19 July 2011  – I’m sure most of you remember the compact fluorescent light bulb “swap for free” scheme  under the NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme and the Victorian Energy Efficiency Certificates legislation.

Over a number of years many people signed over the carbon reduction credits in return for some free energy saving light bulbs.

These compact fluorescent lamps turned out to contain mercury and many of them were of poor quality leading to insufficient lighting and/or lamp failure within months.

Most organisations are trying to reduce their environmental impacts (read energy costs) using a variety of technologies and practices.

Government assistance is available for businesses and consumers in many forms but the opportunities do not always turn out as promised.
For example: rooftop solar PV in NSW.

The federal government solar credits scheme has just been reduced, greater than expected demand for solar PV has caused the price of Renewable Energy Certificates/ Small Scale Technology Certificates to drop.

The NSW Gross Feed in Tariff has ended recently after a highly overpriced introductory tariff created unrealistic profits for those who took advantage of the scheme.

As a result a lot of small businesses and residential consumers have been duped into buying poor quality systems through misleading promises of potential income and savings.

Complaints are rolling in at an increasing level and many solar suppliers are going out of business.

A similar but broader scheme is currently operating in NSW creating Energy Saving Certificates for organisations that can provide technologies and products that lead to energy reduction.

The light bulb merchants are coming out again with “free energy saving lamps” in return for assignation of the ESC’s.

This scheme is certainly better managed than previous schemes and requires eligible products to be approved, installed and various records kept.

However the potential to mislead consumers for an attractive profit still exists. Things to consider in terms of lighting products are:

  • How long will the lamps last? What is the warranty? And will they provide enough light for my application?
  • What do replacement lamps cost?
  • Can I replace them myself or do I need an electrician?
  • Are there any hazardous substances in the lamps?

Government assistance schemes such as these are not the best way to achieve energy efficiency.
Energy efficiency measures need to be able to stand up commercially on their own.
Government assistance schemes, unless they are so rigorous to almost be unworkable, always attract a lot of dodgy operators who just want to make a quick buck.

That does not mean the government should not be providing funding and investment mechanisms for developing and scaling of new technologies particularly when fossil fuels already attract hefty subsidies.

Attracting investment in large scale renewable energy generation is essential along with a range of measures to reduce demand and increase efficiency.
There are solutions that will save you money and pay for themselves in three years or less while continuing to provide savings without additional expenditure for a long time.

Richard Nicol

Like anything if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Make sure you do the sums before agreeing to purchase or even receive for free any subsidised energy efficiency measures.

Look at replacement and maintenance costs, look at equipment life and warranty and look at the return on investment including a factor for increasing energy prices.

Have a look at cost abatement curves, which compare the benefit/cost of EE technologies in relation to a price on carbon.

Richard Nicol is the director of Building Green Business which advises small to medium sized businesses on a wide range of sustainability and energy saving initiatives.

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