The massive overhaul of the national grid is now being felt by electricity consumers, many of whom are already struggling to pay their bills.
Residential electricity prices rose by 48 per cent in real terms between 2000 and 2011, while University of Otago research shows the number of New Zealanders in "fuel poverty" rose from about 10 per cent in 2003 to 25 per cent by 2008.
With the national grid upgrade expected to take three years, wages static and electricity bills expected to keep rising, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) is pushing consumers to fit out their homes with the new generation of low-energy bulbs.
The authority's RightLight campaign programme manager, Bill Brander, says switching to energy-efficient bulbs including halogens, light-emitting diode lamps and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) is one of the easiest ways to reduce power bills.
Replacing five of the most-used standard light bulbs with five-energy efficient bulbs could save a household about $100 a year. "Consumers may be thinking they're getting a good deal by paying $1 for a traditional light bulb rather than $8 for an energy-efficient bulb, but the reality is that a standard 100W bulb is going to cost you a lot more to run in the first year alone. An energy-efficient bulb could also last up to six times longer."
A $1 standard incandescent 100W light bulb costs $25 a year to run, while an $8 CFL costs $5 over the same period.
Advances in lighting design mean there is now a range of efficient light bulbs available for every situation, Mr Brander said.
"When choosing a light bulb, think about where the bulb is being used – for example, the bathroom or bedroom – and how often the light is used and for how long. Put them in the places you use most."
EECA has hailed a "rapid uptake" of energy-efficient light bulbs, but one in six homes still have no energy-efficient lighting fitted and nearly 90 per cent of homes still have older-style bulbs. The authority still battles negative public perception, with research showing obstacles to uptake of energy-efficient lighting include price, light quality, aesthetics and safety concerns – particularly over the mercury content in CFL bulbs, which makes them environmentally problematic to dispose of and dangerous to clean up if they break. Mercury is present at low levels of about 4mg but is a poison that can affect the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver.
Critics also claim green bulbs are dim, depressing and slow to glow compared to the old tungsten filament bulbs and can spark skin rashes, migraines and epilepsy.
Molly Melhuish, of the Domestic Energy Users' Network, says the move towards the new bulbs is a "very, very good thing" but said the push may have come too late as the new bulbs were designed to reduce the burden on peak loads – a problem that should theoretically be reduced by upgrades to the national grid.
She said the message should have come out years earlier with a much bigger and more sustained campaign.
Another problem was the lack of benchmark for quality across the range of new bulbs many of which were dim or became dim within a year.
Although three New Zealand-made Ecobulb-brand spiral CFLs have qualified under the Energy Star rating system, Mrs Melhuish is lobbying EECA to test new bulbs to come up with an endorsement or rating system. "You can't tell the quality in advance so if EECA are going to promote they urgently need to test," she said.
Although EECA doesn't have its own endorsement system, Consumer magazine ran an efficient bulb test last year and recommended the Philips Tornado, the GE Entice and the Ecobulb as the top three green bulbs that did not fail long-life testing and were brighter than standard 100W bulbs.
ECA ANSWERS CRITICS ON...
Dim Light Quality: "To maximise their efficiency, some energy-efficient light bulbs take some time to reach full brightness. While CFLs, for example, are a very energy efficient light bulb, they are less suited to situations where the lights are likely to be on for only a short period and will not reach full brightness before they are switched off again, such as wardrobes and cupboards."
The Look: "While many people think energy-efficient light bulbs like CFLs come only in a spiral shape, energy-efficient light bulbs come in many different styles such as candle-shaped and styles that look the same as traditional light bulbs."
Mercury Content: "A very small amount of mercury is contained in compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) which allows them to operate more efficiently than traditional bulbs. CFLs do not release any mercury unless they are broken. To avoid breaking CFLs, hold the bulb by the base and not the glass when fitting it. Don't use excessive force.
"Don't use CFLs in places where they are likely to get broken. If a breakage occurs, ventilate the room well and use the recommended clean-up procedures."
The mercury in light bulbs is not unique to CFLs. Fluorescent lamps commonly found in office and commercial premises use the same technology as CFLs, so the mercury safety advice for CFLs also applies to other fluorescent lamp types.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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