The European Union is looking to join other parts of the world in efforts to slash energy consumption by pushing for an increased use of energy-saving light bulbs.

European leaders agreed Friday to ask the EU's executive arm to work out a plan over the next two years on how to promote the use of fluorescent bulbs, following the example of Australia, Chile and other countries that are phasing out incandescent ones.

The standard incandescent bulb, developed for the mass market more than 125 years ago, consists of a metal filament glowing white-hot and surrounded by an inert gas. They have become a target of advocates for energy efficiency because they lose most of their energy as heat.

The European Commission recentlyestimated that the switch to"green" bulbs would cut the average household's electricity usage by60 per cent, while reducing carbon emissions bymillions of tonnesannually.

"We need to give people a little time to change all their bulbs. We are not saying they should throw out all bulbs in their house today, but everybody should start thinking about what's in the shops," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who led the summit talks.

"Most of the bulbs in my flat are energy-saving bulbs [but] they're not quite bright enough so sometimes when I'm looking for something that's dropped on the carpet I have a bit of a problem," she acknowledged.

Some leaders looked amused when, in the middle of questions on climate change, they were asked by reporters about the light bulb plan.

"I assume the light bulbs in the presidential palace are energy-saving but I don't know — I'm not in charge of that, really," Polish President Lech Kaczynski said with a smile.

The European Commission already has called on Europeans to turn off energy "vampire appliances" such as TVs, phone chargers and modems that drain electricity when in standby mode — a move that would save consumers up to $110 a year — and replace white bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives.

"Banning old-fashioned light bulbs across the EU would cut carbon emissions by about 20 million tonnes a year," said Caroline Lucas, a British Green party member of the European Parliament.

Australia to ban incandescent bulbs

Australia's government announced in late February that it would ban incandescent bulbs in three years and replace them with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. The government estimatedthe movewould cut 800,000 tonnes from Australia's current greenhouse-gas emissions levels by 2012.

In Chile, the government has launched an energy efficiency plan to save 1.5 per cent of power annually by encouraging, among other proposals, more efficient appliances and low-consumption light bulbs.

Oil-rich Venezuela is handing out energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs to every home and planning to invest oil dividends in manufacturing solar panels as an alternative energy source.

Cuba's Fidel Castro launched a similar program two years ago, sending youth brigades into homes and switching out regular bulbs for energy-saving ones to help battle electrical blackouts around the island.