Farewell to the incandescent light bulb

July 2012

Two engineers from Düren in Germany’s North Rhine Westphalia managed to come up with an ingenious idea to circumvent the EU regulations on incandescent light bulbs: they simply went ahead and imported light bulbs from China and marketed them as “heatballs”, although strictly speaking, sales were banned. The main shift of their argument was that the majority of the energy emitted by incandescent light bulbs constitutes radiated heat, not light, so that they should not really be deemed lights, but mini-heaters. However, this cynical move was stopped in its tracks by the local administrative court in Aachen. Most Germans have now come to terms with the gradual demise of the incandescent light bulb. Given the fact that from September 2011, only bulbs with a rated output of 60 watt and lower were permitted, most of the population settled for more environmentally-compatible alternatives. However, remaining stocks of incandescent bulbs are still continuing to light up German households.

A stock of old 60 watt or higher-rated incandescent bulbs is still being kept at home by 42% of consumers, which they intend to keep using and which they are currently still permitted to use. In order not to let their own stock drop below a certain level too quickly, almost one in five are buying up all the remaining stocks they can find. These are the finding of the GfK Global Green Index survey carried out in March 2012 by the GfK Energy division in conjunction with the GfK Verein.

In future, if Germans require bulbs with a rating of 60 watt and over, most of them will be buying the new energy saving bulbs, a decision which 63% said they had made. Alternatively, just under a quarter will be going for halogen bulbs. This relatively low factor may be due to the fact that the majority of consumers are not yet aware of this technology as a viable lighting alternative. Overall, however, Germans appear to be well informed of the gradual demise of the traditional light bulb, with only 4% saying they had never heard of the new regulations.

Older consumers keep stocks

There are disparities when it comes to age and background: while an above average number (66%) of the 35 to 49 year-old group is happy to use the new energy-saving bulbs, only around half of the 65+ age group uses them. Of this older age group, 55% prefers to keep a stock of old incandescent bulbs at home, and one in five is looking to top up the stock and seeking out shops still selling 60+ watt incandescent light bulbs. The same applies for halogen lighting, which is far more popular among younger consumers than older ones: one quarter of younger consumers is making use of the technology to ensure that they don’t remain in the dark at home. However, only 16% of the older age group is adding halogen bulbs to the shopping list. Also in line with this is the evident trend of a greater preference for halogen bulbs among younger consumers from West Germany than the East. While 23% of West Germans are replacing their traditional light bulbs with the new lighting, only 18% of East Germans are doing so, preferring instead to keep on buying up stocks of older bulbs for as long as possible.

Motivation: environment versus cost savings

But exactly what is it that is persuading Germans to switch to energy-saving products? Although the old incandescent bulb was declared obsolete on the grounds of poor energy efficiency, environmental considerations are not really at the top of the agenda for consumers. The notion of protecting the environment motivates a total of 44% of consumers to buy energy-saving products. However, at a time of rising energy prices, 53% are thinking of their wallets. Women tend to be more environmentally aware and whereas virtually half of the female subjects surveyed switched to energy-saving light bulbs for ecological reasons, only 39% of men did so. Here, too, age is a factor: the older the consumer, the greater the emphasis on ecological considerations, rather than on any thoughts of the household budget. Consequently, only 38% of younger consumers aged up to 34 years buy energy-saving products out of environmental conviction, while in consumers aged 65+, the figure rises to 50%.

Money conscious consumers: first use up stocks, then switch

Countless numbers of traditional incandescent light bulbs, of which there are adequate stocks (for the time being), remain in use in German households. For example, the Amazon online store continues to offer stocks of old incandescent high-wattage light bulbs for sale. However, not all consumers are going for these. In the main, it is the more environmentally aware consumers who aim to end the use of the older type bulbs and who, as money conscious consumers, are buying the new energy-saving bulbs (64% versus 60%). Anyone keeping more of an eye on the finances will first use up old stocks: 44% of money conscious consumers still have a remaining stock of 60+ watt bulbs at home. In the case of the more environmentally aware consumers, the figure is just 38%.

Irrespective of whether consumers decide in favor of energy-saving light bulbs for environmental or financial reasons, the demise of the incandescent light bulb is imminent. From 1 September 2012, as a final measure, conventional light bulbs with 40 watt and 25 watt will be banned, after which, energy efficiency class C will apply mandatorily to all clear glass light sources. For Germany, this will mean anticipated annual savings of approximately 7.5 billion kilowatt hours of power, which corresponds to the capacity of two nuclear power stations. Perhaps this will soften the blow of a farewell to the conventional incandescent light bulb. After all, even Thomas Alva Edison, who is credited with the invention of the electric bulb, is rumored to have said: if there’s a better way of doing things: find it!

Data sources: GfK Energy division, GfK Verein (GfK Global Green Index), March 2012.

If you have any queries concerning this article or Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar,  e-mail: hello@nim.org.

July 2012