Energy Panel Slams Cost of Edison’s Bulb

July 4, 2006
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A global shift to energy-efficient lighting would slash international electricity costs by $2.9 trillion by 2030 and take a huge bite out of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study from the International Energy Agency.

The Paris-based organization, which serves as policy adviser for developed nations, including Canada, says fluorescent and other energy-efficient lighting such as LEDs have the potential to provide “simply enormous” savings and keep national economies competitive as global demand for energy increases.

Worldwide, the amount of electricity consumed for light is 15-per-cent greater than the amount produced by either the world’s total output of hydro or nuclear energy.

The conventional incandescent light bulb, little changed since it was patented by Thomas Edison in the 19th century, is cited by the IEA as the primary obstacle to a consumer shift to more efficient lighting, because 95 per cent of the electricity consumed by a typical 60-watt bulb is discharged as heat.

The agency said the “comparatively high running costs” of incandescent bulbs are poorly understood or even ignored by consumers, and recommends that governments and the private sector work together to bring about a large-scale shift to more efficient alternatives.

Those alternatives are already well developed. The IEA says the biggest barrier to wider use of compact fluorescent bulbs is “a continuing lack of awareness” of their benefits, including lower costs over the lifecycle of the bulb. Compact fluorescents are four times as efficient as incandescents.

Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are described as durable and ideal for many applications, but must become cheaper in order to be competitive on consumer markets.

Other options for savings include more efficient designs for street lighting — such as lights that dim when no motion is detected — and more individual control of workspace lighting.

The recommendations are contained in a 560-page IEA study. It was prepared in response to a request from the Group of Eight developed nations, including Canada and the United States, to identify on a global scale the strategies and scenarios for a sustainable energy future.

It is the “first detailed global analysis” of the amount of energy consumed by lighting, including a review of lighting technologies.

In a news release, IEA executive director Claude Madill said current lighting practices around the world create “enormous sources of waste.”

“Lighting is routinely supplied to spaces where no one is present. Over-lighting occurs frequently, and there are vast differences in the efficiency of competing lighting sources and in the way systems are designed to deliver light to where it is needed.”

The report plots out alternatives that would curb lighting demand, and lower costs compared to current practices. “Were end users to install only efficient lamps, ballasts and controls that will save money over the lifecycle of the lighting services, global lighting electricity demand would drop substantially and be almost unchanged from 2005 levels by 2030,” the report says.

In addition, the IEA estimates that reduced electricity consumption would curtail 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — the equivalent of six years of current global emissions from automobiles.

A business development manager with British Columbia’s Carmanah Technologies notes that LEDs consume only one-tenth the energy of incandescents — making them the ideal choice for off-grid applications such as solar-powered lighting for bus shelters or marine buoys.

“LEDs have changed the way the whole world looks at lighting,” said Carmanah’s Mimi Drabit. “Pretty soon we won’t be talking about incandescent lighting. It will all be LEDs.”

Carmanah chief operating officer Matthew Watson said cost concerns about LEDs are overstated. “If you look at the lifecycle of LEDs versus incandescent bulbs, they already have a positive value,” Watson said.

BC Hydro has been a leading proponent of consumer use of compact fluorescents through its Power Smart program.

“Conservation is key to acquiring the energy we need to meet demand as the economy grows,” Hydro media relations manager Elisha Moreno said in an e-mail. “It is a cost-effective, low impact option and is inclusive for all of our customers. They save money on their monthly energy bills, the impact to the environment is lessened and as it also offsets the need for new energy, it helps keep rates low.”