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Russia is going to be turned into an energy-saving landfill

Russia is going to be turned into an energy-saving landfill

26.01.2011 — Analysis

Starting from January 1, 2011, selling of 100-watt incandescent bulbs has been forbidden in Russia. Consumers are offered an alternative - lower energy consuming compact fluorescent light bulbs. In the meantime, many experts think that such replacement will have very little impact on the amounts paid for electricity. However, nationwide, such "bulb" savings are as a gnat bite on the elephant. On the other hand, China and Europe - major producers of energy-saving lamps - will be able to fill up their purses. Suffice it to say that European countries intend to stop using such bulbs. As the "RusBusinessNews" columnist has found it out, Russia will become their new market. 

The government puts the lamp in the shadow

The ban on sales of "Ilich bulbs" will be time-phased, covering a three-year period. In two years, shop shelves will be vacated by conventional 75-watt bulbs, and in 2014 compact fluorescent bulbs will prevail in the country. In this way the government wants to make consumers save electric energy. 

Despite the ban, regular one-hundred-watt bulbs can still be found on shelves in any specialty store. At the beginning of 2011 there was some slight rush for them: Russian consumers were buying in prohibited products for future use - instead one bulb they were taking five at a time. According to distributors, retailers have been allowed to sell out the shelf stock, but there will be no other supplies. Representatives of Electromir, an Ekaterinburg supermarket, informed "RusBusinessNews" that all stocks of one-hundred-watt bulbs were sold back in December 2010, without any rush.  

There is suspicion that salespeople are dodging - most of them disregard the ban. There is no punishment for selling of prohibited goods. It is still not clear who will control retail outlets - neither Rospotrebnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare) nor the Economic Crime Department has such authority. 

Experts think that only absence of demand for "Ilich bulbs" can make retail outlets obey the law. However, it will take time to "endear" new-fashioned light bulbs to Russian consumers. Thrifty people will linger on one-hundred watt bulbs for some time; some users will switch over to lower-power 75-watt bulbs.

The price is the main factor that scares ordinary customers away from compact fluorescent bulbs. Since 2009 when the decision on the stage-by-stage prohibition of incandescent bulbs was made the price has actually stayed unchanged, ranging from 80 to 200 rubles for a bulb (against 10-15 rubles for a 100-watt bulb). 

It may seem that the end justifies the means - energy-saving lamps consume five times less electric energy and have six-time loner service life as compared with their conventional "counterparts". Mass consumption of compact fluorescent bulbs will also help to solve an important national task - to reduce electric network load and meet the electric energy deficit to some extent. 

"Due to the resulting surplus transformer capacity we will be able to connect a number of consumers to electric distribution networks without extra expenses on new construction", - Dmitry Tyukhtin, head of the Department for Contact with Government Authorities, Public Entities and Mass Media at the Ural Inter-Regional Grid Company, explained to "RusBusinessNews". 

However, not everything is as glowing. According to Alexander Pasechnik, head of the Analytical Department of the Fund for National Energy Security, the compact fluorescent bulb is able to serve for up to 15 thousand hours, but only continuously, which hardly ever can be expected in practice.  If it is turned off and on frequently, it will serve just a little longer than the "Ilich bulb". Furthermore, this lamp is very sensitive to voltage jumps that are quite typical of Russia, and can quickly burn out. Chinese lamps are reputed as the most short-lived. European brands are more reliable, but they cost 300 rubles as minimum. 

Experts do not believe that it is possible to achieve impressive savings in the family budget. Rough estimates show that one energy-saving bulb can save up to 24 rubles a month. However, the payback period will take at least a year - most of the Chinese compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are not able to last as long. 

The key point is that any lamps are insignificant energy consumers in apartments. Refrigerators, washing machines and dish washers, computers and electric kettles, electric heaters, etc. account for most of the kilowatts recorded by meters. Therefore, even after all the existing lamps in an apartment have been replaced with energy-saving ones, electricity bills will not shrink substantially. 

Mercurization of the entire country 

The "bulb" savings will be insignificant in the Russian context. In the opinion of Igor Yushkov, senior analyst of the Fund for National Energy Security, the country, being besotted by the idea of energy saving, has started at the wrong end. "Energy-saving technologies should be first deployed industrially to eliminate energy distribution and production losses. Our government rushed into developing measures targeted at ordinary customers ", - he states. 

In the countries of the European Union, sales of "Ilich bulbs" were banned in 2009. However, before that time, for many years and even decades Europe had been investing money in energy infrastructure. For example, Germany had been addressing problems of distribution loss reduction since the 1970s. 

At the beginning of 2011, the European Union unexpectedly appealed to the member-countries, asking them to legalize incandescent bulbs prohibited two years ago and to stop using CFLs. According to the German Federal Environmental Protection Department, mercury in a modern lamp is much more dangerous for human health that it was assumed before. If it is accidentally broken, the indoor concentration of poisons will exceed 20 times the admissible 0.35 micrograms per cubic meter of ambient air помещении. Besides, it turned out that European countries are still not certain about disposal of hazardous lamps - they are not allowed to be dumped into regular litter bins and landfills.

Russia is going to face much more difficulties - it has neither recycling centers for CFLs nor infrastructure for their disposal. Only Moscow can boast some achievements - there, bulbs are accepted by local building administrations and repair-and-maintenance departments. As for Ekaterinburg, the Greenpeace web-site has posted information about some production facilities where citizens can supposedly bring overage lamps. However, at the moment, the main customers are factories and companies that return lamps in bulk. 

The experts are sure that giving up compact fluorescent lamps, Europe will boost manufacturing and promotion of energy-saving lamps of the third generation - light-emitting diodes. According to Vladimir Begalov, Deputy Director of the Sverdlovsk Regional Institute for Energy Saving, they are much more efficient than fluorescent lamps and contain no mercury. By the way, in Russia there are first pilot operating facilities of the kind. For example, Rosnanosvet LLC in Chelyabinsk. The Oktyabr Production Association (Kamensk-Uralsky, Sverdlovsk Region) is also thinking about similar production.

Nobody manufactures CFLs in Russia. Store shelves feature primarily Chinese and European products. Very few people know that goods from Celestial China are sold under the well-known Kosmos brand. At its factory, the ONEXIM Group is going to make mercury lamps from Chinese components. 

Igor Yushkov thinks that Russian business is not interested in such manufacturing operations. "Manufacturers realize that in future preferences will be given to light-emitting diodes. There is no sense in investing money in the intermediary stage, taking into account that such investment will take long to be paid off", - he points out.

The expert thinks that Russia could do well without CFLs, switching over from incandescent bulbs to lamps of the third generation. With government support, mass production of light-emitting diodes can start in two-three years - right at the time when "Ilich lams" sales are going to stop completely. 

However, the process of production and adoption of safe and efficient lamps is very slow in Russia, contributing to their high price (1-1.5 thousand rubles for a lamp). The main obstacle is that the government gives no clear clues about its "lamp" intentions for the future. "The government itself does not know what it needs. There are a lot of pompous announcements, but very little action", - Leonid Akhmetshin, an analyst of the Agency for Energy Strategy, points out. 

Inactivity of the Russian government plays into the hands of Europe. Having lost its demand for CFLs, it will try to turn our country into the largest market for hazardous lamps. Thus, it will be able to retain production and, consequently, profits and jobs. In addition, Russia will have to take care of disposal of mercury waste.

China also has ambitious plans for Russia. Similar manufacturing facilities were financed through sizeable investment that must be returned. Again, our country will have to undertake a mission of investing billions of dollars in the economic growth of Celestial China.

Marina Sirina

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