By Noah Horowitz, Natural Resources Defense Council
The U.S. Department of Energy’s proposal to dramatically narrow the scope of light bulbs covered by the upcoming federal 2020 energy efficiency standards will cost consumers up to $12 billion on their utility bills and cause up to 25 more coal burning power plants worth of electricity to be generated every year. This extra electricity use, enough to power all the households in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, translates into 34 million tons of additional annual climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions.
DOE’s new proposal rolls back most of the definition that was previously updated in early 2017 by DOE under the Obama administration and needlessly provide a lifeline for the inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs designed to go into 2.7 billion sockets—just under half of all conventional sockets in the United States—even though more energy efficient models exist today. Now, instead of the energy-wasting versions being phased out as scheduled, 3-way bulbs, reflector bulbs used in recessed cans and floodlights, candle shaped bulbs used in chandeliers and sconces, and round globe bulbs typically used in bathroom lighting fixtures would be exempt from the federal standards that require all general service lamps (GSLs, the regulatory term for everyday light bulbs) to meet a minimum efficiency limit of 45 lumens per watt (LPW) by January 1, 2020.
The 45 LPW (where lumens are the amount of light produced and watts the amount of power used) standard essentially prohibits the future sale of incandescents and halogens because they cannot meet this minimum efficiency level. Instead, consumers will choose between efficient, long lasting CFLs and LED bulbs as of January 1, 2020. Due to their superior performance, consumers are likely to purchase LEDs.
But if the bulbs going into almost half of America’s light sockets are now excluded from the 2020 efficiency standards because they are not part of the general service light bulb definition, a huge amount of money and energy will be wasted. It adds up to annual lost savings of $12 billion in 2025 alone.
And if this revised definition is adopted, the US will be positioned to become the world’s dumping ground for inefficient light bulbs, as they have already been phased out throughout Europe and elsewhere with similar phaseouts planned in many developing countries.
The announcement was made within hours of Daniel Simmons being sworn in as the new assistant secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which administers energy efficiency standards. DOE didn’t stop there, however, as the agency today also issued a separate proposal to change its “process rule”, which would make it harder for DOE to update or set new energy efficiency standards for any product in the future, whether it be a refrigerator, hot water heater, or air conditioner. The proposal sets up all sorts of barriers designed to slow progress and compromise the highly successful standards program that saves the average household more than $500 off their energy bills every year. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has made essentially no progress on efficiency standards for appliances and equipment since taking office in early 2017. The DOE is required by law to review standards on a set time frame, and yet it has missed 16 deadlines for energy-saving standards, plus many more for test procedures.
Why LEDs Are Far Superior
The old Incandescent light bulbs are so inefficient that up to 90 percent of the energy they use is wasted as heat. They get so hot you can burn your hand when you touch them. LEDs on the other hand are extremely efficient in the way they produce light. In fact, you can replace an old 60-watt incandescent light bulb with an LED bulb that only uses 10 watts but produces the same amount of light. Today’s LED bulbs have the same shape as the incandescent and halogen bulbs they replace, making them a perfect drop-in replacement.
The LED bulbs produce the same quality of light, turn on instantly, are dimmable, and last 10 to 25 years under normal operation of 3 hours per day, compared to just one to two years for most incandescents and halogens. They’re also available in a range of colors—from the “warm” yellowish-white light many of us associate with incandescent bulbs to the “cooler” bluish-white light of some newer bulbs—so LED users are sure to find a bulb that meets their needs and tastes.
Due to their superior energy efficiency and longer life, LED bulbs are extremely cost effective. Each LED bulb can save consumers between $50 and $100 over its lifetime compared to the equivalent incandescent or halogen. Plus, the consumer avoids the hassle and cost of having to replace the bulb every year.
An Energy-Saving LED for Virtually Every Socket
LED light bulbs are widely available in an assortment of shapes and light outputs from a variety of manufacturers. Below are sample images of the new LED bulbs and the inefficient bulbs they replace.
There are roughly 1 billion sockets in the U.S. containing a reflector bulb. These include the increasingly popular recessed cans, also known as downlights, in new and remodeled homes, and track lighting. Drop-in LED replacements are widely available in all the same shapes, light outputs, and beam angles. The LED model shown below uses 7 watts instead of the 65 watts incandescent version.
Round Globe Bulbs
DOE’s scope rollback would allow the ongoing sale of inefficient round globe bulbs. There is nothing different about these bulbs other than the shape of the enclosure, being round instead of pear-shaped like the most common bulbs. One can easily imagine a consumer picking this bulb for their fixture due to the product’s slightly lower purchase cost instead of the LED if the pear shaped incandescent is no longer available. The LED replacement for a 60-watt incandescent globe bulb only uses 6 or so watts.
Chandeliers can easily contain 6 or more candle/flame shaped bulbs. These bulbs, termed candelabra bulbs, have a narrow or medium screw base and the incandescent version typically uses 25, 40 or 60 watts of power, depending on its brightness. But energy efficient LED replacement bulbs that last 10 to 25 times longer are widely available from a wide range of manufacturers in a variety of styles.
While 3-way bulbs are not that common today, their sales could easily skyrocket once the 45 LPW standard for conventional pear-shaped A-lamps goes into effect in 2020. The consumer who is looking for roughly the same amount of light as their old 60 W or 100 W incandescent or equivalent halogen bulb could simply buy a 3-way incandescent. And these can be purchased for less than a $1 on the web today. Three-way LED replacement bulbs are now widely available and while they cost a bit more to purchase, they use a fraction of the energy and have a payback of less than a year.
DOE Can Still Do the Right Thing
The facts are clear and unambiguous—long lasting, energy-saving bulbs already exist for the types of bulbs DOE proposes to exempt from the regulations, which could cost our nation up to $300 billion in cumulative lost utility bill savings by 2050. It would be outrageous if DOE and the Trump Administration adopt this gutted definition for light bulbs and deny consumers the benefits of common sense standards that will ensure a money-saving, energy-efficient bulb for every socket in the nation. This is a rollback that no one can afford.