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Paving the Way for an Efficient Light Bulb in Every Socket

The 13-year transition to more efficient bulbs will save U.S. consumers more than $10 billion a year

LEDs have the edge in meeting efficiency standards taking effect in 2020. LEDs last up to 25,000 hours, more than double the life expectancy of a compact fluorescent.
Image Credit: Pashminu via Pixabay

The U.S. Department of Energy has just updated and expanded its definition of what constitutes an everyday light bulb in our homes and businesses, paving the way for the Trump administration to implement the second phase of a bipartisan law signed by President George W. Bush to cut the energy waste of bulbs. Energy efficiency standards were sorely needed because the incandescent light bulb had not been significantly updated since the days of Thomas Edison, more than 125 years earlier.

Once the 13-year transition to more efficient light bulbs is completed, U.S. consumers will save more than $10 billion on their electric bills every year and there no longer will be a need to generate the amount of electricity that’s produced by more than 30 large power plants annually. The savings are so large because the average U.S. household has around 40 lighting sockets and more than 2 billion sockets nationwide still contain inefficient bulbs.

First, some history: Back in 2007, President Bush signed a law passed by a bipartisan Congress to phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs. The first phase, which occurred between 2012 and 2014, went smoothly and the old incandescents were replaced on store shelves by halogen incandescent bulbs that used about 28% less energy.

The 2007 law also required the Department of Energy (DOE) to review and update as necessary the definition for “general service lamps” (GSLs), the technical term for the everyday light bulbs used in our homes, and to increase the efficiency levels required for bulbs sold after 2020 to at least 45 lumens per watt (LPW). (Lumens refers to the amount of light a bulb produces and watts the amount of power it draws.) That’s triple the efficiency of the conventional incandescent bulbs sold before 2012. (Note: Today’s LED bulbs already meet the 45 LPW benchmark. In fact, the typical LED replacing the old 60-watt incandescent only uses 10 watts to produce the same amount of light and has an efficiency level of around 80 LPW.)

New definitions for general service lamps

In fulfillment of its statutory obligations, the Department of Energy just issued the updated definition for the types of light bulbs that will be considered “general service lamps.” This step paves the way for the eventual conversion of our nation’s light bulbs to dramatically more efficient ones. The new definition culminates a nearly year-long process led by the DOE that provided multiple opportunities for input from manufacturers, retailers, and other stakeholders.

Now that the new definition has been updated, it will be up to the Trump administration and new secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy to adopt and enforce the next phase of the 13-year transition: the 45 LPW minimum standard scheduled to go into effect in 2020. Because the standards are technology-neutral, bulb manufacturers can use whatever technology they prefer — incandescent, CFL, LED, or any other — as long as the bulbs produce at least 45 LPW. However, given their superior energy efficiency, long life, and cost savings, the bulbs meeting the improved standard are most likely to be LEDs. (To learn more about the standards, see our NRDC Fact Sheet.)

Here’s some more information on the new definition and the amazing LED innovation occurring in the lighting space, all of which is translating into massive energy savings and lower consumer electric bills, and will lead to new U.S. jobs.

What is a “general service light bulb”?

Because light bulbs come in all sizes and shapes, a clear definition is needed to determine which bulbs will be covered by the future standard — and just as importantly, which ones won’t.

The updated DOE definition adds some commonly used bulb types like the reflector bulbs that go into the increasingly popular recessed cans/down lights and the flame-shaped candelabra bulbs often used in chandeliers and sconces. DOE also listed bulbs to be exempted due to their niche applications and unique characteristics — such as the bulbs that go into ovens, bug lights, etc.

Are efficient versions available?

Today, three years ahead of the projected effective date, one can already find an energy-efficient, long-lasting version of virtually all the bulbs covered by DOE’s updated definition.

Shoppers visiting their local big box and hardware stores can find a broad selection of LED bulbs that are drop-in replacements for their old incandescent bulbs. The new LEDs do everything the old bulbs did except waste energy. They start instantly, are usually dimmable, deliver the same quality of light, and depending on the bulb, last between 10 and 25 years under normal usage (3 hours per day) compared to just one year or so.

What about jobs?

With a few exceptions, the improved incandescent and halogen bulbs sold in America are no longer made here, and are manufactured instead in factories in Mexico, China, or Hungary. The good news is that several thousand U.S. jobs have been created to research, design, market, and manufacture LED bulbs and related products, which dwarfs the number of remaining domestic jobs tied to incandescent bulbs. For example:

  • Cree Inc., one of the top-selling LED brands, employs more than 3,000 in its North Carolina and Wisconsin plants and offices.
  • Lumileds in San Jose, California, makes LEDs that go into household light bulbs and car headlights, as well as other LED lighting products.
  • Soraa, a high-end lighting company that makes the LED spotlights favored by retailers, was founded by a University of California Santa Barbara professor who won the Nobel Prize for inventing the blue LED, which enabled energy-saving white LED light bulbs to be created. Headquartered in Fremont, California, Soraa is building a factory in upstate New York that will add 300 manufacturing and 120 R&D jobs.

Where are we in the transition to LEDs?

LED bulbs are now widely available and have decreased in cost from more than $20 per bulb to less than $5, and in some cases can be purchased for as little as $2 each when bought in a multipack. And each bulb can save consumers $50 to $150-plus, depending on rated lifetime, brightness, and local utility rates. As a result, LED light bulbs have grown from just 1% of the market a few years ago to more than 20% of all bulbs sold today, with additional increases expected as LED prices continue to decline.

But first the new administration must adopt and enforce the next phase of updated standards under the 2007 law, to ensure that virtually all the sockets in the United States contain an efficient bulb, which will reduce consumer bills, cut electricity use, and create jobs. While some members of Congress are leading an all-out assault on regulation, why would anyone want to roll back bipartisan light bulb efficiency legislation that’s saving their constituents money, helping to clean the air, and leading to American job growth?

Let’s hope the Trump administration sees the light and quickly sets in motion the second phase of these beneficial efficiency standards aimed at avoiding needless energy waste by our light bulbs.

Noah Horowitz is senior scientist and director of the Center for Energy Efficiency, Energy & Transportation Program at the National Resources Defense Council, where this post was originally published.


  1. kyeser | | #1

    Health risks associated with led's
    Great article about LED's, they save energy but there are definite health side effects

  2. Expert Member

    I don't have any expertise in the dangers (of lack of) posed by LEDs, but it would be helpful if your link was to a more reputable source than Dr. Mercola.

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