DOE Poised to Hit a Home Run with Its New Proposed Efficiency Standards for Linear Fluorescent Light Bulbs

The Department of Energy has just hit a home run with today’s proposed minimum energy efficiency standards for linear fluorescent light bulbs, the tube lamps that are located in virtually every office, hospital, school and airport in the country. According to DOE estimates the proposed standards provide Americans with net savings of $8 billion over a 30 year period due to lower electricity bills. In addition, the standards will prevent almost 100 million tons of CO2 by 2030, the main heat trapping pollutant responsible for climate change, from being emitted from our power plants.

Today’s proposed rule follows up on DOE’s prior standards set in 2009 and will require all new tube lamps to incorporate the latest available technology. The standards will go into effect three years after adoption. This is a big deal as these lamps consume almost 5% of all national electricity consumption. Since many of these lamps are on 10 or more hours per day the savings really add up.

We commend DOE for selecting the efficiency levels they did and urge them to finalize the rule in an expeditious manner so the savings can begin to accrue as soon as possible. 

The other part of today’s rule also covered incandescent reflector lamps, the bulbs that go into recessed cans and flood lights. Unfortunately DOE was prohibited from setting standards for a large portion of this market due to a funding prohibition caused by a Congressional rider. Clever manufacturers have over the past decade tweaked their bulbs in order to avoid the current standards. These go by various techie names such as BR which stands for bulged reflector lamps and are a little wider in parts than the regulated bulb, while providing no added performance benefit. Due to this loophole, bulbs with efficiency as low as 8 lumens per watt, which is much less efficient than the old 125 year old incandescent lamp, are still being sold in large numbers. We hope DOE is able to close these loopholes soon and we can harvest the hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted energy and prevent the pollution these bulbs cause.

Bottom line, today’s proposed rule continues DOE’s efforts to bring down the 20% of our nation’s electricity use that lighting consumed as of 2010 (see DOE Lighting Market Characterization Study) and is another great step forward to meeting the President’s Climate Action Plan goals. The new bulbs perform just as well as the old ones do with one important difference, they consume less energy. This means lower electric bills and cleaner air. What’s not to like!