Return to Website

Number Watch Web Forum

This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.

Number Watch Web Forum
Start a New Topic 
View Entire Thread
Re: EU vacuum cleaners

I've got a feeling J that you're talking about a recent rather strange article on this topic by the Daily Telegraph's Christopher Booker. JEB actually mentions this particular article in a recent post "Meanwhile, back at the BBC".


I can't recall an article ever written by Booker where I disagree with what he's saying as much as this one. My main comments on it are:

1) Booker seems to be signing up to the EU's view that increased energy efficiency automatically saves energy. This whole issue is quite a bit more complicated, if you take account of something called the "Jevons Paradox" described in this Wikipedia article:


"In economics, the Jevons paradox is the proposition that as technology progresses, the increase in efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource. In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption."

2) Booker seems to be treating James Dyson as being an unbiased authority figure. In modern politically-correct Britain, Dyson seems to have managed to get himself regarded as Britain's greatest living engineer or inventor (with the man who invented the wind-up radio, Trevor Bayliss, possibly the runner-up). As I understand it, Dyson lobbied the EU to have a tougher 700w power limit imposed for vacuum cleaners rather than the recently imposed 1600W limit. Booker seems to think that Dyson is only interested in technical progress and meeting engineering challenges, but it should be noted that a tougher power limit might put some of Dyson's competitors, like smaller firms and less technically adept firms, out of business.

3) Booker is also trying to claim that high power vacuum cleaners (and old-style incandescent light bulbs) have not been banned, but I suspect that the EU's actions will result in a large drop in future sales, which would have to be regarded as an effective ban. You can still buy incandescent light bulbs via the internet, and I've heard that these are mainly industrial versions of the bulb (which have a better shock and vibration resistance than the domestic version, a useful feature for buying by mail order), but I suspect that overall sales of incandescent light bulbs are only a small fraction of what they were a few years ago.

4) Booker is arguing that domestic consumers can still buy commercial or industrial vacuum cleaners, but the EU directive actually does apply to commercial cleaners as well, and industrial vacuum cleaners would I think be a bit expensive and too large in size for domestic use. The definition of an industrial vacuum cleaner in the EU directive is "a vacuum cleaner designed to be part of a production process, designed for removing hazardous material, designed for removing heavy dust from building, foundry, mining or food industry, part of an industrial machine or tool and/or a commercial vacuum cleaner with a head width exceeding 0.5 metres". THe difference between an industrial and domestic vacuum cleaner is going to be a lot bigger than the difference between an industrial and domestic version of an incandescent light bulb.