South Africa finalizing new rules that could ban fluorescent light bulb sales

Minister Ebrahim Patel of the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition (DTIC) has revealed that new specifications for general-purpose light bulbs in South Africa will be published in September 2022.

The regulations, if passed in their current state, will make it unlawful to continue selling the compact fluorescent lamps that are currently on the market.

“I am advised that the proposed specifications were published for public comment and that the DTIC has considered the comments and is currently finalizing the publication,” Patel said in a written response to Parliamentary questions.

“The new specifications are expected to be published in the Government Gazette by September 2022.”

The proposed specifications were published for public comment in the Government Gazette on 1 March 2021, and South Africans had until 30 April 2021 to make submissions.

The draft regulations aim to advance the safety, performance, and energy efficiency of lightbulbs sold in South Africa by eliminating inefficient and environmentally damaging lighting products.

The project manager for the appliance standards and labeling program at the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), Ashanti Mogosetsi, explained that compact fluorescent lightbulbs currently available in South Africa wouldn’t make the cut.

Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel

“Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) currently on the market would not meet the specifications; it is more likely that LEDs would become the preferred choice of lamp,” she said.

She said that despite CFLs often being considered “energy saving”, they aren’t efficient enough to meet the specifications.

The regulations specify that for lightbulbs to be sold legally in South Africa, they must have a luminous efficiency of at least 90 lumens per watt.

Luminous efficiency measures how much light a bulb produces for the power it consumes.

“If CFLs make a technological advancement and meet these specifications in the future, then they could be legally sold,” Mogosetsi said.

“The purpose of the specifications is not to ban any particular lighting products, but to mandate their safety and performance standards.”

However, the mercury content of CFL light bulbs is the most concerning issue, according to Mogosetsi.

“Mercury is extremely harmful to the environment, and in turn, harms the health of people living in those environments,” she said.

SANEDI pointed to a cost-benefit analysis by Nova Economics which found that South Africans make poor decisions when buying the best light bulbs for their homes.

“Consumers are purchasing some of the most expensive and least efficient [general service lamps]by opting for a lower upfront cost based on familiar and inefficient technologies, and not considering the full life cycle cost of lighting,” Nova Economics said.

Nova Economics’ report found that the expected economic benefit of shifting to more energy-efficient bulbs will amount to R11.7 billion over 15 years, with a benefit-to-cost ratio of 27.4 to one.

“The present value of the benefits is more than 27 times the present value of the costs of introducing and enforcing the regulation,” it said.

Typical compact fluorescent lamps

The draft regulations set a two-phased rollout for the new light bulb specifications.

If approved, the first phase will see the minimum luminous efficiency of light bulbs increased to 90 lumens per watt, essentially making the sale of “energy saver” CFLs unlawful.

Phase 1 will be in effect for three years, starting one year after the final notice confirming the new regulations.

Therefore, if Patel’s timeline is accurate and the draft remains unchanged, the new regulations will take effect from September 2023.

The second phase will see the minimum luminous efficiency raised to 105 lumens per watt — an efficiency that even some light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs struggle to meet.

Those using CFL energy-saver light bulbs in their homes won’t necessarily need to replace them when the regulations kick in. They will simply not be able to buy them anymore.

It should be noted that the draft regulations apply to general service lamps — light bulbs used in homes and businesses across South Africa.

The regulations outline several exceptions where the minimum luminous efficacy specifications will not apply, including:

  • Medical applications
  • UV light for curing and drying
  • Horticulture, aquariums, animal care, and anti-insect products
  • Camera flashlights, photocopiers, video projectors
  • Signalling, eg traffic lights
  • Studio lighting, special effects lighting, and theater lighting
  • Emergency lighting

MyBroadband light bulb tests

In January 2022, MyBroadband compared various incandescent, fluorescent, and LED light bulbs commonly available in South Africa, testing their power draw and energy efficiency.

Our power draw tests were carried out on the various light bulbs using a PZEM-004T-based monitoring system to see how they compare with the values ​​promised on the box.

Test results revealed that all the light bulb types aligned with the rated values ​​specified on their packaging.

Regarding energy efficiency testing, LED bulbs were the clear winner. However, only one of the bulbs tested — a 9W Pick n Pay LED — would meet the regulations specified in phase one of the rollout.

None of the bulbs met the specifications of 105 lumens per watt, as specified for phase two of the rollout.

It should be noted that nearly all the LED and CFL bulbs tested achieved greater brightness and luminous efficiency than the specifications suggested on their boxes.

The 9W Pick n Pay LED achieved 103 lumens per watt, while the retailer’s 5W LED just didn’t make the grade for phase one, achieving a luminous efficiency of 89 lumens per watt.

We tested four CFL bulbs ranging from 14W to 20W, but their efficiency figures were significantly lower than the draft regulations specified. Their luminous efficiency ranged from 47 to 70 lumens per watt.

Incandescent bulbs were by far the least efficient, achieving only 12 and 7 lumens per watt.

The results of our energy efficiency tests are summarized in the table below.

Light bulb efficiency
Bulb Lumens Advertised (lm) Power Draw (W) Lumens Measured (lm) Efficiency (lm/W)
PnP 9W LED 765 9.3 956 103
PnP 5W LED 420 5.1 453 89
OSRAM 14W CFL 810 15.1 1058 70
PnP 18W CFL 990 17.2 1059 62
PnP 14W CFL 750 14.6 803 55
Eurolux 20W CFL 1000 15.8 743 47
Generic 100W Incandescent 1200 94.6 1092 12
Tunsram 40W Spherical Incandescent 400 33.3 234 7

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