Less Power To The People

News headlines today are saying that Australia will introduce legislation to phase out incandescent lightbulbs within 3 years. They’ll be replaced by Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs), sometimes called “swirls”. Generally, one CFL eliminates the need for 7 to 8 normal bulbs – they last 5 to 10 times longer and use 20-25% of the energy. The downside? They’re more expensive, as much as 5-6 times more today and the light they emit is a colder, bluer tinge than most of us are used to. But, a $3 bulb pays for itself in about 5 months through reduced energy usage.

After reading an article in Fast Company a couple of months ago, I’ve been on the hunt for these bulbs. This article persuaded me that if every American used just one bulb in their home, the USA would be able to turn off two power stations (or not build two new ones), saving enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. Apparently a typical US home, says Fast Company, has 50-100 bulbs. Take the low estimate – replace 50 bulbs in a house and, if the maths is right, turn off 100 power stations.
As volumes grow, retail prices will fall. In 3 years or less, a swirl could cost the same as a standard bulb today. Last year, the US bought 2 billion lightbulbs. Perhaps they last 12 months. Over the next three years, suppose they switched to swirls, as conventional bulbs fail – production of 2 billion is a pretty good way to drive down costs (ask memory chip makers). Come in Governor Schwarzenegger, your time has come – an ideal place to start would be California.
FC quote Walmart as wanting to be at the forefront of this move, selling 100 million CFLs over the coming 12 months. All of a sudden, the shelf space allocated to bulbs reduces (people are buying 7x-8x fewer bulbs) and the space can be devoted to higher margin products; power consumption goes down; prices come down and everyone feels good about themselves. Maybe we even save the world.
There’s plenty to solve though. In my hunting around over the last few weeks, I haven’t seen a single retail store selling this new variety – plenty sell, in very limited quantities which I don’t believe are as efficient. New designs will have to be worked out that fit lampshades better – I don’t think we want everyone buying new lampshades just for the new bulbs. With bigger sales will come more research, more thinking about disposal (CFLs contain traces of mercury), better designs, longer lives and so more environmental benefits. The only place to find these bulbs seems to be online. It hardly seems to be the point to ship them if I can walk to the local store and get them instead (although, granted, they had to be shipped there in the first place). But if they’re going to enter mainstream consciousness, they need presence in stores – pride of place even.
There are some good sites that have already cottoned on to this of course. BanTheBulb is one of the British ones, with this set of goals
– Increase the cost of incandescent light bulbs
– Reduce the sales tax (VAT) on CFLs from 17.5% to 5%
– Ban the sale of incandescents by a specific date Help the poor to replace their incandescents
– Help the poor to save money on their bills Encourage the responsible recycling of CFLs
– Include light bulbs in the EU’s Eco Directive Explain the benefits of greater energy efficiency
– Accelerate the uptake of available technologies
Government policy appears to have already moved this way: Energy Efficiency Commitment 2002 – 2005: consultation proposals, have been set out by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and will come into being in April 2002. Measures proposed include some 26 million CFLs provided to customers with supplier contributions to their cost.
HM Treasury are also in on the act: A reduced rate of VAT on efficient (A rated) bulbs and dedicated fittings could help transform the market to efficient CFLs and other efficient lighting. It would send a strong price signal to consumers, retailers and manufacturers, reducing the price gap between efficient and inefficient lighting
I must be way behind on this. My house is all halogen bulbs (which I believe are about 10-15% more efficient than standard bulbs, but that’s nowhere near as good as CFL). So I’m having a look around to see if I can make a shift somehow.
Maybe what we need is a petition? The Downing Street has 2 petitions that contain CFL, one relating to import duties on chinese bulbs (that could be protectionism or a way to improve the price differential of CFL) and one about traffic lights. Neither have much traction.
Looking wider, there appear to be a couple of dozen petitions suggesting VAT be reduced on energy saving bulbs (known on the site as the “no VAT on green” petition), or banning the use of “non-energy efficient lightbulbs) or, similarly, banning the sale of fitments that can’t be used with low-energy bulbs (that’s that lampshade point again) and so on.
So very fragmented. The guys at MySociety have a tough job stripping out dupes by the looks of it – there are just too many long-winded titles (I know, like this post) to work through.
Doubtless people don’t search to see what’s there before they add their own and so nothing is taking hold. There must be strong media management lessons learned from the Road Pricing petition – and I’d bet that the 58 million odd people that didn’t vote for that one have a view that energy efficiency is a good thing, especially if it’s a no cost option to them. After all, if a bulb is a bulb and there’s one that cuts your downstream bills and one that doesn’t, it should be an easy cost. You can see the sign at Tesco: “Buy this bulk and by the time it breaks it will have cost you about £24 in electricity whereas this other one will have cost you £6.” One might cost 50p to start with and the other might cost £2.50 but I think most people will get it.
So maybe it’s not about the VAT. It’s maybe about Tesco, Sainsbury and the others following Walmart and making it happen. First they change every light in their own stores as bulbs fail and then they promote CFLs using the maths above (ok, so a better version). Then the design folks swing in with a better range, enhanced colours and so on. And then government sweeps in to mop up the outliers – maybe an incentive on new builds? Sounds easy, so I’ve plainly missed something.

9 thoughts on “Less Power To The People

  1. Waitrose has declared their intent to become carbon free within a couple of years. This isn\’t difficult, my house (were it covered with these new solar cells that look like tiles,) could supply enough electricity over a year, to power 90 houses.Although this is interesting. I\’m putting into my kitchen (which I\’m renovating whilst out of contract,) something like 31 spotlights, which use a gu10 socket.Each is 50 watts. One might wonder why I\’ve got 1.55 Kw of lighting in the kitchen when I\’ve got 10 lights on the outside walls using only 23 watt ES fittings.The answer is that at 18 quid plus vat for the uber bright luxeon ones, (but collapsing I hope,) are new composite LED lights which drain a miniscule 1.2 watts. This blows these low voltage lights out of the water. They last for 45000 hours too!!The other thing they could do, This is interesting. I\’m putting into my kitchen (which I\’m renovating whilst out of contract,) something like 31 spots, which use a gu10 socket.Each is 50 watts. One might wonder why I\’ve got 1.55 Kw of lighting in the kitchen when I\’ve got 10 lights on the outside walls using only 23 watt es fittings.The answer is that, at 18 quid, (but collapsing,) ar new composite LED lights which drain 1.2 watts. This blows these low voltage lights out of the water.They last for 50000 hours too, that\’s about 30 years of normal usage.The other thing they could do, is start heating all new buildings with thermal energy. A mate has got this in his house, and it costs him less to heat his (massive) cathedral sized house in Chesham Bois, than it did to heat his two bedroom flat in Notting Hill.http://www.yourwelcome.co.uk/acatalog/GU10_Low_Energy.htmlThe biggest thing they could do, however, is to encourage everyone to grow a tree in their garden.Ian.

  2. it frightens me that there is a site that so mangles the english language, \”yourwelcome.co.uk\”. perhaps the biggest thing we should do is teach people english? teach a person to plant a tree and he can save the world, teach a person english and they can save themselves?

  3. I\’ve had energy saving bulbs in most of my rooms for a year or so now – bought from a selection of Ikea, B&Q and Tesco. I assume they are the same as the ones you mention as I\’ve seen my electricity costs remain static during the last years enormous price rises. If the government was to be believed that road pricing was nothing at all to do with revenue generation and more to do with climate then surely removing VAT from these bulbs would be a cinch for Gordon. It\’d be interesting to see how much of a dent in our Kyoto commitment everybody replacing a couple of light bulbs would make…

  4. I had an interesting thought today. Whilst away with my brother and another friend in Berlin, visiting such sites as the Reichtag building, Checkpoint Charlie and the My Thai GoGo bar in Prenzlauer Berg, an horrible thing occured, which would affecting the ozone layer. I speak of yet another train derailment due to points failure, thus causing all the non car drivers to mount up.If memory serves, there\’s a vehicle owned by each county council, called a \”Deflectograph\”The purpose of this vehicle is to drag a transponder laden truck along the road, and measure the deflections, which with some cunning computational science algorithms, can tell the subsurface of the road.In addition, there\’s a device now fitted to Mercedes, Lexus etc, which measures the rotation of each wheel with respect to each other. A gradual increase in the rotation rate of a wheel, betrays a slow puncture. So my idea is this, each train, several times a day traverses the same track. It can know where it is, simple differential GPS. It could easily be fitted with vibrationometer. (I made that word up, in the manner of George Bush, or Shakespeare.)It\’s a simple process to compare the vibrations of trains over track, and hey presto, advance warning of a failure.Of course, catastrophic metal fatigue isn\’t detected.Ian

  5. \” perhaps the biggest thing we should do is teach people english!\”Oh my god! I can\’t string a sentence together when I\’m off on a mad thinking session. Perhaps you\’ve notices.Wat jammer!I.

  6. More on saving power. I was reading that it costs 3watts to run a telly in standby. (Despite all the stupid green lobby saying that it\’s a quarter of the running power when it\’s on normally.)With a tiny bit of thought this 3 watts could be basically zero.There are wireless casio watches out there that listen to the Rugby broadcast of the GMT. They don\’t use anywhere near 3 watts to run.Why can\’t tellies have that kind of receiver?

  7. I\’ve been looking more and more into the problem of Green House gases.I\’ve looked on the market at what\’s out there, with my Resource Investigator hat on, and come to an interesting observation.Firstly, there are a couple of products which with very little modifcation could dramatically reduce residential home greenhouse gas output.These are quite modern, but do exist. Firstly there\’s the solar panel, and secondly there\’s the relatively new to the market inline electric boiler. (http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=electric+central+heating+boilers&meta=) a good example is here -> a 12Kw model costs 750 quid http://www.dealec.co.uk/acatalog/Heatrae_Sadia_Electroheat_Amptec_Electric_Boilers.html. With very little modification, one of these, could be fed into the return of a conventional boiler, and powered by Solar cells. This means that whenever there\’s sunlight, and the house is cold, cool water returning from the central heating to the boiler return will be preheated at zero cost (from sunlight.) Thus the boiler will have less work to do, in order to reheat the water, to send back to the central heating system. Since all legal boilers these days are modulating, the boiler will simply ramp down the gas it burns.In theory, with enough cells, the boiler will still open the primaries to heat the house, but the incoming water to the boiler will be so hot, that the boiler doesn\’t even fire. Hey presto, warm house, no gas.Since the energy used by a house in a year is about 86% due to gas, and only 14% due to electricity, (http://www.techmind.org/energy/calcs.html) the gearing involved in cutting gas use is 6 times that of cutting electricity, even if electricity didn\’t have any side effects which we know it does. (Ie, literally everything electrical in the house ends up as heat, except a really really loud ghetto blaster.) So in fact, the 14% electricity used to power the telly, cooker etc, is actually re-used to heat the house, let\’s say 95% of it is reused in heating.This means that reducing GAS consumption by 1% is equivalent to completely stopping using electricity. On this my lord, I commend my bill to the house. The answer is to preheat the return water from the central heating to the boiler, using solar powered electric boilers. (Note, you don\’t even have to grid connect the solar cells, though that would be very useful for industry and the CEGB in the summer.)Since this boiler (like I\’m talking about is only 9cm wide, (http://www.inspiredheating.co.uk/acatalog/ELECTRIC_CENTRAL_HEATING_BOILERS.html) and 1.2 metres long, literally any house can fit one, and since there\’s a single 6mm cable required to power it, any sparks with a Part P can put one in. All you need is a bit of roof space for the cells.This isn\’t rocket science, and it doesn\’t cause any unemployment in the construction industry.Regards,Ian

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