Bright ideas

Several new, low-energy lighting technologies are gaining popularity in the region, but with progress comes problems as Greg Whitaker found out.


Several new, low-energy lighting technologies are gaining popularity in the region, but with progress comes problems as Greg Whitaker found out.

All over the world sales of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are being touted as a way to save energy and fight global warming. As the Emirates have started to take notice of so-called green building regulations, the sale of these lamps is being actively promoted.

These new lamps have advanced in technology over the past couple of years and now they produce a similar amount of light as their incandescent counterparts. CFLs today also escape the harsh and flickering light associated with earlier products.

Safety issues

It should be noted that such lamps contain small amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin that is especially dangerous for small children and pregnant women. Currently there is no safe way of disposing of these lamps in the UAE.

The danger comes when the light bulb breaks; the mercury seeps out and can pollute the groundwater.

Although the amount contained in each unit is negligible, if a city the size of Dubai adopted the technology on a large-scale then tens of thousands of lamps could soon find their way into the municipality's dumps each year, with potentially disastrous consequences.

In some countries it is illegal to throw the lamps in with general rubbish. In Europe the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive specifically caters for such issues.

A spokesman for Biffa, a UK-based waste management and collection service comments: "The problem with the lamps is that they break in the bins, long before they get to landfill. This means that workers might be exposed to mercury when that happens

"Any business of any size that manufacturers, imports or sells under their own brand, equipment that relies on electrical current to work is now considered a ‘producer' and must legally register with a Compliance Scheme," he adds.

Producer responsibilities are watchwords across much of the industry. General Electric has been making CFLs for 20 years. Now the company admits that the small amount of mercury contained in each lamp could become a real problem if sales balloon as expected.

"Given what we anticipate to be the significant increase in the use of these products, we are now beginning to look at, and shortly we'll be discussing with legislators, possibly a national solution here," comments Earl Jones, a senior counsel for General Electric.

In many countries, major stores will take back used lamps for safe disposal. Leading the charge is the Swedish-owned furniture chain Ikea. In the UK the firm will re-process any CFL brought into the store.

However, the outlet in Festival City, Dubai confirmed that there are currently no plans to introduce such a scheme into the UAE.

Dr Matt Prescott, environmental campaigner and webmaster of comments: "The mercury contained within a CFL should be recycled, so I would recommend that proper recycling schemes are established, either via [the municipality] or retailers.

Prescott is keen to put the small amount of toxins contained in each bulb into perspective.

The 4mg of mercury contained in a CFL is less than that contained in the emissions produced by burning excess fossil fuels to power incandescent lamps," he states, adding: "If you are using coal, approximately three times more mercury is released into the atmosphere than is contained in a recyclable CFL, and the figure is likely to be the same if you are using oil."

Lighting alternatives

Other methods of lighting can be employed with few of the drawbacks associated with CFLs. Solid-state light emitting diode (LED) technology has been coming on in leaps and bounds, though the cost per room is still comparatively very expensive and therefore unattractive to developers faced with the task of fitting out an entire tower project.

However, most new builds could be arranged so that there is an option to upgrade later, believes Prescott.

"I would recommend that CFLs were installed in new houses, but not in a way that prevented them from being removed and replaced as soon as more energy efficient lighting technologies become available," he states.

There are other, even cheaper methods of lighting residential premises, at least during the day. In many buildings the glare and heat from the sun mean that blinds are drawn throughout the daylight hours; in turn, this means a reliance on artificial lighting.

But some new buildings are seeking to address this issue.

Verde Towers, a new business and residential project by Dubai-based developer ETA Star uses specially tinted glass and the buildings have been designed to face into the light to maximise the use of daylight.

This means that for the majority of the time the light fittings, however they are powered, can remain switched off.

Chief architect Adrian Smith believes that it is more important to turn lamps off, rather than be too concerned about the technology that powers lights when they are switched on.

The energy [that will be] saved by the project is equal to the planting of approximately 600,000 trees or removing 680 cars off the road," he explains.

All developers know that good lighting helps to sell properties, but there is a growing environmental awareness among consumers and society in general.

Add to this the rising electricity costs and the new green building directive in Dubai, and those who install lighting will need to begin thinking in terms of efficiency - and soon.

Greg Whitaker is editor of PMV Middle East magazine.

What lighting is available?

Light emitting diode

Solid-state lighting refers to a type of lighting that utilises light emitting diodes (LEDs), organic light emitting diodes (OLED), or polymer light emitting diodes (PLED) as sources of illumination rather than electrical filaments or gas.

The term solid-state refers to the fact that light in a LED is emitted from a solid object - a block of semiconductor - rather than from a vacuum or gas tube, as is the case in traditional incandescent light bulbs and fluorescent lamps.

Unlike traditional lighting, solid-state lighting creates visible light with reduced heat generation or parasitic energy dissipation. In addition, its solid-state nature provides for greater resistance to shock, vibration, and wear, thereby increasing its lifespan significantly.


A halogen lamp is an incandescent lamp where a tungsten filament is sealed into a compact transparent envelope filled with an inert gas, plus a small amount of halogen such as iodine or bromine. The halogen cycle prevents darkening of the bulb.

The halogen lamp can operate its filament at a higher temperature than a standard gas-filled lamp of similar wattage, without loss of operating life. This gives it a higher efficacy (10-30%).

It also gives light of a higher colour temperature compared to a non-halogen incandescent lamp. Alternatively, it may be designed to have up to twice the life with the same or slightly higher efficacy. Because of their smaller size, halogen lamps can advantageously be used with optical systems that are more efficient.

Compact fluorescent lamp

While the amount of visible light remains the same as traditional incandescent bulbs, the amount of energy used to power compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) is roughly a sixth of their Edison counterparts. For consumers the main draw is that these lamps will fit into existing fittings and the lamps themselves are readily available.

The modern CFL was invented by General Electric (GE), however the early ballast coils used to start the lamps tended to cause flickering and could emit a high-pitched noise. Modern CFLs that include an integrated electronic ballast have virtually eliminated this problem.

Also of interest are non-integrated lamps, which have no ballast at all. These allow for the replacement of consumable lamps and the extended use of electrical ballasts in a light fixture. Since the ballasts are placed in the light fixture they are larger and last longer.

Non-integrated CFL housings can be both more expensive and sophisticated, providing options such as dimming, less flicker and faster starts.

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