The lights are going out for incandescent bulbs, as China pledges to replace the 1 billion it uses annually with more energy efficient models within five years.
Beijing's move is a major step in efforts to improve lighting efficiency
and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
. Lighting accounts for 19 per cent of electricity use worldwide, according to a 2007 estimate from the International Energy Agency, a figure that could drop to seve per cent if the rest of the world followed China's lead, the Global Environment Facility fund said.
The decision by the world's second largest economy to phase out incandescents follows in the footsteps of Australia, the European Union, Brazil and others.
But according to the Global Environment Facility, incandescents still make up 50-70 per cent of worldwide sales and China's move forms a striking contrast to the US Government's backsliding on the issue. This summer Republicans drove a bill through the House of Representatives stripping all funding for Government enforcement of improved lighting efficiency standards, which come into force next year.
It is unclear whether China will totally phase out production of incandescents. A report from state news agency Xinhua said that "imports and sales" would be banned – seemingly implying that exports would still be allowed.
Campaigners hope China's plan will nonetheless encourage producers – who make 3.85 billion incandescent bulbs a year, an estimated 70 per cent of the world's supply – to shift towards other products, in particular CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and LEDs. CFLs use around 75 per cent less energy to produce an equivalent amount of light and last much longer.
The country has already become the largest producer of energy-efficient
light bulbs, thanks in large part to sizable grants from international environmental agencies.
Experts predict that the shift in demand will also cut the cost of CFLs and increase the cost of incandescents globally.
Imports and sales of 100 watt and higher incandescent bulbs will be banned from October next year, Xie Ji, an official at the country's top economic planning body said, while those of 60 watts and above will be banned from October 2014.
The senior official added that incandescents of 15 watts or higher would be banned from 2016 if the scheme was a success.
The plan showed China's determination to save energy, cut costs and curb climate change, he went on, and would have a "significant impact" on global use.
Xie, who is deputy director of the environmental protection department with the National Development and Reform Commission, added that lighting accounts for 12 per cent of China's total electricity use. The NDRC has estimated that the switch will save 48 billion kilowatt hours of power per year and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 48 million tonnes annually. China emitted 7,710 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2009.
Overall, China has pledged to cut energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16 per cent and cut carbon emissions by 17 per cent in the five years to 2015.
Yang Fuqiang, the senior advisor on climate change and energy at the US-based Natural Resources Defence Council, said the amount of electricity used by lighting in China at the moment was two or three times the generating capacity of the massive Three Gorges dam.
He added that while exports would still be legal, the plan should help companies produce more energy efficient bulbs, not least because China already had strong research and development and production capacity for energy efficient lighting.
The Global Environment Facility fund, which has invested millions of dollars in China to encourage the phase-out, says that moving to efficient lighting is one of the simplest ways for countries to cut carbon emissions.
Christophe Bahuet, the deputy country director of the United Nations Development Programme, said: "I think what's important for us is that China is joining an international trend. It also sends a signal that will inspire others."
But he cautioned that implementation would be key, warning: "It is a roadmap, but a lot will have to be done at provincial and local level to help explain why people should go for these plans."
Wang Jinsui, the president of the China Illuminating Engineering Society, told the China Daily
newspaper earlier this year that it would take producers time to switch. He added that the Government should consider subsidies because many families would not be able to afford the more expensive energy-efficient bulbs.
Liu Shengping, the secretary general of the China Association of Lighting Industry, told the newspaper that it was "unrealistic" to require energy efficient lights were used everywhere.
"As long as the demand exists, Chinese manufacturers can hardly pull the plug on the production line," he said.• Additional research by Han Cheng.
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