Halogen’s been living on borrowed time

The Eurocrats must know the drill by now, says Ray Molony, Lux editor

They publish a proposal or a draft law, and the UK kicks off with Eurosceptic scare stories. That’s the way it has always been, and the way it always will be.

So when the European Commission released its draft legislation to phase out conventional low-voltage halogen (and some mains voltage filament lamps) it can’t have been that surprised when newspapers embarked on another round of EU-bashing.

After all, it happened with the first so-called ‘bulb ban’ on incandescents.

Daily Express columnist Jasmine Birtles said that replacing halogen ‘may well require an electrician and even a carpenter to come out to change your fittings’. It could, she speculated, become ‘a nightmare for the elderly’.

The contents of the proposed legislation and its aims have clearly been poorly communicated, which is a shame, as it is a laudable and overdue attempt to remove inefficient lamps from the market.

The controversy centres on the proposed phase out of conventional low voltage tungsten halogen. But with an efficacy that is derisory compared with alternative technologies, this is a light source that has been living on borrowed time. Its phase-out is long overdue.

Indeed it’s always been baffling why anyone knowing all the facts would use a standard 50W tungsten halogen when a 35W IRC alternative would give a payback in a matter of months.

It would be a derogation of duty not to explain to the client that the installation of standard tungsten halogen is not in his or her long-term interest.

The phase-out will clearly accelerate the development of alternatives that have comparable performance and cost. But in the short term, IRC versions will probably dominate.

And herein lays an unintended consequence of the legislation. There is currently only one supplier of IR coatings to lamp makers, so it appears that on the face of it the proposals could create a monopoly with implications for supply and pricing.

But there is some intellectual property and a few patents on this and similar technologies spread throughout the industry, so the hope is that at least one new player could enter the market. But it’s just a hope.

Similarly, there are risks with the timeline of the proposed phase out and the availability of alternatives that tick all the boxes in terms of performance and price.

So wisely, the EC has built in a review process that allows the legislation to be amended in 2015, by which time it will be able to make a judgement if the phase-out is delivering as intended. It’ll be hoping too, no doubt, the headlines will be a distant memory.

Ray Molony, Editor

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