The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) is considering new standards for lightbulbs in South Africa in a bid to move away from old, outdated and inefficient lighting technologies.

Responding in a recent written parliamentary Q&A, minister Ebrahim Patel said that his department called for public comment on the new standards in March 2021, and is currently in the process of finalising the new regulations.

He added that the new specifications are expected to be published in the government gazette by September 2022.

The specifications aim to improve the safety, performance and energy efficiency of lightbulbs approved for use in South Africa by phasing out inefficient and environmentally harmful lighting products, the South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi).

“For example, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) currently on the market would not meet the specifications; it is more likely that LEDs would become the preferred choice of lamp,” said Ashanti Mogosetsi, project manager at Sanedi in a 2021 explanatory note.

“Although CFLs are often known as ‘energy saving’ lamps, they contain mercury which can be harmful to humans and to the environment.”

Mogosetsi said that if CFLs make a technological advancement and meet these specifications in the future, then they could be legally sold. The purpose of the specifications is not to ban any particular lighting products, but to mandate their safety and performance standards, she said.

Currently, South Africa makes wide use of old and outdated lighting technology, which is known to be far less energy-efficient than modern lighting products such as LEDs, said Mogosetsi.

“Further, these old lamps also contain elements which cause environmental degradation when discarded.

“Mercury is extremely harmful to the environment, and in turn harms the health of people living in those environments,” explains Mogosetsi. Mercury is the most concerning component of CFL bulbs.”

A cost-benefit analysis by Nova Economics on the proposed specifications shows that while the environment is set to benefit from new regulations, South Africa’s economy will also see expected to see a boost.  The net economic benefit is expected to amount to R11.7 billion over 15 years – with a benefit-cost ratio of 27.4 to one.