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Energy Saving Starts with a Light Bulb

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Five 1-yuan (US$0.14) light bulbs for everyone.... On Saturday morning, Beijing residents in many communities queued up to buy the energy-efficient bulbs, which have a normal retail price of 10 yuan.

Zhang Youfang, a 60-year-old pensioner, spent 140 yuan on 20 more in addition to the five lights "on sale".

She used to work at the department of environmental protection design under the Central Engineering Institute for Non-ferrous Metallurgical Industries.

"The design of industrial equipment should always be environment-oriented. It's for the good of the country and people," Zhang said.

Last year, China promoted the use of 62 million energy saving bulbs nationwide. This year, the government allocated 600 million yuan to meet the target of 120 million.

The Beijing Municipal government cut another 40 percent off the original price, reducing each bulb to only 1 yuan.

Since late June, the 1-yuan bulbs have been selling in many communities on weekends. Every resident can buy five at the preferential price, and beyond that they will cost 7 yuan.

According to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, the city plans to promote 10 million energy saving bulbs.

A 9-watt energy-efficient compact fluorescent tube equals a traditional 40-watt incandescent bulb in brightness.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) estimates the bulbs will help save 6.2 billion kwh of electricity and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 6.2 million tons and sulfur dioxide by 62,000 tons in a year.

Statistics from the China Electricity Council and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology show that last year China consumed 3.42 trillion kwh of electricity and produced at least 1.1 million tons of sulfur dioxide in 2008. The figure for carbon dioxide exceeded 5 billion tons in 2007.

Like Zhang Youfang, many people bought more than the five bulbs covered by the preferential policy.

Zhang Guitian, 80, said he planned to use them in all the lights in his house and use environment-friendly paint to decorate his home this month.

"Emissions reduction and energy saving should really start from us ordinary people," he said.

In Zhang's community, 2,000 energy saving bulbs were sold in one day.

"We didn't need to do any advertising. The bulbs sold out very quickly. In fact, we can hardly meet the demand," said Hou Jun, of the community resident committee which helped arrange distribution.

More than 3 million energy-saving bulbs were also installed by institutions or public facilities, including government agencies, hotels, shopping malls, schools, hospitals, and subways.

The Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform is urging people to turn in incandescent light bulbs to waste treatment centers for safe disposal as materials inside such as lead and mercury can harm the environment.

In late July, the NDRC and the United Nations Development Program agreed on a project to phase out energy consuming incandescent lamps and promote low energy-consuming bulbs in China.

The four-year plan will get US$14 million from the Global Environment Facility.

China's production of incandescent lamps fell 23 percent year on year to 3.4 billion in 2008, while the output of compact fluorescent tubes rose by 14 percent to 4.8 billion.

Feng Jin, a 35-year-old operations manager with Nokia China, was out of town when the sale began.

"I was happy to learn that there will be another two sales in September and October. I plan to replace all the lights in my house and buy some more for backup."

Feng said he was inspired to protect the environment during last year's Beijing Olympic Games, when Beijing restricted the use of most vehicles through an odd-even license plate system.

The initiative took 45 percent of the cars off the roads and helped keep the air clean.

"At first I was so annoyed by the restrictions, but gradually I began to like it," he said. "Walking and taking a bus or spending 2 yuan in the subway... I don't need to worry about parking, and my beer belly shrank. It's really green and healthy."

For Zhang Shuang, an environmental activist and director of Nature Conservancy China branch, the promotion is not just a light bulb, but a lifestyle that will benefit both people and the planet.

"It will mean significant progress for the whole of society when energy saving becomes part of our consciousness," said Zhang.

(Xinhua News Agency August 2, 2009)