Low hanging fruit and lost opportunity

I hope the New Zealand Government feels shamed by the news that incandescent light bulbs can no longer be sold in Europe. It could have been so here but following the 2008 election, proclaiming the sanctity of consumer choice, one of the early actions of the then Minister of Energy Gerry Brownlee was to reverse the Labour Government’s decision to phase out incandescent light bulbs. Almost equally dismaying was the statement by the Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff in 2009 that the Labour Government decision was a mistake in the first place. “We’d stopped listening to what people’s priorities were,” he said.

It’s hard to make any sense of the reversal of former Government policy on incandescents other than in the most cynical of political terms. It is in direct contradiction to any concern they express to tackle climate change. Lighting has been estimated to use nearly 20% of the world’s electricity and six years ago the International Energy Agency produced a report which concluded that a global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world’s electricity bill by nearly one-tenth. It is a low-hanging fruit in the reduction of carbon emissions. Even the US is to phase out incandescents.

Many people are making the switch to efficient bulbs without Government direction. It makes economic sense to do so after all, in addition to the clear environmental benefits involved. But Government also has a responsibility to advance energy efficiency by appropriate regulation, as other free market economies have recognised. Climate Change Minister Tim Groser makes much of New Zealand having taken a seat on the mitigation bus. He’s made it clear often enough that we won’t go out ahead of others. No danger of that in relation to efficient lighting. We’re a deliberate laggard. If Government won’t act on a relatively easy matter like this what conclusion are we expected to draw as to how serious it is about tackling climate change on a broad scale?

During the weekend I went to see the outstanding Film Festival documentary Chasing Ice, a record of the work of photographer James Balog, whose book, Extreme Ice Now, I reviewed over three years ago. The film, which I highly recommend, could not but carry an underlying elegiac tone as we watched the photographic record of glacier loss and reflected on what it means for the globe and for human civilisation. Balog clings to the hope that we will yet act in time to prevent the loss of ice at the level for which we are currently headed, but if the bullying bluster of some of the confident deniers which occasionally punctuated the film carries the day his must be reckoned a slim hope indeed. We are thankfully spared that kind of bluster from most of our New Zealand politicians, but casual neglect can serve the same end.

Put bluntly, even in such an apparently small matter as light bulbs is consumer choice more sacred than the preservation of the natural world on which our human life depends? Is it asking too much of Government to look steadily at the accumulating evidence that dangerous climate change is upon us and to take every conceivable step to reduce the harm we are doing? Mandating efficient lighting is surely a no-brainer.


30 thoughts on “Low hanging fruit and lost opportunity”

  1. Earlier this year we spent £1,000 changing every 50W down-lighter in our house and the accompanying holiday lets to LED alternatives — same light output but only 7.5W each. It’s still too early to assess the saving in the electric bill we’ve made but now I don’t worry so much when the holiday makers turn every light in their cottage on (because hire of the let is an all-inclusive price and they like to get their money’s worth).

    Other than their cost, LEDs have no down side. You can get them in any colour — cold to warm — and there’s no warm-up time on switch on. Life expectancy is 30,000 hours so they should pay for themselves over and over again. As far as I can see it’s a no-brainer.

    Choice? Why does anyone need a choice?

    1. I agree on LEDs.
      CFLs on the other hand are another story, although they’re cheaper to run than incandescent bulbs they are far from being a ‘green’ product.
      Each contains, amongst other passives, copper coils, semiconductors, pcbs and toxic heavy metals – in short they’re a sophisticated electronic device and a far cry from the simple metal filament in a glass envelope that is an incandescent bulb.. This complication would not necessarily be a bad thing if the devices had reasonable life spans before they graced our landfills. They don’t.
      We’re fed a lot of disinformation about CFLs, seldom if ever containing a realistic analysis of their true cost – which includes cost and energy component of the manufacture of all components in the devices and their disposal.

      1. Though I take the point about toxicity and all-round less-than-desirable manufacture, being an Australian (our concept of personal ‘freedom’ doesn’t run to old-style lightbulbs, assault rifles, or leaded petrol) I have a house full of CFLs – including a couple of weather-sealed 20 Watt spotlight in the backyard – and we really don’t change a lot of bulbs; maybe one or two a year. I just asked my partner, and she made the same guess. That’s out of about 20 bulbs all up, including the two spotlights out the back.

        LEDs becoming good enough to actually light a room in a useful way is a relatively new phenomenon, and I’ve been astonished how much the technology has progressed.

        I’ve been amazed, for instance, that you can now light factories with them to standard (7′ 17″ – this is a place that’s running from its own single turbine and is still exporting to the grid!), and only yesterday I bought a Niterider Mako 1 Watt because I’m sick to death of front lights that provide no actual illumination in front of the bike where the things that you may actually want to see – rocks, pedestrians, potential wildlife, small dogs – tend to crop up. Dim illumination is not good on the coastal bikepath at night.

        The brightness is freakin’ ridiculous. It is absurd. It is almost surreal. And, at close range, it is bloody painful.

        1. Being in the TV business I realised how good LEDs were becoming when they started using them for studio lighting (also helped by a concurrent improvement in camera sensitivity). EG: https://www.google.com/search?q=LED+studio+lighting&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=POs&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&channel=np&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=AK1EUP-cKoek0QX88oDgBw&ved=0CHUQsAQ&biw=928&bih=537

          You wouldn’t believe how much electricity TV studios used to burn in the days of tube cameras. 400kWh in a days work was nothing.

        2. Though I take the point about toxicity and all-round less-than-desirable manufacture

          So why do you dismiss my comment out of hand?

          I am merely providing evidence of the toxic problems with CFL. Ian Forrester claims I am lying. I am quoting from the Spiegel Online

          Do you have a problem with this?

    2. Hi John

      We have a bunch of 50W halogen downlights in our living area (six of them, 300W, in our lounge alone). We installed them 7 years ago, before this whole global warming thing came up, you know? (OK, mea culpa, well actually my excuse is that my wife made me do it.) Now that we have a heat pump we don’t really need them as auxiliary room heaters and I’ve been wondering what’s involved in replacing them. Could I have the benefit of your experience? Can I get direct bulb replacements or do I have to replace the fittings? Who sells them? I haven’t been able to find anything in Bunnings. Oh, and what about dimmers?

      [Oops, I see you paid for yours in pounds. You may not have much idea about the NZ market, then.]

      1. You’re right, I’ve no idea about the NZ market; however I’d guess that the fittings are probably the same everywhere*. The lights I replaced are ‘GU10’s and the LED bulb is a direct replacement — exactly the same size (though 20x the price). I’d recommend going to an electrical wholesaler rather than a DIY ‘shed’ as my experience is that some of the fast-turnover places stock poorer-quality, down-to-a-price products.

        *A quick search suggests I’m probably right. Note that this is not an endorsement of this supplier: http://www.lightpower.co.nz/shop/GU10+LED+Lamps.html

      2. Hi Mark: I recently replaced 6 of these downlights by 3W LED equivalents for $NZ17 each at Bunnings. They are in our kitchen and the level of illumination is great. We tended not to use the halogens because of the power consumption.

  2. This is what Spiegel Online had to say recently about CFL after running tests on breaking them

    All readings were well above permissible levels. In some cases, the mercury level was 20 times as high as the benchmark value. Even after five hours, there was still so much mercury in the air that it would have endangered the health of pregnant women, young children and sensitive individuals.

    and thus we have

    A waste disposal company from Nuremberg in southern Germany has invented a machine that carefully cuts apart each light bulb and sucks out the fluorescent material and mercury. The mixture is then packed into airtight bags and filled into blue, 300-kilogram barrels. The barrels are loaded onto a truck and taken to a former salt mine in the Harz Mountains of central Germany. Thus, the energy-saving light bulb ends up in an underground waste depot, where it will remain forever as contaminated waste.


    So where are we going to dump the “low hanging fruit” in NZ – any takers?

    1. Are you familiar with the tale of the boy who cried ‘wolf’ andy?

      You can’t participate in a good faith discussion because we’re all only too aware that you possess no good faith. Sorry.

    2. andyS are you promoting “compact fluorescent light syndrome” as well as the fictitious “windfarm syndrome”? I bet if the people doing the survey for the anti-windfarm groups had asked about CFL’s they could easily have shown that they caused the illnesses rather than the turbines.

      It is very easy for scaremongers like you to fool people into believing anything you want to say to them. People like you are completely dishonest.

      1. So you are denying the medical evidence presenting in the Spiegel, as well as the evidence that the contaminated waste is buried in the Harz mountains?

        I can see why you are also denying the medical evidence for wind turbine syndrome.

        [Insults removed. GR]

      2. Strange that my quotes from a leading German newspaper get me labelled as a “dishonest person”, yet similar comments from Richard Christie above remain unchallenged.

        1. If andyS was a real scientist rather than someone who pretends to be one on the internet he would know that there are a number of ways for a scientist or pretend scientist to be dishonest besides lying. Care to look over your various posts and show everyone your dishonest techniques or do you want me to explain to readers the techniques you use to misinform people besides outright lying?

          Mercury is bad but the exposure from a broken CFL is not enough to harm anyone if proper and timely clean up is used, the glass will probably do more damage if it is not cleaned up. Do you think that everyone smashes up their CFLs immediately after buying them? I have had CFLs in my house for many years and have not broken one. Why is it that people like you only got interested in fluorescent lights when they became compact? Long tubular fluorescent lights have been in use for far far longer than compacts. They are also much easier to break and also contain mercury.

          The nonsense put out by the anti-CFL crowd is as ridiculous as that put out by the anti-AGW, anti-windfarm and anti-vaccination idiots. Yes, they are idiots because they will cause immense suffering to present and future generations, does that make you feel proud to be associated with those kind of people?

          And stop lying, you just lied when you said:

          So you are denying…..the evidence that the contaminated waste is buried in the Harz mountains?

          Nowhere in my post did I say anything like that. And what “evidence” are you talking about when you claim?:

          I can see why you are also denying the medical evidence for wind turbine syndrome.

          Are you referring to that “paper” published by a crank?

  3. Andy will be happy to be informed that: the use of CFL lights and the reduced electricity use make up much more in form of avoided Mercury exposure than the occasionally broken bulb. Reason: When generating power using Coal, a relatively high amount of mercury is released by the coal furnace into the air. This is an unavoidable air pollution component in burning Coal as is the release of Uranium. Indeed burning Coal releases more Radioactivity into the environment by a large margin than the accident free operation of nuclear power plants. (Fukushima and Chernobyl changes this matter of cause…)
    So to say it again loud and clear: The pollution with Mercury from broken CFL pales into insignificance when compared to the amount of Mercury reaching our lungs from the coal furnaces of society and installing CFL lights and the reduced need for coal firing electricity generation therefore reduces Mercury pollution way more than the occasionally broken bulb or the emissions of bulbs ending up in land fills or municipal waste incinerators.
    For a list of arguments:

    Of cause there will always be people against any change whatsoever.

    It seems Andy is simply against the future. What a sad sod of chap.

    1. See Fake science, ….
      Do a Full search for mercury.
      According toe Heartland, mercury is a natural element, really not that bad in the environment or in fish. (on the latter, Willie Soon, astrophysicist, told us so.)The ONLY place it is bad is in those terrible, terrible CFLs, which have forced consumers to save money over the long time. 🙂 Our N. CA utility (PG&E) used to give them away, since lowering energy use saved them building new power plants.

      We’ve had dozens of them for a decade or so, and I think I’ve had one failure, although we’ve shifted our highest-usage lights to LEDs.

      Of course, LEDs have come along very fast, in part from VC investment, Google deals, etc. LEDs have much more upside for cost reductions, akin with other semiconductor products. Of course, people building net-zero energy homes now incorporate LEDs from the start, which makes it easier.

  4. Just to add: We have replaced the last Halogen spot lights (GU10) and some 12V ones with LED spots recently. What a great change! The light amount is comparable, the bulbs are cold and the energy efficiency is simply palpable. Plus the GU10 halogen spots simply did not last very long.
    We reduced what was 6X50W bathroom spots to 6x9Watt and 5x50W kitchen to 5x7Watt with great success.
    The spectrum emitted by White LED lights is a fairly continuous one from Blue to Red while CFL lights emit on just 4 distinctive wavelength which some people find less pleasing to look at. I think LEDs are the future and worth the additional money.

    1. Yes I agree about the LEDs as does Anthony Watts.
      So the questions is, why outlaw tungsten when LED will naturally take its place in due course?

      Why does government have to meddle in stuff it knows nothing about?

      1. Ooh, The Gubmint! What, like unleaded petrol? CFCs? Sulphur emissions? Tobacco regulations?

        Libertarian lumpenintellectual onanism. Tell it to someone with no functioning brain. For the rest of us; Boring. Next.

      2. “Why does government have to meddle in stuff it knows nothing about?” Look in the mirror Andy and you see a good reason we need a government that (from time to time) listens to scientists (who do know what they are talking about) and enacts laws that brings us forward.

  5. The NZ MFE website provides some helpful tips on how to deal with CFL

    Use rubber or latex gloves while cleaning up and to protect yourself from being cut by broken glass.
    Have people and pets leave the room. Do not walk over the affected area.
    Ventilate the room before you start the clean-up. Mercury vaporises readily at room temperature. Open all windows and leave the room for at least 15 minutes. Turn off heating/air conditioning systems, heat pumps, dehumidifiers and ventilation systems.

    Clean up for hard surfaces

    Carefully sweep all the big pieces up using stiff paper or cardboard. Wrap the gathered pieces in newspaper and place in a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.
    Use the sticky side of duct tape to clean up all the small pieces. Wrap in newspaper and place in the jar or plastic bag.
    Wipe the area down with a damp paper towel. Place used paper towels in the plastic bag.
    Remove rubber gloves and place in a plastic bag.
    Wash your face, hands and arms thoroughly, and change your clothing after cleaning up.
    Seal all the plastic bags and/or jar containing the broken pieces of the light bulb, and the paper towels and rubber gloves used in cleaning up, and dispose of them with the household rubbish. Store outside until the next collection.


    The next several times the vacuum cleaner is used, turn off any central heating, heap pumps or air conditioning units and open a window before vacuuming
    Keep the central heating, heat pumps or air conditioning turned off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming has been completed.

    Dispose of any clothing or bedding that comes into direct contact with powder or broken glass.
    Clothing, bedding or other materials exposed to mercury vapour but which have not come into direct contact with materials from the broken bulb can be washed and re-used.
    If shoes come into direct contact with powder or broken glass, wipe them with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes.
    Place the paper towels or wet wipes in a glass jar or sealed plastic bag for disposal.

    Furthermore, they provide the following advise on recycling

    Energy saving and other mercury-containing lamps, such as the fluorescent tubes, should be recycled to ensure that the mercury is collected and recycled in an environmentally safe manner. Some councils provide an annual or periodic hazardous waste collection, the HazMobile. If you are uncertain as to what you should be doing, approach your local council and ask them how you can recycle your fluorescent tubes and energy saving lamps

    I hope everyone was paying attention during this safety briefing.

  6. There’s a lot of hysteria about, methinks. Re mercury in CFLs. Fluoro tubes have been around since the 30’s and when I was but a lad I and all my friends had small bottles of liquid mercury collected from discarded tubes. Modern CFLs have their Hg as an amalgam so broken ones release little if any. Their biggest minuses are their incompatibility with dimmers and shortened lifespan if switched on and off frequently.
    LEDs have no problem with switching but also cannot be dimmed unless designed for it. Their other fishhook is that they don’t mix with halogen bulbs well. Their slightly odd colour casts aren’t obvious if they are the sole light source but it can be vaguely nauseous in mixed lighting.
    My biggest apprehension is that to date I haven’t seen what the carbon footprints of both CFLs and LEDs are. In fact the total resource footprints. How much Chinese coal has to be burnt to make the factories needed to make LED lamps? For all it’s sins, the incandescent was a simple product.
    Then again, at the rate we are going, our descendants may have to go back to candles. Assuming we haven’t wiped out the honey bees.

    Footnote: if you are keen on LEDs, but baulk at their current NZ prices, try Deal Extreme. http://www.dealextreme.com/c/led-light-bulbs-1072
    The 12v downlights (MR16) and MES reading lamp LEDs I’ve bought from there are just fine. Prices in the US$5-15 range.

  7. Another point worth pursuing is NZers apparent desire to light every other buggers property with their spotlights. They may very well be security lighting but the glare from them to people outside the “zone of intent” is just wasteful.

    Overspill I think is the term. I regulary test how good/bad the lighting is by the test of how far away can you read a newspaper. Fraser Park, Lower hutt, has floodlights on a football pitch. I can read the paper on the Hutt Motorway on the other side ofn the Hutt River.

    The new flood lights on the ferry terminal are frankly dangerous. On a rainy night as you approach the terminal from the north along Aotea overpass, the glare from these monstrosities is appalling.

    Rimutaka Prison has turned itself into a lighting capital offence. Presumably they are there to either keep people out and in. But if they were shaded so that the person doing the looking could not see the light source, their contrast and ability to pick up detail in the shadows is greatly enhanced.

    Rant finshed.

  8. “Rimutaka Prison has turned itself into a lighting capital offence. Presumably they are there to either keep people out and in. But if they were shaded so that the person doing the looking could not see the light source, their contrast and ability to pick up detail in the shadows is greatly enhanced.”

    Better still, turn them off and go for full blackout so any attempted escapee can’t see where he’s going, but security guards equipped with night vision can. Christchurch Prison is just as bad, to the extent they have f**ked the nearby Astronomical Observatory with light pollution. It would be a huge saving on their power bill.

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