Matt Wood

Light bulbs, or lamps as they are known in lighting parlance, are seemingly simple objects, but the issues associated with them are not. In fact, their energy use and environmental impact encompass some of the most complex discussions under way in the field of lighting. Dictating these conversations are an intricate set of legislative mandates, at both the federal and state level, that are setting the course for lighting today—and tomorrow.

What Are the Rules? There are several key pieces of legislation currently impacting lamps and, in turn, the types of luminaries we will be able to use in the future. At the federal level, there is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the 2009 Department of Energy (DOE) Lamp Rulemaking on incandescent reflector and general-service fluorescent lamps. These two pieces of legislation are game changers in discussions about energy usage; they lay the groundwork for the key issues with which the industry is dealing. The most notable issue is the phasing out of the incandescent A-lamp. As of July 14, 2012, this type of light bulb will no longer be allowed to be sold commercially in the United States. Europe is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to this process, as incandescent light bulbs were pulled from store shelves there in July 2009.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have some form of lamp legislation on their books. One of these is California Assembly Bill 1109 (AB 1109), which is having a significant impact on energy and environmental issues. It went into effect on Jan. 1 and is groundbreaking—according to Pamela Horner, director of government regulatory and industry relations for Osram Sylvania and chairwoman of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association's (NEMA) Lamp Committee—as the bill outlines target reductions in energy use by 2018. Using levels of energy consumption from 2007 as the baseline from which to target these reductions, the bill sets a 10-year period in which to reduce residential lighting energy use by 50 percent, outdoor lighting by 25 percent, and interior and commercial lighting by 25 percent.

The question on everyone's mind is: “Is this doable?” Simply installing a few compact fluorescent light bulbs will not be enough, and the legislation acknowledges that building codes and appliance regulations, along with controls and education, will be needed to achieve these goals. California's Title 24 also can help, and there are talks under way, spearheaded by Southern California Edison, to upgrade Title 24 with stricter provisions to attain the required energy savings.

AB 1109 also addresses two important environmental issues: toxic content reduction and lamp recycling. The bill stipulates that mercury levels in fluorescent lamps and lead levels in incandescent lamps cannot exceed a maximum allowable rate. The component of the bill that covers recycling has not yet been implemented and the bill is the first time that an individual state has tracked a lamp standard from the European Union and used this as a baseline, with modifications for the United States.

When it comes to legislation concerning recycling, the state leading the way is Maine. In June 2009, the state implemented LD 973: “An Act to Provide for the Safe Collection and Recycling of Mercury-containing Lighting.” This legislation requires lamp manufacturers to share the cost and responsibility of recycling mercury-containing light bulbs. Other states are closely following the success of Maine's initiative to determine whether they should adopt a similar policy.

While none of these legislative acts make any distinction between residential and commercial use, it is clear that residential lighting is most greatly impacted by the A-lamp legislation. Fluorescent sources, on the other hand, are under the most scrutiny when it comes to commercial lighting. In fact, a recent rulemaking that concerns fluorescent ballasts, meant to complement the 2009 lamp rulemaking, further accelerates the phase out of T12 lamps and ballasts in favor of T8 or T5 fluorescent lighting systems. This targets existing installations, since T12s are not found in new construction. As of July 1, the magnetic ballasts most commonly used for the operation of 4-foot T12 lamps will no longer be produced for commercial and industrial applications.

Who's in Charge? There is only one regulatory body that has the final word when it comes to lamp legislation: the DOE. This is the agency of record for every rulemaking. That being said, there are other entities that have a certain level of influence. For example, some have wondered how the Energy Star program fits into these issues of governance.

There are two arms of the Energy Star program, one through the Environmental Protection Agency and one through the DOE. The program is held in very high regard, but it varies by lighting product. For example, when it comes to compact fluorescents, the Energy Star program has become so effective— you don't see a non-Energy Star fluorescent lamp—that it has become the de facto standard. However, while in the past the Energy Star program has had its greatest impact on residential luminaries and lighting products, the DOE has been charged with overseeing all things related to solid-state lighting (SSL), including technical support and the establishment of metrics.

There are several other stakeholders that have an active voice in these lamp legislation discussions, even though they do not have any formal rulemaking authority. Most visibly, there are the lamp manufacturers themselves— Osram Sylvania, General Electric, and Philips generally being acknowledged as the “big three” lamp companies. However, when you look at certain types of lamps, there are other companies, such as Technical Consumer Products when discussing compact fluorescents, who are major players. When it comes to metal halide sources, Venture Lighting is an example of a notable lamp manufacturer.

NEMA also participates in pertinent lamp discussions through its member companies and six sections—controls, luminaries, ballasts, lamps, SSL, and emergency. However, since NEMA is a trade association, governed by federal law, it cannot talk about market share, pricing, or warranties. Because of this, it is difficult to assign concrete revenue numbers to the lamp industry.

At the state level, other entities are players, such as the California Energy Commission and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. These groups have significant influence on energy policy and they work collaboratively with the various stakeholders. On an issue specific to their area of expertise, an organization such as the Dark Sky Association or a utility company such as Con Edison or Pacific Gas and Electric might get involved. Nongovernmental organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or the National Resources Defense Council also play a role in the debate.

Finally, the lighting design community has been vocal about lamp legislation, particularly when it comes to the incandescent phase-out. The International Association of Lighting Designers issued a position statement on the subject in March 2008, saying that while the association “supports the development and use of technologies, methods, and appropriate regulation to minimize the energy use of lighting systems, we believe that ‘incandescent bans' must be carefully conceived or they are likely to be ineffective.” The Professional Lighting Designers' Association has issued its own position statement supporting energy efficiency, but it also is concerned that incandescent “bans” are not the most effective means to achieving this objective.

What Are the Next Steps? Perhaps the most important step to be taken when it comes to lamp legislation is in education. The Environmental Protection Agency's lamp labeling program is an important step, providing consumers with more information. Revisions to the labeling format will be released this summer. But surveys have found that 50 percent to 70 percent of the general public is not aware of the impending incandescent phase out in 2012, according to Kyle Pitsor, vice president of government relations for NEMA. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 stipulates that a national consumer education campaign needs to be established. No launch date for the campaign has been set, and Pitsor believes it will not occur until the July 2012 deadline is in sight.

Whether it happens at the consumer or the professional level, purchasing lamps has become a complicated endeavor as individuals try to balance the demands of energy efficiency with lighting quality. Current regulations steer us toward a greener future, but this doesn't mean it will be easy. The lighting industry must stay vigilant to make sure legislative initiatives represent long-term solutions.