Demand for Energy-Saving Bulbs Has Suppliers Rushing to Keep Up

THE rapid growth of electric utility programs that encourage energy-efficient lighting is making it hard for manufacturers to keep up with demand. When Boston Edison awarded Osram a contract for 300,000 compact fluorescent bulbs last year, the purchase ``ate up all their inventory,'' making it hard for other utilities to get their orders filled on time, says Patrick Doyle, manager of the utility's energy management department.

Osram and other manufacturers, including General Electric, Philips Lighting, GTE Sylvania, and Panasonic, are all moving to increase capacity, according to a recent survey by Arthur D. Little, a Boston consulting firm.

Still, production capacity will lag demand for about two years for compact fluorescent bulbs, and for six months to a year for electronic ballasts, according to the Arthur D. Little report.

These products, which use less energy and last longer than traditional fluorescent bulbs or the mechanical ballasts that control them, have been promoted with rebates by electric utilities, mostly in the Northeast and West Coast. The utilities gain by avoiding costs for new plants.

The study found that manufacturers are ``understandably cautious about expanding capacity'' because they are uncertain how fast demand will grow. Demand has been tied so closely to utility policies. Also, adding new manufacturing capacity is costly.

However, suppliers that take a conservative view of demand growth ``may see their market share go down,'' says Steven Nadel, a senior associate with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

The Arthur D. Little study also has a bullish outlook on demand: ``New utility conservation programs continue to spread across the country at rapid rates.... Rising energy costs, and product technology improvements are likely to combine with these forces to fuel demand beyond recent growth rates.''

Like the bulb suppliers, makers of electronic ballasts are adding to their manufacturing capacity. Magnatek, Electronic Ballast Technology, Valmont Electric, and Thomas Industries all said they expect capacity to at least double in 1991. Advanced Transformer and Etta Industries also plan increased capacity.

The tight market for electronic ballasts ``is probably going to be solved sooner'' than the lag in compact bulbs, Mr. Nadel says.

Imports of electronic ballasts have grown from less than 1,000 units in 1985 to 5.9 million in 1990.

The US market is still primarily supplied from within the country, however, with US shipments totaling 450,000 in 1985 and 14.7 million in 1990. These figures are from the US Department of Commerce and Arthur D. Little estimates.

Compact fluorescent bulbs are manufactured in the US, Japan, Europe, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, and China, Nadel says.

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