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Changing lightbulbs: Spotlight on ligthing tech

After more than a century the lightbulb is getting a facelift

By Megan McKoy-Noe, CCC

Philips and Sylvania offer LED bulbs to replace 60-watt incandescent bulbs at a cost ranging between $40 and $60. Costs are expected to drop as consumer demand for the bulbs rises.

 

 


Original Light Bulb

Lightbulb technology hasn’t changed much since this bulb was produced in 1892—until now. Federal mandates call for manufacturers to increase a 100-watt (W) bulb’s energy efficiency by 28 percent in 2012. Source: Phillips

 

 


CFL bulb

Some consumers don’t like the swirly look of CFLs, so companies like GE are placing the bulbs inside shells, both clear and diffused, to look more like classic bulbs. Source: GE Lighting

Halogen

GE’s incandescent halogen bulbs (MSRP $5-$7) dim and turn on instantly like their incandescent bulb cousins. Source: GE Lighting


How will the FTC Label affect the bulb and packaging?

The FTC labeling rule will affect packaging and the bulb in three ways:

1. The front of the packaging must provide information on brightness (lumen output) and estimated annual energy cost.

2. The back of the package must include the FTC Lighting Facts label, which provides information on brightness, energy cost, the bulb’s life expectancy, light appearance, wattage, and the mercury content (if any).

3. Lumen output must be printed directly on the bulb, along with mercury content (if any).


Measuring light in lumens

New federal efficiency standards require lightbulbs to consume less electricity (measured in watts) for the amount of light produced (measured in lumens). Traditional 100-W bulbs — typically incandescent bulbs — will give way to choices that use 72 W or less to provide you a comparable amount of light. If you are replacing a 100-W bulb, a good rule of thumb is to look for one that delivers about 1,600 lumens. As a result, a new bulb should provide that level of brightness for no more than
72 W, cutting your energy bill.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, traditional 100-W incandescent lightbulbs will no longer meet efficiency standards and will no longer be available at most stores. However, you will have many other cost-saving options. Many of these choices are already on store shelves.

Efficiency standards will kick in for other types of lightbulbs over the next three years. Traditional 75-W incandescent lightbulbs will no
longer be available as of Jan. 1, 2013; 40-W and 60-W versions will no longer be available as of Jan. 1, 2014.

— U.S. Department of Energy

On hot summer evenings children love chasing fireflies, often catching them in jars. Then the real magic begins as the intermittent glow captivates the captors.

That same sense of wonder can be found in labs as scientists refine the process of making light-emitting diodes (LEDs) — highly-efficient lightbulbs comparable to a fireflies’ glow. LEDs have been commonly used as solitary sensor lights in electronics; now manufacturers are searching for economical ways to contain a colony of LEDs in a single lighting shell. Just as children attempt to gather enough fireflies to make a lamp, an LED “jar” would create enough light output (lumens) to match that of traditional incandescent bulbs.

This research is part of national effort aimed at redefining household lighting. Starting in January 2012, 100-watt (W) incandescent bulbs — a technology developed in the United States by Thomas Edison in 1878 and largely untouched since — must become more energy efficient.

Federal mandate

Why is the government shining a light on — well, lighting? It’s kind of like the push we’ve seen over the years to improve gas mileage in cars and trucks. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates we use 13.6 percent of our nation’s energy supply to keep the lights on, and a lot of that power is wasted. If you’ve ever touched a traditional lightbulb when it’s on, you realized much of the energy (90 percent) is released as heat (ouch!). This leaves a lot of room for improvement.

To tackle this issue, Congress passed the Energy Information and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). By 2014 household lightbulbs using between 40-W to 100-W will need to consume at least 28 percent less energy than traditional incandescents, saving Americans an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion in lighting costs annually. The law also mandates lightbulbs become 70 percent more efficient than classic bulbs by 2020 (LEDs already exceed this goal.)

“With shifting lighting options and consumers looking for every opportunity to save, navigating lighting solutions has never been so important,” says David Schuellerman, GE Lighting’s Public Relations Manager.

Look for lumens not watts

Such a massive product change means consumers must switch from thinking about lightbulbs in terms of watts (amount of energy used) to lumens (amount of light produced.)

“Lumens, not watts, tell you how bright a light bulb is, no matter the type of bulb,” explains Amy Hebert at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “The more lumens, the brighter the light.”

The consumer-focused agency has designed a “Lighting Facts” label and shopping guide that compares a bulb being purchased with traditional incandescent lightbulbs based on wattages and equivalent lumens. Beginning in 2012, labels on the front and back of lightbulb packages will emphasize a bulb’s brightness in lumens, annual energy cost and expected lifespan.

Is this a bulb ban?

Contrary to popular belief, the federal Energy Information and Security Act of 2007 does not ban incandescent bulb technology; it requires bulbs use less energy.

“It’s equivalent to standards passed in the 1980s to make refrigerators more energy efficient, and we’re reaping those benefits,” remarks Brian Sloboda with the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a division of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the
national trade arm of local electric co-ops. “Refrigerators use less than one-third of the electricity today than they did in the mid-1970s, but consumers can’t tell a difference in how their food is cooled. The premise is, why not do the same for lightbulbs?”

EISA halts the manufacture of inefficient lightbulbs, but stores will not remove tried-and true incandescent bulbs from shelves come New Year’s Day. Current inventory will still be available for sale until exhausted. And the improved efficiency requirements only apply to screw-based lightbulbs. Specialty bulbs for appliances, heavy-duty bulbs, colored lights and three-way bulbs are exempt.

Explore Your Options

Once traditional incandescents
go the way of the passenger pigeon, residential bulbs will largely fit in three categories, each stacking up a
bit differently:

  • Halogen Incandescents: Use 25 percent less energy, last three times longer than regular incandescent bulbs
  • Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs): Use 75 percent less energy, last up to 10 times longer
  • LEDs: Use between 75 percent and 80 percent less energy, last up to 25 times longer

“CFL, halogen, and LED technologies all offer energy savings, but at different intervals, and all with their own pros and cons” says Schuellerman.

For consumers comfortable with their old incandescent bulbs, halogen incandescents will be an easy first-step. Featuring a capsule of halogen gas around the bulb’s filament, they’re available in a variety of familiar colors and can be dimmed.

Halogen offers a big efficiency advantage over standard incandescent bulbs,” says John Strainic, Global Product General Manager, GE Lighting. “It consumes fewer watts while delivering a precise dimming capability and a bright, crisp light.”

The most familiar options on the market today — and most economical — are CFLs. The technology operates the same as fluorescent lighting in offices or the kitchen. The bulbs are now available in a wide array of colors and some can be dimmed. Always check the package to make sure a bulb meets your needs.

According to Schuellerman, CFLs are generally best used anywhere where lighting is left on for extended periods and full brightness is not immediately necessary, such as family rooms, bedrooms and common areas. As with all fluorescent bulbs, each CFL contains a trace amount of mercury, about five times less than in a small watch battery and less than found in a can of tuna. They should be recycled properly. Many retailers offer free CFL recycling; visit www.epa.gov/cfl or www.earth911.org for details.

The final choice (remember the fireflies?) is LEDs. Although still developing, you can find LED lights, recessed fixtures, and some lower wattage replacement bulbs on store shelves.

“LEDs are the up-and-coming solution,” predicts Schuellerman.” As they come down in price, homeowners will embrace them. Currently, most residential LEDs are used for outdoor lighting where fixtures are left on for extended periods and changing bulbs is not easily done. LEDs are also great for linear applications like under cabinet lighting, where light sources with thin profiles are needed.”

LEDs are more expensive than other options: a replacement for a 60-W incandescent bulb costs between $30 and $60 and may not have a good payback for most applications at this time. But costs will fall as manufacturers respond to growing consumer demand. LEDs have already shown up extensively in flashlights, where energy efficiency increases battery life dramatically.

In 2008 LEDs comprised 10 percent of the output from CREE Inc., a Durham, N.C-based lighting manufacturer. Fast-forward three years and LEDs are responsible for 70 percent of the company’s businesses, and bulb efficiency has doubled. Innovations like a new production line last year are driving down costs.

LEDs are not without their problems — they have to stay cool to operate efficiently, and when several bulbs are placed together for a brighter, more consumer-friendly light, lifespan decreases. However, many manufacturers are accounting for this by adding cooling elements to LED bulbs. Some bulbs feature a spine design to allow air to flow around the base; other models have fans built into the ballast.

Can you see a difference?

Some consumers believe more efficient bulbs won’t provide the same warm look and feel as classic bulbs, but Schuellerman disagrees.

“Lighting technologies are advancing at such a rate that consumers won’t notice a marked difference in the color of light from different technologies or how that light is dispersed. You also won’t necessarily see a difference in bulb shape. Some consumers don’t like the look of twist-shaped CFLs, for example, so we offer covered CFLs that look just like incandescent bulbs. We also have an LED bulb that is a replacement for a 40-watt incandescent, as well as halogen bulbs, that both are housed in incandescent-shaped shells.”

The difference will be found on your monthly electric bill — more efficient bulbs use between 25 and 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescents and last much longer. The U.S. Department of Energy claims each household can save $50 a year by replacing just 15 traditional incandescent bulbs.

“With these new technologies, homeowners will be spending less on electricity bills for lighting and changing fewer bulbs,” says Schuellerman.

To learn about lighting options, visit energysavers.gov/lighting. For details on the change and shopping tips visit ftc.gov/lightbulbs.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy,
U.S. Energy Information Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Cooperative Research Network, LUMEN Coalition, GE, Sylvania, Philips

Megan McKoy-Noe, CCC, writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service organization for the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

 

 

© 2014 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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