Lights out for wasteful lighting

LED light-bulb evolution

LED light-bulb evolution

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
A NEW law banning the sale of power-guzzling light bulbs takes effect today (May 1), as energy regulator, ZERA, seeks to pivot the economy away from energy inefficient lighting systems at a time climate change is escalating.

The law prevents the familiar incandescent light bulb, and other high energy consuming products such as fluorescent tubes, from being sold, made or imported into Zimbabwe, ZERA says.

Traders had three months to clear out inventory of inefficient lighting before the ban, announced in January, took effect.

From today, retailers and wholesalers who continue to stock the old-style bulbs, or consulting engineers that recommend inefficient lighting, will be liable to a fine or face six months in jail.

This is no fluke, the regulator warns. “On the date the regulations come into effect it will be illegal to sell or offer for sale inefficient lighting products,” Misheck Siyakatshana, ZERA’s technical director said, by email.

“So the offence is in the selling or offering for sale of these products,” he said, as ZERA expects the transition to low-energy bulbs to be complete by year-end.

Zimbabweans have slowly stepped up their purchase of alternative energy-saving lights like compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light-emitting diode (LEDs) since power utility Zesa Holdings rolled out a $12 million campaign in 2011 handing out millions of efficient bulbs.

The utility hoped the campaign would encourage consumers to give up the traditional filament bulb, which, according to ZERA, still account for up to 15 percent of all lighting systems in Zimbabwe

But the newer lights cost more, nonetheless, at least the upfront cost – $2 and $3,50 each for CFL and LED, respectively, but both use much lower power and last almost 10 times as long as the incandescent that costs 50 cents, on the average, experts say.

Now, by banning conventional lighting, ZERA is looking at more effective ways of boosting energy efficiency in households, schools and businesses.

Chief executive, Gloria Magombo, has said the change-over to low-energy lights could achieve between 30 to 40 megawatts in savings.

There is more. Combined with Zesa Holdings’ prepaid metering programme, the switch could also have a dramatic impact on Zimbabwe’s climate change goals, preventing the equivalent of 1 300 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 13 years, according to the Government’s plan under the Paris Agreement.

Zimbabwe aims to cut emissions by 33 percent overall, or 17 300 gigatonnes, by 2030.

This is to be achieved mostly by increased investment in hydro and solar power, as well as improved efficiency in household and commercial energy use, the plan says.

“Using less energy means less burning of coal and other fossil fuels, thus reducing (Zimbabwe’s) carbon footprint,” said Eng Magombo via email.

Can manufacturers pull it off?

Sales of traditional bulbs have been slowly dying out over the last few years, said Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Denford Mutashu, as alternatives have come to market and people warm to the idea of more efficient lighting.

But he is concerned whether domestic manufacturers were up to the task.

“As much as we support initiatives that conserve energy, we are still want to ascertain the capacity of the manufacturers of lighting products, whether they will be equal to the task, to feed national demand,” Mr Mutashu lamented, by phone.

He said he didn’t want “to see a situation that leads to shortages, that lead to an increase in prices,” imploring ZERA “to make sure that this will not happen.”

But the backlash from the manufacturers was even stronger, even though admitting production of efficient lighting products could be slow in the first few months post-the ban.

“This (the concern on shortage of low-energy bulbs) is an unresearched view,” Busisa Moyo, who heads the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, told The Herald Business, by phone.

“We need to carry out the necessary research for those who are in lighting, to establish how much of the energy saving lights do we import for now while we build local capacity to produce these bulbs. There are no manufacturers of LED lighting in Zimbabwe. This (the ban) should be seen as an opportunity for creating new industries, which will eventually do away with imports. I think this is the conversation we should be having.”

The tough switch

Getting consumers to switch-over to a higher priced product even though it lasts longer is like selling ice to Eskimos.

Already, some consumers didn’t like the look of early CFLs and LEDs – which tended to give off a dim white light – but both now come in a range of hues, from yellowish warm to cooler bluish.

So, ZERA has found a clever way of getting round this problem: it is now selling the more efficient bulbs as an environmentally-friendly technology that is not only worth its price, but also saves energy.

The energy regulator has been running campaigns on TV and in the Press promoting this idea to the public. It could work.

Anything that improves household electricity supply Zimbabweans will easily relate. They have laboured through frequent power outages long enough they know what it means to be in the dark. After-all, there is something to ride on – the past Zesa giveaways – a campaign described by Eng Magombo as “a huge success.”

God is faithful.

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