Lighting Efficiency Standards are Changing Again

For most of history, lighting technology has been largely the same, especially when it comes to the standard incandescent bulb. But in 2007, as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), the federal government set new efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs.

According to the Act, these standards were designed to “move the United States toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers, to increase the efficiency of products, buildings and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government, and for other purposes.” In short, the federal government recognized that lighting energy had a significant impact on the total energy usage in this country, and it was time for a change.

In 2007, a federally mandated manufacturing phrase out of traditional incandescent bulbs, starting with 100W and 75W versions was signed into law. Over the next few years, contractors and end-users began to get used to the fact that their beloved Edison bulb was not the future of lighting. By January of 2014, when standard 60W and 40W bulbs were also taken out of production, there were many viable options available, including halogen, CFL and LED lamps, and consumers seemed to have taken the changes pretty much in stride.

Driven largely by their energy-saving, long life properties, the LED market is expanding and improving at a rapid pace. LED lamps and controls now offer excellent light quality, a typical rated life of 50,000 hours, significant energy savings, and some even offer incandescent-like dimming performance. And as the market expands, the cost of these incandescent alternatives is also coming down, increasing their payback potential.

The focus on replacing incandescent sources has primarily impacted residential consumers, but the United States Department of Energy (DOE) was also looking at the impact of fluorescent lighting, and taking steps to make these sources more efficient as well. This market segment has a much greater impact on the commercial and industrial markets. In July of 2012, DOE regulations went into effect, eliminating a majority of 4-ft linear and 2-ft u-bent T12 lamps. These regulations also strengthened efficiency standards for T5 lamps, but left T8 lamps, one of the workhorses of the industry, basically unchanged.

Over the next few years, additional changes started to take shape. By January 26, 2018 efficiency standards will essentially ban the manufacture of the vast majority of standard-wattage T8 lamps, resulting in significant impact on commercial buildings. Estimates are that 20 percent of all lamps in commercial buildings are currently T8 lamps, and as much as 44 percent of lamps in industrial applications fall into this category. Three years may seem like plenty of time to figure out how your business, and your customers, will react to these changes, but there is a lot to consider.

Should a facility plan for a whole-scale lighting fixture replacement, or does relamping with reduced-wattage T8 lamps make sense? Is it time to consider LED options that may have a higher cost of entry, but significantly reduce energy use, and are less likely to fall victim to further energy regulations in the next 10 years? How will the light quality in your space be affected by switching to a different source? How easily can fixtures and controls accommodate retrofit situations?

Perhaps the biggest questions are more all-encompassing. The DOE is faced with an aging energy grid, a growing population, and tremendous pressure to make US energy more sustainable. It is safe to assume that since lighting energy is such a significant part of total energy consumption, more changes are on the way. By taking a long-term view of energy upgrades and retrofits, you can make lighting and control decisions to help your customers plan for and implement effective lighting upgrad