Where have all the light bulbs gone?

You may have noticed that it’s getting harder to find cheap incandescent light bulbs on supermarket shelves, and instead they have been replaced by fluorescent and LED bulbs.

The change goes back to early 2007 when Malcolm Turnbull, then Federal Environment Minister, announced the phasing out of incandescent bulbs beginning to start in 2009. The reason is a potential reduction of 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions derived from using more energy efficient light bulbs.

At the time there was a little bit of consumer concern as the number of alternative bulb shapes was relatively limited and the available LED and fluorescent alternatives would either not fit particular light fitting or change the aesthetics of a light.

However, manufactures have changed the market in the last eight years and now there is a wide range of alternative shapes and sizes.

The phasing out was undertaken with a combination of import and sales restrictions.

  • February 2009 – An import restriction was put in place.
  • November 2009 – Sales restrictions on Tungsten filament incandescent general lighting service light bulbs, extra low voltage halogen non-reflector lamps and Self-ballasted compact fluorescent lamps.
  • October 2010 – Sales restrictions were introduced on greater than 40W candle, fancy round and decorative lamps, and ELV halogen reflector lamps (the average measured wattage shall be no more than 37W – effective April 2012).
  • January 2011 – Sales restrictions came into force on mains voltage halogen (MVH) non-reflector lamps (until September 2016, when tested in accordance with AS/NZS 4934.1, MVH non-reflector lamps may comply with a reduced initial efficacy requirement).
  • October 2012 – Lamps greater than 25W, candle fancy round and decorative lamps.

The vast majority of incandescent bulbs have now been phased out. The few exceptions will be phased out at some point subject to energy efficient replacements becoming available. These bulbs fall into two categories – pilot lamps 25W and below and mains voltage reflector lamps including halogen lamps.

Life of a bulbenergy efficient bulb

According to www.bulbs.com, LED lights last around 50,000 hours or 17 years if used eight hours a day. This compares with:

  • Fluorescent bulbs last around 5,000-6,250 hours.
  • Halogen you can expect around 2,500 hours.
  • Incandescent last only about 1,000 hours.

Cost difference

There is no doubt that the cost of bulbs has gone up, with the traditional light bulb shape costing around $13 in LED, $12 in Halogen and about $7-$8 in Fluro. (Prices from Bunnings.com).

When you consider that back in 2007 you could pick up incandescent bulbs for as little as 50 cents, even if you had to change them every four months and with the reduction in your electricity bill, it suggests that we are as consumers still a little out of pocket.

The exception is with LED lights if you are planning to live in the same house with the same lights for the next 10+ years.

Of course we can argue that the reduction in greenhouse emissions is worth it, as this trend of moving away from incandescent bulbs is occurring across the world. Plus paying 50 cents for a light bulb 10 years ago does on reflection sound ludicrously cheap.

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