Lighting industry group warns of lamp shortage if Europe bans halogens

Consumers will face a huge shortage of household lamps if the European Commission bans halogen models anytime before 2020, a group of conventional lighting companies has warned.

The EC is considering delaying a ban until 2018, two years beyond the currently planned 2016.

Halogens, a type of incandescent lamp, are slightly more energy efficient than conventional incandescents, but far less energy efficient than CFL (compact fluorescent) or the newer LED (light-emitting diode) lamps, both of which require only about 20 percent of the electricity of a conventional lamp. (LEDs are slightly more efficient than CFLs, do not contain hazardous mercury like CFLs do, and are said to last much longer).

The EC wants to ban halogens in order to help cut CO2 emissions. It has already prohibited the sale of general incandescent bulbs, and is set to vote early next year on whether to delay the 2016 halogen boot until 2018.

LightingEurope, whose members include venerable lamp companies Philips, Osram and General Electric, says that even 2018 would be too soon. Although it supports a long term move to LED lamps and its members make LEDs and CFLs as well as halogens, it says that the industry will not be able to make enough affordable LEDs to meet consumer demand until the end of the decade.

'To put it simply: a phase out starting before 2020 is going to be confusing, costly, and inconvenient to European Union consumers,' Diederik de Stoppelaar, LightingEurope's secretary general, said in a press release. 'The industry strongly supports -- and has for years -- the changeover to more energy efficient lighting solutions.

'However, a 2018 date does not allow for alternative developing technologies to be widely available—and it is the consumers who will lose out. The best solution for consumers is for Commission to adopt a phase out date of 2020 or later, which will allow for the widespread availability of new technologies and ample choices.'

In a position paper, LightingEurope noted that if the EC were to ban halogens in 2018, 'Reasonable estimations from industry side indicate that more than 200 million luminaires in European households would factually become unusable.'

That's about one luminiaire per household in the EU. Put another way, LightingEurope said that would be about €10 billion worth of luminiares, which works out to about €50 per luminaire.

'Depriving European consumers of domestic halogen eco lamps without offering them an affordable and comprehensively available replacement solution will result in a situation of general disappointment, missed opportunities for real energy savings on the longer run and loss of jobs, hampering the competitiveness of the European lighting industry,' LightingEurope said.

The trade body also acknowledged, however, that 'the transformation process in the European lighitng industry towards LED is in full course.'

As Lux reported recently, Europeans have been buying more halogens than energy saving CFLs or LEDs, a trend that has alarmed Sweden and Belgium and a group of energy efficiency campaigners who want to firmly stick to the 2016 ban. In contrast to LightingEurope's assertion that LEDs are still emerging, they have pointed out that LED efficiency has advanced and prices have dropped considerably since the EC first proposed pushing back the halogen ban until 2018. 

Likewise, the U.S. Department of Energy recently reported that LED efficiency has improved by 50% over the last two years, and have edged ahead of CFLs in that regard.

Conventional lighting companies have struggled financially in their transition from incandescent lamps to LEDs, leading some to see LightingEurope's push for a halogen extension as a move to buy more time to help the Philips' and Osrams' of the world figure out how to better compete against a new crop of LED-focused companies like Opple, Aurora, Cree, TCP, LIFX, Acuity and others.

Even the newfangled companies face an uncertain financial future, as no company has yet proven a long-term, sustainable business model for making money by selling lamps that last a purported 20+ years and that thus deprive the vendor of a steady replacement business – the conventional way of profiting in the incandescent business.

LEDs have been catching on recently in large measure because prices have tumbled. In the UK, many shops sell LED lamps for around £10, well below the £15-to-£25 of a couple of years ago. That, in turn, challenges vendors to make money  - a dilemma that recently forced Samsung out of the LED lamp business except in its home country of South Korea. 

Some pundits believe that companies will profit by tapping into the digital nature of LEDs, offering products and services that support remote control of on/off, colour and brightness, and that tie lights into the 'Internet of Things' in which they could, for example, flash as alarms.

This, in turn, is drawing companies into the lighting industry from other fields, such as the internet. It seems only a matter of time before Google & Co. command a significant chunk of the lighting business. No wonder Big Old Light Co wants to hold onto to its conventional products as long as possible while it figures out how to compete in the brave new lighting world.

The fight over the halogen ban is a good lens through which to watch the new industry unfold and the old one struggle to adapt. Lux is following the action. Watch for our upcoming commentary.

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Photo is from US Library of Congress via Wikimedia