New UN Model Lighting Regulation = $18 Billion in Savings

The United Nations today announced a groundbreaking model energy efficiency regulation for everyday light bulbs that can be easily adopted by interested developing and emerging economies. The potential savings from transitioning from old-fashioned incandescent bulbs to energy-efficient LEDs in nations that do not already have energy efficiency standards could be massive—$18 billion in electricity costs and more than 160 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided every year. Once all the lighting sockets in these countries contain LED light bulbs, the amount of electricity saved would be equivalent to Mexico's annual electricity consumption.

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The model regulation announced at the international Energy Efficiency Global Forum in Copenhagen results from an innovative collaboration between the world’s largest lighting company, Philips Lighting, now known as Signify, and the Natural Resources Defense Council under the auspices of United Nations (UN) Environment. The concept of setting a single model energy efficiency regulation for adoption by multiple developing countries around the world is a very powerful one. We are hopeful that similarly ambitious initiatives for other products will be developed as a means to drive down global electricity use and avoid the associated climate-warming pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels. 

Why Does This Matter?

Lighting represents 15 percent of all worldwide electricity use and there are billions of inefficient incandescent and halogen light bulbs installed and still being sold around the world. While regulations that phase out future sales of these inefficient bulbs are due to go into effect throughout the European Union later this year and in the United States in 2020 (and are already in effect in California), similar policies do not exist in most developing and emerging economies. The model regulation provides everything an interested country needs to move forward to eliminate the most energy-wasting bulbs: scope, test methods, minimum efficiency levels for each type of bulb, and some basic performance requirements to ensure that consumers have a good experience with the LED bulbs they will be buying. The model regulation is ready to be “cut and pasted” into law by any country ready to take the next step and adopt them.

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The model regulation will be distributed to interested countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Countries implementing the regulation will also reduce trade barriers and provide opportunities for sharing resources, including testing facilities, joint procurement, and market monitoring. The model regulation provides countries with two options: the first and preferred option will require all new bulbs to be as efficient as an LED bulb, whereas the second would also allow CFLs, which are slightly less efficient and contain mercury, which requires special collection and recycling.

The potential enormous electricity bill and carbon savings are due to the fact that LEDs use up to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. In other words, one 10-watt LED light bulb will produce the same amount of light as the old 60-watt bulb it replaces. In addition, the consumer can easily save $50 to $100 on their energy bills over the lifetime for each LED bulb installed. (Note: LEDs last 10 to 25 years under normal operation—around 3 hours per day—depending on the model selected.)

How Fast Will This Change Occur?

Through the United for Efficiency (U4E) project, the UN will reach out to developing and emerging economies like Thailand, Turkey, and South Africa, and encourage them to adopt the model regulation and to phase out sales of inefficient light bulbs as soon as possible. Light bulbs represent a unique opportunity for rapid savings because incandescent and halogen bulbs are usually replaced within a year or two due to their short lifetimes. Therefore, the transition can occur much faster than with other products, such as refrigerators which are only replaced once every 10 to 15 years. The switch to LED lighting represents one of the fastest and cheapest ways to deliver mammoth carbon pollution savings in a hurry.

How Did All of This Come About?

The UN’s United for Efficiency project is a unique public-private partnership meant to ensure that the light bulbs and other key products sold in developing and emerging economies, such as air conditioners and motors, are just as efficient as those being sold elsewhere. In order to prevent a future patchwork of regulations whereby each country sets a slightly different set of efficiency regulations, Philips Lighting worked with NRDC to develop mutually agreeable minimum efficiency levels and performance standards, including some key criteria (e.g., avoid early bulb failure, ensure decent color quality, etc.). Lighting companies benefit greatly from a single set of test methods and requirements, and the cost of the LED bulbs can go down due to economies of scale from producing greater volumes of the same bulbs. Philips Lighting has officially endorsed the model regulation and other lighting manufacturers and organizations are expected to do the same.

Everyone Wins!

By not being stuck with the old, inefficient technologies, developing countries can avoid being the dumping ground for energy-wasting bulbs banned in other nations. Countries that adopt the model regulation will also avoid the burdens of high energy bills, poor air quality, and remove some of the stress from their commonly overloaded electricity grids.

Kudos to UN Environment and Philips Lighting/Signify for helping to make this happen for light bulbs.

We look forward to similar future announcements from UN Environment for model efficiency regulations for big energy-consuming products like air conditioners and refrigerators, which will be purchased in rapidly increasing numbers in developing and emerging countries in the next several years.

About the Authors

Noah Horowitz

Director, Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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