New light bulb standards increase efficiency of incandescent bulbs

On January 1 of the New Year, new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs went into effect across the industry. Under the new standards, adopted by Congress in 2007 under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), current incandescent light bulbs will be phased out and replaced with versions that are more energy efficient and last longer, with a minimum lifetime of 1,000 burning hours.

It is estimated that three billion light bulbs currently in use in the United States – three-quarters of the total number of bulbs in American households – are energy inefficient. Current incandescent bulbs waste 90 percent of the energy that they consume, a standard that is neither cost effective nor energy efficient.

The new law, sometimes incorrectly portrayed as a ban on incandescent light bulbs, will leave consumers with a choice between improved and more efficient incandescent bulbs, energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs), the latter two of which are already on the market. The new incandescent bulbs look identical to the current choices, but use 20 to 30 percent less energy, meaning that a bulb that previously burned 100 watts of energy will now produce the same amount of light, while only burning 72 watts or less.

Though shoppers won’t see a reduction in the variety of light bulbs on shelves, they will notice a difference in the packaging of the bulbs. New labeling will measure the bulbs’ brightness in terms of lumens (the amount of light produced) rather than in watts, and will inform buyers of how much money each bulb will contribute to their electric bill per year. Product packaging will also include information about brightness, light appearance (warm or cool), and the expected life of the bulb. To aid consumers in upgrading their inefficient bulbs, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has outlined a set of guidelines for choosing the right light bulb for your home.

Light bulbs consume about 10 percent of an average home’s energy, which may not seem significant, but the savings in your energy bill – along with the savings from not having to buy light bulbs as frequently, since energy efficient bulbs last longer – will add up over time. Some estimates place the cost of replacing 15 inefficient bulbs with their energy-saving counterparts at $50 per year. Though consumers will see a reduction in energy costs with the new incandescent bulbs, the bulbs will not save consumers as much money as CFL bulbs, which can save as much as $30 over the lifetime of a single bulb. The new incandescent bulbs will also not last as long as CFLs, but will last longer than current incandescent bulbs.

On a national scale, the new standards are projected to save $10 billion in annual electricity costs, equivalent to the cost of energy produced by 30 power plants. The reduction in energy consumption will also prevent 100 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year. 

This is the first phase of the new standards; the second phase, scheduled to begin in 2020, will require incandescent light bulbs to use 65 percent less energy than current incandescent bulbs, bringing even more efficient bulbs to the market. This year, the EISA standards will only phase out inefficient 100 watt bulbs; inefficient 75-, 60- and 40 watt bulbs are set to be phased out in 2013 and 2014. The new standards take effect a year earlier in California, which phased out inefficient 100 watt bulbs in January 2011 and is scheduled to replace inefficient 75 watt bulbs, which now must consume a maximum of 53 watts, this year.

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