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A Bright Idea: New Efficiency Standards for Incandescent and Fluorescent Lights

July 21, 2009 - 5:18pm

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Pretty soon, lighting is going to get a lot more efficient.

New standards for incandescent reflector bulbs, general purpose fluorescent bulbs, and regular incandescent bulbs are going into effect beginning in approximately three years.

You may be curious about how these standards will affect the most popular types of incandescent bulbs we've all used for so long: the common non-reflector 40-watt, 60-watt, 75-watt, and 100-watt bulbs.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (also known as EISA) requires that these incandescent bulbs use 30% less energy than today’s bulbs by 2012 to 2014. The "phasing out" of less-efficient bulbs will begin with 100 watt bulbs in 2012; lesser wattage light bulbs will then be gradually removed from distribution, ending with noncompliant 40 watt bulbs being taken out in 2014.

There will then be a "Tier 2" required improvement of incandescent bulbs, requiring that they be at least 70% more efficient than today's bulbs—effectively equal to today's compact fluorescents (CFLs)—which would take effect by 2020. This echoes similar legislation in other countries that are trying to adopt more energy-efficient lighting; it has also spurred media articles proclaiming that Congress is banning incandescent light bulbs.

Can that be true?

Wait! Not so fast. That's not quite accurate. EISA 2007 is performance-based and does not specifically ban incandescent bulbs. The legislation established minimum requirements for bulb life and for the amount of light delivered per unit of energy consumed. For the same lumen output, the minimum requirements represent a reduction of 25% over the incandescent technology in use in 2007. The specific requirements are:

  • Beginning on Jan. 1, 2012, bulbs with a rated lighting output of 1,490 to 2,600 lumens (current 100-watt bulbs) may consume a maximum of 72 watts.
  • Beginning on Jan. 1, 2013, bulbs with a rated lighting output of 1,050 to 1,489 lumens (current 75-watt bulbs) may consume a maximum of 53 watts.
  • Beginning on Jan. 1, 2014, bulbs with a rated lighting output of 750 to 1,049 lumens (current 60-watt bulbs) may consume a maximum of 43 watts, and bulbs with a rated lighting output of 310 to 749 lumens (current 40-watt bulbs) may consume a maximum of 29 watts.

California and Nevada are authorized to adopt the standards up to a year earlier. For the same start dates as above, bulbs must meet a 1,000 hour minimum rated lifetime.

The requirements cover general purpose incandescent bulbs with medium screw bases with light output ranging from 310 to 2,600 lumens; dimmer and brighter bulbs are not covered. Specialty bulbs are exempted, at least for now. The U.S. Department of Energy is authorized to monitor sales of certain exempted bulbs between 2010 and 2025 and impose regulations if DOE deems them to be appropriate. Simply put, specialty bulbs such as appliance, bug light, plant, rough service, shatter-resistant/shatter-proof/shatter-protected, 3-way incandescent, blacklight, and colored bulbs are exempt.

Manufacturers are introducing new halogen bulbs, a type of more efficient, longer-lasting incandescent bulb, that comply with the standard. Companies also are working on high-efficiency incandescent bulbs that could possibly satisfy the requirement. Work is progressing on totally different high efficiency lighting technologies as well. We'll be covering those in future blogs.

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