HomeEuropeDon’t hate me because I’m European: why you should be glad the EU banned the incandescent light bulb

Don’t hate me because I’m European: why you should be glad the EU banned the incandescent light bulb

Photo from post is by Dustin Benton, who leads Green Alliance’s Resource Stewardship theme. A version first appeared on

To find out more about how to fix ecodesign, see Green Alliance’s new report: Cutting Britain’s Energy Bill.

President Obama had a hard time selling the US’s ‘weatherization program’ to a sceptical Congress: insulation is a lot less attractive than visible clean tech like solar panels. So he relied on his charm, declaring memorably that insulation was, in fact, sexy. “Here’s what’s sexy about it — saving money,” he said, to laughter and applause.

Few are as charming as President Obama, and here’s an even more difficult sell: getting the British press to believe that European ecodesign regulations, which ban energy-wasting products, are a good thing. There’s formidable media opposition: the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, and Daily Express have all run stories gleefully telling people how they can get round the incandescent light bulb ban, which came into force on 1 September.

The truth is that regulation is boring at best and occasionally unpopular – EU regulation doubly so. But, in Obama-speak, here’s what’s really sexy about it:

£158: the amount that ecodesign regulations could save each household per year by 2020.

£26 billion: the total UK savings over the lifetime of proposed EU ecodesign regulations.

2x (well, nearly[i]) greater savings expected from EU ecodesign than the Green Deal, ECO and smart metering programmes combined.

These aren’t fairytale numbers either. Efficiency regulation works: the compulsory shift in 2005 to condensing boilers has saved UK consumers £800 million this year alone. But, unlike condensing boiler regulations, ecodesign regulations are decided in Europe and as a result are mired in Eurosceptic objection. The addition of Europe into the mix makes the largely uncontroversial – saving money – controversial.

In Japan, where there is no such controversy, the most efficient air conditioner is 20% more efficient than in the EU, largely because widespread public support allows the government to push manufacturers to make products more efficient. In the US, President Bush banned products with energy wasting standby modes 8 years before the EU managed it, because everyone agreed it was so obviously good for consumers.

In the UK, media campaigns against light bulb regulations and broader tabloid antipathy towards Europe sap the political will to push for better products. Even the most hardened British Europhile won’t pick a fight with the Mail when those opposing regulations like the light bulbs ban pose as consumer champions, defending plucky homeowners from ‘Eurocrats’ bent on meddling.

The truth is that opposing efficiency just because it’s decided in Brussels leaves consumers much worse off: an extra £158 worse off per household per year. This is gesture politics we can’t afford in the UK, especially as the rising price of gas has just put energy bills up by another nine per cent, a trend which shows little sign of slowing.

The US and Japan rely heavily on efficiency regulation because it’s common sense. Ecodesign gives consumers what they want – clean clothes, fast computers and warm homes – and a lower energy bill. You don’t have to love the EU to love lower energy bills: be Eurosceptic, but don’t be daft.

[i] It’s actually 1.75x – £158 from products policy vs £90 from Green Deal, ECO, and Smart Metering combined.

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.

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