Why LEDs Still Rule in Lighting Despite Administration Roll-backs

Sep 9th 2019

The Department of Energy’s roll-back of the extension of energy requirements for lighting offers a reprieve to manufacturers of several classes of traditional light bulbs destined to fall outside specifications in January 2020. LED lighting is however likely to keep pace with current incandescent replacement rates because consumers see the benefits LEDs bring and are becoming aware of the huge role they play in efforts to mitigate climate change. LED lighting is in fact the single ‘ no brainer’ that dramatically reduces US energy consumption without costing taxpayers a nickel. No other climate change policy comes even close to the return on investment shown by LED lighting.


Background

In 2007, the Bush Administration, with bipartisan support, passed significant legislation to phase out incandescent lightbulbs in favor of lower energy consumption alternatives as a way to reduce electricity use in America. The move was met with stiff resistance from the manufacturers of these lights who argued consumer choice was being limited by government and pushed in the direction of Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) and LED lighting.

That argument gained some credence during the Obama Administration when large numbers of consumers noted the poor quality of light from early CFLs and their incompatibility with existing dimmers and control hardware. The inevitable partisan polarization which followed has largely abated thanks to more compatible LED replacements.

On September 4 th 2019 however, the Trump Administration issued a ruling from the Department of Energy saying additional restrictions on incandescent bulbs used in “ recessed lighting, track lighting, bathroom vanities and decorative fixtures ” that were due to be implemented in January 2020 will not be going forward. The ruling affects almost half of the 6 billion light bulbs in use in America in 2019.

LED Lighting Will Still Prevail: Why Utility Companies Love LED Lighting

In order to understand why this ruling will not drastically alter the trajectory of LED lighting in the marketplace it’s important to understand why LED lights are so important to the bottom line of electric utility companies. That is perhaps surprising given how LEDs reduce power consumption and therefore the income of the utilities, but the apparent conundrum is explained when utility expenses are taken into consideration.

Electric utilities see the route to reduced CO 2 emissions in a different way than most consumers who currently believe the way forward is to replace traditional thermal generators like coal and gas with renewable solar and wind power. The utilities in fact favor efficiency improvements at all stages of generation, transmission and consumption of electricity to create the same net reduction in greenhouse gasses. It just so happens that

LED lighting offers an unmatched efficiency improvement of nearly 80% compared to traditional lighting methods.

The utility companies have long argued the need to upgrade the entire electric grid in order to more effectively integrate local energy generators like rooftop solar and the wider renewable generators into the grid without the massive infrastructure cost required to keep the lights on in a renewable centered grid when the wind doesn’t blow, and bad weather kills solar.

Interestingly it’s the short-term renewable outages that create most problems. Clouds blowing across the sun, knocking out solar energy, then clearing 40 seconds later, create instantaneous energy deficits and surpluses. In the scenario described the grid has already compensated for the initial outage and has nowhere to put the suddenly re-engaged solar energy.

Switching electrical generation equipment on and off quickly causes inductive current spikes that have to be suppressed, and line voltage variation which utility companies are legally required to keep within limits.

The costs and the physics of the dynamic on-off-on characteristic of renewable energy systems is the reason they are unlikely to be the sole provider in a future where electricity is generated with drastically reduced emissions. The answer lies in an agreed compromise between improved efficiency, reduced thermal generation and the integration of renewables to power new energy demand over the next 10 to 20 years.

LED lighting offers utilities an easily adopted efficiency tool that costs them nothing and has no infrastructure requirements. The massive amount of energy saved means fewer power plants need to be built or replaced, and since the energy generated is being consumed by other applications, profits from operations actually increase in proportion to the number of LED lights powered because of reduced expenses. In fact, leaders of 37 US utility companies wrote a  joint letter to the DoE opposing the roll-back for these reasons.

There just is no better reducer of CO2 emissions than LED Lighting. It has the unique property of being better for the consumer, more profitable for the energy utilities and better for the environment.

Why the LED Lighting Future is Still Very Bright

LED light bulbs are a great example of a working energy compromise US governments, utilities and consumers can agree on. Their rate of adoption has been truly spectacular. Unlike often touted comparisons to electric vehicles and the entire renewable energy sector, replacing our incandescent bulbs with LED lightbulbs has been accepted in every home and business in America and it’s an easy thing we can all do to help reduce CO2 levels. The chart below shows the US is on target to replace 95% of all other forms of electric lighting by 2025.

Chart found in The Low Carbon Economy Report by Goldman Sachs

That’s significant because lighting accounts for about 13% of the US energy bill according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). LED lighting saves 80% of the energy used by equivalent incandescent light bulbs. No other climate change initiative comes even close to the return on investment shown by LED lighting.

LED Lights Are the Real Deal When It Comes to Quality: It’s Not Just Energy Savings

You could be forgiven for thinking LED energy savings is what it’s all about. After all it’s the main metric shown on commercial packages and it’s the most discussed benefit of LED lighting online and in the media. However, it’s the combination of their low energy consumption and the other properties of LED lights that really show how powerful this device is when it comes to saving money, providing better lighting environments, reducing maintenance and driving benefits for the future of our planet.

LED Lifespan

The average life expectancy of the LED light bulb is 30,000 hours, topping out at a whopping 50,000 hours for newer technologies, depending on the type of bulb and the application. That’s as high as 50 times longer than the best incandescent bulbs and gives more than 27 years of operation when the light is used 3 hours per day. Put another way, an incandescent light bulb in the same 3 hours per day application would need to be replaced 30 times in the same time period.

LED Color Flexibility

In incandescent lighting, the color of the light was provided by the reflective color of the glass surrounding the light source. LEDs however are designed to emit a certain frequency of light, including Red, Green and Blue. LEDs for many ambient light applications use RGB LEDs to program the desired color to set the mood at home and enhance productivity in the workplace.


At Hyperikon we believe with all of LED lighting’s advantages, the technology has turned the corner and is now an unstoppable force in our society. In our opinion, saving incandescent bulbs with political interventions like the one enacted on 9/4/19 undoubtedly means those bulbs will be in the market for longer, but the majority of Americans have moved on and will replace these bulbs anyway because they’ll get the quality they want, the control they want, and they will likely never need to replace the bulb again.


What do you think about the DoE roll-back? Was the initial law a farsighted enabler of low energy lighting technologies, or has the DoE simply corrected an overreach into the free market?

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