Rhein on Energy and Climate

With China and and the USA starting their phase-out of incandescent light bulbs in October 2012, the world will soon be without the venerable lighting system that has been with us since the19th century when Humphrey Davy invented the arc lighting (1806) and Thomas Edison made it safer and commercially viable (1879).

Much more energy-efficient CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), LEDs (light emitting diodes) and ESL (electron stimulating luminescence) will be replacing it.

The transition has not been easy. Consumer groups in Europe and USA have vociferously campaigned against the new bulbs, arguing an inferior light quality and mercury components, in fluorescent lamps. The higher cost of the bulbs has also been a handicap, as consumers have tended to ignore the longer operational life time.

It will have been a gradual “revolution”, driven by superior technology and energy-aware countries. Brazil deserves the honour of have started the process, back in 2005, followed by Australia and New Zealand in 2007 and the EU in 2009. Latest by 2020, all countries will have stopped producing and selling incandescent bulbs.

No UN Agency has actively promoted the transition. The UNFCC, the body in charge of fighting climate change, has ignored it, its positive impact on C02 emissions being too tiny because of the small share of lighting in global energy consumption.

Even so, the “lighting revolution” become become a paradigm for the transition to a more sustainable global energy system:

  • Humanity is unlikely to agree on a universal climate agreement committing all countries to reduce their green house gas emissions. We are more likely to witness many small and big “example setters” like EU, Australia, Brazil and others.
  • Carbon taxation is the foremost example.

The EU has introduced a comprehensive cap-and trade regime back in 2006. In 2012 Australia has followed with a carbon tax in 2012; in 2013 Switzerland and California are set to follow suit; and South Korea and others regions are lining up for it.

  • Promotion of renewable power is another example.

Many countries have introduced incentives, like feed-in tariffs. Germany is the most advanced. By 2022 it will have replaced most its nuclear power by wind and solar power, the most revolutionary transition presently going on.

As a result of such policies, the electricity generated world-wide from renewable s is expected to increase by almost 6 per cent annually until 2017, according to IEA estimates. Though that pace may not be fast enough to reduce global CO2 emissions by 80 per cent until the middle of the century, technological progress is likely to accelerate the process by making renewable power competitive with fossil electricity.

  • Fixing ambitious emission standards for vehicles has also proved a successful catalyst of higher energy efficiency.The EU and the USA have been the driving forces in this field. China and other motor vehicle manufacturers had no choice but to follow.

In conclusion, Humanity should learn from the silent shift to energy-efficient light bulbs. A combination of technology and political drive should be able to produce similar results in climate change. But it requires leaders to take the initiative and show the way! The EU should assume such leadership!

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