Trump Administration Will Try to Exempt Specialty Bulbs From Energy Efficiency Standards

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Mini-spots, reflectors and candelabra bulbs were supposed to become more efficient next year, saving 80 billion kWh.

Perhaps the single most important energy saving invention of the century is the light emitting diode or LED bulb. Few technologies have caught on so quickly and made such a dramatic difference; the energy used for commercial lighting, for example, has dropped by half since 2013.

A lot of this was due to the fact that LEDs are just so efficient and long-lasting that people have made the change on their own; I wrote a few years ago that “the market has done it already and not even Fox Republicans are buying incandescent bulbs to own the Libs anymore. This particular revolution is over and the LEDs won.”

Eurofase closeup

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But that was with mass produced standard bulbs; there are still lots of specialty bulbs out there, like reflector bulbs, 3-way bulbs, hipster steampunk bulbs and the candelabra bulbs in my late mother-in-law's chandelier. They were exempt from the rules until the Obama Administration added them to the list of general service bulbs, to kick in on January 1, 2020, which would take them off the market if they didn't use less they got more than 45 lumens per watt.

lightbulb sales

Department of Energy/Public Domain

But these specialty bulbs are big business; they are more expensive than regular bulbs, and their LED versions are far more expensive so consumers keep buying the incandescents. Other consumers love the warm quality of light from MR16 halogens. According to Utility Dive, as many as 2.9 billion of these specialty bulbs are still sold each year, and last summer we noted how big bulb manufacturers conspiring with Department of Energy and Trump to slow the LED revolution. It looks like they have pulled this off.

The government cannot "backslide" on efficiency standards, but says it is just changing the definition, so that all these specialty bulbs will not be dumped into the General Service category. Many think this is nuts; Noah Horowitz of the NRDC is quoted by The Hill:

This is another senseless and illegal Trump administration rollback that will needlessly hike our energy bills and spew tons more pollution into the air, harming the health of our children and the environment. Even with today’s highly efficient LED light bulbs on the market, Trump’s Department of Energy wants to keep 2.7 billion of our lighting sockets mired in a world of dinosaur, energy-guzzling lighting technology that basically hasn’t been updated for more than a hundred years.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says the rollback will cause the consumption of an additional 80 billion kWh per year, which is perhaps the point; that's a lot of coal. The ACEEE says it will cost consumers a hundred bucks a year, and:

This additional energy waste would cause more power plant pollution which harms the environment and contributes to health problems like asthma. Pollution increases would include an extra 19,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 23,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 34 million metric tons of climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions each year by 2025 — the annual CO2 emissions equal to that of more than seven million cars.

The industry says, don't worry, because "the marketplace is doing an excellent job of transitioning to more efficient lighting solutions." Then why are they fighting it?

rejected lightbulbs

Anybody want a dozen dim or flickering LED candelabra bulbs?/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Specialty bulbs are an interesting issue. When I wanted to go 100 percent LED a few years ago, I went through three sets of candelabra bulbs before I found expensive Philips ones that dimmed properly, looked good and put out enough light. But the LED regulations on bulbs gave manufacturers the incentive to make decent regular bulb replacements, and the new regulations would have no doubt pushed them into making better, cheaper candelabra and reflector bulbs. I suppose we will have to wait a little longer for them now.

Installing bulb

© Cree bulb

When I originally wrote about this industry campaign and suggested that it was time to boycott big bulb, I confirmed with Cree that they were not part of this evil cabal trying to roll back the regulations. I am going to stick with them.