Let there be light (energy-efficient light that is)!

Let there be light (energy-efficient light that is)!

Several recent newspaper articles called attention to California’s “ban” on inefficient incandescent bulbs. In reality, what took place on January 1, 2011 was the first stage of California’s early implementation of the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which requires incandescent lamps to be more energy efficient. The standards do not ban the manufacture of traditional incandescent lamps, but do require that they be replaced with more energy-efficient versions that produce as much light as the phased-out lamps. After Jan. 1, 2011, the maximum rated wattage for a 100-watt lamp will be 72 watts. Starting Jan. 1, 2012, the maximum rated wattage for a 75 W lamp will be 53 W, and on Jan. 1, 2013, 60 W will be replaced with 43 W, and 40 W with 29 W. Other alternatives to the incandescent light bulb include halogen lamps, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light emitting diode lamps (LEDs).

The California Energy Commission estimates that the early adoption of this standard will avoid the sale of 10.5 million inefficient light bulbs in 2011, which would cost consumers $35.6 million in unnecessarily higher electricity bills. The Commission based its estimates on a very detailed study by Pacific Gas & Electric. The conventional incandescent bulb has undergone relatively little improvement since Thomas Edison patented the bulb in 1879 (tungsten has replaced carbon in the filaments). Inefficient incandescents can be replaced with more efficient versions or better yet with highly efficient LEDs or compact fluorescent bulbs. See comparison chart below.

Light Emitting Diodes
Light Bulbs
Fluorescents (CFLs)
 Life Span (average) 50,000 hours 1,200 hours 8,000 hours
Watts of electricity used
(equivalent to 60 watt bulb)
LEDs use less power (watts) per unit of light generated
(lumens). LEDs help reduce greenhouse gas emissions
from power plants and lower electric bills
 6-8 watts 60 watts 13-15 watts
Kilo-watts of Electricity used
30 Incandescent Bulbs per year equivalent)
 329 KWh/yr. 3285 KWH/yr.767 KWh/yr.
Annual Operating Cost
(30 Incandescent Bulbs per year equivalent)
 $32.85/year $328.59 year $76.65/year

I find it interesting that a lot of the commentary on the regulation focuses not upon the energy savings and avoidance of pollution, but on an alleged intrusion into personal freedoms (i.e. we should be allowed to purchase whatever kind of bulb we want). Texas Congressman Joe Barton, Chairman Emeritus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has gone so far as to draft a measure that would roll back these sections of EISA. “This is about more than just energy consumption, it is about personal freedom," Barton said in a statement. "Voters sent us a message in November that it is time for politicians and activists in Washington to stop interfering in their lives and manipulating the free market. The light bulb ban is the perfect symbol of that frustration."

Without getting into a debate about government regulation in general, this kind of performance standard-setting has been used very effectively to accelerate innovation and to conserve precious resources as a result. Building new markets in the clean tech arena can certainly be helped along by public policy. In late 2010 the Lamp Section of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) reaffirmed its commitment to public policies that encourage transitioning to more energy-efficient lighting, including the energy-efficient light bulb provisions of the EISA. In other words, manufacturers are saying “bring it on, we are willing to innovate.” This is a message that has been repeated a number of times in different contexts. For example, we are witnessing a flurry of innovation in the auto industry as the fuel economy standards start ratcheting upwards.

In a recent report by Pike Research, fluorescent and LED lights will account for over three quarters of the U.S. lighting market by 2020, with adoption beginning to accelerate by 2014-2015. The report also notes that the U.S. accounts for a fifth of the world's lighting-related electricity consumption at an annual cost of $40 billion. Worldwide, lighting consumes about 17.5% of electricity, according to Pike.

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