DOE Proposal to Roll Back Lightbulb Efficiency Would Hurt Consumers, Innovation | Alliance to Save Energy

DOE Proposal to Roll Back Lightbulb Efficiency Would Hurt Consumers, Innovation

Release Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019


WASHINGTON – The Alliance to Save Energy called for the Department of Energy to reconsider its proposal released Wednesday to undo efficiency standards for many lightbulbs – a rollback that would cost Americans billions of dollars in lost energy savings.

“This is about so much more than lightbulbs. It’s about progress and innovation and making sure we have practical rules in place so that consumers are getting the most cost-effective products that use our limited energy resources in the smartest way,” said Alliance to Save Energy President Jason Hartke. “I just don’t understand the rationale behind trying to turn back the clock. There aren’t many people out there clamoring for outdated lightbulbs that use four or five times as much energy. Consumers have moved on and embraced high-efficiency bulbs like LEDs because prices are plummeting and because they’re getting a better-performing, longer-lasting product that saves them money.”

DOE’s proposal involves rewriting regulations stemming from bipartisan comprehensive energy legislation passed in 2007 and signed into law by President George W. Bush. That legislation, which calls for gradually phasing in new lighting efficiency standards, has led to dramatically increased adoption of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and encouraged innovation in new lighting products. DOE’s rollback proposal would undo a 2017 decision by DOE – consistent with the legislation – to expand the types of lightbulbs covered under stronger standards. At risk are significant household energy savings as well as reduced pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions.  

“Aside from the monetary benefits for consumers, the aggregate impact is enormous. This is one of the most significant energy efficiency standards in U.S. history,” Hartke said. “Starting in 2020, the rules would cover the vast majority of the U.S. lightbulb market. Billions of low-efficiency lightbulbs are still in service. As those lightbulbs are replaced with high-efficiency alternatives over time, the potential savings are huge. It’s also important to emphasize that this does not ban any specific bulb technology. Congress intentionally set a technology-neutral performance standard instead of targeting particular types of bulbs.”

The law’s increased efficiency standards began in 2012 covering only the most common, pear-shaped A-series bulbs. As directed under the law, DOE subsequently conducted a second-phase analysis to determine what other categories of lightbulbs should be covered by higher standards. The agency determined that seven additional commonly used categories of lightbulbs should be covered starting in 2020, including those used in indoor recessed lighting and candelabra fixtures. The agency maintained exemptions for 15 other lightbulb categories based on sales data, technical features and other criteria. DOE also said that a higher efficiency standard that was automatically triggered under the law – requiring a minimum of 45 lumens per watt consumed – should take effect for all covered lightbulbs at the same time.

According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), about 2.9 billion of the total lightbulbs sold in 2015 fall under the new categories to be covered by the higher efficiency standards set to take effect in 2020. For comparison, about 3.5 billion A-series lightbulbs were sold in the same year.

“The whole point of the 2007 law was to increase the efficiency of common lightbulbs,” said Hartke. “It’s clear that Congress—again, working in a bipartisan way—didn’t intend to leave loopholes for billions of lightbulbs to avoid the new requirements. But that’s what today’s proposal would do. This proposal isn’t just changing the rules in the middle of the game, it’s changing the rules in the fourth quarter to determine the outcome. But of course, we’re not talking about a game. We’re talking about billions of dollars of savings.”

“This proposal calls into question DOE’s commitment to improving U.S. energy sector resilience and reliability,” continued Hartke. “DOE should be embracing energy efficiency policies like standards for lightbulbs to reduce the stress and strain on our energy infrastructure, particularly when we’re concerned about the stability and resilience of our grid. Why DOE would propose to saddle the electric grid with higher demand for electricity—let alone to illuminate lightbulbs better suited for the last century—is beyond me.”

LBNL’s report found that the updated 2020 rules would result in energy savings of 27 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs) (quads) through 2049, more than the 20 quads used by the entire U.S. residential sector in 2016. The rules would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 540 million metric tons by 2030, which is equal to the annual emissions from 134 coal-fired power plants. According to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, an average American household would save $180 a year by 2025 under the lightbulb standards. About $115 of that total would come from the stage two 2020 rules. Overall, annual consumer savings on electric bills are expected to reach $22 billion in 2025 with the 2020 standards in place.

About the Alliance to Save Energy

Founded in 1977, the Alliance to Save Energy is a nonprofit, bipartisan alliance of business, government, environmental and consumer leaders working to expand the economy while using less energy. Our mission is to promote energy productivity worldwide – including through energy efficiency – to achieve a stronger economy, a cleaner environment and greater energy security, affordability and reliability.


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