Strong Growth in Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Reduces Electricity Demand

Product Number: 
VST120

Between 2001 and 2006, production of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in China-which accounts for roughly 85 percent of global output-tripled from 750 million to 2.4 billion units.1 (See Figure 1.) The total number of CFLs in use globally nearly doubled between 2001 and 2003 alone, growing from an esti­mated 1.8 billion to 3.5 billion units.2

Reliable global data on CFL use since 2003 do not exist, but sales growth in individual countries strongly indicates that total usage continues to increase at a fast pace. Between 2000 and 2004, for example, estimated sales in the United States grew 343 percent-from 21 million to 93 million-and by 2007 they reached 397 million.3 CFL sales in Western Europe grew 34 percent between 2000 and 2004, from 173 million to 232 million units, and in Eastern Europe they rose 143 percent, from 23 million to 56 million units.4 (See Figure 2 and Table 1.)

The lightbulb market share for CFLs varies widely among leading industrial nations. In the United States, CFLs accounted for more than 20 percent of sales in 2007, a strong growth from less than 1 percent before 2001.5 But other wealthy nations have shown much higher CFL use rates for quite some time, including 80 percent of households in Japan and 50 percent in Germany (in 1996 in both cases).6 Many developing countries have shown strong CFL market share in recent years as well: 14 percent of sales in China in 2003, for instance, and 17 percent in Brazil in 2002.7

CFLs are far more efficient than traditional incandescent lightbulbs because they produce less heat to create light, using about 75 percent less energy to produce the same amount of light and lasting up to 10 times longer.8 These energy savings translate into monetary savings. For example, a single CFL bulb can save up to $30 in energy costs in the United States over its lifetime; savings can be even greater where electricity costs are higher.9 Incandescent bulbs burn out after around 1,000 hours of use while CFLs can last for up to 10,000 hours, lowering their cost even without taking energy savings into account.10

Energy savings also mean a reduction in greenhouse gases. Electric lighting consumes 19 percent of total electricity grid production and is responsible for more than 1,500 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, the equivalent of the emissions from more than half of the world's light passenger vehicles.11 Replacing
all the inefficient incandescent lightbulbs with CFLs in the United States alone could prevent 158 million tons of CO2 emissions according to one lighting company, the equivalent of taking more than 30 million cars off the road.12 Sub­stituting CFLs under a global scenario that ­minimizes costs would reduce lighting energy demand by nearly 40 percent and save 900 million tons of CO2 a year by 2030, with a cumu­lative savings by then totaling 16.6 billion tons-more than twice the carbon dioxide released in the United States in 2006.13

A large part of the increase in CFL sales has been due to government action. In 2007, Aus­tralia became the first country to ban the sale of incandescent bulbs, and sales there will be phased out entirely by 2009.14 The European Union, Ireland, and Canada have since announced plans to ban incandescent bulbs.15 The United States has also passed legislation increasing the efficiency standard required for lightbulbs, which will effectively phase out incandes­cents.16 In total, more than 40 countries have announced plans to follow suit.17

Retail giant Wal-Mart has also promoted the use of CFLs by raising awareness, and the company's action is driving down prices. In November 2006 Wal-Mart announced a goal of selling 100 million CFL units by the end of 2007-which it accomplished by October that year.18

Despite their many benefits, CFLs have some problems, including quality control at factories in developing countries. To address this issue, the Efficient Lighting Initiative (ELI), launched in 1999 by the International Finance Corporation and the Global Environment Facility, created a certification mechanism for high-­quality products.19 ELI allows manufacturers ­to voluntarily have their products tested to see if they meet a technical standard for quality. Those that pass receive ELI's "seal of approval," a well-known international standard, and can qualify for promotions and procurement programs.20

Modern CFLs also contain about 4 milli­grams of mercury, a dangerous neurotoxin.21 This is less than 1 percent as much mercury as found in old thermometers, but it still means broken bulbs should be treated with care and discarded bulbs should be recycled instead of thrown out.22 And for consumers who rely on coal-fired electricity, one of the largest sources of mercury emissions, the increased energy efficiency of these bulbs means that over its lifetime a CFL-even if it is broken or thrown away-will release significantly less mercury into the environment than an incandescent bulb would.23

Because of these issues with CFLs, many scientists and consumers have looked toward light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as a better source of energy-efficient lighting. LEDs are semiconductor pinpoint lights that when clustered together can function as a lightbulb. They are more than twice as efficient as CFLs and can last five times as long.24 However, LEDs also have several drawbacks, such as high cost (up to $60 per bulb), a harsh white light that con­sumers find unappealing, and a more focused light stream that is not well suited for ambient lighting.25 These problems have prevented LEDs from catching on with consumers. But as they are improved through new research and development, LEDs could become the next genera­tion of energy-efficient lighting.26 Recent market projections indicate that LEDs could become cost-competitive with CFLs in as little as five years.27