Energy Efficient LEDs Could Alleviate China’s Smog

A mother’s “personal grudge” against China’s haze issues gave birth to the trending environmental documentary 'China's Haze: Under the Dome.’ The country’s serious air pollution became very personal for former State TV Reporter Chai Jing, when she became pregnant with her daughter. Concerned about her daughter’s health, the former environmental issue investigative reporter probed into the causes behind China’s serious air pollution. The documentary has gone viral online and has received more than millions of views on major online video websites.

The video might be forgotten by the masses within a week, but the hazards of smog will not simply drift away. Environmental friendly LEDs just might offer a solution to China’s thick haze.

Chai Jing in her documentary video 'China's Haze: Under the Dome.’ 

Lighting’s energy consumption is estimated to be around 17% to 20%, according to LEDinside calculations. Based on China’s total energy consumption of 5.52 trillion kilowatt per hour (KWh) in 2014, the country’s lighting energy consumption would be about 1.1 trillion KWh. Following the spread of highly energy efficient LEDs in the Chinese market, lighting energy consumption could be halved, and cut down 300 million metric tons of coal consumption. Based on Chai’s statistics, China’s coal consumption reached 3.6 billion metric tons in 2013. With LEDs limited market penetration on the Chinese market, the technology still holds huge potential in solving China’s smog issue.

Why are LEDs not as widespread on the market if it has huge energy saving advantages? Similar to the steel industry’s oversupply issue explored in the smog documentary, China has been the global lighting manufacturing powerhouse. More than 90% of incandescent bulbs, CFLs and other light sources are manufactured in the country. Traditional incandescent bulbs are not energy efficient, while energy saving CFL’s can cause mercury pollution. Yet, these two light sources have created millions of jobs, and solved local Chinese government’s tax income, and job employment issues.

On an optimistic note, China’s National Development and Reform Commission has phased out 60W and above wattage incandescent bulbs, which has been effective since Oct. 1, 2014. Although, the policy was rolled out later than developed countries, it is better than never.

Effective management is still needed for Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) that are potential environmental hazards. These lamps continue to benefit from central government fiscal subsidies. When the huge number of CFL tubes which contain mercury reach the end of their lifetimes, they usually are thrown away as average trash. Most people are unaware of the environmental damage old CFL tubes can cause. If treated inappropriately, it can become an environmental pollutant and became a major “health killer.” The environmental costs of CFLs and potential environmental impact it causes far exceeds its energy saving effects.

In 2012, China manufactured 4.28 billion CFL bulbs, of those manufactured 1.53 billion was for domestic consumption, according to China Association of Lighting Industry statistics. Assuming every CFL contains 3 ml of mercury, the country’s 1.5 billion CFL bulbs could discharge as much as 4.5 metric tons of mercury, and become a huge environmental risk if inappropriate waste management treatment was applied.

Looking back in history, a mysterious neurological disease emerged in Minamata Bay, Japan in 1953. Local residents began to display syndromes of nerve damage, paralysis, muscle weakness, but the cause of the illness remained unidentified for some time. The number of those affected eventually surpassed 7,000, before the disease was coined “Minamata Disease”. Eventually the cause of the disease was linked to the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation's chemical factory. The local population had unknowingly been eating mercury contaminated fish, shellfish and other marine life. Despite more than six decades have passed since the mass mercury poisoning incident in Japan, China still has not placed importance on mercury contamination.

The lighting industry is a much more market-orientated industry than the petroleum industry. Hence, it’s important to strengthen market monitoring, and prevent poor quality products from entering the market. However, smart consumers are also crucial in changing the rules of competition and eliminating bad quality manufacturers and products. If average consumers compared products and became aware of energy efficacy, lifetimes, lighting quality and other luminaire indicators, good quality manufacturers could emerge as victors. Consumers smarter purchase choices could help edge manufacturers disrupting the market with poor quality products out of the industry. The Chinese LED lighting market would also finally be able to avoid becoming a low quality product market, overflowing with me too products under the umbrella of energy efficacy

Government policies are not the only issue in spurring the proliferation of LED luminaires. More importantly, as seen from Chai’s example is personal action. The spread of LED luminaires on the market will also rely on civilian action that vote in favor of good quality products.

(Author: Figo Wang, Senior Analyst, LEDinside, Translator: Judy Lin, Chief Editor, LEDinside)

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