EC wants early retirement of fluorescent lamps, large energy savings and mercury pollution cuts at stake

(eceee news, 6 Jul 2021) The European Commission has proposed a regulation that would significantly speed up the phase out of fluorescent lamps. The regulation would potentially have saved about 310 TWh of electricity and cut mercury pollution by more than 5 tonnes in the EU alone, while saving 29.9 billion Euro by 2035. However, the policy measure was delayed, and as much as 120 TWh of electricity savings could now be lost. If momentum is kept, as much as half of the lost savings could be recovered. The proposal is open for public comment until mid-July.

The Commission proposal is an amendment to the RoHS Directive, which regulates hazardous substances. It seeks to phase-out fluorescent lighting in Europe capturing energy savings goals as a side benefit under a regulation on toxicity.

EU’s RoHS Directive – Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment – bans 10 extremely dangerous groups of chemicals in electrical and electronic products. Mercury, a neuro-toxin that causes nervous, digestive, immune system and other damage, is one these substances.

Submit comments? The Clean Lighting Coalition’s web site offers a simple guide to the top five regulations (in terms of impact).

Clasp and EEB arranges a webinar on Thursday 8 July, 10-11 am CET: Lightbulb moment: Eleminate mercury In Lighting Now.

Under the RoHS Directive, exemptions are granted if it can be proven that a banned chemical is needed for a certain product and there is no viable alternative. Technical feasibility and economic assessment are both part of that review. Currently, mercury-based light sources, including fluorescent lamps, are granted an exemption. The current exemption was adopted 2010 and has been under review since 2015 – but the Commission never made a decision on the evidence provided. According to the RoHS Directive, exemptions should be reviewed and updated every five years, so the new decision to end the exemptions for fluorescent lamps is greatly delayed.

A costly delay

A ban as early as September 2021 would have saved approximately 310 TWh of electricity and cut mercury emissions by more than 5 tonnes by 2035 (including mercury savings from the lamps themselves as well as emissions of mercury from coal-fired power stations in Europe). The current proposal would, if it stands, effectively ban most of the concerned lamps by 2023 – some two years after the phase-out date modelled in the analysis prepared by the Commission’s contractors, Öko-Institut.

By then – in 2023 – some of the lamp types would already be phased out under the Ecodesign Directive, so the opportunity to capture more savings by moving forward with the RoHS Directive is partly being lost. This two-year delay is estimated to cost Europe 120 TWh in lost electricity savings between 2021 and 2035 – an amount which is approximately equal to the total annual electricity consumption of the Netherlands. It also means there is a further 1060 kg of mercury in lamps placed on the EU market and higher mercury emissions from the power stations. (see CLASP analysis in January 2021). If the scrutiny and publication goes quicker, and some lamps are phased out in early 2023, savings in the order of tens of TWh by 2035 would be recovered from the delay, based on CLASP’s calculations of the monthly cost of the on-going delay.

Minamata and global mercury in the balance

In May 2017, Europe ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global convention restricting the use of and exposure to mercury. A European decision to ban the use of fluorescent lighting could have a global impact on mercury emissions and electricity savings, since the Minamata Convention is actively reviewing its exemptions for fluorescent lighting as well.

Cost effectiveness and feasibility of alternatives

Fluorescent Lighting cannot operate without mercury, so they are banned in principle under RoHS. However, for years fluorescents (and some other types of discharge lamps with mercury) were by far the most efficient lighting technology and they were therefore granted an exemption and allowed to be used because of their economic and overall environmental benefits.

Now, LED technology has quickly outpaced fluorescents and other discharge lamps. The question is: Are there enough cost-effective LED “plug and play” replacement alternatives with equal or better lighting quality that can be used in existing installations where fluorescent lamps are used today?  Can a user simply buy LED lamps without rewiring or buying new luminaires? A recent (July 2020) analysis by the Swedish Energy Agency and CLASP, an NGO, answered that question with a “yes” and concluded that there are products on the market that fit into over 90% of all existing lighting installations in the EU that currently use fluorescent lamps. The analysis further provided estimates on the energy, climate, environment and financial benefits of a phase out.

Public review period and process.

The European Commission proposal is now open for public comments until 12 July. Following public review, the EC will send the proposal to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), after which it will undergo a so-called scrutiny by the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (i.e., Member States). Although it is now clear what the European Commission’s position is, this outcome is far from certain as the ban is opposed by lighting industry groups and some individual MEPs.

To submit comments

See three other eceee articles on Mercury and lighting below.