EU Proposes Ban on Incandescent Lamps in Theatres

The Stage reported yesterday that “The European Union is considering banning tungsten halogen lamps in entertainment lighting, due to environmental concerns over their energy inefficiency.”  There are so many reasons this is hopelessly misguided.  Let me list a few.

First, the energy consumption of an entertainment venue is so low because the usage is so low, even for a Broadway or West End production with 500 lights.  These theatres run eight shows a week, and average two hours per performance. That’s 16 hours per week, which is only one day of a retail or office space.  So a theatre’s monthly hours of operation is equal to only four days of many other building types.

Second, the energy consumption is much lower than the connected load implies.  500 lights at 575W equals 287,500W.  However, there’s never a time at which every light is on, much less on at full.  A dark, dramatic scene may use only 5% of the total lighting equipment, and that won’t be a full brightness.  One rule of thumb is that the usage of theatrical lighting is about 50%, so the 287,500W of connected load comes to only 2,300 kWH per week.  That’s for huge shows. An off-off-Broadway theatre or community theatre with only 75 lights and five performances per week uses only 108 kWH per week.

Third, the impact on the entertainment industry, especially smaller and poorer companies, would be devastating.  Yes, there are retrofit kits for ETC Source4 lights.  However, all other brands of lekos, Fresnels, PARS, striplights, cyc lights, followspots, etc. don’t have retrofits.  Tens of thousands of perfectly good equipment would have to be scrapped, but with replacement lights costing thousands of dollars (or pounds) many companies would not be able to replace the lost lights resulting in theatres literally going dark.

Fourth, these theatres would need new power and data distribution.  Nearly all LED lights for the entertainment industry have on-board dimming and need to be connected to constant power, not dimmed power.  But, nearly all lighting circuits in theatres are connected to dimmers.  And, these LED lights need connections to the stage lighting control system, but this is an exponential growth in the number of data lines and the number of data parameters that need to be controlled.  So, not only would theatres need new lighting equipment, but they’d need new control systems as well.  Great for theatre consultants like Studio T+L, but ruinously expensive for theatre, opera, and music venues.

Fifth (I’m not done yet!) the quality of light and lighting will suffer.  The most obvious impact is flicker of lights when they are dimming which, despite the assurances of most manufacturers, is a real, pervasive problem.

Why am I so heated about this topic?  Because if it goes through in the UK some bright light of a state or federal legislature will think we should follow their lead.  Again, it would be ruinously expensive for many, many performing arts companies.  The entire lighting industry is converting to LEDs.  In architectural lighting there are very few reasons to decide against using LEDs, so most new installations are mostly LED.  The same is true in the entertainment industry.  However, there is an enormous base of existing equipment for which there are no retrofit options.  Rendering that equipment useless by removing replacement lamps from the market is outrageously heavy handed (and ham handed).  Let the industry organically continue its transition to LEDs, don’t force it.  The damage far outweighs the benefits.