Proposed Light Bulb Energy Efficiency Standards to Lead to $12.5 Billion in Annual Consumer Savings

New light bulb energy efficiency standards proposed by the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) today will complete the gradual phase-out of inefficient everyday incandescent bulbs required under a 2007 law passed by a bipartisan Congress with industry support. And once all of America's approximately 4 billion lighting sockets contain energy-saving bulbs that meet the standards, U.S. consumers and businesses will save about $12.5 billion every year--and gain cleaner air and a healthier environment.

Given that the new bulbs will likely use one-fifth of the energy of the old-fashioned incandescents while giving off the same amount of light, the benefits really add up from completing this two-tier transition that began in 2012. In total, the 2012 and 2020 standards will:

  • Save the average household almost $100 annually (New York state residents, alone, will see their electric bills drop by more than $1 billion annually);
  • Provide annual electricity savings big enough to power all the homes in Texas;
  • Save 30 power plants' worth of electricity; and
  • Prevent tens of millions of tons of associated carbon pollution that harms our health and drives dangerous climate change.

The standards announced today would not go into effect nationwide until 2020, which gave the industry 13 years to prepare, but there's been significant lighting technology progress already. In fact, there are lots of models of energy-saving light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs on store shelves today that already meet the new energy-saving requirements.

The proposed standards establish two efficiency levels for new light bulbs. As of 2020, incandescent bulbs must achieve 45 lumens per watt, as required by Congress under the 2007 law, while all other bulbs - including LEDs and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs must meet a higher efficiency level. (Lumens are the amount of light a bulb puts out, and watts are the power it consumes.)

While the standards announced today leave the door open for a manufacturer to reinvent the 125-year-old incandescent light bulb to meet the proposed standards, that's unlikely because lighting manufacturers have shifted their R&D and investments to LED bulbs due to their superior efficiency, longer life, and excellent performance. As a result of the standards, the new bulbs that replace the old 100-watt bulb will likely be LEDs and use around 20 watts while still delivering the same amount of light. That's a huge improvement!

While LEDs currently fill a small percentage of the nation's lighting sockets, they are likely to fill most of them in the future due to their growing popularity and the technology improvements inspired by the standards. LED bulbs use around one-fifth as much energy as the old incandescent and last up to 25 years under normal operation of 3 hours per day. Consumers can find a suitable replacement for every energy-wasting bulb in their homes because LEDs come in every imaginable shape and brightness level.

LEDs today cost just a few dollars more than the equivalent incandescent offerings. But they are wildly cost effective because using an LED bulb can save $50 to $150 on energy bills over its lifetime, depending on its brightness and local electricity rates. LED bulbs normally provide enough savings in the first year to make up for their higher purchase price--and then provide an "energy dividend" of around $5 every year thereafter.

Why do we need standards? As we have seen time and again, national energy efficiency standards ensure that products sold in the United States won't waste lots of energy. Just as we have standards that set minimum levels of efficiency for all the major appliances in our homes and the cars we drive, we need them for everyday household light bulbs, too. In fact, the typical U.S. household currently saves several hundred dollars on its annual energy bill thanks to existing federal appliance and equipment standards.

Despite LEDs' greater energy efficiency, incandescent halogens (the tweaked incandescent bulbs introduced to meet the first phase of the standards that went into effect between 2012 and 2014) still represent roughly 50 percent of recent new bulb shipments to U.S. retailers. Many consumers continue to buy them due to familiarity with the product, heavy promotion by retailers and manufacturers, and lower price. Standards, however, set a floor that removes the most inefficient products from the market, helping us achieve greater cost savings and emissions reductions.

The industry has been gearing up and there are now more bulb choices than ever: Any visit to Home Depot, WalMart or the local hardware store will show the wide variety of LED bulbs that already meet the proposed standards. These bulbs are made by traditional lighting companies like GE, Philips, and Osram, as well as new innovators with less familiar names such as Cree, Feit, TCP, and Lighting Sciences Group. Similar transitions are underway in the 28 countries throughout the European Union where incandescent and halogen lamps will be phased out in mid-2018, a year and half earlier than here.

Energy-saving lighting is creating lots of American jobs: Thousands of U.S. jobs have been created to design, test, and produce the next generation of energy-saving light bulbs. These include: a) Cree's Raleigh, NC, facilities that design and manufacture LED components and bulbs; b) Philips' Lumileds plant in San Jose, CA, that makes the LEDs that go into light bulbs and car headlights; and c) Lighting Science Group's Juno, FL, facility producing LED bulbs for Home Depot and other retailers.

DOE issued a good proposal, but we need to get rid of the Burgess rider to lock in the savings: Representative Michael Burgess, R-TX, successfully inserted language into the federal budget legislation that prohibits the DOE from spending funds to enforce light bulb efficiency standards. This leaves the door open for overseas manufacturers to introduce inefficient, cheap versions of these bulbs, putting at risk some of the savings and environmental benefits along with American jobs to design and make the efficient ones. The motivation for an unscrupulous manufacturer to import non-compliant bulbs will grow when the new standards go into effect in 2020. The rider should not be renewed so we can ensure DOE has the necessary tools to enforce these critical standards.

About the Authors

Noah Horowitz

Senior Scientist and Director, Center for Energy Efficiency, Energy & Transportation program

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