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Shedding Light on the Incandescent Situation

On September 1, 2009, Europe banned the manufacturing and importing of incandescent light bulbs. The European Union’s ban started with the 100 watt lamp and will move on to the 60 watt lamp in 2011, 40 and 25 watt lamps in 2012, and all remaining incandescent lamps by the end of 2012. This ban has left many asking if this light source faces a similar fate here in the United States. Presently, almost 50% of lighting in American homes is produced by incandescent bulbs, and yet, this light source is the least efficient of all commonly used bulbs, converting only about 5% of the energy they receive into light.

The inefficiency of incandescents not only prompted Europe’s recent ban, but also the signing of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act in the U.S. Many people believe that this Energy Bill calls for the complete phasing out of all incandescent lamps. However, this is not entirely true. The 2007 Energy Bill requires that by 2014 all light bulbs use 30% less energy than the incandescent bulbs that were produced in 2007. For instance, a 60 watt bulb produced in 2014 must use 30% less energy than a 60 watt incandescent bulb that was produced back in 2007, and so forth for other bulb wattages. And more specifically, the bill only applies to certain types of incandescent lamps between 40 and 100 watts. There are many types of specialty light bulbs that are excluded from the Energy Bill requirements, such as appliance bulbs, colored bulbs, infrared bulbs, and three-way incandescent bulbs, all of which can continue to be manufactured. Since the Energy Bill specifically addresses efficiency, a next generation of incandescent bulbs could also satisfy the 30% increased efficiency requirement. In other words, the variety of incandescent bulbs available may be decreasing, but incandescent light bulbs are not being eliminated completely.

In July of 2009, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued new energy efficiency standards which essentially extended the regulations of the Energy Bill of 2007 to include conventional incandescent reflector lamps, commonly used in recessed downlights and track lighting. These new DOE Standards also eliminated the production of 130-volt incandescent light bulbs and T12 commercial general service fluorescent lamps.

“No matter how change is accomplished, the end goal remains the same – energy savings and environmental improvements through the use of higher efficiency light sources.”

The benefits of the Energy Bill of 2007 and the 2009 DOE Standards extend far beyond energy savings to consumers. With a lower demand for power, there could be as many as 14 fewer coal-fired power plants needed nationally, and reducing power generation could subsequently decrease carbon emissions. As for consumers, each compact fluorescent (a current replacement for incandescents) installed saves approximately $5 off an annual electric bill. For all of America, the result of the Energy Bill is estimated to be approximately $1 to $4 billion in savings each year from 2012 to 2042.

Although the commonly used 60, 70, and 100 watt incandescent light bulbs are giving way to a new, more efficient generation of lighting, we have not yet seen the end of all incandescent bulbs. Many countries, including the United States, are working to establish further regulations or bans similar to Europe’s, but they have not yet been implemented. Undoubtedly, Europe’s ban will ‘shed light’ on the effectiveness of a complete phase-out plan for all incandescent lamps. No matter how change is accomplished, the end goal remains the same – energy savings and environmental improvements through the use of higher efficiency light sources.

– Kristin D. Dietrich, LEED AP

Kristin is a Senior Electrical and Lighting Designer, as well as a LEED Accredited Professional. Please feel free to contact Kristin for further details regarding the above information.