CFLs are energy-efficient and long lasting, but aren’t without their problems:
- They can be slow to warm up to full brightness
- They're generally bigger than equivalent incandescents so don’t suit all light fittings
- And last, but far from least, they contain mercury.
Enter the light-emitting diode, or LED. They’ve been commonly available for years in bicycle lights, torches, garden lights and other applications, and are also available as downlights. They're very energy-efficient, can be very bright and don't contain mercury.
Most LED general lighting service lamps now available are relatively low-light output – comparable to a 25W or 40W incandescent – but brighter 60W equivalent models are also now available. We’ve included some in this test.
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The drawbacks of CFLs
The environmental benefit of the phase-out of inefficient lighting has
been widely publicised, but CFLs aren’t without impact — they use more
energy to produce and contain mercury, which could spell problems if it’s not recycled. So what’s the overall verdict?
A life cycle analysis of CFLs published in The Environmental Engineer (the journal of the Society for Sustainability and Environmental Engineering) concluded
that CFLs are the better choice for the environment, mainly because
they use electricity much more efficiently. As for the mercury they
release at the end of their life, the analysis found that the production
of incandescent lamps contributes five times more mercury from burning
coal for electricity. This was even the case in Tasmania, where
hydroelectricity dominates, although involving much smaller quantities.
Since November 2009, incandescent bulbs (apart from a few specialised sizes and types) have not been available for sale in Australia as part of the government’s drive to reduce energy consumption and lessen the impact of electricity production on the environment and economy. They have been replaced by CFLs in most domestic lighting applications.
Early CFLs, which CHOICE first tested back in 2000, cost up to $20 or more and were slow to warm up to full brightness. Now, they're cheaper to buy – typically about $5-10 per lamp – and run; they're also faster to warm up and have fewer failures.
Incandescents are still available in very small sizes, but will be phased out as CFLs and LEDs in these sizes become available.
Note: most people probably still refer to CFLs and incandescents as "light bulbs", and think of a "lamp" as the light fitting on their bedside table. In fact, as pointed out by CHOICE members in the comments, "lamp" is the technically correct term for what we used to call light bulbs, and the report uses this term accordingly.
Did you know?
- Up to 90% of the energy an incandescent (standard) lamp uses is wasted, mainly on heat.
- Phasing out incandescent light bulbs is expected to reduce Australia's greenhouse emissions by 28 million tonnes between 2008 and 2020. This is equivalent to permanently decommissioning a small coal-fired power station or taking more than 500,000 cars off the road permanently.
Phase-out of incandescent bulbs
The federal government’s incandescent light bulb phase-out program applies Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) to lighting products. Products that don’t meet MEPS will be restricted from sale.
- Tungsten filament incandescent general lighting service (GLS) light bulbs (the typical pear-shaped bulbs used in most domestic light fittings) don’t meet MEPS and have not been available in stores since November 2009.
- Since October 2010, MEPS have applied to >40W candle, fancy round and decorative lamps, mains voltage halogen non-reflectors and extra-low voltage (ELV) halogen reflectors.
- Since October 2012, MEPS have applied to >25W candle fancy round and decorative lamps.
- From October 2013, MEPS will apply to mains voltage reflector lamps, including halogen (PAR, ER, R, etc).
- Depending on when efficient alternatives become available, pilot lamps 25W and below will also be subject to MEPS.
- BYD 6.9W LED Globe
- CLA Longlife dimmable LED Lamp 12W
- Crompton Lighting XL-LED Performance XL-7.5ES27
- Envirolux 20W ES CFL 2700K
- Mirabella Energy Saver Petite 18W
- Nelson Aladdin Mini 20W
- Osram Dulux Superstar Micro Twist 18W
- Osram LED Parathom Classic A 40
- Philips Genie 18W WW E27
- Prisma LED PRI-HO-7W E27 WW
- Sparsam Low Energy Bulb 001.314.16 20W
- Sylvania LED A60 GLS
- Sylvania Mini-Lynx Twister 20W B22
- Verbatim LED Classic A Superior
Previously tested models
- Black and Gold BG15W-1E
- Coles Mini Compact Spiral Lamp V04492/ EEMSES-15
- Envirolux Lucci 8000hr
- GE FLE15GLS/T3/827/E27
- GE FLE15HLX/827/B22/T2
- GE FLE15TBX/827/E27/T3
- Lightstar CFL3
- Lightstar GLS 25605
- Lightstar GLS 25606
- Megaman Compact Classic GSU115i-ES-27K
- Megaman GK715d
- Megaman Zenia Tubular WL1514
- Mirabella EEMSES-15
- Mirabella EEU-15
- Nelson Aladdin Mini MELQAL15BCS
- Nelson Aladdin Mini MELQAL15ESS
- Nelson Dimmable MELSD15BC
- Nelson Little Greenie Energy Saver MELTG15ES
- Osram Dulux EL Longlife 15W/827
- Osram Duluxstar Minitwist 13W/827
- Osram Duluxstar Twist 13W/827
- Osram Micro Twist 14W/865 E27
- Philips Ambiance AMB14WWWES
- Philips Genie GENIE14WWWES
- Philips MASTER LEDlamp MV dimmable 12W
- Philips Tornado TND12WWWBC
- SPARSAM Low Energy Lamp 30149453
- Sylvania Mini-Lynx Twister 615223
- Woolworths Essentials FE-11SB-14W
- Woolworths Essentials N3UN15
How we test
Our test is based on the Australian Standard for self-ballasted lamps. The lamps are a mix of screw and bayonet fittings; all are “warm white”, but wattages vary. Our tester, James Thomson, installs 10 samples of each model in a rig of 150 light fittings, and burns them in for 100 hours. The lights then are put into a continuous switching cycle of 165 minutes on, then 15 minutes off, so they are on for a total of 22 hours per day.
Light output James measures the light output of the lamps after the 100 hour burn-in, then again after 1000 and 3000 operating hours.
Switch-on time is the time taken to start giving out light. In our test of CFLs in 2000, we found some took up to three seconds to activate. However, all the lamps in recent tests activated almost instantly, so James hasn’t measured the actual times.
Warm-up time shows the time taken to reach 80% of maximum brightness. CFLs usually take about 30 seconds or less, which is acceptable but still much slower than incandescent or LED lamps, which reach maximum brightness almost instantly. Some have long warm-up times of several minutes; this doesn't necessarily mean they are very noticeably dim to start with, but rather that they can take a long time to stabilise at their maximum light output. LED lamps switch on immediately at maximum brightness then dim a little over the next few minutes (not enough to notice with the naked eye).
Failure rate James checks regularly to see if any lamps have failed (either dying completely or dimming so much that in normal usage you’d replace them). The minimum claimed life expectancy for these lamps is 6000 hours; the LEDs claim from 25,000 to 40,000 hours.
For more information about Saving energy, see the Energy and water section of our website.