BEIJING — As the world's top producer of energy-efficient light bulbs and a potentially massive market for them, China is seen as pivotal to greater worldwide acceptance of environmentally-friendly lighting.
While also the largest producer of less-efficient incandescent bulbs, China is moving with the times as the classic light bulb, which produces more heat than light, is slowly being switched off.
Developed countries have already begun phasing them out and China, the world's top source of the carbon dioxide emissions blamed for climate change, is expected to follow, with potentially huge ramifications on emissions.
"Lighting accounts for about 12 percent of total electricity consumption" in China, and the country's biggest source of CO2 is power generation, said Li Ang, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace China.
"China has been under big pressure to cut emissions and changing light bulbs could be a good way."
China's output of energy-efficient bulbs surged 12-fold in a decade -- it produced 2.4 billion in 2006 compared to 200 million in 1997, according to China's commerce ministry.
Last year, production of low-energy compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) reached three billion, of which 2.1 billion were exported, said Chen Yansheng, head of the China Association of Lighting Industry.
And while low-energy bulbs account for six percent of units sold worldwide, the incandescent variety still make up 70 percent, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Eighty percent of energy-efficient bulbs are made in China, mostly by domestic companies, Chen said, but foreign giants such as General Electric of the United States and Germany's Osram also have a substantial presence here.
Foreign firms are also attracted by what they see as a promising Chinese market of 1.3 billion consumers largely untapped by "green" lamps.
Till Mor, a spokesman for Osram, said demand for quality energy-efficient lighting products in China was expanding rapidly.
"We see a growing demand in the Asia-Pacific and especially in China and India," he told AFP.
With world leaders meeting in Copenhagen for talks on a new global treaty on climate change, an increased Chinese market for low-energy bulbs could help curb carbon emissions significantly.
If each Chinese citizen changed a 60-watt-bulb for its energy-efficient equivalent, "it would save... more than the yearly electricity generated by the Three Gorges Dam," said Greenpeace's Li.
The dam in central China is the world's largest hydroelectric facility.
China's government has said the nation could save between 160 and 216 billion kilowatt hours of electricity over the course of 10 years by converting to energy-efficient lamps.
That would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 175 to 237 million tonnes over that period.
China's electricity consumption exceeded 3.4 trillion kilowatt hours in 2008, according to government statistics.
It aims to curb emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels, essentially a pledge to improve energy efficiency.
In addition, further developing its own market for energy-efficient bulbs is seen as imperative for China's domestic industry since foreign sales are expected to be slowed by the bulbs' greater longevity.
China has not yet moved to restrict the use of incandescent bulbs but actively promotes the energy-saving variety, in particular through a subsidised distribution programme.
In July, Beijing also agreed on a four-year, 84-million-dollar programme with the UNDP to promote conversion of the lighting industry, improve quality of light bulbs, and educate the public on the need to use low-energy bulbs.
The programme also aims to solve the problem of how to dispose of low-energy bulbs, which contain mercury -- a major problem in a country where selective sorting of rubbish is almost non-existent.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »