The Aug. 3 announcement of the L Prize winner in the 60W replacement lamp category (“L Prize Winner Announced,” page 8) should have been an exciting and celebratory milestone for the lighting industry. Instead, the announcement only confirmed what was already a foregone conclusion—that the prize would go to Philips. One can't blame Philips for turning in its letter of intent when the competition was newly under way in 2008 (the competition was originally outlined in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007), and then submitting the 2,000 required samples of the lamp for the 18-month testing period. One can, however, be frustrated with the competition itself—in its format and its administration by the U.S. Department of Energy—as well as by other lighting manufacturers for their ambivalent approach to the program.
Let's start with the competition itself. It is a well-intentioned initiative, but its format was flawed from the start. It did not set hard and fast deadlines that would have established an even playing field. Instead, the open-ended nature of the entry process left a lot of gray area. Without a definitive schedule for submitting letters of intent followed by samples, so that the testing process could begin, the process was skewed before it even started. Yes, in March, the Lighting Science Group sent a letter of intent to submit; GE Lighting followed in July. But one has to wonder why either of them bothered at all? Were they trying to save face before the Aug. 3 announcement?
And now that the 60W category winner has been declared, “DOE has closed the 60-watt category and will not accept or evaluate further entries in this category,” according to the L Prize website. Yet this statement contradicts the DOE's description of the winner: “In each category, the first entrant to successfully meet the full competition requirements will receive the cash prize. Up to two additional entrants may be eligible for program partner promotions.” If the DOE has closed the 60W category, then how will they be able to select two additional entrants for these promotions?
“Any competition or race requires that there be at least two or more parties involved.”
As a competition administrator myself (of the AL Light & Architecture Design Awards), I do think the DOE had an obligation to reach out to all lighting companies and encourage them to submit in a timely fashion. Or, at the very least, I would have thought that the traditional big three lamp manufacturers—Philips, GE, and Osram Sylvania—would have jumped at the chance to outdo one another in the development of “the” LED replacement lamp. But perhaps the lighting industry has been so bent and twisted out of shape with the mergers and acquisitions of the past several years that this is no longer possible. And while I know that Philips is proud of their accomplishment, it must be a little bittersweet that their entry essentially went uncontested. So I have to wonder if the acknowledgement of being the L Prize winner is somehow diminished?
The competition format raises another concern: Is such a program really open to all lighting companies? Or did the sample requirement—2,000 lamps—eliminate the possibility of anyone other than a large, established manufacturer from participating?
The L Prize Competition does have two other categories, the PAR38 halogen replacement lamp and the 21st Century Lamp Prize. In January, the PAR38 category was put on hold with a vague explanation from the DOE that it was “reconsidering the program based on lessons learned from the 60W category.” Is this a recognition that the competition format needs to be reconsidered? And, as of press time, there is no word when the 21st Century Lamp Prize will commence.
Any competition or race requires that there be at least two or more parties involved. The L Prize only seems to have reinforced the status quo of government bureaucracy and dominant market players. The competition could have signaled so much more—as we attempt to integrate more energy-efficient lighting into our homes and workplaces—if it had really been an even playing field.