Lights out on incandescent bulb production at Toshiba

The company ends a 120-year manufacturing history of the products

Toshiba ended production of mass-market incandescent light bulbs on Wednesday, putting to a close a 120-year manufacturing history of the products.

The company, which is one of Japan's largest makers of lighting products, had planned to halt production next year but brought up the date by a year. It will now focus on more energy efficient products including LED (light-emitting diode) lights, which contain a handful of white LEDs and draw a fraction of the power of incandescent bulbs.

Incandescent bulbs are inefficient because the vast majority of the power consumed is converted and released as heat and not as light. LED lights are several times more efficient.

Toshiba traces its history in incandescent bulb production back to 1890 and the start of bulb production at Hakunetsu-sha, a company that would eventually merge into Toshiba and was Japan’s first manufacturer of incandescent light bulbs.

Production began at just 10 bulbs a day but peaked in 1973 at 78 million bulbs per year. Last year Toshiba produced 7 million incandescent bulbs versus 14 million compact florescent bulbs. It also began manufacturing LED lights, which at present are largely aimed at commercial users because of their higher price tag.

Incandescent light bulb production at other companies is expected to end in the coming years as regulations come into force banning their sale. Governments around the world are keen to promote the use of more energy-efficient lighting products.

At the forefront of the push has been Australia, which began regulating the sale of incandescent and older florescent lighting products from last year. The government changes are expected to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 28 million tons over 12 years and save the average household A$50 (US$46) per year.

In the next few years similar regulations will come into force in a handful of countries, including the European Union and the U.S. Most of the restrictions make exceptions for specialist incandescent bulbs for which LED or florescent alternatives are not readily available. Toshiba will also continue small-scale manufacturing of these devices.

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