Fluorescent light bulb sales can be banned in South Africa

New regulations for general-purpose light bulbs in South Africa will make it unlawful to continue selling the compact fluorescent lamps that are currently on the market, the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) has said.

The proposed new specifications on general service lamps were published in the Government Gazette on 1 March and South Africans have until 30 April 2021 to comment on the regulations before they are made final.

The aim of the new specifications is to improve the safety, performance and energy efficiency of lightbulbs approved for use in South Africa by phasing out inefficient and environmentally harmful lighting products.

“Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) currently on the market would not meet the specifications; it is more likely that LEDs would become the preferred choice of lamp,” explained Ashanti Mogosetsi, the project manager for appliance standards and labelling programme at SANEDI.

Mogosetsi said that although CFLs are often known as ‘energy saving’ lamps, they contain mercury which can be harmful to humans if accidentally broken or not disposed of safely.

However, it is not the mercury content of CFLs that will block them from being sold in South Africa, but their power efficiency.

The new specifications set a high bar for minimum luminous efficacy — 90 lumens per watt. Luminous efficiency is a measure of how much light a lamp can produce for the power it consumes.

The proposed regulations would therefore not ban CFL technology itself, but set minimum limits on efficiency that energy saver lamps do not yet comply with.

“If CFLs make a technological advancement and meet these specifications in the future, then they could be legally sold,” said Mogosetsi.

“The purpose of the specifications is not to ban any particular lighting products, but to mandate their safety and performance standards.”

SANEDI believes that if the gazetted regulations are passed, it would be a milestone in the journey towards a more environmentally sustainable country.

Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Mogosetsi said that South Africa still makes wide use of old and outdated lighting technology, which is known to be far less energy efficient than modern lighting products such as LEDs.

However, the mercury content of CFL light bulbs is the most concerning issue.

Being exposed to high amounts of mercury can lead to long-term and sometimes permanent neurological and behavioural disorders.

“Mercury is extremely harmful to the environment, and in turn harms the health of people living in those environments,” Mogosetsi stated.

In light of these concerns, the UN Environment Programme created the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2013.

Mogosetsi said that South Africa’s newly proposed specifications on general service lamps show that the country is aligned to the goals of the UN, and will hopefully have good news to share at UN Climate Change Conference, COP 26, due to be held in November 2021.

The Clean Lighting Coalition is also set to submit votes at COP 4 of the Minamata Convention, also set to be hosted in November this year, to amend the exemption of lighting products containing mercury, now that alternatives without mercury exist.

Fluorescent Light Bulb
Fluorescent Light Bulb with Mercury

In addition to the environmental concerns over the mercury content in CFLs, SANEDI pointed to a cost-benefit analysis by Nova Economics which found that energy saving light bulbs are no longer the most power efficient option.

“Roughly 80 million general service lamps are sold in South Africa each year; and the total estimated installed stock is approximately 170 million,” Nova Economics stated in its report.

“Most importantly, while a single electric lamp does not consume a large quantity of electricity, the average household has about 15 lamps — which collectively accounts for a significant amount of electricity use during peak consumption periods, when the electricity grid is most vulnerable.”

Nova Economics said that a transition to higher efficiency light bulbs — which produce the same light while using much less electricity — provides an opportunity to both reduce strain on the national grid and save on the electric bills of households.

The analysis from Nova Economics found that South African consumers are making poor economic decisions when it comes to selecting the best light bulbs for their homes.

“Consumers are purchasing some of the most expensive and least efficient GSLs, by opting for a lower upfront cost based on familiar and inefficient technologies, and not considering the full life cycle cost of lighting,” Nova Economics stated.

As an example — in the highest-selling brightness category, a 70W BC Eco Halogen lamp accounted for 52% of sales, costing R20, but it is one of the most expensive to operate at around R1,500 in electricity and replacement lamp costs over a typical 5-year (7 000-hour) period.

“The same company’s LED lamp with the same light output will cost R35 to purchase, will not need to be replaced because of its long lifetime, and will only cost R178 to use in electricity bills over the same five-year period,” said Nova Economics.

“Thus, R1,520 for halogen versus R213 for LED. Halogen is over 7 times more expensive than LED on a lifecycle cost basis.”

The report found that the net economic benefit of switching to more energy efficient light bulbs is expected to amount to R11.7 billion over 15-years; with a benefit-cost ratio of 27.4 to one.

“The present value of the benefits is more than 27 times the present value of the costs of introducing and enforcing the regulation,” Nova Economics stated.

Brightness and technology

The draft regulations set out a two-phased roll-out for the new light bulb specifications.

During the first phase, the minimum luminous efficacy of light bulbs will be set to 90 lumens per watt, effectively banning the sale of most of the energy saver CFLs currently on the market.

Phase 1 will last for three years and will start one year after the final notice announcing the new regulations is published.

During the second phase, the minimum luminous efficacy of light bulbs will be set to 105 lumens per watt. Phase 2 will start three years after after the final notice is published.

If you are currently using CFL-type energy saver light bulbs in your home, it will not be necessary to replace them when the regulations kick in.

You will just not be able to buy them anymore, as the new specifications will make it unlawful to sell bulbs that don’t have a luminous efficacy of at least 90 lumens per watt.

Theo Covary, an energy efficiency expert contracted to support SANEDI’s standards and labelling programme, told MyBroadband that South Africa has adopted a technology neutral approach.

“The technical specifications are technology agnostic and they seek to remove the most inefficient GSLs from the market,” said Covary.

“The current levels being proposed cannot be met by incandescent [lamps] and CFLs and on this basis they would be phased out.”

Theo Covary
Theo Covary (right)

If there is a technological breakthrough that allows CFLs and incandescent lamps to to meet the proposed technical specifications, then they could once again be sold in South Africa.

Covary provided the following examples of lamp technology that do not make the threshold of 90 lumens per watt:

  • Halogen — 18 lumens/watt
  • Incandescent — 15 lumens/watt
  • CFL — 55-70 lumens/watt.

It should be noted that these regulations apply to general service lamps — the light bulbs used for standard lighting in homes and business around South Africa.

The regulations highlight several exceptions where the minimum luminous efficacy specifications will not apply, including:

  • Medical applications
  • UV light for curing and drying
  • Horticulture, aquariums, animal care, and anti-insect products
  • Camera flashlights, photocopiers, video projectors
  • Signalling, e.g. traffic lights
  • Studio lighting, special effects lighting, and theatre lighting
  • Emergency lighting

Comment on the proposed regulations on light bulbs

The Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, has invited the public to comment on the proposed new specifications for general service lamps in South Africa.

The documents are embedded below.

Compulsory specification for energy efficiency and functional performance requirements of general service lamps

Compulsory specification for safety requirements of general service lamps

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Fluorescent light bulb sales can be banned in South Africa