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Help Wanted to Save Tungsten

In response to the news that the EU is once again contemplating banning the use of tungsten halogen light bulbs in entertainment lighting, the Association of Lighting Designers (ALD) is coordinating a high speed effort to gather reasons why this ban should not move forward, particularly from those who would be materially affected by such a ban, in time to create a formal response before the end of the proposal's consultation period on January 26, 2018.

"The ban is not strictly new," notes acclaimed, award-winning lighting designer Michael Hulls, who is leading the effort as a continuation of his earlier 'Save Tungsten' campaign. "The EU has been moving towards banning the use of all tungsten light sources for some years. However, theatre lighting has, until now, had an exemption from this ban. This exemption is what the EU is now proposing to end. Were that to happen, it would mean that by 2020 we would no longer be able to obtain bulbs to keep our stocks of familiar, reliable tungsten theatre lighting fixtures, from the Source Four all the way back to the Patt 23, working."

"What the EU is proposing is a ban on 'placing in the market," notes architectural lighting design Kevan Shaw, who has been involved with these regulations for some years, keeping an eye out on behalf of the theatrical as well as the architectural lighting community. "The intent is that product in the supply chain can be sold, but that no new product can be manufactured or imported, and new product cannot legitimately be CE Marked, which can prevent installation or use under contractor's or end users' health-and-safety policies."

The EU guidance document does note that banning tungsten light bulbs in this way would potentially lead to large amounts of equipment quickly becoming redundant, but suggests that the EU's feeling is that the overall power savings mean that this "sharp shock" approach would be worth it.

"Unfortunately, that seems to us to fail to consider three key points," Hulls notes. "The first is that a number of studies have shown that the power used by tungsten lighting in theatre is very, very low: because we dim lights across performances that usually just run for an hour or two, the actual power consumed is a tiny fraction of the connected load. The second is that for many venues, particularly smaller venues, the cost of having to replace their existing, often long-serving, rig of tungsten fixtures -- and possibly also the infrastructure such as dimmers supporting that rig -- with expensive new LED fixtures would be prohibitively, sometimes ruinously expensive.

"The third is that in recent years, we have been adopting LED lighting fixtures, where they give us new lighting possibilities and perform as well as or better than existing fixtures. In moving lights, in particular, there is a rapid movement to dimmable LED sources instead of always-on arc sources. In other words we as lighting designers are already considering all of the tools available to us -- but despite their being many new tools, some very good, we sometimes still just can't find anything else that can replicate the very particular properties of tungsten."

"To ban, and force the scrapping of much perfectly good equipment, on the basis of incorrect assumptions about how much power would be saved seems counter-productive, and crazy. But we do urgently need evidence to support this argument, and so would welcome responses from anyone who has an interest in this, from the tiniest theatre to the largest, from designers, technicians, manufacturers -- everyone who still, even sometimes, turns to tungsten."

Responses are invited to the Save Tungsten email at the Association of Lighting Designers: savetungsten@ald.org.uk. In particular, responses from theatres where a blanket ban on tungsten would present immediate problems are sought. Responses are encouraged as soon as possible, as the January 26th deadline for the end of the consultation period on the proposals is now very close indeed, and time will be required before that to collate responses and formulate appropriate suggestions.

"We all know why we still love tungsten," adds Johanna Town, chair of the Association of Lighting Designers, "but now we need to formulate how to present that love as a critical, practical argument as to why this still-unique tool should not be unilaterally banned. If this happens, it will affect everyone involved in stage lighting. So it is in your interest to reply, and we need you to reply soon. We look forward to hearing from you."


(12 January 2018)

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