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The DOE Releases NPRM on Light Bulb Efficiency

CFLOne of the biggest changes in the energy landscape during the past few years is the transition to LEDs. Not only is this hugely important in and of itself, but it is a powerful symbol that the government and industry are taking energy efficiency seriously.

The changeover to LEDs, which has gained great traction among manufacturers and retailers, is being driven by a long-term process. Last week, the Department of Energy took another important step: It released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will increase the efficiency of LEDs and other types of lighting devices.

The NPRM is part of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) that was signed into law by President Bush in 2007. The first phase, which ran from 2012 to 2014, mandated that light bulb energy consumption be cut by 25 percent to 30 percent. The government – and soon the industry – is gearing up for the second and final phase, which will be complete in 2020. The NPRM is part of that second phase.

Facility energy managers will be impacted by the changes, which will focus on bulbs that screw in (as opposed to those inserted via pins). Developers and managers of multi-unit dwelling units, universities and other apartments likely will be more greatly impacted than industrial and commercial facilities.

Clearly, the lighting industry is making huge strides, with or without government mandates. For instance, on Feb. 1, General Electric announced that it will stop producing fluorescent lights this year. The Bloomberg story said that CFLs accounted for 15 percent of light bulb sales in the United States in 2015. That, the story said, is about half of the portion they represented at their most popular.

Overall, however, the impact of the rules emerging from NPRM will be great. “This is going accelerate a transition from CFLs to LEDs,” said Jennifer Amann, the Buildings Program Director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). “We are seeing it already much faster than anyone anticipated. These standards show LED technology now is much more efficient, the cost has come down remarkably. It is on par with what you see for CFLs in the market today and barely more than incandescents, particularly given their very long life.”

The goals of the NPRM are outlined at the Department of Energy website. The DOE says that comments to the rulemaking will be collected until mid-April. Final rules will be set by January 1, 2017 and the new laws will become effective at the beginning of 2020.

A curve ball was dealt in 2011 to those charged with implementing EISA. Representative Michael Burgess (Rep.-TX) began attaching riders to all DOE bills that eliminated funding for testing or analysis. This led those who wrote the NPRM to include a “backstop,” which is a threshold level of efficiency that the lamps must meet.

The NRPM is ambitious. “The 2007 bill only sets standards on incandescents,” Amann said.“The new rules from the DOE are for all general service lights: Screw-based, CFLs, LEDs and incandescents. The DOE, because they could not even do an analysis of saving from incandescents, put in this backstop. It will [ensure] incandescents lamps a 45 lumens per watt standard which basically will eliminate screw-based incandescents from marketplace except for some specialty lamps.”

That’s a long timeframe. However, the changes are great and should be noted now. The Appliance Standards Awareness Project posted a chart that highlighted how the proposed standards from the DOE will impact energy. The chart shows the decreasing amount of power necessary to generate the same amount of light (lumens) as time passes.

The chart was prepared by Andrew DeLaski and Chris Granda. For instance, the light emitted by a 100 watt incandescent bulb using rules in place before 2012 will, under the proposed new rules, be generated using 20 watts in compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) or LED. A 75 watt legacy incandescent is the equivalent of a 13 watt CFL/LED, a 60 watt legacy incandescent a 9 watt CFL/LED and a 40 watt legacy incandescent a 6 watt CFL or LED.

The backstop is that the bulbs must generate 45 lumens per watt of power. For each of the four wattages in the chart, the backstop standard is more or less half of what is called for by the NPRM.

The savings by the transition to LEDs – even before the impact of the upgraded regulations is established – are great. For instance, Revolution Lighting Technologies reported a short pay-back window on its multi-building campus retrofit project at Lehman College, which is in the New York City borough of The Bronx.

The company says that the project focused on the installation of T8 LED tubes, which it says are 60 percent more efficient than fluorescents. The expected payback period is 2.5 years. Maintenance costs are expected to shrink, since LEDs are expected to last about 70,000 hours compared to 15,000 for legacy fluorescents.

The bottom line is that LEDs are taking over – and that their efficiency will continue to grow.

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