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DOE Poised to Hit a Home Run with Its New Proposed Efficiency Standards for Linear Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Energy Efficient Lights

Noah Horowitz, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency, San Francisco, CA

The Department of Energy has just hit a home run with the recently proposed minimum energy efficiency standards for linear fluorescent light bulbs, the tube lamps that are located in virtually every office, hospital, school and airport in the country. According to DOE estimates the proposed standards provide Americans with net savings of $8 billion over a 30 year period due to lower electricity bills. In addition, the standards will prevent almost 100 million tons of CO2 by 2030, the main heat trapping pollutant responsible for climate change, from being emitted from our power plants.

Today’s proposed rule follows up on DOE’s prior standards set in 2009 and will require all new tube lamps to incorporate the latest available technology. The standards will go into effect three years after adoption. This is a big deal as these lamps consume almost 5% of all national electricity consumption. Since many of these lamps are on 10 or more hours per day the savings really add up.

We commend DOE for selecting the efficiency levels they did and urge them to finalize the rule in an expeditious manner so the savings can begin to accrue as soon as possible. 

The other part of today’s rule also covered incandescent reflector lamps, the bulbs that go into recessed cans and flood lights. Unfortunately DOE was prohibited from setting standards for a large portion of this market due to a funding prohibition caused by a Congressional rider. Clever manufacturers have over the past decade tweaked their bulbs in order to avoid the current standards. These go by various techie names such as BR which stands for bulged reflector lamps and are a little wider in parts than the regulated bulb, while providing no added performance benefit. Due to this loophole, bulbs with efficiency as low as 8 lumens per watt, which is much less efficient than the old 125 year old incandescent lamp, are still being sold in large numbers. We hope DOE is able to close these loopholes soon and we can harvest the hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted energy and prevent the pollution these bulbs cause.

Bottom line, today’s proposed rule continues DOE’s efforts to bring down the 20% of our nation’s electricity use that lighting consumed as of 2010 (see DOE Lighting Market Characterization Study) and is another great step forward to meeting the President’s Climate Action Plan goals. The new bulbs perform just as well as the old ones do with one important difference, they consume less energy. This means lower electric bills and cleaner air. What’s not to like!

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Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on April 18, 2014

This is great news but with the rule not going into effect for 3 more years, I wonder if it is relevant.  A year ago CREE introduced a 105 Lumen / W LED replacement for flourescent lights.  This efficiency is now near the maximum that flourescents are capable.  While LEDs have considerable headroom for additional efficiency gains flourescent technology is mature.  LEDs have hit the tipping point and are now being widely adopted.  Where they used to take up a small space on Home Depot shelves they are now put in the prime areas due to new versions at under $10.


Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on April 19, 2014

How many lumens per watt extra is available from flourescents? Cree recently surpassed 300 L/W ! Their leds at over 150 l/w are now commonplace but inefficiencies of properly driving leds from 3v each to standard household voltages (and the strive for quality light) lower that considerably, down to “only” 89 l/w or so). In contrast, CFL is about 80 l/w, so continued development of leds will surely suppass. Led voltages match almost perfectly for 4v and 12v  solar and can reach 150 l/w (for slightly lessor quality light).

Although efficiency is awesome, we need to ditch the “use less energy” mantra in favor of “develop clean, reliable energy”. “Less energy” supports higher prices for fossil fuels (and such backup for renewables).

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