The inefficient incandescent light bulb will officially join polio, the passenger pigeon and the California Grizzly on the dust pile of extinction. The three-year phase out of these general-purpose incandescent light bulbs occurs December 31, 2013, the National Lighting Bureau advises.
On the following day – January 1, 2014 – it will be a violation of law to manufacture in or import into the United States 60-watt and 40-watt general-purpose “A-line” incandescent light bulbs. The process – required by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 (Public Law 110-140) – began on January 1, 2012, when 100-watt A-line incandescent light bulbs were phased out, followed six months later by a variety of inefficient incandescent R-series reflector bulbs and, six months after that, on January 1, 2013, inefficient 75-watt incandescent A-lines.
About 8.2 billion light bulbs and tubes – known collectively as “lamps” – are installed in the United States. Of these, some 5.8 billion are located in homes and other residential facilities and 2.1 billion are installed in commercial buildings. Just about half of the residential and commercial installations were designed to accommodate inefficient incandescent bulbs, averaging about 64 watts each.
Given an average per-bulb usage of 2.5 hours per day, and assuming all installations are or were equipped with inefficient incandescent bulbs, converting all residential and commercial installations to more efficient lighting, averaging about 17 watts per lamp, would save some 176.25 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, the collective energy output of more than fifty 500-megawatt power plants. Assuming all these plants were powered by coal – nationwide, about one-third still are – the annual coal-use reduction could be visualized as a fully loaded, 943,000-car coal train, long enough to stretch from Miami, Florida to the North Pole… then back again.
“As substantial as the energy conservation could be, the environmental conservation could be even more significant,” says National Lighting Bureau chair Howard P. Lewis (Visioneering Corporation), the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America’s (IES’) representative on the Bureau’s board of directors. “Again, assuming 100 percent reliance on coal, the reduction would come to almost 970 million tons of CO2 that does not escape to the atmosphere. We’d also see reductions in the emission of other greenhouse gases, mercury, and fly ash.”
Continually more power plants are generating their electricity from natural gas, which now makes up one-third of the primary energy used, about the same percentage as coal. Using natural gas creates about half the CO2 as coal. The electric-power industry is also generating more energy from clean, renewable alternative means, like wind, solar, and hydro.
“The lighting industry deserves a huge amount of credit for these developments,” Mr. Lewis says. “The major lamp manufacturers, like Bureau sponsors GE and OSRAM SYLVANIA, were highly supportive of the Energy Independence and Security Act, even though it meant elimination of one of their most significant product lines. At the same time, they’ve made extraordinary strides in the development of alternative products that consume far less energy than incandescent lamps and last far longer, while producing light that is just as good and often better, and offering control and usage options that were just not available before. The bottom line is that all Americans can now have better, more versatile, and far more efficient lighting whose energy cost is about one-third or less of what it was before.”
In fact, once the phase-out achieves its ultimate effect, Americans could be saving more than $20 billion per year at today’s average electricity cost of $0.115 per kWh in the residential and commercial sectors.
“That’s a pretty significant stimulus in and of itself,” Lewis observes, adding, “but it doesn’t consider the cost of replacement bulbs. Given an average usage of 2.5 hours per incandescent socket per day, replacements like compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and solid-state lighting (SSL) equipped with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) could easily last up to 20 years. Their longevity, along with the lower retail prices derived from technological innovation, mass production, and competition, comprise another source of significant savings for the American consumer.”
National Lighting Bureau executive director John Bachner noted that all the benefits “will be achieved without eliminating incandescent lamps or reducing the number and variety of lighting choices available to consumers. More efficient general-purpose incandescents, like halogen-filled lamps, were already on retail shelves when the inefficient incandescent light-bulb phase-out began, and more have been and continue to be developed. And a variety of ‘specialty’ incandescent lamps have been wholly unaffected by the phase out. These include 3-way bulbs; appliance lights; “bug lights”; infrared and colored bulbs; shatter-resistant, vibration-service, and rough-service bulbs; bulbs used in signs; and bulbs used for marine, mine, and traffic applications.
“Overall, in my opinion, American consumers are being extremely well served by this law. They’ve been given more lighting choices at a variety of price points, longer-lived light bulbs, especially with CFL and LED types, more efficiency, and lower operating costs. They also derive the satisfaction of knowing that, by taking advantage of these benefits, they are contributing to a healthier environment for themselves and their children. What could be better than that?” he asks.