Change your bulbs, Moscow tells residents

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - Russia has launched its first major energy awareness campaign since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, bringing an unfamiliar sight to Moscow's streets: billboards urging people to switch to energy-saving light bulbs.

But Muscovites are not being encouraged to go green to save the planet.

Moscow's government has realized that the country's wasteful ways with energy could mean that before long there will not be enough fuel to go around.

"It's all about conserving energy supplies and nothing to do with the environment," Igor Bashmakov, head of the independent Center for Energy Efficiency, said of the campaign, launched at the start of the year.

The dangers of global warming have grabbed headlines and attention around the world - prompting a planned ban on incandescent light bulbs in Australia. But in Russia - the world's third-largest polluter - climate change is generally greeted with a shrug of the shoulders.

Persuading Russians to save energy is a difficult task. In a country with huge oil and gas reserves, many people see keeping lights on round the clock and driving gas-guzzling cars as their birthright.

Russia has become rich over the last few years by pumping oil and gas to hungry markets in the West, and by energy-intensive mineral and metal extraction.

Consuming and selling energy is high on the agenda, but saving it or shifting toward renewable sources such as solar, wind or hydro power, have not been a priority.

Poorly insulated Soviet-era apartment blocks leak heat through draughty windows and thin roofs. When ice and snow cover the streets, drain covers and gutters are ice-free because of the heat escaping through them.

City apartments are heated by municipal boilers which pump hot water into buildings through poorly insulated pipes that often run above the ground.

The temperature, controlled centrally, is usually high. The standard way for people to turn down the heat in their homes is to open the windows, sending clouds of steam out into the freezing air.

But last year temperatures in January fell to minus 35 Celsius (minus 31 Fahrenheit) forcing Muscovites to plug in electric heaters to keep warm.

The surge in electricity demand overwhelmed local power stations, triggering shortages and persuading authorities to switch gas bound for Europe back to the domestic market.

And to try saving energy.

Andrei Turnitsa, development director at Kosmos - a Russian company which sells energy-saving light bulbs under its own brand - said it was the shock of the power cuts that motivated Moscow's city government to persuade Muscovites to cut power use.

"Moscow's government asked us to become partners in an information program," Turnitsa said. "The aim was to explain to consumers that by buying energy-saving bulbs you can contribute to the city and to its energy saving program."

The new light bulb technology cuts energy use by around 80 percent by using ultra-violet rays and gas instead of heat to create light. The bulbs are familiar to consumers in developed economies but new to many in Russia.

Under the Moscow deal Kosmos pays for advertising across Moscow but is given a discounted rate as the scheme is termed a social information program.

The result is two different posters.

One shows the black outline of an old light bulb next to the slogan: "Save energy". The second is a black poster with yellow lights, some grayed out, bearing the same slogan beneath an old bulb with an arrow pointing to a new compact fluorescent lamp.

Environmentalists and others say this initiative is a drop in the ocean.

They say the Kremlin is shying away from the policy changes that would make a real difference: creating economic incentives to save energy, for example by raising subsidized prices for gas to market levels more quickly.

But Moscow's advertising campaign is having some impact.

"I went and bought three of the new bulbs," 23-year-old Nastya Meshkova said between drags of her cigarette during a break from the photo shop in central Moscow where she works.

She stared up at the black and yellow advert. "It's important to save energy and if it's going to save my energy bill of course I'll do it," she said.


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