Retailers expect a sharp rise in the cost of the traditional 60W light bulb as European-wide legislation preventing their production or import takes effect on Sept. 1.
The ban will not prevent electrical retailers from selling existing stocks of the household staple, whose technology remains essentially unchanged since it was developed in the 1870s by rival inventors Joseph Swan of Britain and Thomas Edison of the US.
But James Shortridge, managing director of the U.K.’s leading specialist lighting chain Ryness, suggested that stock levels could soon be depleted and prices climb for remaining inventory if the pattern set by the EU previous ban on the 100W bulb two years ago were repeated.
Sales levels at his stores have picked up in recent weeks as some consumers have opted to buy dozens of the pearl incandescent lamps, doomed to manufacturing extinction, to ensure they have sufficient supplies for months or years to come.
Old people in particular appear more resistant to adopting more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, the dominant alternative.
“It’s a generational thing. You have a generation of customers who do not change and like the incandescent with its yellow light,” said Mr. Shortridge. Although the new bulbs also last several times longer than traditional bulbs, concerns over their light quality, mercury content, flickering and slow warm-up have created some consumer resistance to the changeover, he conceded.
Lower-powered incandescent and halogen bulbs will still be allowed under EU rules, although they also face an eventual ban.
Mr. Shortridge predicted that 60W bulbs, currently retailing for 85p to 95p, could more than double in price in many outlets as supplies dwindle, making them comparable in price with the typical £2 currently charged for the equivalent compact fluorescent bulb.
The U.K.’s Energy Savings Trust disputes that there is any significant basis for criticism of the compact fluorescent bulb, which uses 80 per cent less electricity than a standard bulb but produces the same amount of light.
The trust has estimated that phasing out 600 million of the light bulbs in U.K. homes, in line with EU regulations, could save British consumers £1-billion a year.
It has also conducted a “Pepsi challenge” that suggested half of consumers could not tell the difference in the quality of light between new and old bulbs, while many actually preferred the light quality of the compact fluorescent.
Nevertheless, Ryness is repeating the strategy it adopted to deal with the 100W ban by ordering in the equivalent of three year’s worth of stock to deal with the anticipated rush by consumers to hoard supplies.
Much of this extra stock sold out within a month of the EU deadline banning production or import of the 100W bulb in 2009, said Mr. Shortridge.
Fellow industry luminary Roy Burton, chief executive of Dialight, argues that the push to denude U.K. homes of traditional bulbs may be justified but that greater energy savings could be made by leapfrogging the use of compact fluorescent and encouraging a higher adoption of the most efficient LED lighting technology in the country’s street lights, workplaces and other public venues.
The company, which has benefited from the early adoption of LED in US traffic lighting systems, said there was no joke in the number of people it takes to replace inefficient bulbs in a range of public lighting environments.
But Mr. Burton did concede, along with Mr. Shortridge, that the current cost of domestic LED bulbs made them too expensive for most domestic use.
A recent research paper by Berenberg Bank of Germany suggested that many jobs had been lost in western economies over the past decade as GE, Osram, Philips, Sylvania and other “industry leaders in traditional lighting technologies” have closed factories in western Europe and North America “while China’s lighting industry has grown by tenfold”.
Plans for a similar ban on traditional bulbs are likely to cast a shadow over the US presidential campaign. U.S. legislation signed into law when George W. Bush was president similarly anticipates the phasing-out of most incandescent bulbs by the beginning of 2012.
But earlier this year Michele Bachmann, the Republican presidential contender, launched an attempt to overturn elements of the law, arguing that government “has no business telling an individual what kind of light bulb to buy”.
Rick Perry, the rival Republican contender and governor of Texas, also signed into law a bill in June aimed at freeing Texans from the planned federal light bulb ban - so long as the bulbs are made in Texas.