The halogen ban: Why it should not happen

Sometime in the next few weeks, the European Commission is expected to vote on whether to delay a ban on halogen lamps. Halogens are the last real bastion of incandescent technology. They are a thriving holdover of conventional filament burning bulbs – superior in many ways to standard filament lamps because they are treated with a halogen gas, improving their colour temperature and their efficiency.

Although the industry has long promoted them for their so-called 'eco' benefits, they are only slightly more efficient than the conventional filament bulbs that the EC has already widely banished. They are terribly inefficient compared to modern LED (light-emitting diode) and CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs. Thus, halogens are carbon culprits. That's why the EC in 2009 scheduled them for a September 2016 retirement.

The conventional lighting industry, represented by the Brussels-based trade body LightingEurope, is now campaigning for a stay of halogen's execution. It wants to push the halogen ban out by another four years – to 2020, nearly six years from now. It seems stuck between a rock and hard place: While it tries itself to steer consumers toward an LED future, it claims that quality, performance and price of LEDs will not be ready to meet mass consumer demand until 2020. Europeans today are buying more halogens than anything – more even than CFLs it notes, warning of a bulb shortage if the ban takes hold. As good as LEDs are, they just aren't ready yet to provide the same quality of light as halogen at an affordable price, nor will they be by 2016, LightingEurope claims. It notes that LEDs lamps are still too different from conventional lamps in appearance, price and quality, and that this difference is confusing consumers.

'Nonsense,' say LightingEurope's critics. LEDs have arrived, are more than ready for prime time, and the sooner the better from an environmental perspective. The conventional industry has already had half a dozen years to prepare for the ban, which, ironically, it lobbied for itself in the first place. If the big traditional lighting companies like Philips, Osram and GE can't meet LED demand, then the newfangled companies born in the CFL and LED era can – companies such as Aurora, Neonlite, TCP, LIFX, Opple, Cree, Acuity - they note. Some suggest that the big companies are simply trying to hold onto their old 'replacement bulb' business model for as long as possible while they make the difficult transition to LEDs, which vendors say last for 20 years.

Lux recently spoke at length with two leading voices on opposite sides of the issue: Diederik de Stoppelaar, secretary general of LightingEurope, and Fred Bass, a director of Hong Kong-based Neonlite and managing director of its UK-based Neonlite International group, which includes the Megaman brand of LED lamps. Neonlite has no incandescent legacy. It started life some 20 years ago as a CFL company, and today about 90 percent of its business is in LEDs. Bass firmly opposes any delay to the halogen ban.

De Stoppelaar (pictured, right) and Bass are not completely at odds. They agree that the industry must weed out inferior LED products that are tarnishing the technology's reputation. They also implore the industry to clear up the confusion surrounding the relative merits of the different lamp technologies – confusion that the industry itself fosters through loose, or at least non-uniform, performance claims via packaging and merchandising.

But they couldn't be further apart on the subject of the ban. In a two-part series, we bring you an edited version of our questions and answers with de Stoppelaar and Bass. Today, LightingEurope's de Stoppelaar, in favour of delaying the ban until 2020:

 

 

Lux: You're not opposed to a halogen ban per se, but you don't want to see it any time soon. Is that right?      

De Stoppelaar: Yes. It's all about doing something which is smart, which is not going to hurt the consumer. I think we have learned from the incandescent ban some years ago and I think the consumer is not ready to completely let go of what he or she understands. It is 'Mama' who buys the lamps in the end. If Mama doesn't understand what she is looking at, then she will not buy the lamp.

How are the consumers getting confused?

Lamps have a certain shape, and consumers are used to seeing that shape, which LEDs don't have. They start looking at the picture (on the packaging) and they say 'that doesn't look like a lamp.' And then they start reading and they see lumens and watts, and lumens per watt . The only thing they know is 60-watt, 75-watt and 100-watt. And they know shape. So we need to come up with lamps that are comparable. And the halogen lamps for the time being are the best comparable solution. And then there's the price, which (for LED) is 10 times higher. And when the consumers get the courage to buy an LED lamp, it's not what they expect. They screw it in, and it's not omnidirectional. We're saying give the industry time to come up with a solution that the customer accepts.

But hasn't the industry had enough time? It's not like this has come in overnight. Why should it require another six years, until 2020?

Yes we have had a few years, but we still are not there. We still do not have an LED technology that is completely dimmable, that has the same lamp dimensions as the incandescent lamp, that gives us the same comparable light output as the 60, 75 watt. We do not have an LED technology with the correct light distribution, with the correct light quality. The industry is working very hard on it. But if we stick with 2016 there will be nothing to replace the halogen lamp. For the consumer that is a real real big issue. We also need time to do a correct communication to continue the flow of information to the consumer, where we clarify to them what are the advantage and disadvantages of LEDs.

But you can buy LEDs today, including from LightingEurope members like Philips and Osram, and prices keep coming down.

Don't forget an incandescent lamp was less than a euro. There are no LEDs that you can buy for that price. I'm talking good quality. I'm not talking poor quality. A good LED cost between 8.99 and 12.99 or 13.99 euros. And this is still about 10 times more than what consumers are used to paying for an incandescent. We would love to be competitive and bring it down to two or three euros, but we can't at the moment. The competitors who are doing it unfortunately are offering very poor quality. Either the light quality is poor, or the lumens per watt is not up to standard.

And the other thing is dimmability. If standards are not there, people are going to buy lamps and think they are dimmable because it says dimmable on the packaging and then they are not dimmable or they start flickering. You don't want that to happen.

It's a bit of a predicament for your industry because here you are on the one hand saying 'buy our LED lamps.' But on the other hand you're saying they're not really ready for prime time.

The consumer must have a choice. If the consumer is willing to invest in a longer lifetime quality LED lamp, that is good, but in a lot countries, people do not have the money or are not willing to invest that amount of money. The early adopter will do it, will buy the lamps that are available, but the majority of the consumers will not. So we need to have an alternative. We're trying to switch it off too quickly.

Dimmabilty is one issue. What else don't LED lamps do today?

Lamp quality. Halogen light is still the benchmark. CRI (colour rendering index) is 100. On a CFL it's around 80. On an LED it's also around 80. If you look at it from a consumer point of view, they'll say 'you look awful under that blueish (LED) light.' Halogen is the closest we have to natural light. And then there's colour temperature. LEDs are getting better at that, but it decreases their efficiency, so that's a balancing act that people are working on. And halogens are omnidirectional – in a table lamp the light goes up and down. But LEDs are only directional.

Back on quality, you have one major vendor, GE, running a popular ad with actor Jeff Goldblum promoting how marvelous his cheesy character looks under LED light. So, isn't the quality there? 

I'm not saying there aren't LED lamps on the market under which you look great. I'm saying there are a lot LED lamps on the market under which you do not look great. Yes, there are some very good LED lamps.

So some brands are making good lamps, some aren't?

I'm trying to bring in thre relation of price and quality. Is Mama in Romania, in Germany, willing to pay the prices, when she's used to 99 cents? We have to think about the consumers. Halogen is the perfect lamp to give us time to further improve our LEDs.

Sounds like it's boiling down to, above all else, price.

I disagree with you. It' price and quality. We are worried that the name and fame of the LED is gong to be destroyed if we allow poor performing LEDs on the market. We would like to have the time to properly introduce the right technology and good quality LEDs at a reasonable price.

On a related subject, often the LED signage or packaging in a shop might say 'equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent,' and then it might give a lumen figure that is not equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent. What's going on?

You are so right. The problem is who is surveilling the market? That is one of the things we need to do as an industry, to make sure that we give the customer what he expects when he reads the packaging or when he walks through the aisles and sees a billboard. This is one of the big issues that we have, because you come home and you expect the same light amount from your 40-watt equivalent lamp and it's not there. And the beauty of halogen is that we have so much experience and they are equivalent. Halogens give us an energy saving and it gives the light the consumer wants. But with LEDs it's still an open game. After how many hours do you measure it? How do you measure it? The industry is still setting the standards. We need to get very clear standards on LED. That includes on smart lighting.

Wait a minute. Not all halgoens are created equal. Some may be giving 25 per cent energy saving, but it can be as low as only a 5-to-10 percent energy savings.

It depends on the type, but in principle they're more efficient and that's where we're coming from.

So how much might an LED lamp cost by 2020?

I could only suggest what I think it will cost. I think we should be at prices where CFL is now.

Part of the problem for LightingEurope members is that they have a conventional business model of selling replacement bulbs. Long-lasting LEDs rip that to shreds. Are they trying to buy time to help them transition to a new model?

Do you believe that the industry still has the replacement model? If you ask a company - what you call an old lighting company - the nature of their business, they will tell you they are in the business of lighting systems. They have changed their business. All their strategic thinking is based on lighting systems. An LED is no more than a printed circuit. Anybody can make those. That's not going to make the value. The value is added by putting it together in such a shape or form that you will get the best lighting solution for an application when you want to use it. And that is what the good lighting companies are doing at this moment. They're changing their model .

Yes, that's what they think today, but they have fond memories of the replacement bulb business - separation anxiety.

I would not describe it like that. Of course part of their income comes from the existing lamps they are selling. Halogens are part of that, fluorescents are a very important part of that, and LEDs are becoming part of it. But I think the notion that they are protecting their old business model is wrong. You are underestimating these companies, because they have a responsibility to their shareholders to continue to make money in 10, 20, 30 years. We are talking about companies that have been in the market for 100 years. I think they want to continue to stay in the market.

Sure. But they have the legacy business too, whereas some of these newer companies don't have the legacy of incandescents to worry about.

True. True. And I think it's good that some of these newer companies are shaking up the market.

There's no guarantee of a future for any of them. It's going to be tricky for eveyrone to sell their 'lighting systems', It's a whole new game. Nobody's quite sure how to win at it yet

Exactly. In one of your articles in Lux you were talking about the connectivity, the Googles, the Apples. There are other players like them looking at the lighting market. Not because they want to become lamp manufacturers, but because they're thinking 'we can use it as a sort of carrier; what can we do with lighting and lighting systems.' And I think that's a very very interesting thing that is happening at the moment.

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Tomorrow: Neonlite's Fred Bass on why the EC should keep the halogen ban in place.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Fred Bass as managing director of Neonlite's 'Megaman UK division.' As the story now correctly states, Bass is a director of Hong Kong-based Neonlite and MD of Neonlite's Neonlite International in the UK. Megaman UK is a distributor of Neonlite's Megaman brand in the UK. We apologise for any confusion.

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Photo of halogen signage is from Mark Halper. Photo of Diederik de Stoppelaar is from LightingEurope.

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More on the halogen storm, from Lux: