Compilers of light-bulb jokes may want to add a new one to their pages this year: How many mainstream journalists does it take to replace an incandescent bulb? None, apparently. They seem to prefer lamenting that the bulb shouldn’t have to be replaced at all.
With the third phase of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) having taken effect on Jan. 1—which applies the same 28-percent-higher energy-efficiency standard to 60W and 40W general service lamps that it had already applied to 100W and 75W bulbs over the last two years—major lamp manufacturers, retailers, and utilities are taking steps that could save the nation a considerable amount of energy. Because the 60W and 40W lamps make up more than 60 percent of standard household lamps sold in the U.S., the steady replacement of these older incandescents with more-efficient halogen incandescent lamps, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and LED lamps will cause a sea change in a sector that accounts for about 461 billion kWh of electricity each year, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates of residential and commercial lighting usage. That’s equivalent to about 12 percent of all U.S. consumption of electricity. Putting a 28 percent dent in that by reducing waste could offer cost-saving benefits that should be obvious even to those who remain indifferent to the environmental benefits.
“There are still about 3 billion screw-based sockets in U.S. homes that don’t have energy-efficient light bulbs in them,” says Noah Horowitz, director and senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s Center for Energy Efficiency, Energy & Transportation Program. “Once we get something that’s as efficient as a CFL or an LED in them, we can cut our nation’s electric bill by $13 billion a year. And that’s the equivalent amount of electricity saved [as is] generated by 30 large coal-burning power plants … the amount of electricity used by all the homes in Texas each year.”
Sticker shock, McGowan believes, will be a widespread reaction by shoppers who have not followed the legislation but are now seeing the prices of these alternative lamp options in stores. Thus far, it has largely been up to the lighting industry and nonprofit organizations to explain how better energy performance and longer lamp life will more than offset that up-front cost. “Not many people know that in EISA there was $10 million [per year] set aside for education, but it was never appropriated,” McGowan says. With the DOE’s outreach efforts striking him as “not enough to make even a ripple,” advocacy groups, such as the LUMEN (Lighting Understanding for a More Efficient Nation) coalition, have taken up the charge to inform the public.
The proliferation of disinformation hasn’t helped the situation. Observers of the politics surrounding EISA will recall earlier outbursts of rhetoric about the new standards “banning” the familiar incandescents or forcing consumers to buy CFLs, framing the issue within a discourse of coercion vs. freedom, instead of as, say, stages of technological evolution. Efforts by Republicans in Congress to reverse the provisions of EISA that affect lighting failed, as did an attempt in the South Carolina state legislature to nullify the federal law. In 2011, amid negotiations over a threatened government shutdown, Congress defunded the enforcement of EISA, but this symbolic action is moot: The law remains on the books, and America’s lighting manufacturers are complying with it. They have supported EISA since its enactment, preferring consistent federal guidelines to a patchwork of state-level regulations, and have treated the new standards not as a straitjacket but as an opportunity for wider product development.
EISA, it bears repeating, does not ban or impose any category of technology. It’s a performance standard, Horowitz points out, like those that the DOE have enforced in product categories for decades. Traditional incandescents that don’t meet the EISA mandates are, thus, no longer manufactured or imported. They will, however, remain on store shelves probably well into 2014, speculates Stan Mertz, director of retail operations at Applied Proactive Technologies in Springfield, Mass., and another of the panelists at Lutron’s December briefing. There are also 22 exempted categories of incandescents, he notes, including small appliance lamps below 40W, bug lamps, reflectors, rough service and vibration service lamps, and three-ways. (See “Legislating Lighting,” Jan/Feb 2008, and “Meet the Replacements,” Mar/Apr 2013.)
Today’s halogen incandescents do meet EISA standards, and they are the logical, familiar choice for consumers with a strong allegiance to the color temperature of conventional incandescents (2700K to 3000K). Halogen incandescents also perform as smoothly as their predecessors when installed in dimmers. With a moderately higher initial cost (twofold to threefold, or roughly $1 to $1.50, per lamp), a comparable lifespan (around 1,000 hours), and about 28 percent lower energy consumption for the same level of illumination (so that a 43W halogen incandescent is the equivalent of a 60W standard incandescent, both generating 800 lumens), the halogen lamp saves about $13 across 10 years of use, according to NRDC cost estimates.
One important point to make with clients—says Brooklyn, N.Y.–based lighting designer Jason Byron Teague, and a speaker at the Lutron panel—is that the EISA standard has helped drive an expansion of options. Consumers can now select from the three main lamp categories according to their relative preferences for efficiency, color, dimmability, and longevity as well as cost, appearance, and brand familiarity. Because LED products are evolving so quickly and attracting new entrants, there are also considerably more manufacturers than in the days when lamps came almost exclusively from the big three (Philips, Osram Sylvania, and General Electric) plus a handful of discount-level firms. The expanded field of hundreds of manufacturers, some of which are new to lighting, couples turbulent innovation with new questions to ask.
Choice Implies Complications
With more information and more variables come more idiosyncrasies and more decisions, particularly in retrofit scenarios. Some customers retain a poor general impression of energy-efficient lamps from the early days of CFLs, when that technology’s novelty—the spiral tube—was not always accompanied by close attention to light quality and truthful claims about dimmability. Dimming is particularly confusing for consumers, says Lutron spokesperson Amber Lutz: The company’s survey found that 72 percent of adults were unaware that CFLs and LEDs are dimmable only if indicated as such on the package. And the important “Not for use in dimmers” caveat often appears only in small type on the backs of many packages, says Lutron’s LED engineering leader Ethan Biery.
Resistance to the color temperature of CFLs (which can range from a warm 2700K to a cold 6000K) remains widespread, particularly for residential uses. “I always encounter a lot of resistance from my clients to anything that resembles fluorescent light,” Teague says. “They just don’t like the idea of fluorescent lighting in their homes.” This aversion occurs despite CFLs’ advantages over incandescents in energy saving (more than fourfold) and lamp life (typically up to 10 years). The presence of small amounts of mercury (less than 5 milligrams), a minor nuisance at recycling time and a somewhat worse nuisance in the event of breakage, is another disincentive for some buyers. So far, market penetration for CFLs has remained flat, at around 20 percent, McGowan says, since an initial peak around 2007.
When clients don’t warm to CFLs but still want better energy performance than they can get from halogens, Teague steers them toward LEDs, which he describes as “a more genuine replacement.” The NRDC makes a similar recommendation, says Horowitz, especially when dimmers are involved. The cost of these lamps has dropped from approximately $50 to near $10, and the expected lifetime can reach 25,000 hours. LEDs also offer optimal energy performance: A 10W LED produces the same 800-lumen output as the standard 60W incandescent. Between longer life and optimal efficiency, 10-year use of an LED costs about $26, not substantially different from a CFL.
Source: Lutron Electronics, “Consumer Knowledge of 60–40 Phase-out and Dimmer Knowledge” (2013)
Another source of confusion involves color-temperature expectations based on incandescents’ tendency to become warmer (more amber) when dimmed. LEDs don’t usually change color when the voltage is lowered, Biery says, so many people perceive their low-level light as cold. Color temperature, Horowitz suggests, is a matter of widely varying personal taste, sometimes with a cultural component. “In Southeast Asia, in warm climates, 5600K, the cool bluish-white look, is predominant,” he says. “Sometimes people prefer a bright, coolish white light for reading. But in other applications, they’ll say ‘I don’t like the way that light looks.’ ” Buyers who are new to the topic of color temperature should look for designations as “soft white” or “warm white” (the 2700K to 3000K range familiar from incandescents) or “daylight” (5000K—much higher and bluer).
Source: Lutron Electronics, “Consumer Knowledge of 60–40 Phase-out and Dimmer Knowledge” (2013)
Lutron offers a line of C•L dimmers, which it bills as compatible with all major lamp categories. Recognizing that confusion about compatibility could hold back the evolution and acceptance of the entire field, the company has set up a 24/7 hotline and an LED Control Center of Excellence. Working with more than 150 manufacturers, it has tested more than 1,000 products and compiled lists of some 200 lamps known to perform well with its dimmers (lutron.com/dimcflled).
The basics of consumer research and comparison apply to lamp, luminaire, and control purchases: buyers should check for Energy Star certification and for warranties. The EPA’s criteria for the Energy Star label include standards for lamp brightness, constant light output, color quality, efficiency, instant switch-on, dimmability without flicker, and amount of power draw in the off state, along with more general characteristics such as energy saving and durability (in the form of a minimum three-year warranty above the industry standard). Horowitz says that LED manufacturer Cree has begun offering 10-year warranties on its lamps—rare for any home product and unthinkable for incandescent lamps. An end-user may admittedly have little certainty that a manufacturer will still be in business in the event of a future warranty claim, but Horowitz does say that major retailers like the Home Depot will often honor manufacturers’ warranties.
The Transition to Thinking in Lumens
An important and overdue change in a consumer’s understanding of lighting should logically follow once EISA standards become familiar: abandoning the wattage-based lamp categories in favor of levels of actual illumination. Using wattage (an energy input) rather than light output as a criterion for categorizing lamps has never made a great deal of sense. Imagine if people shopped for cars on the basis of the gallons of fuel they consumed, with no reference to the resulting miles they’d travel on that fuel used. It is the ratio of output for that given input—miles per gallon or lumens per watt—that is the more pertinent piece of information.
The lumen is still an unfamiliar term to the general populace, and so manufacturers have begun the EISA era with prominent displays of familiar wattage equivalents on packaging. The Federal Trade Commission has also worked with manufacturers to develop a standard five-item Lighting Facts label (see “Just the Facts,” Jan/Feb 2009, bit.ly/1iMOXW7 and “FTC Evaluating Labeling System for Light Bulbs,” Jan/Feb 2010) that presents brightness in lumens, estimates yearly energy cost (based on three hours’ usage per day and an average utility price of 11 cents/kWh), lamp life, light appearance (on a warm-to-cool Kelvin scale), and energy consumption (in watts). CFLs are required to display an additional caution: “contains mercury.”
Source: Osram Sylvania, Socket Survey
Media and political friction over EISA is understandable in some respects. Thomas Edison’s lamp, Biery says, has had a run of more than 100 years, all while producing good light quality cheaply and raising no compatibility problems. It is a cultural icon, drawn above the head of any cartoon character who gets a fresh idea. And examples of modernization that never quite caught on aren’t hard to find: Horowitz recalls the Metric Conversion Act, which was passed during Gerald Ford’s administration and was no more effective than Thomas Jefferson’s metric-system advocacy had been two centuries before. Yet the more proximate and relevant precedents suggest that the transition to more-efficient lamps should be relatively uneventful, less like metric adoption and more like the shift from rotary phones to tone dialing or the conversion from analog to digital broadcast TV.
California, which was in the process of setting its own standard and served as a catalyst for the federal regulations, began its EISA transition a year earlier. The change to modern lamps, like the state’s earlier change to its Title 24 energy-efficient building code, has gone smoothly. In a more-resistant sector than lighting, Horowitz recalls, regulation opponents predicted dire consequences that turned out to resemble claims that the sky was falling. “We just set standards in California for big-screen TVs,” he says. “The industry said if we move forward with that, many of the stores would close, we’d lose jobs, and everybody would go out of state to buy a TV. The reality is [that] TVs today use 60 percent less energy than they did back in 2008, they have even more features and better pictures and are less expensive than those TVs [were] back then. So a lot of this is unnecessary hysteria and fear mongering.” In lighting, he notes, “the industry has really stepped up, both the traditional companies as well as lots of new innovative upstarts.”
Source: Osram Sylvania, Socket Survey
EISA, signed by President George W. Bush with broad bipartisan support (a fact its current Republican opponents forget), involves a rare level of corporate-government-nonprofit cooperation. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has joined the ALA and the Alliance to Save Energy on the LUMEN coalition’s steering committee. Retailers, manufacturers, and utilities are working with third-party implementation contractors like Applied Proactive Technologies to negotiate discounts and make EISA-compliant lamps and controls more affordable. Ample, diverse, and efficient products on shelves nationwide prove that regulation in this area is guiding and energizing the markets, not impeding them.
That the backlash is perverse, even quixotic, does not rule out the possibility that it could have consequences. “After the first phase” of EISA, McGowan says, the “DOE is mandated to review it. They sent out an order the week of Dec. 9 that they are going to start hearings to see what should be done the next time. This is going to come up again, and it will be debated. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I talked to one manufacturer, who said it’s going to be a free-for-all.”
But regardless of the surrounding noise in Washington, the signal throughout the lighting industry is clear: EISA’s mandate on efficient lamps is in our national interest, and it’s in consumers’ interests to get up to speed on it.