8 Years into the Incandescent Bulb Ban
The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) went into place back in 2007, but it was structured in such a way that many of its most dramatic sweeping changes seem to be really taking hold this year. Let’s back up just a bit and address what exactly the Energy Independence and Security Act is. First off, it provides absolutely no independence. Second, it offers absolutely no security—for either consumers or the country. With that out of the way, let me relay the key points of the Act and what happened as a result. This is a hot topic because 2015 is truly the year the incandescent bulb ban will cause these types of lights to virtually disappear.
The Energy Independence and Security Act in a Nutshell:
- 2007 – Legislation passed; law begins to change how manufactures plan for future bulb and lamp deployment
- 2012-2014 – Incandescent bulbs that produce 310–2600 lumens of light are effectively phased out (unless they can meet the increasing energy efficiency standards mandated by the bill)
- Light bulbs < 40 watts or > 150 watts are exempt
- Speciality lights, like appliance lamps, “rough service” bulbs, 3-way bulbs, colored lamps, and plant lights are exempt
- By 2020 – all general-purpose bulbs must produce >= 45 lumens per watt
Mandatory Regulation is the Mother of Invention…Right?
You remember that well-known adage, “Mandatory regulation is the mother of invention,” right? No? Maybe that’s because mandatory regulation doesn’t actually invent anything, it just forces things to market a bit faster than natural market forces might. The EISA forced manufacturers to stop making incandescent light bulbs of various outputs and efficiencies over specific periods of time. The end game was to increase, by force, the energy efficiency of homes by eliminating those energy-wasting bulbs that we use…like everywhere. While I like the idea of energy efficiency, what the EISA did was insert government regulation in the place of more natural market movements. Incandescent bulbs are very inexpensive to manufacture, while (back in 2007) LEDs were extremely expensive. On top of that, CFL (compact florescent lights) were mercury filled lilted time-bombs that offered, at the time, horrible light quality and dangerous and costly disposal ramifications. On top of it all, the benefits of CFL over incandescent rarely panned out, and some fixtures rendered CFL bulbs about as long-lasting as their incandescent counterparts.
So why did the US government bother passing such intrusive and economically-jarring legislation? The act was sponsored and pushed by the Alliance to Save Energy, a group that includes “over 170 organizations committed to energy efficiency as a primary way to achieve the nation’s environmental, economic, energy security and affordable housing goals”. The Alliance estimated that lighting accounts for 22% of total U.S. electricity usage, and that the elimination of incandescent bulbs completely (something that isn’t slated to occur with current legislation) would save $18 billion per year, or “the same energy that 80 coal plants generate”. There was also a subsequent hope that working on the front end nationally might avoid various standards popping up on a state-wide level (which is what happened with unleaded gas mixtures).
A Phased-in Approach to Lighting
If the federal government had enacted the incandescent bulb ban outright, the populace would have likely rebelled. It would have been the Boston tea party all over again (light cessation without representation). instead, legislators gradually phased out the manufacture of incandescent bulbs of particular wattages, while phasing in regulations that forced efficiency standards they couldn’t possibly meet (incandescent technology, that is). The government felt this would help “encourage” the manufacture of the new technologies. It certainly did, but it did so at the cost of freedom. It is now illegal to manufacture a standard 100 Watt incandescent light bulb for residential use in the United States, for example. Really? Illegal?
But It Reduces Energy Consumption!
Yes, forcing energy efficient lighting by effectively banning incandescent bulbs does indeed reduce energy consumption in the United States. That’s not so much the issue as it was forced via gunpoint (or at least with the promise of extremely untenable financial penalties) upon the manufacturers of these products. But that’s not the real big issue. As always, the issue at stake is…
The Law of Unintended Consequences
Ah, yes, the infamous law of unintended consequences. Consequences such as:
- What do you mean I can’t dim these new inexpensive LED lamps?
- Why does a dimmable LED lamp cost $20? My old incandescent bulb cost $0.20!
- Why does that LED bulb flicker in my fixture? What do you mean I have to buy a new dimmer switch?
- What do you mean I need a hazmat team to clean up a broken CFL bulb?
The Upside…It’s Not That Bad..In Fact, It’s Kinda Good
LED lighting really IS better than incandescent. Maybe I just hate things being forced on me prematurely. LED bulbs have many more options than CFL or incandescent, plus they are—in this day and age of inexpensive silicon—inexpensive to manufacture in high volume, though possibly never quite as inexpensive as incandescents. The only real hang-up with LED lights is that they are an electrical system. They require a circuit board and chipset. That means they’re susceptible to power surges and other issues that could cause premature failure. Just because the LED lamp is good for 20,000+ hours, doesn’t mean you can’t blow out a chip when the a storm causes some irregularity in the power line to your home.
Another area in which LED lighting (I’m going with LED as I believe CFL was, and remains, a stopgap and not the future of lighting technology) helps is saving consumers money over the long haul. Assuming bulb pricing continues to drop (a good quality LED bulb is still currently around 100x more expensive than its incandescent counterpart) LED bulbs can save consumers as much as 10-15% off their electrical bills every month. That adds up, and it’s a big savings over the years.
LED Lighting is Smart
We talk a lot about smart home technology these days, and for lighting, it’s a lot easier to have smart technology when your individual lamps have chipsets and electronics built right in. In this way, LED lights, or groups of lights, can be controlled using whole home control systems. Want to dim all of the lamps in your home theater? No problem. How about automating your lights to come on and off at night…or when you’re away on vacation? That’s no longer a problem. Lighting can even change color with new multi-LED lights that feature red, green, and blue LEDs that can be controlled in any combination to generate millions of color combinations. You can even reproduce the effects of a flickering candle or flame with these LED lamps, and their potential for classical architecture and chandeliers are nearly limitless. Factor that into your plans when set up your home theater.
Wrapping It Up
As it turns our, Congress defunded the bulb-ban portion of EISA in 2012. In truth it wasn’t needed, the legislation had already done its work. It was kind of like rescuing the cat after it had already jumped out of the tree. I don’t think any of this will save the world, but it will open up homes to greater opportunities for automation and energy efficiency. If that saves you money, then we’ve come a long way since Edison. You have to admit, the recent push towards LED has been the biggest leap forward in lighting technology since halogen bulbs—and those simply added more brightness. Regardless of your politics, lighting has been changed forever—and probably for the best.