Lighting, LEDs and Legislation

Getting residents up to speed on their options.

Unlike the old Edison incandescent light bulbs, LED lights don’t suddenly burn out. “It’s a gradual process,” says Robert Horner, director of public policy for the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). “They fade away, getting dimmer and dimmer. That’s why a standard is needed for defining the life of the product.” This is the role of the (IES), which is tasked with helping the lighting industry and the public make a smooth transition to new light sources such as LEDs.

Lighting standards were part of a bipartisan energy bill, The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), signed by President George W. Bush in 2007. This piece of energy policy legislation was passed to make better use of our resources and help the country become energy-independent. Consumers will continue to have a variety of lighting choices, including incandescent options, and halogen incandescents that already meet the standards are in stores now. There is currently no mandate to use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Consumers will have a range of better, smarter bulb choices including energy-efficient incandescents using halogen technology, CFLs and LEDs.

These changes are expected to result in savings. More efficient bulbs will reduce energy bills. Energy cost savings over time pay for more efficient bulbs (a matter of months in the case of CFLs). The average household is expected to save between $50 to over $100 per year. The expected national savings in the U.S. is over $10 billion a year.

Standards are changing around the globe. Many governments are proposing that incandescent light bulbs be phased out in an effort to switch over to more energy-efficient lighting alternatives like compact fluorescent lamps and LED lamps. Brazil and Venezuela began their phase-outs in 2005; the European Union and Australia began in 2009; Argentina, Russia and Canada in 2012; and the United States in 2014. Despite the promises of energy savings, the program has stirred controversy due to the potential for mercury pollution.

But lighting manufacturers stress that CFLs are safe to use in the home because no mercury is released when these bulbs are in use. However, in rare cases of breakage, careful clean up is necessary. Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ikea and other retailers—as well as some municipal governments—accept CFL bulbs for recycling. According to the Consumers Union, “CFLs save between two and 10 times more mercury from the environment than is used in the bulb—their efficiency avoids mercury pollution that would otherwise be emitted from coal-fired power plants.”

Experts at a lighting legislation media lunch organized by GE Lighting during GreenBuild 2011 in Toronto shared a surprising statistic. According to the panel, only 35 percent to 40 percent of consumers are aware that incandescent bulbs are being phased out—so education and outreach are clearly needed. And, to help the public feel comfortable about new products being rolled out, according to Shelli Sedlak, GE Lighting’s North American Specification Engineering team manager, Federal Trade Commission labeling requirements will be implemented. “It’s the same concept as nutrition facts on [food products],” she says.

GE Lighting’s full line of light-emitting diode (LED) GE Energy Smart incandescent replacement bulbs are anticipated to be on store shelves within the next 16 months. This November marks the arrival of the 13-watt GE Energy Smart LED, a dimmable 60-watt incandescent replacement bulb. GE’s dimmable 75-watt and 100-watt replacement LED bulbs—likely 18-watt and 27-watt products, respectively—are expected to arrive on store shelves in late 2012. All the bulbs will deliver light for over two decades based on three hours of use per day.

According to Pam Horner, senior director of government and industry relations for Osram Sylvania, “If you are using general service incandescent lamps in your facility, then you already know that there are energy-efficient replacements on the market. But, beginning in 2012, decisions about alternatives will be front and center. You will need to be keenly aware of the choices available to you and how each choice can be expected to perform.”

In terms of technology options, she points out that the EISA does not mandate the purchase or use of one specific technology option. There are at least three different options on the market today that can be used to replace the less efficient standard incandescent lamps being phased out. All of them save energy compared with the old standard types, notes Horner, but you will need to pay more attention than ever to the performance characteristics of these replacements:

■ Halogen—a kind of “souped up” incandescent. Halogen replacement lamps are about 25 percent more efficient than standard incandescent and are easily dimmable. Rated life ranges from slightly longer to three times longer.

■ Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL)—about three to four times the efficiency of incandescents. Note that there are dimmable versions, but you should ask the lamp manufacturer for a list of dimmers compatible with the dimmable lamp. CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury to ensure efficient operation, so in many states they are subject to proper disposal regulations at end of life.

■ Light emitting diode (LED)—a solid state product with three to four times the efficiency of an incandescent and far longer life. There are dimmable versions, but like CFLs, it is important that you obtain a list of compatible dimmers from the LED lamp manufacturer.

Right now, about 70 percent of the energy being consumed in North America is used by commercial and residential buildings. We will need to reduce that amount drastically in the coming years. Robert Horner noted that lighting affects us in a much broader way than other energy guzzlers like air conditioning. “Whether you have very low light levels—or very high levels—somehow the human eye adapts. But improper lighting affects productivity and shapes our perception of how comfortable we feel in a space.” And the older we get, the more light we need. Next year, the IES will host a symposium that addresses “Lighting and Aging.” He added, “We’ll be looking at how do we give the aging population the extra lighting they need while still staying within efficient energy guidelines.”

Other trends the panelists will be watching include an increased use of daylighting and LEDs; net zero energy buildings; and wind and other recoverable energy sources. From now and through 2020 they expect to see even more energy regulations including those on LEDs. Anything that uses power—motors, air conditioning, refrigerators—will be looked at every five to six years. Also, they noted that the price and availability of rare earth elements from China will likely affect the pricing of lighting products going forward.

Lighting Facts

According to the Lumen Coalition, a group of organizations and professionals united to educate consumers about energy-efficient lighting choices, the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) is not banning incandescent bulbs and it is not forcing people to buy CFLs, but it does require that light bulbs use less energy. The following benchmarks have been set:

■ Beginning January 1, 2012, light bulbs as bright as a 100-watt traditional incandescent bulb can use no more than 72 watts of electricity;

■ Starting January 1, 2014, the standard will apply to 60 watt bulbs, which will not be able to use more than 43 watts, and 40-watt bulbs will not be able to use more than 29 watts; and

■ Additional energy savings will begin in 2020.

The light bulb standard has led to new options like halogen incandescent bulbs and LEDs, in addition to CFLs. For more information, visit Lumen Coalition at www.lumennow.org.