Understanding why New Zealanders are reluctant to switch to LED lighting

There is no doubt that in the past couple of decades we have seen many alternatives to the incandescent light bulb. Rob Stock on the Stuff.co.nz website provides an excellent article about the reasons why the uptake in New Zealand is going more slowly than expected.

 

Households slow to switch to energy efficient LED light bulbs

LED bulbs are hailed as a wonder technology that can slash lighting costs in homes, paying for themselves in power bill savings in around a year.

Yet there are still roughly 13 old-fashioned incandescent lightbulbs per household in New Zealand, around 10 of the curly-shaped energy savers, and fewer than one of the new LED types.

Estimates from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) suggest LED bulbs are gaining traction slower than has been hoped, with New Zealanders remaining big buyers of old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.

In 2013, we imported around the same level as the entire of Australia, largely as a result of creeping Government action to force Australian households to switch over.

Here the Government has opted for free consumer choice, but ignorance about LEDs was revealed by a 2015 survey from bulb-maker Philips. The poll revealed concerns around the reliability (around a quarter of people worried LEDs would burn out sooner than claimed) and energy-saving claims, appeared to be factors in their slow adoption.

Speaking to some LED lighting experts like Radek Baran from Go Green, which provides businesses with LED lighting, might make consumers think more carefully about the bulbs they put in their shopping trolleys. “Many of the products on the market are absolute rubbish,” Baran says of the bulbs on sale to the public.

There are concerns among Government energy experts too.

The Australian Energy Rating government website has a guide to buying LED lightbulbs on how to pick a bulb with the right level of lumens (brightness), kelvins (the “warmth” of the light produced), and the “Colour Rendering Index” (an indicator of how accurately colours can be distinguished under a light source).

But the guide comes with a warning: “Not all LEDs are the same”, and because LED bulbs are not regulated for energy efficiency, it cautions: “you may experience greater variation in their performance”.

It’s a point made by EECA, which says people should stick to buying bulbs from brands they trust, though as a Government agency it can’t be seen to endorse individual brands, and so won’t name any.

It also recommends people treat the LED bulbs they buy as “electronic devices” not ordinary bulbs, and keep their receipts. If they fail within the expected life expectancy, they can take them back. Retailers such as supermarkets will be keen to replace duds, says EECA, which is keen to keep quality issues in perspective.

Eddie Thompson from EECA says: “There’s a lot of fantastic product out there, and it is improving all the time, but there is some product that is not as good.”

Bulb tests in Australia 2014 revealed in a paper released last year by EECA warned: “The continued presence of lower efficacy LED models in the market and a potential lack of consumer trust with new technology is likely to result in lost energy savings opportunities.”

EECA is planning to consult later this year on whether New Zealand needs to invest in consumer education, minimum energy performance requirements, and better labelling.

The Australian consumer guide recommends buyers look for a warranty of at least two years for a product claiming a 15,000 lifetime, or a minimum of three years or longer for lamps claiming a lifetime over 15,000 hours. Even a two-year warranty for a bulb claimed to last for 15,000 seems a bit on the short side as 15,000 hours of use in two years would require the bulb to be in use for just over 20 hours a day.

As with all electronic devices, if you experience a failure, it does not mean it is a bad product, the experts say.

Baran says one of the issues homeowners face is that they are putting LED bulbs into fittings designed for other kinds of bulbs.

LED lightbulbs produce much less heat that previous bulb technologies, but they do produce some. They are designed to “wick” away that heat, but their lifespans are tested at a certain temperature. If a bulb ends up running at a higher temperature because they are put into a close light fitting, the lifespan can be shortened.

Consumer alerts homeowners to the issue in its LED buyers’ guide: “If your house has recessed downlights with incandescent or halogen bulbs, it is better to replace the entire fitting with a dedicated LED downlight fitting, instead of just changing the bulb. Just replacing the bulb with an LED is likely to overheat the LED and shorten its life.”

Jonny Parker from the Sustainability Trust in Wellington says weightier bulbs, and those with aluminium parts rather than plastic can wick heat away more efficiently. “I would say the heavier the bulb, the better.”

Greater weight may mean they have more robust internal components too, Parker says, which can lead to greater durability.

Homeowners need to think about moisture too when buying bulbs.

Not all LED bulbs are suitable for moist environments like bathrooms, or the outdoors, Parker says. It is the bulb’s “ingress protection” or IP rating. “The higher the number, the more resistant to damp they are,” he said.

IP44 is the bare minimum, but IP54 bulbs are suitable for bathrooms, and IP64 is for highly humid environments like outdoor use. Humidity in an LED bulb can reduce its lifespan.

Exactly how many households are using LEDs should be revealed by a nationwide survey of households by BRANZ to be released in June or July, but with prices dropping year by year, the cost of replacing burnt out bulbs with LED bulbs is falling.

With prices falling, and technology improving, the future looks bright for LED bulbs, and Baran says households will soon get a new generation of AC LED bulbs that are more efficient, and less prone to overheating in homes.

WHAT THE EXPERTS QUOTED HERE DO AT HOME

Jonny Parker from the Sustainability Trust has used his home as a testing-ground for LEDs. “I actually put in different LED bulbs as I can get hold of different LEDs to try out.”

He does have several of the old energy savers still in as LEDs for some of his particular light fittings aren’t yet on the market.

Such retro-fitting problems are common, but will be solved in time as the LED market develops, he says. And he’s found the LEDs he’s used to be reliable. “I haven’t had any failures yet,” he says.

Radek Baran has been gradually replacing ordinary bulbs with LEDs though like many households it is a rolling process, and he is in no hurry.

“On the domestic side, I would wait. The technology in a few years time will be much better. People won’t be using any other kind of lighting.”

Eddie Thompson says LEDs are his choice for the home, but says: “I have still got the odd halogen just because we have some dimmers.”

As LED technology develops, he expects LEDs to be the only kind of bulb in his home.

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