DOE Proposes to Advance Light Bulb Energy Efficiency
The Department of Energy has released a pre-publication version of a proposed rule that would greatly advance the energy efficiency of the nation’s light bulbs. The rule, along with another rule proposed by DOE in August, would effectively complete the transition to LED lighting from older, inefficient incandescent technology, delivering huge savings to consumers and avoiding millions of metric tons of carbon emissions.
This update is nearly two years overdue, as progress was not only delayed but actively obstructed by the Trump administration. Instead of complying with the Congressionally-mandated deadline of January 1, 2020, the Trump administration wasted time repealing progress made under Obama and concocting strained legal arguments to attempt to override the clear text of the law.
This newly announced rule will require all so-called “general service lamps” or “GSLs”—think general, everyday light bulbs—to meet an efficiency threshold of 45 lumens per watt (LPW). This follows DOE’s August proposed rule to remove exemptions from the definition of GSL, which would close loopholes that would otherwise allow inefficient incandescent bulbs to remain on the market.
Combined, these two rules implementing a 45 LPW standard and enlarging the scope of coverage of the standard will effectively complete the nation’s transition to more efficient LED lighting. (Compact fluorescent bulbs can also meet the 45 LPW standard but are not popular with consumers.) Swift implementation of these rules is projected to result in $20 billion in cumulative utility bill savings for consumers and 50 million metric tons of avoided carbon emissions by 2030 according to analysis from the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.
Similar light bulb efficiency standards went into effect in California and Nevada on January 1, 2020, and 2021, respectively, and incandescent bulbs were phased out in Europe back in mid-2018. There are still around a billion sockets in the U.S. that contain inefficient light bulbs, and incandescent and halogen bulbs still represent more a third of current U.S. sales.
The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) outlined a plan for the agency to phase out the sale of inefficient light bulbs. If certain conditions were not met, a backstop energy efficiency standard at the level of 45 lumens per watt (LPW) would go into effect on January 1, 2020. The Trump DOE issued a “final determination” in late 2019 declaring that it would not go forward with improved efficiency standards for the bulbs that fill roughly 6 billion U.S. sockets.
In addition, the EISA required the Department to review the list of bulbs that were initially exempted from compliance with 2007 GSL standard. In early 2017 DOE published an updated definition that brought unconventionally shaped light bulbs—roughly half of all household bulbs—into the standard’s scope. However, in 2019 the Trump DOE reversed that 2017 decision, reopening the loophole and allowing several types of bulbs to avoid compliance with stronger standards.
This proposal is an important step toward realizing the enormous, overdue consumer and environmental benefits of light bulb energy efficiency standards. Now that this proposal is out, DOE must finalize both rules as expeditiously as possible to apply the 45 LPW standard across all bulbs and ensure that unnecessary exemptions don’t erode the standard’s effectiveness. And while DOE has signaled an intention to use enforcement discretion to provide a “smooth transition” for industry, this discretion must not become yet another source of delay. The benefits are simply too important to wait.
Update 12/8/21: A previous version of this blog stated DOE's previous rule was in November. It was in August.