EU plans ban on low efficiency light bulbs

Commission proposes staged restrictions on commercial fluorescent lighting "ballasts"

The European Commission has proposed a directive to set progressively tighter minimum efficiency standards for fluorescent light bulbs used in industry and commerce. The draft law published today will gradually increase the efficiency requirements for components known as "ballasts". Up to 6m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions across the EU will be saved by the law annually, the Commission claims.

The Commission has targeted fluorescent lighting as a priority under its energy efficiency strategy because of the large amount of electricity used by offices and factories. The measures proposed could save the EU 12bn kilowatt hours (KWh) of electricity a year in a sector which currently uses 105bn KWh, the same amount as the total electricity consumption of Belgium and Portugal, says the EU executive.

The draft envisages a three-phase approach in order to soften the blow to industry. One year after the directive comes into force, the most inefficient components will be banned. Three years later, slightly less inefficient ballasts - which are by far the most commonly used - will be outlawed. A third step will start three years after that, although the severity of this stage will be decided at stage two. The measures will not apply to EU exports, nor to domestic lighting.

The fluorescent light bulb proposal follows two other EU energy efficiency directives - one on domestic boilers in 1992, and one on domestic refrigeration in 1996. The Commission intends to take similar action in other fields, notably for domestic appliances, electric motors, electric water storage heaters, air conditioners and pumps. These might also require legislative proposals, or could be dealt with by voluntary undertakings from manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their products.

In the case of light bulbs, the Commission discussed a voluntary agreement with industry, but such a scheme was deemed unfeasible. Unusually for an industry body, the European lighting industry federation, Celma, said it would prefer a directive over a voluntary agreement because the latter would not apply to non-EU manufacturers, which could then have a trade advantage.

Applying EU negotiated agreements to goods made outside the EU is proving a constant headache for the Commission. Last year's deal with European car makers to reduce CO2 emissions does not apply to Japanese or Korean trade associations, with which difficult negotiations are still under way (ENDS Daily 21 June). Similarly, a draft EU voluntary agreement on limiting the cadmium content of fertilisers was dropped because of doubts about applying it to imports.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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