New Energy Efficiency Standards and the Incandescent Phaseout

2013 is drawing to a close, and for the lighting industry it means intensifying efforts to bring to production new energy efficient alternatives to traditional light sources now slated for obsolescence. Federal energy efficiency standards enacted as well as revamped under the Bush administration continue to phase in, and in this latest round the most noticeable casualty will be the 40 and 60 watt incandescent bulbs which will no longer be legal for sale or manufacture in the United States as of January 1st 2013 unless their performance meets new efficiency standards. As most by now already know, after over 100 years of development and manufacture incandescent lighting technology has for the most part progressed about as far as it is going to go, and with few exceptions new incandescent designs will not be coming down the pike, effectively spelling the end for the most commonly used incandescent bulbs.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) and the Energy Policy Act (EPACT) of 2005 established new efficiency standards that began taking effect in 2010 and continue on to 2014. These new standards required standard general service lamps to be 25% more efficient to remain legal for manufacture and sale in the United States. Since the main bulbs affected include 100, 75, 60 and 40 watt versions of the typical incandescent bulb, and most of these bulbs are extremely limited in efficiency potential, they cannot meet these new efficiency requirements and thus will phase out of production.  Also affected are T12 and standard T8 fluorescent lamps and magnetic ballasts, which also now fail to meet the new standards and are no longer available. The result has been a rapid change in focus on the part of lighting manufacturers and developers as well as a concerted effort to educate the public in preparation for the introduction of new alternatives intended to replace these outdated lamps.

We are already seeing the results of the change these new energy efficiency standards are encouraging in the form of advanced new fluorescent lamp designs and explosive growth in development of lighting alternatives like LEDs. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the rise of LED lighting to the top of the list of expected replacements for incandescent lighting technology. We can see a clear trend with LEDs that demonstrates quite well how the perception of energy efficient lighting has changed, and on a more comprehensive level changes in the perception of energy efficient technology as a whole. If we look at the timeline of events leading up to our current perception of energy efficient lighting and efficiency awareness, some truly interesting things stand out.

In 2010 when new efficiency regulations were slated to begin phasing into effect, the reaction on the part of the public as well as political sectors was mixed and highly polarized. On the one hand, long time advocates of conservation and alternative energy rejoiced and considered the new legislation long overdue, while on the other, many felt the legislation was misguided and heavy handed, destine to force upon the public constraints and less than acceptable options as well as cost the US jobs and increase the economic burden already well underway in the form of deep recession. Despite many challenges in the form of legislative efforts to amend or repeal these new energy efficiency standards, the phase out of inefficient lighting technologies continued. The lighting industry however saw the writing on the wall and began refocusing its efforts towards the development of new lighting alternatives, as well as refining current lighting designs in order to meet the demands posed by higher efficiency standards. By 2011 a period of uncertainty rippled through the lighting industry as attacks on the new standards continued and it was not clear if the they would indeed remain in effect. By 2012 however, most efforts to stop the rollout of the new standards had failed or been discontinued, providing some sense of security for manufacturers who had invested considerable time and money into realigning their development efforts to address these new standards.

As the standards began directly affecting the consumer through the elimination of 100 watt incandescent lamps and T12 and T8 magnetic ballasts and lamps, a curious change began to become apparent. Prior to the actual rollout of lighting alternatives intended to replace no longer available lamp options, consumers were extremely hesitant to even consider their use. Consumers worried about mercury and other toxic materials used in energy efficient CFLs. They worried about the higher cost of CFL and LED bulbs. They were skeptical of these lamps’ ability to provide the quality of illumination they had become accustomed to. Once the inefficient versions were no longer available however, consumers began trying the alternatives and began to embrace them. Although a short rocky period ensued wherein the compact fluorescent lamp initially failed to meet consumer expectations, once the problems with these bulbs were resolved and other alternatives in the form of LEDs became available, the concern for consumers went from one of not whether new lighting alternatives were viable, but rather which ones would save them the most money.

Today the conversation has completely shifted away from legislation, alternative lighting viability, and affordability concerns, and has now become one centered around availability, cost reduction potential, and long term economic impact. In less than 10 years we have gone from resisting the change to energy efficient lighting technologies, to not only embracing them, but pushing for efficiency levels and savings far beyond those outlined in legislation. LED development has now surpassed and overshadowed any popularity CFLs had garnered, and LEDs are now expected to become the dominant form of general service lighting in the coming decade. The lighting industry has seen explosive growth, with the emergence of several new corporations dedicated to LED lighting development and manufacture, huge investment in LED development, and great expansion in the manufacturing and distribution sectors. As of right now, the LED in all its forms represents a multi billion dollar industry that is providing unheard of growth and expansion opportunities for new and existing business.

 We are now living in a period of revolution within the energy sector. In less than 20 years the focus has shifted away from increasing fossil fuel production and is now leaning ever more heavily towards renewables and alternatives such as solar and wind power. This revolution extends throughout the lighting industry as well, and within 20 years the incandescent lamp will likely be a footnote in lighting history as we move ahead towards ever more efficient lighting alternatives.

When the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) and the Energy Policy Act (EPACT) of 2005 were passed, many felt the future of the energy and lighting industries were threatened with unattainable goals, and the public left facing huge looming energy cost increases. The reverse in fact has taken place, and although the cost of energy does indeed still continue to rise, this rise has been less than projected, and consumers are still seeing rewards in the form of lowered costs due to the energy efficient technologies these acts have helped to bring closer to maturity. Not only this, but entire new markets have been created, and billions of dollars have been injected into economies worldwide thanks to the heavy development of energy efficient technologies. At this point it is probably safe to say, the future of lighting is bright indeed thanks in large part to our finally accepting that higher energy efficiency standards do in fact bring about positive change.


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