Shining the Light on New Proposed Light Bulb Energy Efficiency Standards

Once all of America's approximately 4 billion lighting sockets contain energy-saving bulbs that meet the updated energy efficiency standards proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy consumers and businesses will save about $12.5 billion every year--and gain cleaner air and a healthier environment.

In fact, few actions can reduce the dangerous carbon pollution driving climate change as cheaply and easily as the simple act of installing more energy-efficient light bulbs in place of the current incandescents.

Now, thanks to the proposed efficiency standards announced earlier this month by the Department of Energy - which are scheduled to be finalized by Jan. 1, 2017, and effective three years later - there will be less energy waste in the bulbs we most commonly buy. That kind of smarter energy use means power plants don't have to generate as much electricity from fossil fuels.

The proposed light bulb standards are the next phase of an effort that began when a bipartisan Congress passed a 2007 law to inspire innovation in our incandescent light bulbs, which basically had not seen much updated technology since the days of Thomas Edison. The first phase of light bulb energy efficiency standards gave birth to (light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs and more energy-efficient incandescents. Now it's time to ride the continuing lighting technology wave even further with even more energy efficient bulbs (more than 150 LED models on store shelves today already meet the new proposed standards).

As the new regulations are somewhat complex to read, NRDC has developed a fact sheet that answers some frequently asked questions, spells out the requirements, and provides some additional background on the legislation that set the path for these standards.

Here's some of the information we've highlighted in the fact sheet:

What bulbs will I be able to buy after 2020 when the standards go into effect? The proposed standard essentially contains two sets or requirements: one for incandescent bulbs and one for all other types of "general service lamps." While the standards leave the door open for future incandescent bulb sales, this is unlikely because no manufacturers are working to bring a qualifying version to the market. The same is true for CFLs today. Therefore, your new bulb is more than likely going to be a long-lasting, highly cost-effective LED bulb.

How do LED bulbs compare to incandescents? LED bulbs do everything the old incandescent did, except waste energy! They provide the same quality of light, turn on instantly, and are dimmable. But they also last 10 to 25 years, under normal usage, compared to only 1 year for the incandescent. And best of all, the LED bulb that replaces the old 100-watt bulb only needs 20 watts or so of power to deliver the same amount of light, which means lower energy bills for you.

When do the standards go into effect? The proposed standards are due to go into effect nationally in 2020, except in California where they start two years earlier, in 2018. But even after the new standards go into effect, retailers can continue to sell through their existing inventory as long as it was manufactured and/or imported before the effective dates.

Will I be able to find a LED for every socket in my home? Absolutely, as LEDs come in every shape, color, and brightness level. The LED bulbs screw right into your existing socket and are widely available at big box retailers (Home Depot, Walmart, and Lowe's), and increasingly at local hardware, grocery and drugstores, as well as on the Internet.

How much do LED bulbs cost? The price of LED bulbs has come way down and is expected to continue to decline. Today, the LED bulb that replaces the current incandescent bulb costs around $5 each, before any rebates that might be available from your local utility. While this is a few dollars higher, an LED bulb will save you $50 to $150 on your energy bill over its lifetime due to its greater efficiency and much longer life. Plus, you avoid the cost and hassle of having to replace the burned-out incandescent bulb every year.

What about jobs? Thousands of U.S. jobs have been created to design, test, and produce the next generation of energy-saving light bulbs. Domestic factories and R&D (research and development) centers are located all across the country include Cree's North Carolina headquarters and factory, Philips' Lumileds plant in California that makes the LEDs that go into bulbs and car headlights, and Lighting Sciences Group's operations in Florida that produce LED bulbs sold at Home Depot.

About the Authors

Noah Horowitz

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

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