areas they are still an issue to dispose of (at least, legally).


It is worth briefly looking at the context. As I understand the EU and British government research, it is felt that total domestic household electricity usage amounts to about 30 per cent of all electricity produced. It also seems to be common ground that of the energy used within a household, lighting accounts for about 13 per cent. It therefore follows that actual household lighting consumption as a proportion of the total electricity used is no more than 3.9 per cent. Those figures are quite old and more recent checks suggest it has fallen slightly, perhaps because of take up by new technology lamps.
However, if we assume that government ‘nirvana’ is a reduction in CO2 generation we must consider how the electricity is generated in the first place, as it mostly uses coal, oil or gas. A better measure to use is, therefore, surely the amount of CO2 generated by household lighting as a proportion of all carbon-based energy usage. The EU has thoughtfully provided this information, and the answer appears to be 0.77 per cent.
So, within the whole of the EU area, we are said to be squandering the equivalent of some 1177 Megatons of oil each year, and rising, based on 2006 EU estimates; of that, just 9.1 Megatons relates to household lighting. There can, of course be no doubt that this is still a large number of kilowatt hours (106 billion), so a reduction that is technically feasible is not to be sniffed at. It is the zealousness of the approach and the lack of communication that rankles. The headline savings sound impressive don’t they? You will save 80 per cent of your energy, and save the planet into the bargain! Yes, but in CO2 terms it is 80 per cent of an exceedingly small base. If you really want to reduce CO2, you hack away at the big numbers involved in transport and industry and building efficiency, especially heating. You do not begin by criminalizing someone trying to supply me with a replacement desk lamp.
In the UK the total electricity production has been running at about 350TWh (2009 figure), so at our household lighting usage of 3.9 per cent this equates to about 13.65TWh, a not insubstantial quantity. Government press releases when the policy was announced suggested that the energy savings would amount to the loss of a 1GW power station (we might presume this to put out 8760GWh in a year, theoretically. The calculated saving is thus about 65 per cent, which feels about as high as one might expect from an obedient population. Carbon Trust calculators indicate this is equivalent to about 4.6 million tonnes of CO2, a little less than the 5 million in other press releases of the day. It doesn’t alter the fact it is a very small percentage.
The legislation has emanated from the EU in the form of a directive (EU directive 244/2009) which is mandatory within the UK and bypasses the UK Parliament. Our government seems content to propel it along and has even coerced the retail industry into introducing the measures ‘voluntarily’ before the legislation was actually in force. How does that work then? Well the lamps are more expensive for a start, so that might have something to do with it. Initial sales chased along by legislation might be thought to deliver a nice little windfall for manufacturers, who are understood to be quite keen on it.
The thrust of what is going on is to convert us all into Class A lamp users (Class B might be acceptable in certain cases). And what is a Class A lamp, you might well ask? Well, you might have seen that lamp packaging now includes a little diagram with the letters A-G prominently set out and an arrow pointing to the appropriate letter. This tells you the lamp class you are buying.

Lamps now classified
As to what the letters mean, basically Class A means very efficient and Class G means not very efficient. We need to understand this efficiency stuff. Old fashioned lamps only converted about 5 per cent of the energy used into light, the rest disappeared as heat. New technology lamps typically convert over 20 per cent of the electricity into light, and are typically 4-5 times more efficient. You may think 20-25 per cent overall efficiency is still pretty rotten. There are even newer technologies coming on board (though not from the traditional lighting industry, be it noted) that will be better, and at some point relatively soon might even be affordable.
The Actual class letters refer to bands of performance whereby the lamp in question is compared with a notional reference lamp, the latter basically being an old fashioned incandescent lamp. Class A is at least 50 per cent better than reference lamp, whilst Class B uses between 50 and 75 per cent of the energy of a reference lamp; Class C is in range 75-90 per cent, Class D is in range 90-100 per cent, Class E is in range 100-110 per cent (ie worse than reference lamp), Class F is in range 110-125 per cent and Class G is even worse than that. I’m not sure I quite follow how anything can actually be worse than the basic incandescent lamp but a cursory check suggests that they tend to be of the ornate type and are therefore less ‘efficient’. Basically Class E (maybe F) represents the old General Lighting Service (GLS) lamp – the ordinary traditional light bulb – and the EU has decided we all need to be using Class A lamps.
Because the new technology lamps all produce light using much less power, the use of the power rating as a proxy for light output has collapsed. The EU has decided that we will now use a unit known as the ‘lumen’ instead. This is a mixed blessing. It is good that for the first time we will have a standard way of specifying light output (surely we buy a lamp because we want the light rather than a miniature heating device?). It is a bad thing because although the lumen is a unit well known in technical circles, the ordinary person in the street has no idea what it is and nobody has bothered to explain. It is defined as the measure of luminous flux. Not clear? Basically it represents the amount of visible light emanating from a lamp. As long as it is understood that 1000 lumens is twice as bright as 500 lumens then you will be OK (note that the eye might not actually suggest twice the light for a number of reasons, but we have to keep things simple).
To put matters in context, a typical old fashioned 100 watt light bulb might push out something like 1300 – 1400 lumens. If that is the amount of light you feel you need, then that is the lumen level to look for. There is a formula that relates the light output of a new lamp to that of a theoretical old lamp, and that is what produces the Class rating. The formula is:
Wattage = (0.88 x square root of lumen output) + (lumen output x 0.049)
So, if you take a 1200 lumen output new technology lamp claiming to draw 20 watts you find its efficiency is 60 lumens per watt. You use the above formula to determine what a reference bulb would draw if delivering the same number of lumens, and find the answer is 90 watts, giving an efficiency of 13.3 lumens per watt. The proportionate energy use is 22 per cent, putting new technology lamp firmly in Class A.
It should be noted that some of the information relating to new technology lamps is misleading, or at least confusing, where information is available at all. For example, there have apparently been many complaints about new lamps being ‘dim’. You can’t really accuse a lamp of being dim, providing it is pushing out what light it states it should. If it is dim, it is either worn out or, more likely, it isn’t rated at a sufficiently high number of lumens. Some modern equivalent lamp ratings are inconsistently offered in watts where it is obvious by looking at the lumen value they are going to be nothing like as bright. There is a tremendous range of light outputs from new technology lamps for a given wattage. Forget wattage – work out how many lumens you want. 100 watt old lamp offers (say) 1350 lumens, a 60 watt lamp offers about 750 lumens, and a 40 watt lamp offers about 450 lumens, if you want a guide.

Programme for withdrawal – and consequences
So what is the programme for getting shot of old style household lamps?
Basically 150 watt lamps disappeared in September 2008, and all ‘pearl’ lamps (including the more efficient halogen lamps, if they were pearl) disappeared in September 2009, together with all 100 watt GLS type lamps of any type. The reason pearls (or opals) were banished quickly is because the EU considered that there were practical alternatives to these, for which point source lamps (clear) were not yet available and the industry needed more time. The only pearl lamps that could be sold after this date had to be Class A, in effect new technology lamps, probably of the compact fluorescent technology type.
The directive only applies to so-called non-directional lamps (ie lamps that do not include reflectors, such as spot lights). The directive applies to the manufacture and wholesaling of lamps and not to those actually in the distribution system or in the retailer’s store. In consequence, the main types of lamps remaining in service were so-called ‘clear’ lamps of 75W or less.
75 watt lamps were withdrawn in September 2010, 60 watt in 2011 and lower wattages are due to go from September 2012.
September 2013 sees the end of the ‘S15’ type fitting, or incandescent striplight, and the intention is at the same time to make the minimum class for any lamp on sale on sale Class C or better.
September 2016 sees the end of halogen lamps, except for certain types where it is not practicable to change the fittings and certain others that will be in class B. Many traditional light bulb shapes are currently sold with an internal halogen capsule. This gives them longer life and they are dimmable, but they are only Class D, so out they must go.
Additional lamp types to which the regulations do not apply include: cooker hood bulbs, fridge bulbs, microwave bulbs, fireglow bulbs, daylight bulbs, crown silver bulbs. Regulations are expected shortly that will eliminate incandescent reflector lamps, but working out how to do this has apparently taken much longer than expected. Also except are certain other lamp types known as ‘rough service’.
I am not sure the average person in the street knows of all this, at least not until they discover their stockist no longer has any of the lamps they have been using for years. The great outpouring of outrage during 2009 rather gave the impression that it was only the old GLS type lamp that was affected. The loss of all pearl lamps of whatever wattage and type once stocks ran out seems to have caught out a lot of people by surprise.
I have tried to find out what effort the government and the lighting industry went to in order to inform the public. I can find very little. The absence of clear information about what was being banned is on an equal to the lack of information about the lumen. I look at my aged father’s house and note the chaotic (and apparently rather eccentric) deployment of lamps. He has no idea what he is buying and uses whatever the store has on the basis that it will offer light of some kind. Fittings intended for two lamps might have only one surprisingly bright lamp in it. No fitting has a really suitable lamp in it. A chandelier has every bulb different. It isn’t his fault – he’s been buying lamps without trouble for over seventy years and now all is turned on its head and nobody has bothered to explain. It isn’t good enough. I also note the number of people picking their way around the shelves of large shops looking forlornly for their regular lamp types. They might observe the exuberant signs saying how much money they will save by converting to new technology, but there isn’t really anything very much that passes for information.
So, while this organized chaos proceeds upon its stately way I have sought out suitable replacements for lamps I need to dim and lamps for which there is no obvious suitable replacement. I have not yet found dimmable lamps I like the look of, or found new technology striplights that are not annoyingly slightly fatter than existing lamps (though I might try one). I simply don’t understand whether 12V 20W G4 type halogens are to be axed. I have read the words several times and they appear a masterpiece of poor information. I’ve just bought thirty – I don’t see why I should have to buy a new desk lamp!
I also have a healthy stock of the other lamps that should see me through till the technology catches up.
The issue of ‘rough service’ lamps looks as though it might get quite interesting. The lamp manufacturers are required to self-declare that they are not suitable for, or intended for, household use. A humourless National Measurement Office (an emanation of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and which seems to be responsible for EU compliance of things that need measuring) propose that consumers need a serious frightening in order not to use them and make dark hints about possible invalidation of home insurance policies. This could get nasty. The lamps are of course virtually identical to the traditional old lamps but less likely to break. Perhaps we can expect the next stage is to be required to supply a name and address if buying such a lamp and expecting a visit from some kind of enforcement officer?
And what of disposal? I am not allowed to put the new types of lamp in the rubbish and I dare say this is fairly universal. I say this, but actually my local council’s waste and recycling leaflet (offered on its relevant web page) doesn’t mention light bulbs of any kind at all; neither does trawling through the list of things collected at their recycling centre. Various government websites say that the centres collect such bulbs though. They also refer to a raft of local collection points, but only in the context of all recyclables and do not mention old bulbs. A note indicating kerbside containers do not take bulbs creates doubt. Am I alone in finding the advice rather inconsistent, vague and wholly unsatisfactory for dealing with items I am pretty much compelled by law to buy? I have finally concluded I’m required to drive somewhere (my neighbouring borough), there does not seem to be any other option. This doesn’t seem very ‘green’? What are old people expected to do? Looks like one for Councils to pick up on. Presumably a lot of these new technology lamps do get put in the ordinary rubbish because of ignorance or exasperation.
Early in 2012 there was a scare, widely reported, that the EU was about to announce a complete ban on 12V halogen reflector lamps (fed from mains transformers), widely used in industry and about the home in ceiling fittings. As this was apparently unexpected it caused something of an uproar as there are no low-energy equivalents. Setting something of a precedent, an EU spokesman was quickly produced to explain that this was a complete misapprehension as the new regulations were still in draft form and merely stated that halogen lamps would need to switch to a higher-efficiency xenon filling (itself not an overnight job for the manufacturers). Now on the defensive, the EU then issued a press release confirming the position. It seems to me that there is now a distrust of EU policy that must surely make people nervous about what fittings to buy and what new technology to invest in, particularly as we now approach the area of diminishing returns in saving energy from domestic lighting having already attacked the most power hungry types. Commentators wondered why the 12V version offends so much when the 240V version is less efficient and is not covered.
This all seems a lot of ‘over the top’ personal inconvenience to put people to for a gain of a percentage of 0.77 per cent of alleged planet saving. I have no intrinsic dislike of saving energy – quite the opposite. My real beef is dreadful information. I can understand why the lighting industry can’t be bothered to tell the public at large what is going on – they want their money back from all the investment they have put into new technology and I understand it is quite hard to make very much money from the old type of lamps. I think it is the government’s job to give proper information, and they have made a real hash of it. Most of the benefits could have been achieved by giving lots of information about new-technology lamps that are in heavy use and where users could reap huge savings. The UK government was presumably consulted before the Directive was issued? To impose such draconian and wide ranging oppression in respect of much less used lamps, and then to fail to communicate the detail, seems incompetent. The real question is – why am I surprised!


About machorne

I have always lived in London and taken a great interest in its history and ongoing development. This extended into the history of its transport services, about which I have written a number of books - I have spent most of my working life working in the industry and observing changes from within, mostly to the good, but not always so. I continue to write, and have a website with half finished stuff in it so that it is at least available, if not complete. Several new books are in hand. I have many 'works in progress' and some of these can be found on my website; the we address is
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