What's Watt

Due to a shortage of energy saving GU10 white spotlight bulbs in West Cumbria at the moment I have been looking out for them on the shelves of virtually every establishment in Whitehaven which sells lightbulbs and more than one shop in other parts of Copeland and Allerdale.

Most of the shops concerned are parts of national chains, and I have no reason to doubt that the presentation of these shelves is any different in any other parts of Britain.

And I'm shocked at the quantity of high energy spotlights on sale, quite often with little indication of how what dreadful power hogs they are.

For standard lightbulds with a normal or small screw or socket fitting there are nearly always plenty of low energy bulbs, usually presented in a way which emphasises how much they save the customer - they are also, of course, good for keeping down the national carbon footprint.

But spotlights have become very popular in the past few years. This isn't a problem if you are using the low energy ones - but if you grab the first pack which comes off the shelf, the impact on your electricity bill can be horrendous.

Let's take the fitting in my kitchen which takes six GU10 spots. With six 1.2 watt low energy bulbs like the ones I finally managed to find this morning, it'll have a total power drain of 8.4 Watts. In other words the total power consumption of all six spots will be about a third that of the least powerful individual bulbs you would have found in my house a few years ago, before I switched to low energy lighting. And less than 8.4% the power drain of the most powerful lights I used to use. So low energy spotlights of this type are a reasonable option for someone who is trying to keep their costs and their carbon footprint down.

But 50 Watt spotlights are not.

And when I was hunting for GU10 bulbs over the past three weeks, what kind of spotlight did I find?

The most common type were 50 Watts, and most of the rest were 35 Watts.

If I put six 50W bulbs into the light fitting in my kitchen, it would use 300 Watts to light one room. Even with conventional bulbs, that is more energy than it ought to take to light every habitable room in a fairly large house!

It isn't just the planet that this sort of folly hurts - the people most likely not to realise that they're sending their electricity bill through the roof by using these bulbs are those who can least afford it.

The government and EU have already taken some measures to encourage users to switch to lower energy bulbs. But perhaps in the budget it is time for a tax on high energy spotlights.

And if it encouraged people to change what they buy it would be a very unusual tax indeed: one which saves the taxpayer money.


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