4.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Climate change is happening whether you like it or not, and various places are taking steps to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the atmosphere. There are various ways of doing this, cutting coal, making more efficient vehicles, insulating home and lots of other methods of reducing energy consumption overall. One of the target areas has been lighting, moving away from the old incandescent lamps, changing first to compact fluorescent lamps (CFL’s) and with the advent of cost-effective LED lamps even greater energy and carbon saving can be achieved, often to the tune of 90% less energy used.

A perfect solution you’d think, but things are never as straight forward as you think. To start with CFLs use mercury in the way that they create light, so whilst being more efficient, they are often the cause of mercury pollution in the water table as they are not properly recycled. They often took ages to warm up; the joke being, that you had to turn them on as yeo went to bed to make sure they were bright enough in morning… LED seems to solve a lot of the problems, instant turn on, now as bright as the original lamps and are super-efficient. They have their drawbacks though, they use rare earth elements in their construction, which are often sourced from countries with less than stable governments and even though they last much longer than incandescent, the quality of the light is not as good and the light output degrades over time too.

Light is fundamental to our very ecosystem on the earth. It determines all sorts of natural events, in animals, plants and sea life. The advent of artificial light has meant that we have pushed our natural rhythms to the very limit and the long term implications of doing this are still only poorly understood. Anna Levin has had a fraught relationship with these new lighting technologies. After it became harder to get hold of incandescent lamps she switched to the fluorescent types but found they made her ill. The advent of LED lamps on the market helped her a little, but as a lot are poorly made, then there was not much improvement. She would end up trying to avoid anywhere that relied on these artificially created light sources as the ban on incandescent and halogen kicked in.

She soon discovered that she was not alone either, there were lots of people who were suffering all sorts of illnesses and effects from these lamps. There are those that have stockpiled the older style lamps to use for the years ahead. Further investigation revealed that the regulations that manufacturers had to comply with were pushed through with very little consultation and at a greater rate than manufacturers could adapt to the changes. This meant that factories in the EU lost out on business to the far east and often the quality wasn’t what was needed.

There is a certain irony that since these regulations were passed and the ban on incandescent lamps enforced, domestic energy consumption has risen since. The overall saving effect is zero according to the UK Department for the Environment. For example, the heat dissipated by conventional incandescent lamps is reduced, the missing warmth is compensated for by the central heating system, negating savings in energy and carbon overall. When pressed the EU says that it hasn’t looked at the savings that the changes in lighting have brought so far and also stated that it was ‘still premature to draw conclusions’ when they were asked just how much carbon dioxide had been saved…

Part of the reason that I know so much of what she is talking about in here is that when I don’t have my head in a book, in the real world I have been a development engineer in the lighting industry for the past 15 years.  I have even had the pleasure (not…) of reading the new Single Lighting Regulation that was published in December 2019. I have designed and developed various LED products and seen some of the benefits that these new technologies can bring. All the lamps I have at home are LED, but I have chosen branded flicker-free lamps that have a warm colour temperature. Having said that, there are certain applications where LED lighting is not the most appropriate nor efficient method of illumination.

I thought that this was a really well-researched book as Levin is spot on with the technical details in here. It is well written and argued too; she is saying that the various bans on incandescent lamps that have rippled around the world have never taken into account the quality of the light that the replacements have offered when compared to the older lamps. Those replacements are not as easy to recycle as the old incandescent lamps either. Part of what she is saying is that consumers have never been offered a choice with any of these technologies, unlike with other electronic items in the home you can choose to use a more or less energy-efficient product that meets particular standards. None of this detracts from the urgent crises of climate change, but this subject needs to have an open and transparent discussion because it feels like it has been steamrollered through but the powers that be.

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