Bring on the LED Light Bulbs!
The U.S. lighting industry has been broadly supportive of the so-called “ban” on household incandescent light bulbs, known as The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, for several reasons:
1. It set the stage for new products and an expansion of the lighting market.
2. The legislation was structured as a phased-in lighting-efficiency increase rather than an outright ban on any particular light source technology. This is helping to foster developments in lighting technology and a continuing availability of high-efficiency incandescent and halogen-incandescent light sources for use in applications where wanted or needed.
3. The changes were viewed as an opportunity for the lighting industry, and especially the parts of the industry focused on residential lighting, to reach out to consumers to provide information and education about new lighting technology and developments. One of those efforts, developed by the LUMEN Coalition working with the Alliance to Save Energy, can be found at www.lumennow.org.
4. It was a chance to reduce lighting energy use and cost for residential consumers which, at the time (2007), amounted to about 20% of the average household energy bill.
The residential consumer is served by a diversified lighting industry that includes lamp manufacturers, lighting fixture manufacturers, electrical distributors, retailers such as lighting showrooms, and a design community that includes both lighting and interior designers. Many involved are small business people who listen carefully to their customers and know that price, appearance, functionality, and choice are what drive the consumer lighting market.
They also know that mandates tend to confuse customers and distort markets, so it’s no surprise that some in the lighting industry were more than skeptical about the bulb phase-out. Simply put: such actions tend to raise prices and limit consumer choice. There was also the ongoing “bad example” of efforts to convince consumers to switch to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) which, while more efficient, were higher priced than standard incandescent bulbs, produced a poor quality of light, contained mercury, and exhibited a short lifespan in certain types of lighting fixtures.
There are few doubters today, though. Since the legislation took effect and California began phasing out the 100-watt general service incandescent bulb on January 1, 2011, the industry has been busy rolling out new products, educating consumers about new ideas, and helping transform the market in ways not seen since the early days of electric lighting, more than 130 years ago.
The leader of this lighting transformation is the LED light bulb, which is rapidly moving into the mass adoption phase as bulb prices drop into the $5 range for products that offer high efficiency, long life, and high-quality illumination. Such bulbs can now replace the standard 40-, 60-, 75- and 100-watt standard incandescent household bulbs from a performance standpoint, and they are now even replacing CFL bulbs because LED price reductions and performance improvements have been so rapid.
There’s also growing recognition by consumers that LED bulbs are really more than light sources:—they’re electronic devices in disguise. LED lamps and fixtures can be controlled by smartphones and other types of wireless electronic gear to change color, dim, or operate as part of an ever-smarter home, based upon the lifestyle and schedules of the occupants. And LEDs have turned into chameleons too—they can mimic traditional light sources from candle flames and the barely-glowing filaments of early light bulbs in chandeliers, to the look of indirect and decorative illumination applied in patterns or “layers,” either indoors or outside.
A good way to keep track of these developments is to check out the winners of the annual Lighting for Tomorrow Competition, which has recognized energy-efficient, good looking, and innovative residential lighting products since 2002. Jointly organized by the American Lighting Association, Underwriters Laboratories, and the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, the competition looks for the best LED lighting fixtures, bulbs, retrofit kits, and lighting controls. Winners can be seen at www.lightingfortomorrow.com.
Director of Engineering, American Lighting Association
Give Me Back My Incandescents!
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) calls for a structured phase-out of the manufacturing and importing of standard general-purpose incandescent lights. For consumers, this would mean that by 2016 the familiar Edison-base light bulb would be more or less unavailable.
I agree with the general intent of EISA. I think energy independence is an important component of sound foreign policy. I think that for long-term environmental sustainability, increasing efficiency on the demand side of the power grid is just as important as decreasing emissions on the supply side. I think reversing man-made climate change is one of the most important moral imperatives facing the human race.
I just don’t think banning specific products is the right way of going about it. That’s because long-term sustainability can’t be created by a top-down mandate. What the government can do, however, is create the conditions in which sustainable choices offer greater benefits for businesses and individuals. There are lots of ways to get there.
Consider: utility company rebates for more-efficient lighting; temporary tax breaks for domestic manufacturers to give them time to scale up CFL and LED production; investment in the R&D necessary to bring down the cost of CFLs and LEDs below that of incandescents; and suspension of sales tax (at the state level) on energy-efficient light sources.
Taken together, incentives like these foster an environment in which consumers start turning away from incandescents on their own, without any pressure from the government.
But here’s where it gets weird: All of these measures are already being taken, in one way or another. And, combined with growing consumer demand for energy-efficient products, they are working. More efficient lighting is already winning over the market.
This is, in large part, because CFLs and LEDs are actually a better value, and the arguments against their use are often ill-advised. Yes, CFLs and LEDs are more expensive at checkout, but most consumers recognize that these products will pay off in the long run and that the prices will continue to drop. Yes, there’s a trace amount of mercury in a CFL but, no, it does not pose a realistic threat to your health, or your kids, or your pets. No, you can’t dim all CFLs but, yes, you can dim the ones that say “dimmable” on the package.
The American Lighting Association, the trade group that represents the major manufacturers, has said “the industry has moved on” from incandescents. And in 2012, Congress defunded the bulb-ban portion of EISA, rendering it effectively obsolete.
You could read that as a win for Big Business over the little guy, but I see it as an uncommonly level-headed recognition on Congress’s part that the bulb ban is superfluous.
Still, ceasing to do something pointless is not the same thing as starting to do something relevant. If coal plants and electric cars got the kind of attention incandescents and CFLs have, the world might be a slightly cooler place to live.
founder of Sycamore Creative, a communications and design firm in Philadelphia