Chapter Corner

Lighting Efficiency Standards are Changing Again

Posted in: Features, July 2015

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 upgrades that will pay for themselves, reduce energy costs, improve the working environment, and more readily accommodate future energy regulations.


The future of fluorescent lamps and ballasts is uncertain. As we discussed earlier, T12 lamps are no longer being manufactured and sold in the United States and standard-wattage T8 lamps will be on the decline as a result of pending energy regulations.

Because it offers a more sustainable, long- term solution to fluorescent lighting, LED lighting is rapidly becoming the default option for new construction or major renovation. But, this can also present a concern for electrical specifiers. Currently, there is little standardization in the LED market, which results in inconsistent performance, flicker, and control compatibility issues – issues that are almost unheard of with fluorescent loads.

Leaders in the lighting control industry are now offering digitally addressable, high-performance LED drivers that guarantee flicker-free, architectural dimming performance in LED troffers and linears – the most appropriate replacement for traditional fluorescent fixtures. Look for manufacturers who will provide drivers ensuring the type of performance, flexibility, and control that you have come to expect with high- performance fluorescent solutions. LED technology continues to improve, and you can now offer an incandescent-like experience, including soft-on, Fade-to-Black™ performance to create the perfect lighting control experience for any space.


One place to start is to carefully consider the advantages of digitally addressable dimmable drivers over 0-10V drivers. Many 0-10V LED fixture manufacturers offer dimming drivers as a no-cost upgrade from switching drivers when selling their fixtures to building owners, contractors and specifiers. At first glance, it may seem that0-10V drivers offer all of the benefits of LED dimming at no additional cost–but, 0-10Vcontrol is not free. It is important to understand the tradeoffs that must be made when 0-10V control is selected, such as whether the dimming performance will meet your requirements, additional costs associated with meeting new codes and standards (which may mandate particular control strategies), and whether or not to risk “upgrading” to a technology that may not stand the test of time.

In contrast to analog 0-10V solutions, digitally addressable LED drivers can help you avoid issues that range from compliance with NEMA 410 inrush current limits, to power-line noise interference, performance gaps, and the significant cost implications of having to rewire to accommodate changes in zoning or control when a space is repurposed or reorganized. Digitally addressable LED drivers can be reassigned and reprogrammed with no additional wiring or installation charges.

Compatibility between 0-10V drivers and controls can also be a source of confusion, even if both products are “0-10V compliant.” Work with a manufacturer that will guarantee system compatibility, has already done the appropriate testing and research, and is committed to providing resources to simplify the selection process.


Lighting upgrades are one aspect of layered energy saving strategies in a building. To maximize energy savings while preserving, and even improving the user experience, building owners and facility managers will often want to integrate daylight harvesting, occupant sensing, high-end trim, and load shed as part of their lighting control systems. To ensure success, work with industry leaders to choose LED drivers and controls that accommodate these requirements and provide smooth, flicker free 1 percent dimming in mission critical spaces such as board rooms, conference rooms, auditoriums, executive offices, and even restaurants, ballrooms and other hospitality spaces where poor dimming performance can wreak havoc with your customer’s customer.

In the end, a key differentiating factor among manufacturers is commitment, warranty, and support. Even the best- laid plans can occasionally go awry. You need to feel confident your LED driver manufacturer will stand behind the project until it’s resolved. When you embark on a lighting retrofit, make sure the manufacturer is prepared to respond quickly, offering 24/7 support, a large and accessible service organization, and a toll-free phone number that is easy to locate on every driver. If there is ever an issue, available service professionals – whether they are accessible by phone, e-mail or in-person – can get to the root cause and fix it. In the long run, choose a company that is as committed to service as it is to product excellence. This can be the key differentiator in terms of return on investment, code compliance, and overall system performance.

Ethan is the LED Engineering Leader at Lutron Electronics, an IEC National Bronze Industry Partner. While his early career was spent developing dimming systems for large-scale commercial projects, the last six years have been spent focusing on LED technology, especially in the area of testing and improving dimming compatibility. In this role, he works with colleagues from all levels in the industry, from chipset vendors to lamp and fixture manufacturers, in order to improve compatibility between dimmers and LED light sources. His expertise has allowed him to contribute to training, technical whitepapers, application notes, and industry standards regarding LED technology, including major contributions to NEMA SSL7A and Zhaga.