It's time for Australia's next light bulb moment

Richard Keech

From Chain Reaction #122, Nov 2014,

In 2007, the then environment minister Malcolm Turnbull regulated light bulbs. This resulted in making the common worst performing light bulbs illegal by setting a mandatory minimum energy performance threshold. As a result of this regulation, householders save much more in avoided electricity consumption than they spend on more expensive light bulbs.

Contrary to popular belief, this regulation did not ban incandescent light bulbs. Halogen bulbs are incandescent – just a slightly more efficient version. Turnbull's regulation just set the bar a little bit above the worst performing at the time. So the current crop of just-legal light bulbs are still incandescent, cheap poor performers. These halogen bulbs consume about 70 W where the old (now illegal) bulbs consumed about 100 W for the same performance. Compact fluorescent and LED light bulbs, now readily available, provide the same light output for less than 20 W.

Perhaps it's now time for the next light bulb moment. The current standard for 1300 lumen general light bulbs (i.e. the old 100 W bulbs) is currently a minimum of 16 lumens per watt. Good commonly available lights achieve better than 70 lumens per watt, and very high performance LEDs are on the way that will give 200 lumens per watt. So the current standard sets the bar way too low. And the current marketing of the worst performing lights as energy efficient needs to be shown for the silly greenwash that it is. The government needs to finish what it started and raise the bar to properly outlaw low performance lights.

Richard Keech is sustainable buildings researcher with Beyond Zero Emissions.