The end of fluorescent tube lights in the EU – why system users should act now
The countdown is on: From 1st September 2023, no fluorescent lamps of the common T8 type of construction are allowed to be put on the market. This marks a turning point for industry – and users of hazardous systems will have to deal with the consequences.
The rise of the "T8" was legendary. This lamp, which is still often incorrectly called a "neon tube light" to this day, has been installed tens of millions of times since its launch last century – in residential buildings but mainly in industry. "T8" stands for a tube with a diameter of eight eighths of an inch, equal to around 26 millimetres. Its smaller counterpart, T5, measures five eighths of an inch – i.e. around 16 millimetres.
The main reason that the T8 became so popular to this day was originally its high luminous efficacy compared to that of incandescent lamps. This is achieved through a combination of a converting layer inside the glass tube and a filling consisting of mercury and inert gas.
The EU has nevertheless heralded the end of fluorescent tube lights – for many reasons. By doing so, the Commission is keeping pace with technical progress and taking action to protect the environment. On the one hand, far more energy-efficient solutions are now available and, on the other hand, the mercury vapour used in the fluorescent tube lights has long posed a risk to health and the environment, especially during disposal.
The EU aims to save 49 terawatt-hours of electricity
With the Ecodesign Regulation, which came into force in 2019, the EU is aiming to save more than 49 terawatt-hours by 2030 through using energy-efficient devices – this is almost equal to one tenth of Germany's total annual demand for electricity. An example from industry illustrates how replacing T8 fluorescent lamps can play a major role here. If 50,000 fluorescent lamps with 58 watts each are replaced in a refinery by LED light fittings with a comparable light output, more than six million kilowatt-hours can be saved year on year with an average daily switch-on duration of twelve hours. There is huge potential at chemical sites too. For instance, it is estimated that chemical giant BASF uses more than 200,000 luminaires in Ludwigshafen alone.
The EU Commission has recognised the potential savings that can be made here. This is why Regulation 2019/2020/EU laying down ecodesign requirements for light sources defines far more stringent requirements for lamps – with the result that T8 lamps in lengths of 600, 1200 and 1500 mm are no longer allowed to be put on the market from 1st September 2023 onwards. In February 2022, the end of fluorescent lamps was even brought forward. With 12 new delegated directives associated with the RoHS Directive (2011/65/EU) – a regulation governing the placing on the market of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment – the EU Commission did away with exceptions for the use of mercury in lighting fixtures. As a result, T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps will no longer be allowed to be put on the market from 25th August 2023 onwards. From this point on, retailers in the EU will only be able to sell off their remaining stock.
Exceptions for hazardous areas
But as is often the case in life, there are exceptions to this rule too. The EU defines these in Annex III to Directive 2019/2020/EU. Light sources and separate control gear which are used in hazardous areas or for emergency lighting are relevant to industrial companies and the process industry in particular. However, this does not give them free rein. This is because, in accordance with the new directive, the fluorescent lamps used there also have to be "according to the legislation mentioned", including Directive 2014/34/EU (ATEX), and also have to be "specifically tested for the mentioned operating condition or application according to relevant Member States legislation".
The wording in the Official Journal of the European Union dated 5th December 2019 makes it sounds as though the partly negative experiences encountered when phasing out other equipment or procuring it from less trustworthy sources are still very present for legislators. For fluorescent lamps in specific applications, the exception expressly requires evidence that "the product has been specifically approved for the mentioned operating condition or application".
Planning the shift to LED technology
While the defined exceptions aim to ensure that no untested lamps or lamps of insufficient quality are used, especially in sensitive applications, users also have to take market mechanisms into consideration in their spare parts planning. Industry should expect to see the price of the few still officially sellable light sources to rise sharply due to the dramatic drop in manufactured quantities. It's good to build up stocks of lamps but it's better to have already planned or started the changeover to modern light sources. It is also likely that the price of LED light fittings will increase once there is no alternative to these from September onwards.
Against this backdrop, a rapid shift to LED light fittings as a fully fledged alternative to fluorescent lamps becomes more appealing. Replacing luminaires using fluorescent lamps with LED luminaires pays off in many different ways at once. The lower energy costs – an LED solution requires just around half as much electricity compared to a fluorescent tube light with comparable light output – are just one aspect, albeit an increasingly important one. If a company has set itself sustainability targets, replacing fluorescent lamps with LED light fittings will soon achieve the desired outcome of reducing the electricity demand for lighting.
Anyone who switches their light fittings with fluorescent lamps over to LED systems can also apply for an environment grant. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action provides grants of up to 20% for investments in LED technology. The grants apply to replacing existing lighting systems as well as to control and regulation technology. For this grant scheme, it is important to note that the grant application must be placed before starting the renovation project. The grant scheme runs until 31st December 2030.
Maintenance costs are a crucial factor
Something that is often overlooked when buying light fittings is that higher investment costs, like those incurred when using LED light fittings, usually account for the smallest proportion of life-cycle costs. In the long term, maintenance costs are far more critical. The service life of fluorescent lamps is only one quarter to one fifth of the service life of comparable LED light fittings, while their luminous intensity noticeably decreases during this period.
In the process industry, replacing lamps during system maintenance, particularly in hazardous areas, is a time-consuming and complex process. Fewer maintenance cycles for LED light fittings with a service life of between 50,000 and 100,000 hours means huge cost savings for users. This is because a risk assessment has to be drawn up and appropriate protective measures taken each time a maintenance task is performed in a hazardous area. What's more, only specially qualified staff are permitted to plan and carry out work in hazardous areas – otherwise there could be liability issues.
And the fact that LED light fittings can be digitalised and therefore monitored is yet another reason to switch to them. Since light is relevant to safety for systems in the process industry, lighting needs to be inspected on a regular basis – or even weekly for emergency luminaires. Manual inspections can be replaced by digitalisation using the digital addressable lighting interface (DALI), which is standardised in accordance with IEC 62386. This not only makes it possible to control light fittings individually, but also to constantly monitor them. In addition to replacing inspections, this also offers the option of defining individual maintenance cycles and planning maintenance dates for each light fitting.
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