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Halogen lightbulbs banned across EU

Nik Martin
August 31, 2018

The sale of halogen lightbulbs is being banned across the EU, as LEDs are touted as greener alternatives. Advocates insist the move will save consumers money in the long run and lead to lower carbon emissions.

Halogen, LED lightbulbs
Image: DW/G. Rueter

The European Union's decision nearly a decade ago to phase out traditional, or incandescent, lightbulbs caused an uproar, especially in Germany where they are known as Glühlampen.

Consumers were themselves incandescent at the prospect of having to buy more expensive alternatives, and many people complained the new bulbs emitted a cold, unnatural light.

Reports of widespread hoarding led one British newspaper to offer every reader five free incandescent bulbs, due to stock shortages caused by what it called "The Great Lightbulb Revolt."

Such was the anxiety about the phaseout, completed in 2012, that hard core fans can still buy traditional bulbs, as some manufacturers have maintained production, albeit in small quantities.

Fast forward to 2018, and the ban on the sale of halogen bulbs — which comes into force on September 1 — has not generated the same sort of panic, partly due to a lack of awareness, as Europe's media only picked up on the imminent veto a few days ago. 

Infografik Vergleich LED und Halogen Glühbirne EN

Unlike the early energy saving bulbs, most consumer groups think that LEDs are now so similar to halogen bulbs, that the ban is unlikely to be met with much opposition.


Halogen stockpiling unlikely

"I don't think people will be running to the hardware shop to hoard halogen bulbs," Gerhild Loer, an expert in energy efficiency at the German consumers' association Verbraucherzentrale, told DW.

The halogen ban, which was first announced in 2009, was to begin two years ago, but was delayed to give consumers more time to move to LEDs, much to the frustration of green campaigners.

"It's high time that the planet and consumers were protected from these power guzzlers," said Irmela Colaco, the project leader for energy efficiency at German environmental group BUND.

Long-term consumer savings

Some 500 million halogen spotlights are used in European homes; each bulb consumes around six times as much energy as an LED, so the ban should eventually lead to a reduction in most consumers' bills.

While opponents point to higher purchase costs for LEDs than halogen bulbs, Colaco insisted that LEDs last up to 12 times as long, and that their prices had fallen by 80 percent over the past five years.

LED, halogen lightbulbs
Experts believe the European Commission's ban on the production of halogen lightbulbs will not draw consumers' ireImage: DW/G. Rueter

BUND compared the cost of a halogen and its LED equivalent from the same manufacturer. Over 10 years, with the purchase and electricity costs added together, the LED came to less than €30, while the halogen cost €160, the group said.

Another complaint from early LED adopters was a lack of features, which the BUND spokesperson said has been rectified.

"There has been a real revolution in LED technology. They come in all conceivable shapes, colors and light quality, they are also available as dimmable lamps," Colaco told DW.

Saturday's EU-wide ban means that manufacturers, including Osram and Philips, will have to stop halogen bulb production. Stores can still sell their existing bulbs, but can't order new stock.

Trouble for some light systems

Loer predicted that most consumers will just buy LED replacements without much fuss, but warned about possible issues in rooms where tracks of multiple lights are installed.

Energy saving through LED lightbulbs

"These systems often require a certain amount of energy. So if you have six halogen bulbs on a track and one of them blows, replacing the faulty bulb with an LED may not be enough," she warned.

Instead you may have to replace all bulbs on the track or, in some cases, buy a whole new system.

Some bulbs, meanwhile, are exempted from the ban, including those used in ovens, and low-voltage reflector lights.

The European Commission expects to save 64 terawatt hours of energy per year by 2020, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of all Italian households.

In terms of carbon dioxide savings, the ban is similar to taking 10 million medium-sized cars off the roads per year.

Who's bright idea?

Although the ban has received a lethargic response across much of the EU, pro-Brexit campaigners in Britain have insisted the move is more proof of interference by Brussels.

It was, after all, the EU that insisted on the transition to halogen barely a decade ago, they said.

Aside from the EU, Australia is set to ban halogen bulbs from 2020.