An energy-efficient compact flourescent light bulb, left, and an incandescent bulb.
An energy-efficient compact flourescent light bulb, left, and an incandescent bulb. - 
Listen To The Story


Kai Ryssdal: As of today, the European Union has turned off the power for most incandescent light bulbs. Retailers can sell off what they have in stock, but the classic frosted bulbs of 60 watts or more will soon be no more. The idea is to move consumers over to compact fluorescents. And the same change is coming here in 2012.

The light from flourescents is colder you could say, but they use a lot less energy. And they'll help the EU reduce greenhouse gas emissions too. Still, once you tell consumers anywhere that they can't have something, they want it. From Germany, Curt Nickisch reports now that the ban has touched off a run on incandescent light bulbs.

CURT NICKISCH: An elderly customer is raiding the light bulb rack in a Berlin hardware store. What should I get?, she asks her husband on her cell phone. Since all bulbs 60 Watts or higher have sold out, she buys what's left: a stack of 40-Watt bulbs.

Store saleswoman Birgit Seelmann says Germans have been hoarding the classic light bulb.

BIRGIT SEELMANN: First of all they think the light is better. The light from the new ones is more harsh. And so they'd rather keep the old ones.

Seelmann wishes she could order more, because they've been good for business. Sales of incandescents at some stores have quadrupled over the last week. But really only in Germany, not other European countries.

Silke Karcher from the German Environment Ministry blames the media here for inciting the run. She says the people who are squirreling away all these Gluehlampen -- literally: glow lamps -- are wasting their money, because the traditional bulb uses five times more energy than a compact fluorescents. And ultimately they'll pay more.

SILKE KARCHER: The electricity price will go up. I mean it's has been going up rather steeply over the last few years and that won't change. So I think many of these lamps that are hoarded now, they won't be used.

By the time the U.S. plans to phase out incandescents, manufacturers hope to make compact fluorescents glow just as warmly as the old bulbs.

In Berlin, I'm Curt Nickisch, for Marketplace.