How much CO2 does a light bulb create?

You might well be confused by all this talk about Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and light bulbs. Why do the government and environmental authorities say that the move to energy saving light bulbs is so important and why has legislation been put in place to progressively ban the incandescent light bulb. Some people say, a light bulbs is a sealed glass unit so how can it produce any CO2 anyway?

Well it is not the light bulb itself but it is the CO2 created in the generation of the electricity that the light bulb consumes. Now clearly the amount of C02 created will depend on the type and the efficiency of the power station which is worst for coal power stations but if your electricity is generated by wind power then your light bulb will not be responsible for creating any CO2 at all during its operation. But right now the majority of electricity is generated by coal powered stations so lets look at the figures for those.

Average CO2 emissions (in Grams) for generating 1KWh electricity (by source):

Source Grams of CO2 produced
Coal 870
Oil 650
Natural gas 487
Nuclear energy 16
Hydropower 20
Wind energy 11

Source –

Lighting Technology (800 Lumens) Daily Kwh Consumed (@8hr) Annual Kwh Consumed (@8hr/day) Co2 Produced (Coal Based Power Generation)
Incandescent (60 Watts) 0.48 175.2 152.42 Kg
Halogen (42 Watts) 0.34 124.1 107.96 Kg
CFL (14 Watts) 0.11 40.15 34.93 Kg
LED (9 Watts) 0.07 25.55 22.23 Kg

Power Station Pollutants

The 3 main pollutants produced by a powers station are:-

  1. Sulphur Dioxide, which is responsible for acid rain, is produced at 20 tons per year for a 1 Mega Watt mini electricity generating station
  2. Nitrogen Oxide, which is responsible for smog, is produced at 20 tons for a 1 Mega Watt mini electricity generating station
  3. Carbon Dioxide CO2, which is thought to be responsible for global warning, is produced at 7500 tons for 1 Mega Watt mini electricity generating station

Now when you consider that a typical commercial electricity generating station would be 500 Mega Watt capacity then it is clear to see that the burning of coal produces massive amounts of pollutants.

Then looking at CO2 in more detail, if you had a 100 watt light bulb and left it on all year then the generating station would create 750kg of CO2 during that year. Now it is unlikely that you would have a light bulb on continuously by lets say you have the light bulb on for 4 hours each day then that is still responsible for the creation of 125kg of CO2. So that means that if you change your light bulb for an energy saving CFL which will only consume 80% of the energy then you will help save the environment by reducing CO2 emissions by 100kg every year.

Then to put this in perspective in 2007 around 19% of all electricity generated was used for lighting purposes which is a very significant proportion. This means that a reduction in energy consumption in lighting has a major impact on overall CO2 emissions.

The other key fact to put this into perspective is that electricity generation account for around 70% of the CO2 emissions for cars and three times the total emissions from aviation as quoted by the International Energy Association (IEA). Clearly with these statistics then the migration from the incandescent light bulb to the energy saving light bulb will be a major contributor in reducing CO2 and global warming.

5 thoughts on “How much CO2 does a light bulb create?”

  1. Some people just don’t get it, like my boyfriend who couldn’t interpret the real meaning of this section on your post “CO2 anyway…
    Well it is not the light bulb itself but it is the CO2 created in the generation of it” this is it, you just nailed it down buddy.

  2. Interesting that a news article is what made your decision. Going carbon neutral is a step yet not a sustainable solution. If you support the environmental cause and have reduced your consumption as much as possible while making economic sense I would say it is not a bad next step. Other things that you can do is sponsor environmental causes that you believe in, but more so get involved and informed on the issues and political policies that are being made around your community, city, state/province, country.

  3. Thanks for putting this subject into understandable terms. I always thought that the only waist product of coal burning was CO2! (And maybe CO with incomplete combustion—) But it’s very interesting that Nitrogen Oxide is the substance responsible for smog! I must thank you for this post, it actually made me come to terms with pollution! Now I am doing my part for the environment and i hope anyone who reads this can find it in their heart to do the same!

  4. I just sent this post to a bunch of my friends as I agree with most of what you’re saying here and the way you’ve presented it is awesome. I personally care for the environment and I think the way you written this post not only is very effective, but also reaches a wider audience than most by starting on something small which you can benefit from; energy saving light bulbs.

  5. hahaha. I do love these single sided discussions.

    How much more CO2 is created in the manufacture of the more complicated energy efficient bulbs? Then add in the fact that energy efficient bulbs never last as long as the old school ones. Putting ten years or fifteen years on the packaging is just marketing tosh. In reality, I find they last less than 1 year.

    So the truthful answer to energy efficiency is to use lower wattage bulbs and use them less, i.e. turn off during the day.

    Alas the bulb manufacturers have swing a right yarn and got us all paying bloody £6 for a 1 year bulb!!!!! Who is laughing, and it isn’t the ecology!!!!!

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