New ENERGY STAR® Specification Marks End of an Era
ENERGY STAR®’s new lighting specification, which goes into effect on 1/2/2017, will increase efficacy requirements for all lamp types to a level that only LEDs can meet. CFLs losing ENERGY STAR® status will hasten the market’s already sharp shift away from the technology. But it may be a lowering of the lifetime threshold required for certification that is just as significant in terms of market impact. The specification lowered the minimum lifetime for qualifying lamps from 25,000 hours to 15,000 hours for omni-directional (aka. general purpose) lamps. This change will likely drive greater LED adoption—and more energy savings—at the expense of CFLs simply because lower lifetime lamps can hit more palatable price points for consumers. Since the vast majority of people not reading this purchase light bulbs mostly on first cost, that’s a good thing.
The moderated lifetime requirement also creates an opportunity for manufacturers and retailers to set up a good-better-best model within their LED product lines and on their shelves. The good is the “value” non-ENERGY STAR® bulb, the “better” is the 15,000-hour ENERGY STAR bulb, and the “best” is the 25,000-hour ENERGY STAR® bulb. From an energy savings perspective, that sure beats the traditional incandescent-halogen-CFL framework that characterized the lighting market for the last 25 years.
While there has been a lot of hand-wringing over the “value” LEDs, the fact is those bulbs, whatever their shortcomings, still save a lot of energy. Yes, it is possible some consumers will be disappointed with the performance of those value LEDs. But this is not 1996 or 2006. It is 2016, and LEDs are not CFLs. It is even acceptable in some energy efficiency circles to make jokes about CFLs now. (Don’t know about you, but that is when I knew LEDs were here to stay.) If a combination of the new ENERGY STAR® specification and the EISA 2020 standards make the “value” LED the new normal for the low-cost option on the shelf… well, that seems like a great outcome, especially considering incandescents were by far the most common lamp type just a few years ago.
Setting the ENERGY STAR® levels high enough to preclude CFLs would have been unthinkable in the not-too-distant past. Many factors made the change possible: public and private investment in LED lighting research and development, massive utility investment, forward-looking regulation, and a technology suited to dramatic cost reductions with increasing scale.