While the energy conservation measures established by the bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act in the United States and the federal government in Canada were both passed in 2007, Canada has fallen behind in their execution. The mandates were the same: to improve energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gases. The strategy was the same: a slow, multi-year phase out of lamps that do not meet efficiency requirements. So what happened in Canada?
On Jan 1, 2013, both the US and Canada were set to ban the 100-Watt and 75-Watt light bulb according to their respective mandates. The US ban was put into effect, while the Canadian plan was pushed back a year. The reason for the delay was to “allay consumer concerns about cost and flexibility” (CBC News): LED technology was too expensive, and the alternative, CFL, produces poor light quality and is filled with mercury.
As such, Canada has only just banned the 100-Watt and 75-Watt light bulb as of this year on Jan 1, 2014 (Natural Resources Canada), while the US is on to the next stage in the phase-out: the 60-Watt and 40-Watt light bulb.
According to the US Department of Energy (DoE), the new energy saving standards could save US households nearly $6 billion dollars in electricity costs in 2015 alone! It is not difficult to calculate the lost opportunity in Canada by postponing the ban just one year.
But that’s not the only hiccup in the incandescent light bulb phase out in Canada. The stringent rules proposed back in 2007 have been relaxed some, allowing newer incandescent bulbs filled with halogen gas to remain on store shelves—even though they don’t meet new standards.
There’s also the environmental issue. As CFLs are now a low-cost, energy-saving alternative to incandescent bulbs, Canada’s lack of regulations regarding mercury recycling is hugely problematic (CFL lamps contain approximately 5mg of mercury—a powerful neurotoxin that Health Canada labels a “hazardous waste”). While the federal government encouraged consumers to dispose of CFL light bulbs at retailer Home Depot, Home Depot has since quietly shut down its recycling program. A study for Environment Canada found that as a result of the lack of safe disposal facilities, most CFLs end up in landfills where the mercury can leach into groundwater and thus into public water supplies. Furthermore, Environment Canada has yet to enact regulations on how much mercury can be contained within a CFL light bulb!
Not-so-fun fact: The mercury contained within just one medical thermometer can contaminate five Olympic-sized swimming pools. (source: http://www.rcinet.ca)
While the George W. Bush-signed energy conservation act bans ALL light bulbs over a certain wattage—not just incandescent light bulbs like Canada—it has not been without its own problems.
In both 2012 and 2013, the House voted to defund the implementation and enforcement of the law. Congress has not passed a new budget, so the DoE does not have any funding to enforce the standards. Despite this legal snag, all major lighting manufactures have pledged to honor the energy conservation act. Furthermore, according to Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “Americans don’t want government standards determining how they light their homes” (though, to be fair, this sentiment is not just isolated to the US). This growing movement of people that are upset these rules even exist. They feel that the standards should be set for efficiency, but the bulbs themselves not de facto banned; just banned if they do not meet the new standards.
It can be argued that America has experienced more success in executing their energy conservation mandate, but really there are no losers here. Any movement toward reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gases is a move in the right direction. Canada is off to a shaky start, but is pushing forward.
Many people have a strong emotional connection to the incandescent lamp—many even running out and stocking up on incandescents while they are still on shelves. And while many media outlets are incorrectly identifying the CFL light bulb as the replacement technology (which creates further fury among consumers, as the CFL has largely not performed well in comparison), there are other alternate lighting technologies available. . Over the past few years, LED technology has made significant improvements in the lighting arena, with the cost per bulb continuing to drop each year. Up to now, LEDs have primarily been adopted within the commercial and industrial space, but there is a lot of room for improvement—especially with the number of applications increasing each year.
Next week, we’ll delve into LED lighting technology and help to de-code the Lighting Facts label, allowing you to make a more educated decision when replacing your soon-to-be obsolete incandescent light bulbs.
In the meantime, how do you feel about the light bulb bans?
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