Bright Lights, Big Energy Savings: DOE Standards Make Good Progress, but Leave Savings on the Table

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You might not even notice those large, dome-shaped lights that hang from high ceilings in big box stores, gymnasiums, and factories, and are often used in parking lots and other outdoor spaces, but thanks to a rule released today by the Department of Energy, these lights -- known as metal halide lamps -- will waste much less energy.

From an environmental and financial point of view, they’re worth focusing on because metal halide lamps can use as much as 2,000 watts per fixture and opportunities exist to make them more efficient. 

That’s why the announcement today of new Department of Energy efficiency standards for the lights is good news. These cost-effective  standards will save about 0.5 quads of energy over the next thirty years—avoiding almost 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution, the equivalent of taking about 6 million cars off the road for a year. These energy savings and resulting emissions reductions will benefit all Americans by making the air we breathe cleaner. The money savings are considerable, too: about $1.1 billion by 2046.

Image removed.The new standards are also a good step toward fulfilling President Obama’s promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3 billion metric tons by 2030 through efficiency standards.

The standards apply to metal halide lamp fixtures (rather than just the bulb itself) and make their improvements by upgrading the efficiency of the ballasts that drive and control the flow of electricity in the lamps. That’s important, because current metal halide lamp ballasts can waste about 10 to 30 percent of the energy they use. The new standards address this problem by improving the required efficiency of the ballasts, based on levels that can be achieved by more efficient magnetic ballasts.

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Administration making progress

Today’s issuance also demonstrates the progress the Obama administration is making on a backlog of long-overdue efficiency standards, since it agreed this summer to finally pick up the pace. (That agreement came after a coalition of state attorneys general and advocacy groups, including NRDC, pushed DOE forward.) In the last six months, not only has the DOE issued today’s new standards but also proposed standards for commercial refrigerators, walk-in coolers and freezers, furnace fans, and the electric motors that eat up an astounding 50 percent of all the electricity used by industry in the United States. All together, these five standards could save Americans more than $78 billion on energy bills and prevent 1,215 million metric tons of carbon pollution over 30 years.

DOE backtracks on proposal

While today’s standards will make a good dent in the energy wasted by metal halide lamp fixtures, unfortunately they leave potential energy savings on the table. DOE backtracked on its proposal in the draft rule to set levels based on electronic ballasts for 150 watt lamps, despite the fact that its own analysis showed that these levels would have provided cost-effective savings to consumers. NRDC, ASAP and other efficiency advocacy groups had supported these standards levels for 150-watt lamps and had advocated for higher standards for the other product categories based on the efficiency levels achieved by electronic ballasts. Additionally, while DOE originally proposed standards for fixtures up to 2000 watts, today's standards only cover those up to 1000 watts. While we’re pleased to see DOE moving forward on schedule, these lost potential savings are a missed opportunity and it's a disappointment to see DOE step back from the proposed rule, despite analysis supporting it.

Cost-effective DOE energy efficiency standards are bringing important benefits to all of us—financial savings, technological advances, and significant reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change. Those are facts that are easy to see, under the bright light of today’s DOE standards for metal halide lamps.