What have people got against low energy light bulbs?

CF Light Bulb

CF Light Bulb

I have remarked before on the Daily Mail’s bizarre objections to low energy light bulbs (Link 1 and Link 2). But now the BBC’s Ruth Alexander at it too (Why eco-light bulbs aren’t what they seem) . In a long article she attacks every claim made for the light bulbs. But despite being supposedly written by a numerate correspondent, she fails to mention the very simple fact: using these light bulbs saves enormous amounts of money and energy. As our leaders negotiate in Copenhagen for such dramatic cuts in carbon emissions (80% within 40 years in the UK apparently) their credibility is reduced to almost zero by the folks who constantly hark on about the good ‘old-fashioned’ light bulbs. If we can’t even change our light bulbs without complaining, then what chance do we stand of really changing our lifestyle. Her criticisms fall into three categories: Brightness, Lifetime and Energy Efficiency. But I will ask you to consider others at the end of this article.


The article states that the light bulbs aren’t as bright as is claimed, and I agree. The claims are generally that the compact fluorescents are 5 times brighter for a given power, but I think the real equivalence is nearer a factor 3. Even so, that is three times more light for the energy input which is a pretty large factor. According to the article my factor of 3 (derived from informal tests and use at home) is borne out by US recommendations. However they finish with the statement that “studies show CFL bulbs can get 20% dimmer over time” Well OK, I agree. But so do conventional light bulbs! And LED light bulbs are (currently) even worse!  It then states that “New European regulations expected next year mean manufacturers will have to display lumens – a measure of light output – more prominently than wattage” Well that’s a great idea, but it is not a downside of CF light bulbs.


Here the article is facile in the extreme. She points out the 10,000 hour lifetime is an average – and half the bulbs will fail before this time. Well yes, but the simple fact is that the bulbs last for years. If you put them in your house, then you are not constantly having to buy and change light bulbs as you are with conventional incandescent bulbs. They do actually last for years.

Energy Efficiency

Here the article loses all track of common sense. This point is already covered in the first point! However the article confuses the matter – deliberately I would say – by using ‘efficiency’ and ‘savings’ figures in appropriately. They say that the CF light bulbs only save 60% of your energy rather than 80% and they compare this with Halogen light bulbs which are 30% more efficient. The facts are these: To get the same light output, using a halogen light bulb will use 70% of the energy you would have used. But using a CF light bulb will use only 40% of the energy i.e. it is more than twice , and nearly three times as efficient – an efficiency improvement of (roughly) 250%.


This article is pernicious. It’s tone implies that these light bulbs are somehow a con. They are not! The technology is imperfect, but they are lighting my home as we speak and they work fine. They also reduce emissions of mercury and radioactive materials into our environment, and represent a pretty straightforward way in which we can reduce easily carbon dioxide emissions. If the UK switched over entirely to CF lighting then there would be one 1 GW power station that we simply wouldn’t need. And to top it all, they save me significant amounts of money (hundreds of real pounds every year!) Just what is Ruth Alexander’s problem?

13 Responses to “What have people got against low energy light bulbs?”

  1. Shining the light on energy saving light bulbs – the top 10 questions | Energy Saving Tips Weekly Says:

    […] What have people got against low energy light bulbs? « Protons for … […]

  2. Sam Prince Says:

    This was also covered on this week’s More Or Less on Radio4 which is still available on iPlayer or via their website’s archive.

    They went into a bit more detail and discussed the fact that you don’t truly save all the energy from low energy devices if your heating is on a thermostat (the same idea applies for most electrical items in the home).

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Sam Prince
      That’s sort of true in the winter but not in the summer when you have to supply additional energy to remove the heat. And even in the winter, most of the heat ends up in a thin layer of heated air at the top the room: not very helpful. So I take the point, but the key thing about these devices is that they actually do save lots of energy and money! Maybe not quite as much as some people claim but I have the personal evidence to prove it!
      All the best


  3. Melindwr Williams Says:

    “the facts are these: To get the same light output, using a halogen light bulb will use 70% of the energy you would have used. But using a CF light bulb will use only 40% less energy”

    Should this read read ” … a CF light bulb will use only 40% of the energy … ” ?

  4. LED Torch Says:

    light bulbs are good for lighting the home but stay away from incandescent lamps because they generate so much heat “.’

  5. CarolO Says:

    ALL my low-energy lightbulbs, supposedly 11W, are using 100W each! I think the whole thing is a con – and I’m an environmentalist and totally in favour of actual energy-saving devices but I’ve had to stop recommending these bulbs (not that we’re going to have any choice in the matter). Can anyone explain why these bulbs are using more than 10x the stated wattage?

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:


      I am very surprised by your statement that your low energy light bulbs are using 9 times more than their stated consumption. This is quite contrary to all the measurements I have made.

      How are you measuring their power usage?

      All the best


  6. CarolO Says:

    I’ve been given one of those ‘smart meters’ by the energy company (British Gas). It seems pretty accurate as I already knew most of the wattages of my appliances. It measures as constant 100W for my 11W energy-saving bulbs and if I switch them off the meter goes back to 0W so they are definitely the only things using power at the time. I’ve checked the fridge and central heating pump aren’t running when I’ve done the checks (which the 0W reading confirms they weren’t – but you can hear them anyway).

  7. protonsforbreakfast Says:

    Carol O,

    I think your meter is reading incorrectly. I assume that this meter is reading the electricity usage of your entire household. These meters aren’t very accurate – I have two and they never agree. As I type this one reads 540 Watts and the other 740 Watts. To get a definitive answer use a meter like this
    from Clas Ohlsen or like this
    from Maplin
    These plug into the socket that that you are using for the appliance under test and give much more reliable readings.

    If you are local I will happily lend you one.


  8. CarolO Says:

    I’m in the Yorkshire Dales. Actually, I do have one of those meters you plug your appliances into – I’ll have to swap the bulbs into a plug-in type light and try that – thanks

  9. Mercury protons | EtravelChoice Says:

    […] What have people got against low energy light bulbs? « Protons for … […]

  10. save electricity Says:

    save electricity

    What have people got against low energy light bulbs? | Protons for Breakfast Blog

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