03/09/2012 10:06 BST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 GMT

Don't Hate Me Because I'm European: Why You Should be Glad the EU Banned the Incandescent Light Bulb

A version of this article previously appeared on

President Obama had a hard time selling the US's weatherization program to a sceptical Congress: insulation is a lot less attractive than visible clean tech like solar panels. So he relied on his charm, declaring memorably that insulation was, in fact, sexy. "Here's what's sexy about it -- saving money," he said, to laughter and applause.

Few are as charming as President Obama, and here's an even more difficult sell: getting the British press to believe that European ecodesign regulations, which ban energy-wasting products, are a good thing. There's formidable media opposition: the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, and Daily Express have all run stories gleefully telling people how they can get round the incandescent light bulb ban, which came into force on Saturday.

The truth is that regulation is boring at best and occasionally unpopular - EU regulation doubly so. But, in Obama-speak, here's what's really sexy about it:

- £158: the amount that ecodesign regulations could save each household per year by 2020.

- £26 billion: the total UK savings over the lifetime of proposed EU ecodesign regulations.

- 2x (well, nearly*) greater savings expected from EU ecodesign than the Green Deal, ECO and smart metering programmes combined.

These aren't fairytale numbers either. Efficiency regulation works: the compulsory shift in 2005 to condensing boilers has saved UK consumers £800 million this year alone. But, unlike condensing boiler regulations, ecodesign regulations are decided in Europe and as a result are mired in Eurosceptic objection. The addition of Europe into the mix makes the largely uncontroversial - saving money - controversial.

In Japan, where there is no such controversy, the most efficient air conditioner is 20% more efficient than in the EU, largely because widespread public support allows the government to push manufacturers to make products more efficient. In the US, President Bush banned products with energy wasting standby modes 8 years before the EU managed it, because everyone agreed it was so obviously good for consumers.

In the UK, media campaigns against light bulb regulations and broader tabloid antipathy towards Europe sap the political will to push for better products. Even the most hardened British Europhile won't pick a fight with the Mail when those opposing regulations like the light bulbs ban pose as consumer champions, defending plucky homeowners from 'Eurocrats' bent on meddling.

The truth is that opposing efficiency just because it's decided in Brussels leaves consumers much worse off: an extra £158 worse off per household per year. This is gesture politics we can't afford in the UK, especially as the rising price of gas has just put energy bills up by another nine per cent, a trend which shows little sign of slowing.

The US and Japan rely heavily on efficiency regulation because it's common sense. Ecodesign gives consumers what they want - clean clothes, fast computers and warm homes - and a lower energy bill. You don't have to love the EU to love lower energy bills: be Eurosceptic, but don't be daft.

*It's actually 1.75x - £158 from products policy vs £90 from Green Deal, ECO, and smart metering combined.