Will Anderson: The Green House

An inefficiency tax on tungsten light bulbs would push them out of the market in no time
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Last week's Energy Review drove me to light-bulb jokes. How many energy reviews do you need to change a light-bulb? Two: one to get a grip on the problem and one to twist in the wrong direction. How many prime ministers does it take to change a light-bulb? One, as long as he's convinced it's the right thing to do.

But let me get nearer to the point: How many civil servants does it take to change a light-bulb? The removal of traditional incandescent bulbs from our homes would reduce the UK's carbon emissions by a million tonnes per year, yet even this simple action requires a bureaucratic effort involving hundreds of documents, committees, strategies and (not least) public employees.

You might find this reassuring if you were worried about the construction of new nuclear power stations. If it takes years to implement the simplest of domestic technical transfers, we'll all be long in the tooth by the time the next nuclear generator gets turned on. Although the Government's Energy Review aspires to remove the worst energy-guzzling offenders from our homes, including inefficient light bulbs, the detail of how this will be achieved is left hopelessly vague. Paragraph 2.19 is typical, moving seamlessly from reassuring statements of the obvious to complete obfuscation:

"Making the energy-using products in our homes and offices more efficient will help us to cut carbon emissions. The Government will work at international and EU level with manufacturers and retailers in the UK to remove the least energy efficient products from the market. We will build markets for the best by setting a firm agenda to progressively raise standards. This will stimulate innovation and competition in the supply chain."

Yeah right. I bet the civil servant who wrote that spends his or her evenings reading Finnegan's Wake under a 100W tungsten bulb. An inefficiency tax slapped on such bulbs would push them out of the market in no time, but this is not acceptable to our market-friendly political classes. Although there is a European process under way to promote "the eco-design of energy-using products", don't hold your breath.

One Government policy that has resulted in a small shift to energy-saving lighting is the Energy Efficiency Commitment which requires energy suppliers to spend some of their cash promoting energy efficiency among their customers. Regrettably I am not convinced that the outcome of this programme has been entirely positive as the compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs that they have given away in their millions have defined consumer expectations: everyone now thinks that an energy-saving bulb is ugly and cumbersome and gives off a cold blue light.

If this perception has put you off buying CFL bulbs, think again. They now come in all shapes and sizes including spots, globes, candles and miniature ceiling-recessed downlighters. The familiar egg-whisks may still predominate on the shelves of your local DIY warehouse but, with a little effort, you should find what you need in specialist shops or online. I am currently sitting beneath a Megaman globe bulb that uses 9W instead of the 40W of its incandescent equivalent ( www.megamanuk.com). Although this bulb takes a few seconds to warm up, it produces a warm light and so is very suitable for domestic living spaces. It's even possible to buy a dimmable version of this bulb that can be installed in an ordinary dimming circuit, so there's now no reason at all to hold on to two-per-cent efficient tungsten.

LEDs (light emitting diodes) are now competing strongly with CFLs in the low-energy-lighting market. These are the tiny lights that last even longer than CFLs and can be put together to make a variety of lamps, not least the newest traffic lights. The enthusiastic claims of LED manufacturers have not always been matched by the light quality of their products but this is changing fast. A truly low-carbon economy may still be a distant vision but it is illuminated by a million points of bright white light.


If your hall ceiling is studded with low-voltage 50W halogen downlighters, then why not try replacing them with two-Watt LED equivalents: £3.99 from www.ledonline.co.uk.


Low-energy lighting begins with good lighting design. The BBC has lots of tips for your home at www.bbc.co.uk/homes/design.