Deception on a grand scale, lighting industry admits

From 12 February 2016 (we’re migrating the best of our blog from coolproducts.eu)

The lighting industry is deliberately misrepresenting the energy performance of home and office lighting on a grand scale, according to an official document that surfaced this week.

Most firms, including Osram, Philips and General Electric, are knowingly selling bulbs that are 10% less bright than declared on the packet (lumens), according to a statement filed with the World Trade Organisation by the European Commission.

UPDATE 12 April: Member state representatives vote today on a European Commission proposal to close the tolerance loophole for all sectors, except lighting. If approved, the sector will get a green light to continue misrepresenting the performance of its products for years to come.

Firms are abusing a legal ‘tolerance’ of 10% permitted because of historic test measurement inaccuracies that no longer exist. This margin for error was intended for use only by officials testing to see if products meet minimum energy performance standards (Ecodesign Directive) and energy labelling rules (Energy Labelling Directive), but never firms. Tolerance swings both ways. Bulbs can be dimmer or can use 10% more energy for the same amount of light. Firms are using the 10% tolerance to sell “many” models of banned bulbs legally, according to the Commission’s WTO submission.

Consumers are paying as much as €1.65 billion per year in higher lighting electricity bills, Coolproducts estimates. Lighting consumes as much as 382 TWh of electricity per year in Europe, about the same as the total residential electricity consumption of France, the UK, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Italy combined.

This week the Commission notified the WTO that it is closing this loophole by amending regulations covering a wide range of household goods, including TVs, fridges and washing machines to make it clear that firms should not use tolerances. But it let the lighting industry off the hook, citing the dramatic market impacts that would result if the law was enforced as intended. This follows a similar move by conservative lawmakers just last week who let the auto industry off the hook for its well-known cheating of energy performance rules.

Read this story in the Sueddeutche Zeitung

Mea culpa

A legal document (text 1, EN, at the bottom) sent to the WTO says: “Data provided by lighting industry actors shows that many lamp types … would be entirely removed from the market … if manufacturers were prohibited from using the verification tolerances … in the way that is current practice throughout the industry. It is therefore appropriate not to amend those three Regulations through this Regulation, but to clarify the intended use of the tolerances in conjunction with a reassessment of the related minimum requirements when those Regulations are next reviewed.”

Official failure

The Commission is not acting in the public interest by excluding lighting from its amendment. The consequences of ending the loophole are not grave. There are good bulbs on the market at affordable prices that would be removed.

It’s proposal fails to include a sunset clause, making the waiver endless. The Commission suggests dealing with the problem during a review of individual lighting regulations, a process that is underway. But a ham fisted proposal tabled in December 2015 includes no mention of the loophole or closing it. The Commission’s track record of keeping such reviews on schedule is poor. A review of today’s hopelessly inadequate regulations on TV energy consumption is four years overdue, mostly because of industry objections, Coolproducts understands. Perhaps the Commission intends to tackle this next time round, in the mid 2020s?

Officials are keeping open a loophole that lets firms exaggerate bulb efficiency, despite wanting to ‘empower consumers’

Commission leaders did not want to close this loophole in the first place for fear of triggering VW like media headlines, Coolproducts understands. They buried its amendment for years, with frustrated fonctionnaires considering it doomed. Coolproducts raised its profile with a bang last year, reviving the amendment process within 24 hours.

National governments are powerless to bring stop this consumer abuse until the European Commission clarifies the law. But they do get a vote on the proposal and can insist the Commission reword it to include lighting.

Consumer losses

Combining all the savings expected from lighting regulations (244/2009 — non-directional household lamps: 39 TWh, 245/2009 — tertiary sector lighting, 38 TWh, and 1194/2012 — directional lamps: 25 TWh), amounts to 102 TWh annual savings from 2020. The Commission statement suggests that tolerance abuse is widespread. Ten percent of 102 TWh is equivalent to the output of 1.9 Fukushima size nuclear reactors, or 13.8 x 100MW coal power plants, or 136 million homes at the German rate of electricity consumption, or electricity bills €1.65 billion higher at a rate of €0.161/kWh (blending average domestic with commercial rates across the EU). Bear in mind that consumer association tests find bulbs exaggerating their performance at illegal rates of as high as 25%.

A desperate industry with much to lose

The lighting sector has had an honesty problem for years. It was the only one to raise a red flag during stakeholder consultation called by the Commission in 2013 to discuss closing the loophole. An industry whistleblower has told Coolproducts ‘everybody is cheating’.

Lighting giants Philips and OSRAM are fighting a desperate rearguard battle to keep profitable halogen bulbs on the market for a few extra years. They have announced their intention to sell their lighting divisions in 2016 and are resorting to ugly tactics to maintain the value of their business concerns. Sadly, we have come to expect dishonesty from them, but we expect better from public officials. Commissioner Cañete gives speeches on empowering consumers to make good energy choices. This week his department reached for a lightswitch to keep consumers in the dark about the true nature of energy guzzling bulbs, many of which should have been off shelves years ago.

Image thanks Patrik and Franco