Lighting consumes 19% of the world’s electricity, but traditional incandescent bulbs convert only 5% of this into light. Consequently, in 2007 the EU announced a phased ban on their import or manufacture – 100w bulbs were banned in 2009, 60w in 2011 and so on. More efficient versions (such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) or LED bulbs) are now widespread, winning some prestigious converts – the Empire State Building is now LED lit and Tower Bridge has 2 km of flexible led lighting. This has brought significant cost savings – the Dorchester Hotel saved £50k per year by installing LED lighting. Savings come not only from energy efficiency – replacing bulbs in inaccessible locations can be vastly reduced due to the long service life of modern units.
However, CFL and LED lighting are not without problems – CFLs can emit high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and the bulbs themselves contain mercury. They are therefore regarded as hazardous waste and manufacturers and retailers have an obligation to provide suitable collection and disposal facilities, often subcontracted to specialists such as such as Recolight. In the case of domestic breakages, guidelines published by the UK government and United States Environmental Protection Agency recommend that pets and humans should vacate the vicinity for 10 minutes and air-conditioning should be shut off until the debris is cleared (vacuum cleaners should not be used as they may spread mercury further afield).
A study by Dr. Celia Sánchez-Ramos, of Complutense University in Madrid drew attention to the damage which some LED bulb’s harsh blue-white light can do to human retinas, particularly to young people whose young eyes are not yet capable of filtering out shorter wavelengths. Moreover, human eyes are designed to see using the light reflected off an object – many modern consumer items such as backlit televisions, games consoles or computer monitors require users to stare directly at a bright LED light source for long periods of time.
For most businesses, rising energy prices (and ECA incentives) will soon make re-lamping an attractive proposition. Bespoke units to fit existing luminaires can make this a swift and efficient procedure, with breakeven horizons as little as 1 year. However, LED lamps vary greatly in the quality of their manufacture and/or light output. Lumens, colour temperature and (most important) light quality can all influence the efficiency and safety of a workforce, and independent external advice is recommended.