Sunday, June 12, 2011
The Big Deception behind the Ban
This summarizes some of the main points from the http://ceolas.net/ website, as related to light bulbs.
Major light bulb manufacturers have actively sought and welcomed a ban on simple regular "incandescent" light bulbs, a ban by which consumers lose choice and hardly save any money - even if they use less electricity.
The ban may not rank high in importance of all time erroneous legislation, but it is arguably the most pointless legislation ever conceived, in terms of its justification and supposed benefits.
How can that be?
After all, what do the governing politicians say?
We are not banning any light bulbs!
You can still use light bulbs that look the same!
We are simply stimulating manufacturers to make lights that save on electricity, and therefore:
We save energy for society,
We save money for you, and
We save CO2 emissions that helps save the planet!
What can be better?
....Or do they?
In the following:
First, how consumers lose out, whatever the energy savings.
Then, why the saving are not there anyway, and even if they were, why alternative policies are better, not just for consumers, but for ban proposing governments too.
A. How you are conned - regardless of your electricity savings
1. It is a ban
Not allowing a bulb that does not meet a certain standard is of course the same as banning it.
All the most common household incandescent light bulbs, including today's replacement Halogens, will be banned by 2016 (EU) and 2020 (USA).
Regulation information: http://ceolas.net/#li01inx
For relevant USA Energy Act extracts, also see the post "Yes, it is a ban"
Besides, such incandescent replacements have already existed for some time, and actually have several differences with simpler incandescents, including a greater expense for marginal savings, which is why neither consumers, or ban proposing politicans like them very much:
If people really took up this "offer" by the politicians to keep buying incandescents, it makes a ban even more pointless from the savings justification for it.
Neither politicians or manufacturers are therefore keen on providing such replacements at low cost:
Post-ban EU and Australia indeed see a lack of replacement variety and availability of the (temporarily) surviving Halogen or other incandescents.
2. Consumers are forced to pay for mandated light bulbs whether they use them or not
See http://ceolas.net/#li1ax onwards.
Why have the major light bulb manufacturers actively sought and welcomed a ban on what they can or cannot make?
Would you be happy to be told what you can or cannot make?
If so - why?
The answer of course is profit-seeking.
No harm in looking for profits.
But it should come in open and fair competition in the supply of products people actually want to buy.
Not by achieving a ban on what people want to buy, simply because its unprofitable.
Long before a ban takes place, consumers have still been forced to pay for CFLs (compact fluorescent "energy saving" bulbs) - even if they never use them - from the tax payer subsidies on them, whether to manufacturers, retailers or distributing utility companies.
This is part of a bigger "green tech" push, with massive upfront costs for electricity generation and electrical products that otherwise would not be chosen, justified by supposed "big savings" down the line, savings which are not there for many reasons.
3. Consumers are forced to pay more for their electricity
As seen from the first parts of the Ceolas.net site, this already happens because of the costs in subsidising alternative electricity generation and/or the costs from utility companies having to lower CO2 emissions from some energy sources (justifiable or not).
But it also happens even if the supposed electricity savings from using "energy saving" light bulbs are there.
Why are electricity companies so happy to promote energy savings,
why are they so happy to hand out certain light bulbs
so that people buy less electricity from them?
Would you be happy to ask people to buy less from you?
If so - why?
See the Light Bulb Politics section with specific US and UK examples.
Regulated and state-monitored utility companies often have to do what they are told.
But they hardly lose from it: They are compensated directly, in terms of
being allowed to charge more for any decreased electricity use,
or compensated indirectly by state subsidies to cover any such losses,
as well as subsidies for CFL handouts that may be involved.
Whatever which way, consumers lose out, in terms of their supposed savings.
4. Consumers are pushed to use questionably safe lighting
CFLs have well known mercury and radiation and fire hazard concerns,
recently joined by LED lead and arsenic concerns as shown by University of California research
These and other safety issues are extensively covered from http://ceolas.net/#li19x onwards.
Certainly, the dangers may or may not be significant:
But that is of course the whole point here.
When ban proponents say "It's time to get rid of old obsolescent technology", they not only suggest that bureaucratic committees know better than consumers what consumers should want,
they also forget thet old technology is also well known tried and trusted technology,
and that simple existing technology is less likely to give problems than complex replacement technology.
We can welcome the new:
It does not mean having to ban (or "legislatively improve") the old.
B. Why the savings are not there, and even if they were,
why alternative policies are better for all sides
while noone welcomes the wasting of electricity,
the personal choice of what product to use is hardly a waste.
There are many relevant ways of efficiently using energy for electricity.
Telling people what light bulbs they can use is not one of them.
The choice of what light bulb to use can not just be compared with
unnecessarily leaving lights on,
or other unnecessary consumption of electricity,
but also with the much more significant energy savings gained in efficient electricity generation and grid distribution, including new smart grid systems,
and including administration and competition stimulation measures.
Not all such changes need take long or be costly, and are much more relevant in the usual 2020-2050 time perspectives proffered.
the need to save a resource for paying consumers
relates to the availability of that resource.
Think of water, with rationing in times of a water shortage.
As for electricity, there need be no future shortage of potentially endless (renewable) electricity sources which also have low emissions.
But OK - say there was a shortage.
Any shortage of say finite coal or gas increases the price of that energy source as well as any electricity arising from it and - guess what -people then use less electricity anyway, also voluntarily choosing
energy saving appliances as needed. Alternatively they may switch to renewable suppliers, if they can.
In other words, self-adjusting energy markets, self-adjusting increased demand for energy saving products as required.
No need for petty interfering regulation to tell people how they should or should not use the electricity that they pay for.
Light bulbs don't burn coal, and they don't release any CO2 gas.
If there is a problem - Deal with the problem.
there are many reasons why the supposed energy savings
from light bulb regulations are in fact not there.
Too many to mention here, the reasons are summarized on http://ceolas.net/#li171x.
This directly references US Department of Energy statistics, as well as official EU and Canadian institutional findings.
A fraction of 1% of society energy usage is saved from light bulb regulations,
a pointlessness not just in comparison with the alternative energy saving measures described,
but of course also in denying consumers what they obviously like to buy and use, the most popular electrical appliance of all time.
if the need is still felt to target light bulbs in order to save energy, and public energy saving information campaigns are judged as insufficient, there are nevertheless still 2 better policies ahead of regulation.
Think of the arguments ban proponents keep using:
Recent CFL and new LED bulbs are great, but people won't buy them because they are too expensive!
When they realize how good they are, and the savings they get, they will be happy with the regulations!"
To begin with, people don't keep buying a cheap product they don't like,
and simple incandescents have specific advantages (more in this section onwards).
But nor do they avoid expensive alternatives - or they would not exist with other products either.
The politicians assume that people are stupid.
Maybe the people are not stupid:
Maybe they simply prefer to use incandescents in most situations.
Maybe they see problems with the alternatives.
Maybe they are (rightly) suspicious of the idea that they will "save a lot"
by doing what the politicians and their profiteering lobbyists think they should do.
As it happens, both US and EU research, as described on the site,
show that most households actually have some energy saving bulbs:
People are naturally curious, they will try new products.
Maybe - and this is important - the new bulbs are indeed great.
That still does not justify banning the alternatives:
All bulbs have advantages, that is why they exist on the market.
The "Switch all your lights and save lots of money!" campaigns are like saying "Eat only bananas and save lots of money!"
Let's say the "markets have failed".
Regulations are still wrong: Making the markets more effective by appropriate market competition is the best alternative, but taxation is also better, for those otherwise favoring regulations.
See the concluding essay in the light bulb part of the Ceolas.net website.
What is the regulation all about?
It is not about the normal ban on an unsafe product - it is simply a ban to reduce electricity consumption.
Taxation is a more obvious way just to reduce consumption.
It doubly serves governments in giving them income at the same time as reducing energy use - unlike regulatory bans.
The irony of bankrupt California banning everything in sight while expensively subsidising the alternatives is a particularly woesome sight, given their ideology.
Regulation proponents should be able to see that an alternative tax on say fossil fuels or fossil fuel electricity is the simplest of all to reduce energy consumption,
compared to today's pedantic regulations on a myriad of products from buildings to cars to TV sets to washing machines to light bulbs.
Direct taxation of such products is still easier than regulation, and more politically palatable - especially if it cross-finances energy using products to make them cheaper to buy,
equilibrating the market, so "people are not just hit by taxes".
Pre-ban 2 billion annual sales of relevant light bulbs alone, in the USA as in the EU,
shows a massive government income potential from such product taxation while also maintaining consumer choice - ignored by the ban proponents.
Taxation is of itself not justified, simply being a better choice than regulation.
The stimulation of market competition
Better than both regulation and taxation is the stimulation of market competition.
This doubly promotes voluntary energy efficiency:
Under pressure of competition, utilities and manufacturers keep down their own energy costs as much as possible, in trying to deliver electricity and electrical products at low competitive prices.
Secondly, competition for customers pushes manufacturers into market research of what people actually want, which has always included energy saving products:
Notice that energy saving light bulbs that meet the standards have already been delivered by free markets when the standards are being drawn up, or people might literally be left in the dark!
Manufacturers of batteries, washing up liquids etc imaginatively advertise and sell "expensive products that save you money in the long run". So can light bulb manufacturers, instead of looking for easy bans on popular cheap unprofitable alternatives.
Of course, all the marketing in the world won't maintain sales if the product is poor at a given price - but, again, that hardly justifies banning the preferred alternatives!
Local manufacture and jobs:
Ban proponents (including President Obama's administration: more) hail the possibility of new local start-ups of energy saving lighting inventions.
Certainly such ventures can be temporarily supported if considered important, but it does not necessitate banning the simple cheap competition.
As it happens, the local light bulb manufacturing that already existed, in the USA as in the EU, have largely shut down in anticipation of the regulations:
The argument is that such manufacturing would have moved anyway to China etc, but in a new era of rising fuel transport prices, rising Chinese wage bills, concern about emissions, and unemployment concerns in developed countries, it seems a return to local manufacturing is taking place as already seen with clothing - so local light bulb manufacture has in that case needlessly been shut down.
Moreover, as regards inventions and start-ups, lighting without energy efficiency demands is easier and cheaper to make, making employment easier too, perhaps with bio-luminescent or other new lighting technology that could be appreciated for its own qualities and advantages, a choice denied to consumers if the energy usage standards are not met.
In a nutshell therefore:
Light bulbs don't burn coal, and they don't release CO2 emissions.
If there is a problem - deal with the problem.
Energy efficiency is always welcome, and as far as electricity is concerned,
it is relevantly and significantly dealt with by appropriate electricity generation, distribution, and consumption policies, to any extent required.
It is not relevantly and significantly dealt with by running around people's homes telling them what products they can or can't use.
Posted by Peter T at 11:04 AM