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Light-bulb ban leads to hoarding in Europe, is U.S. next?

Goodbye watts, hello lumens

September 25, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - There is plenty of fear, uncertainty and doubt out there over the upcoming federal ban on incandescent light bulbs.

The very thought of losing that pear-shaped giver of warm, yellow light drove Europeans to hoard Edison's invention as the European Union's Sept. 1 deadline on incandescent lamps approached.

China's ban on incandescent lamps that use 100 watts or more of power starts Oct. 1. The ban expands to cover any light bulbs that use more than 60 watts in 2014 and to 15 watts in 2016.

In the U.S., the situation is different. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 is not technically a ban. It's an energy efficiency standard that requires all screw-in light bulbs (also known as lamps) to use 30% less power, beginning with 100-watt bulbs this year. The end standard requires bulbs to use 65% less energy by 2020.

If a manufacturer could produce an Edison incandescent bulb that used 30% less power today, the maker could sell it. Since manufacturers can't make such a bulb, the EISA essentially becomes a ban on inefficient lamps.

When suppliers run out of stock, consumers and businesses will have to replace traditional bulbs with more energy-efficient alternatives. They will have three choices: halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

In the U.S., EISA standard requirement for 100-watt bulbs began last January. The ban on 75-watt bulbs goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

The deadline for the most popular bulbs, the 60-watt and 40-watt lamps, is Jan. 1, 2014, and will have the greatest impact on consumers, according to Philip Smallwood, senior lighting analyst at IMS Research.

When the ban on 60-watt and 40-watt lamps begins in 2014, sales of incandescent bulbs are expected to drop off a cliff. For example, in 2011, about 1.1 billion bulbs were sold in North America (Canada also has an Edison bulb phaseout plan, but it has been put on hold). In 2014, North American sales are expected to drop to 200 million, according to IMS Research.

ROI
Return on investment for an LED vs. an incandescent lamp and a CFL lamp. (Data: IMS Research)

In 2014, what's going to account for 200 million bulbs moving across checkout counters? There will be Canadian sales, and then there will be 22 types of traditional incandescent lamps that are exempt from the EISA, including appliance bulbs, heavy-duty bulbs, colored lights and three-way lamps.

The opposition

The EISA was signed into law by President George W. Bush. However, conservatives, ranging from radio commentator Rush Limbaugh to U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann have criticized the EISA on the basis that it's government intrusion into U.S. homes and a restriction on free choice.



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