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.


  • Energy saving is not the only reason to choose a light bulb you want to use!

    whatever the Household savings lauded in the article – it is Society savings that might be relevant to legislators, not “what light bulb Johnny uses in his bedroom”!
    As it happens, the society savings are next-to-nothing, for a variety of reasons.

    1. Small Society Savings
    Cambridge university Network, Scientific Alliance:

    ” The total reduction in EU energy use 0.54 x 0.8 x 0.76% = 0.33%
    This figure is almost certainly an overestimate…
    Which begs the question: is it really worth it?
    The problem is that legislators are unable to tackle the big issues of
    energy use effectively, so go for the soft target of a high profile
    domestic use of energy …this is gesture politics.”

    Cambridge University Network under Sir Alec Broers, Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, the Scientific Alliance newsletter, involving physics dept professors etc
    Similar figures from other EU sources, and for that matter the US Dept of Energy, grid electricity data breakdown (they use 4 categories), again as linked.

  • (continued, previous comment in moderation covered the small overall society savings)

    2. Same coal often burned regardless what light bulb you use:

    A further aspect re the supposed “massive savings’ is that surplus coal is often used anyway after 7pm when most lighting used, even in newer cycling plants, due to the issues of powering down at night from the higher daytime usage. In effect, the same coal is often burned regardless of whether your bulb is on or off – and coal is the main CO2 culprit. (DEFRA, APTECH referenced, same link)

    Just another among all the deception arguments used to ban patent expired cheap products to favor lobbying patent holding global corporate executives, singing hand-in-hand with well-meaning non-global Green groups about “Saving the Planet”.
    And yes, the lobbying activities and the admitted profitability enhancement as also referenced and linked.

  • I should add, that I am in agreement with the underlying objectives – just not the way to achieve them, in this particular case

    It is important to think about the environment, about how best to use energy, about power plant pollution (whatever about CO2).
    But energy efficieny regulations, especially on electrical products, simply don’t address the issues
    – and in my view detracts from the important work the Green Alliance and others can do.

    Light bulbs don’t burn coal or release CO2.
    Power plants might – and might not.
    If there’s a problem, deal with the problem
    (“cleaner” coal and/or renewable solutions etc)

    Finally, even if the bulbs had to be targeted, they could be taxed, and help pay for price lowering subsidies on alternatives,, as well as giving Government income
    (I don’t believe it is the best way forward, but it is again better than regulations, for all sides)

  • Reblogged this on patricktsudlow and commented:
    As always, there are those, like those who have posted comments to this blog, are dismissive of any attempt to reduce energy use. Which is what is very necessary to becoming anywhere self sufficient in energy and reducing emissions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s