Because of all the recent coverage in the media of new federal U.S. and international energy regulations designed to help guide consumers towards a more energy efficient future, lighting has surprisingly enough become a controversial subject in everyday conversation. With energy efficiency and environmental protection now a hot topic thanks to governments around the world finally getting serious about energy, a whole new lighting paradigm has emerged that promises to revolutionize how we illuminate our world. Unfortunately, this new serious approach to energy efficiency has also sparked all kinds of hype, hysteria, and bandwagon jumping. As if it weren’t enough that tons of new distributors of cheap LED lighting were popping up like prairie dogs on a summer day, we’ve got politicians trying to rally their constituents with cries of regulation and freedom trampling through government light bulb bans that don’t exist.
The switch to more efficient light sources like LEDs and CFLs has been hampered by a slew of cheap and poorly made products flooding the lighting markets and giving the general consumer a poor impression of these new lighting technologies. With the average consumer usually putting initial costs as one of the overriding deciding factors in a purchase, the cheapness of low grade LED products made them attractive to consumers willing to give these new LED bulbs a try. These cheap LED lamps have high failure rates and do not live up to their touted light quality characteristics, leading many consumers to form a poor impression of LEDs as a whole. Although this damage was fairly serious, it occurred early in the development and release of illumination grade LEDs. This has allowed LED developers and manufacturers to undo some of this damage through PR and media exposure designed to educate the public about LEDs and CFLs. Still, this represented something of a setback in the emergence of energy efficient lighting technologies.
Domestic US lighting manufacturers also face more severe problems with bringing LED lighting technology to market due to political efforts to remove or defund energy regulations that require lighting manufacturers to produce products which meet new, higher levels of efficiency. Although U.S. manufacturers were fairly quick to realize the potential that these new regulations offered and began realigning their focus and development efforts towards designing lighting which meets or exceeds new standards shortly after President Bush signed this legislation into law, current political efforts are now poised to make all of this retooling a moot effort. With the European Union, Australia, Japan, China and a whole host of other nations working hard to remove incandescent lamps from their markets and build their own strong domestic demands for new lighting technologies, U.S. manufacturers are finding themselves left holding the bag as it were as the U.S. congress works to defund or even remove such legislation entirely. In an effort to save the now obsolete incandescent light bulb and thereby placate the minority of Americans who view these new light bulb efficiency standards as government intrusion, congress has not only set back efforts to reduce the U.S.’s reliance on fossil fuels, but put domestic manufacturers at a disadvantage versus their overseas counterparts.
The real losers in this game of hype and hysteria however are consumers. With lighting representing a large portion of the total electricity consumed within the household, and the cost of replacing bulbs and maintaining fixtures adding to monthly expenses, energy efficient lighting technologies like LEDs hold the potential to significantly reduce the utility and maintenance costs of the average home. With LEDs able to operate for several years before requiring replacement and capable of providing the same amount of light using a fraction as much energy, the average consumer can see reductions in monthly and yearly lighting costs totaling in the hundreds of dollars. Additionally, the reduced environmental impact of energy efficient lighting and its lowered energy requirements offer to form a comprehensive part of protecting quality of life and ensuring cleaner water and fresher air for future generations. Although such benefits would seem able to sell the world on energy efficient lighting technology in and of themselves, this is unfortunately not always the case. As with any major change in established and accepted technologies, there are always those who will be overly difficult to convince, or just outright unwilling to change regardless of the potential benefits, hence the need for effective and enforced regulations.
The new energy standards being enacted all over the globe and the increased lighting efficiency standards contained within them hold vast potential that goes far beyond simple energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. The new lighting technologies being developed and marketed are a major departure from old and obsolete technology like the incandescent light bulb, and represent nothing less than an entirely new area of explosive economic growth for the countries willing to make the commitment to embrace them. While much of the world has either begun or already performed the phase-out of obsolete incandescent lamps and ramped up production of LED and fluorescent lighting technologies, the US has once again shown its reluctance to maintain its standing as a world leader by being unable to stand by its own commitments to a brighter future.