On Dec. 16 I first hinted it would happen — and now it has. Just days before Christmas, the Ontario government has backed away from plans to start phasing our inefficient light bulbs on Jan. 1, 2012. You can read in my earlier post why I think that is a mistake, and how the McGuinty government can no longer be believed when it says it cares about the impacts of climate change and recognizes the urgency of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Let me be clear: the Green Energy Act is great and full of potential, and the feed-in-tariff program is helping create green jobs, but it’s probably one of the most expensive ways to reduce emissions in Ontario. The government likes to point to the coal phaseout as if that’s all that needs to be done, but by neglecting the low-hanging fruit that is energy efficiency, it is showing that it’s still only interested in half-measures and sexy solutions that make for a great photo opp.
But what fires me up most is Energy Minister Chris Bentley’s reason for the delay to 2014. He more or less blamed the federal government for being first to impose a delay, telling the Toronto Star it was essential to harmonize with the federal schedule. “To ensure a consistent approach and to make compliance easier for consumers, retailers and manufacturers, the province proposes to harmonize compliance dates for incandescent light bulbs with the federal government,” the Star quotes an energy ministry official in a statement.
This completely contradicts Ontario’s earlier motives. Remember, it was Ontario that made the first move, announcing in mid-April 2007 it planned a phaseout of inefficient bulbs. This made it the first jurisdiction in North America to make such a commitment. Apparently harmonization of policy wasn’t a concern back then, as the federal government didn’t announce its intentions to do the same until a week later. McGuinty at the time basked in the glow of showing leadership on this issue. Leadership and setting an example mattered. Now it apparently doesn’t. Following is more important now.
British Columbia, meanwhile, announced its own planned ban after Ontario and has already followed through. That’s leadership, the same kind of leadership it showed by introducing a carbon tax.
Swedish furniture goliath IKEA has become the first major retailer in Canada to commit to an all-out phaseout of incandescent light bulbs in 2011, a year ahead of a federal ban on the sale of low-efficiency light bulbs. In fact, IKEA said it will stop selling the bulbs by Jan. 1, 2011, about half a year from now. The retailer will focus sales on compact fluorescent, halogen and increasingly LED lighting options. “Clearly, Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb discovery was a landmark 19th century invention,” the company’s press release states. “But times have changed. New discoveries prevail.”
Back in February 2007 General Electric announced that it had made key advancements in the development of a high-efficiency incandescent (HEI) light bulb that would be as efficient as a compact fluorescent bulb (CFLs) but without the mercury and with better light quality. Early versions would hit the market by 2010, the company said. GE basically saw the writing on the wall, as several jurisdictions — including Australia, Canada and several U.S. states — had announced the same year plans to ban inefficient light bulbs somewhere between 2012 and 2015. The HEI was basically the last kick at the can for the 100-plus year old Edison incandescent.
Then, in October 2007, GE announced it was closing plants and cutting hundreds of employees as part of a restructuring of its lighting business. The old inefficient bulb was toast. GE would instead focus its efforts on LEDs, Organic LEDs, and its HEI technology. Harvard business school professor Daniel Snow said GE’s HEI was the company’s “last gasp” of inspiration before the inevitable, final death of the Edison bulb.
A year has passed since GE’s restructuring. I decided to find out the status of the HEI so e-mailed the folks at GE to get an update. Here’s the reply I got today from GE spokesman David Schuellerman:
GE Consumers & Industrial and GE Global Research have suspended the development of the high-efficiency incandescent lamp (HEI) to place greater focus and investment on what we believe will be the ultimate in energy efficient lighting — light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). Research and development of these technologies is moving at an impressive pace and will be ready for general lighting in the near future. LEDs and OLEDs used in general lighting are now poised to surpass the projected efficiency levels of HEI, along with other energy-efficient technologies like fluorescent, and have the additional benefits of long life and durability.
So there you have it: The century-old bulb that anchored the GE brand and made GE a global leader in lighting is, after one last gasp in 2007, officially dead.