Light bulbs in the crosshairs of Trump administration's environmental rollbacks

February 15, 2019 by Frank Kummer
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The Trump administration has been on a spree of environmental rollbacks, including air and auto emissions. Its next target: light bulbs.

All those specialty bulbs consumers flock to for nostalgic or decorative appeal—Edison, globe, candelabra—were to face new efficiency standards in January 2020 under an Obama rule that would likely make the incandescent bulb an artifact. The reason: Old-style bulbs are notoriously inefficient, requiring more energy and therefore contributing to greenhouse gases and climate change, a priority of the Obama administration.

But this month, the Department of Energy (DOE) proposed continuing to exempt certain types of lighting.

It all boils down to definitions.

Everyday bulbs are classified as general service lighting. But some lighting with more specialized uses, such as reflector bulbs common in recessed lighting, and globe, flame and three-way bulbs, had been defined differently by the federal government, thus making them exempt. The Obama administration, however, said they should be redefined as general lighting and subject to the same efficiency standards as all other bulbs starting in 2020.

As a result, most lighting would have to achieve a new standard of at least 45 lumens per watt. A lumen is a measure of brightness and a watt is a measure of power.

Trump administration officials disagreed and said the previous administration "misconstrued" the law. Its proposal would keep the current exemptions.

"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," said Noah Horowitz, director for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.

The NRDC says keeping the current definition would cut nearly in half the number of bulbs expected to be energy efficient in 2020. The group said that amounts to 2.7 billion light sockets still using older technology.

Horowitz said it amounts to $12 billion annually in energy costs consumers would have saved by switching to LEDs, equating to the energy use of all the households in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. That translates to about 34 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, he said.

The push for efficient lighting stretches back to the oil shocks of the 1970s. But emitting diode bulbs (LEDs) didn't hit the mass market until 2007 when Congress mandated standards that would make lighting overall three times more efficient by 2020. At the time, Congress told the DOE to look at the rule again in 2014 and determine whether certain types of lighting should be exempt.

The Obama administration decision not to exempt incandescent and halogen bulbs was backed by such as the Sierra Club. But it was opposed by interests such as the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

The adjustment to federal requirements that achieve an efficiency of 45 lumens per watt has taken time. The more lumens a bulb emits compared to the power it uses means it is more efficient.

An produces about 14 lumens per watt of power used. However, a modern LED produces about 84 lumens per watt.

New standards for most general lighting were phased in by 2014, as part of the transition away from incandescent bulbs, in use since 1879. Incandescent bulbs were not expressly banned, but still subject to the new standards. Those twisty-looking compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), though not as efficient as LEDs, do meet the standard, though they have become less popular.

The DOE's own data show sales of LEDs have grown steadily, especially since the cost per bulb has dropped in recent years to below $2, sometimes as low as $1, for general lighting. Currently, a major chain store is selling an eight pack of 60-watt equivalent LED bulbs for under $10 online.

But some decorative incandescent lights enjoyed a resurgence for nostalgic appeal, such as Edison bulbs, which have an old-timey, distinctive shape and glowing filaments, and can cost considerably more than LEDs. Now, however, LED manufacturers are coming up with similar designs.

Environmental groups say the rollback proposal is typical of the Trump administration.

Rules governing lighting efficiency are administered by the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The proposal to withdraw the rule was made Feb. 6, hours after Daniel Simmons was sworn in as head of that office.

Environmental groups note Simmons has a background working for a think tank backed by the fossil fuel industry and he opposed the U.S. joining the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases and slow climate change.

The DOE has set a public hearing in Washington for Feb. 28 on withdrawing the Obama-era definition and said it will be broadcast online as a webinar.

Explore further: Mandated change in light bulbs to occur at year's end

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33 comments

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dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2019
A bit pointless banning anything given the superior life and efficiency of LEDs. I changed my house lighting to LEDs a couple of years ago and halved my electricity consumption.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2019
A bit pointless banning anything given the superior life and efficiency of LEDs. I changed my house lighting to LEDs a couple of years ago and halved my electricity consumption.


The real reason for the ban was that Phillips and pals weren't making enough profit with regular bulbs, because they're too easy to make and the prices went down to rock bottom due to overseas competition. They lobbied the bans in order to sell expensive and (at the time) poor quality CFL and LED bulbs at a high margin.

The trick is that regular fluorescent tube lighting is more energy efficient than the CFLs and LEDs, and anybody who actually cares about the energy already used them. For domestic uses, lighting only consumes a fraction of the total energy demand, and domestic users consume a fraction of the total energy, which makes the question of lightbulbs a matter of splitting single percentage points - the ban is totally ineffective in reducing overall energy use.
Eikka
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2019
For example, the average American household electricity demand equals burning 20 x 60 W regular lightbulbs day and night.

Actual demand for lighting averages about 8 hours a day, so even if you had 500 Watts worth of lightbulbs burning, it's still going to be just about 1/7th of the bill. Already, if you replace the hallway/garage/basement etc. spaces where lighting quality does not matter with fluorescent tubes, the efficiency goes up and the remaining incandescent bulbs hardly matter at all. Replacing them with LEDs is just a feelgood token to get that smug feeling you're helping (Phillips make more money).

The real effect of the ban was to make all lighting worse, because none of the LED/CFL options produce a full continuous spectrum. The best merely approach the quality of the humble filament bulb, and many of them have color temperatures way too high for comfort.
humy
5 / 5 (8) Feb 15, 2019
I am getting this weird impression that the Trump administration actually WANTS us to waste energy!
Is this just to make it harder for us to go all renewable because Trump want to support the big greedy oil companies by increasing their profit? Or what, exactly?
humy
5 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2019
The real effect of the ban was to make all lighting worse, because none of the LED/CFL options produce a full continuous spectrum.
Eikka

I have installed all LED lighting (only the most up-to-date sort; they are improving all the time) in my home and there appears to be NOTHING WRONG with their "full continuous spectrum" that my eyes can detect and they have SAVED ME MONEY (I have checked this; did the maths). So you appear to be simply wrong.
I should also add that LED technology is IMPROVING ALL THE TIME, and it would be just a matter of time before we have LEDs that are, say, 99% energy efficient, and entirely made of cheap recyclable materials.
gkam
4 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2019
This is all about undoing what Obama did. Nothing more.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2019
and there appears to be NOTHING WRONG with their "full continuous spectrum" that my eyes can detect and they have SAVED ME MONEY


Good for you.

I'm a painter. I can see my paintings lose/change color under LED/CFL lighting, because there are huge gaps and spikes in the spectrum that emphasize some pigments and mute others, and when people buy these new lights they think they need "daylight" color bulbs (4000K+) which actually impedes proper color vision because you need redder light with lower illumination levels.

The effect is like having mild cataracts, which people quickly get used to and forget, and only notice when you swap in a 100 Watt halogen bulb and flip the switch. Suddenly there's contrast and color again.
Eikka
3 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2019
I should also add that LED technology is IMPROVING ALL THE TIME, and it would be just a matter of time before we have LEDs that are, say, 99% energy efficient, and entirely made of cheap recyclable materials.


That's physically impossible. The highest attainable energy efficiency for an ideal full-spectrum white light is about 37%.

If you want a 99% efficient lightbulb, it would have to be piercing neon-green. This is because lighting efficiency is relative to how bright it appears to human eyes, and 550 nm green is easiest to see. This is why sodium lights glow yellow - that's close to the maximum sensitivity of the eye, getting most lumens per watt per dollar out of a streetlight.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2019
Color rendering index:
http://www.charls...hart.gif

Most LED products fall between 70 - 85 CRI these days. They're only adequate to the point where most consumers can't tell the difference without a direct comparison and a color chart. CFLs are typicallly around 87, but they change color with temperature, time, age... etc. and are generally horrible.

There are some expensive LED bulbs that achieve CRI above 90 and up to 99, but why pay $50 for a bulb when you can have perfection for 50 cents?
humy
5 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2019
I should also add that LED technology is IMPROVING ALL THE TIME, and it would be just a matter of time before we have LEDs that are, say, 99% energy efficient, and entirely made of cheap recyclable materials.


That's physically impossible. The highest attainable energy efficiency for an ideal full-spectrum white light is about 37%. .
Eikka

WRONG! Unlike the incandescent light bulbs that work by converting electric energy into heat energy and then heat energy to light energy, there is no theoretical upper limit to how energy efficient an LED can be because LEDs work by DIRECTLY converting electric energy to light energy, so the second law of thermodynamics, although not violated here, it doesn't apply in the same way and doesn't put an upper limit to how energy efficient an LED can be.
So an LED can be arbitrarily extremely 'close' to being 100% energy efficient (say, 99.99%) and produce full-spectrum white light. Its just a matter of when
guptm
5 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2019
Go India way. India is the first all-light-LED nation. They are saving 1.9 billion USD in energy, leading to reduction of 27 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
https://economict...9105.cms
V4Vendicar
5 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2019
In my personal use case, I currently consume around 6 KwH of electric power per day. If I were to switch the lighting currently in use with Incandescent bulbs then that bill would go up by 2.2 KwH per day to 8.2 KwH per day.

0.2 of the 6 Kwh is used to keep my hot water tank hot, and a full 1.0 KwH per day is used for showering. Lighting consumes around 0.6 KwH per day, Fans consume around 1.0 KwH per day Wall transformers consume at least 1.2 KwH. This PC consumes around 0.3 Kwh per day. The rest is refrigeration and cooking.

humy
5 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2019
Go India way. India is the first all-light-LED nation. They are saving 1.9 billion USD in energy, leading to reduction of 27 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
https://economict...9105.cms
guptm

I find your link interesting and it tells me something I didn't already know. They seem to have the right idea I think. In comparison, they make the US and British governments look completely stupid. If India can do this, why can't we?

h20dr
not rated yet Feb 16, 2019
I went back to candles. Way more efficient.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2019

So an LED can be arbitrarily extremely 'close' to being 100% energy efficient (say, 99.99%) and produce full-spectrum white light. Its just a matter of when

Completely wrong.

There are physical limits to individual LED efficiencies caused by the semiconductor's bandgap, which puts the theoretical maximum efficiency far below 100% to around 50%. The bandgap determines the wavelength of photons produced, so no single LED can ever produce a full white spectrum. The addition of phosphorous/fluorescent materials are needed to fill up the spectrum, and this secondary emission conversion always wastes energy. Getting to 50% efficiency is difficult, getting to 99% is downright impossible.

Secondly, no ideal light source that produces white light can ever be 100% efficient, because "white" is a product of the eye, and the eye is not 100% sensitive to all wavelengths. Energy is always wasted.

https://en.wikipe...ficiency
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2019
The theoretical limit for a white LED with phosphorescence color mixing: 260–300 lm/W and 38.1–43.9% total efficiency.

Here's the thing. Regular screw-socket LED bulbs achieve about 100 lm/W maximum efficacy. Regular fluorescent tubes with electronic ballasts achieve the same 100 lm/W efficiacy, with comparable lifespans and cheaper price. That's why banks, hospitals, offices, factories, workshops... etc. use fluorescent tubes for light.

In other words, the LEDs are no improvement over products already existing on the market. Anyone who wanted to save money and energy already had the means to do so - banning the lightbulb was simply about forcing consumers to adopt inferior options at higher prices.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2019
I have gone to using LED light bulbs lately and no longer buy the incandescent variety - mostly due to the incandescent bulbs burning out too rapidly so that they must be replaced too often.
Appliance light bulbs also now come in LED, but it is hard to find them in some stores.
LED does put out a brighter light.
Doug_Nightmare
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
I live at 45°N and heat with 100% efficient electricity. In January 2019 I used 2,650 KWh for US$325. I use about 720 KWh per month utility power year around - separately metered. I have three LED standlights 24/7 in the winter, not 5 Watts each. At the moment 0600 there are three 60 Watt incandescent burning because I prefer the color.

My power provider maintains three 2.5 MWe Diesel Generator pairs for use during outages.

We do not have air-conditioning. We cook with propane from a 500 gallon tank that is primarily legacy stand-by heating fuel from the days before reliable electrical power. It is topped off at summertime prices once per year for ~US$100 per year.
Doug_Nightmare
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
All should - Categorical Imperative - consider the integrated (across all infrastructure) pollution committed by adding semi-conductor technology.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2019
LED does put out a brighter light.


It looks brighter because it's a sharp point source, and there's a strong blue component in the light that fools the eye into closing the iris more, which consequently makes you see less light in the surrounding environment and increases the apparent contrast between looking at the light and looking elsewhere.

There's all sorts of tricks that manufacturers use to fake brightness, such as constricting the beam angle and making it non-uniform, fiddling with the spectrum, or simply lying about it, because you need a proper integrating sphere to measure how much light the bulb is actually giving out, and very few people have access to one.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2019
The major issue with LED bulbs is, that while they can achieve high luminous efficiencies in tests, the actual devices have to be de-rated by a great margin because of heat. Since ~75% of the input power is still going to heat, the bulbs actually run almost as hot as the old incandescent bulbs (disregarding the filament of course).

So while a white LED may be able to achieve 265 lm/W under ideal conditions, it's only going to produce the worth of a bicycle light - about 15 lumens - whereas for a room you'd need 1500 lumens to begin with. Increasing the power density 100 times increases the semiconductor junction temperature, which pushes the efficiency down dramatically.

That's what often bites people who try to build their own LED lights out of parts. The manufacturer specs are measured for 1 millisecond at 25 C junction temperature, so the 4 Watt LED they're buying isn't worth a 40 Watt incandescent bulb. It's actually more like a 12 Watt bulb once it warms up.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2019
That's why some manufacturers have gone to crazy extents, such as integrating a tiny fan inside the bulb's base, or filling the whole thing with mineral oil to cool it. Examples:

https://www.slash...8226805/
https://www.aliex...3.html#!

Again, the devil is in the details. On paper, the LED looks like the ideal light source, but in practice it's a real nightmare to engineer around all the little problems and limitations.

One of the further issues is, that because LEDs make white by phosphorescence, they need to make tons of short wavelength light to excite the phosphors. That means UV, but because UV makes plastics brittle they use blue light instead. This causes the strong blue spike in the spectrum, and that interferes with human melatonin production just like computer screens at night.
humy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019

So an LED can be arbitrarily extremely 'close' to being 100% energy efficient (say, 99.99%) and produce full-spectrum white light. Its just a matter of when

Completely wrong.

There are physical limits to individual LED efficiencies caused by the semiconductor's bandgap
Eikka

If you look up what LED stands for, you will see it stands for "Light-Emitting Diode" -no mention there that it necessarily must have a semiconductor be definition. A future LED could be designed to produce its light via a large number of tiny optical lazars, one for each wavelength (only need a few), and the lazar light be spread out and mixed by passing through microscopic lenses to produce white light.

https://www.rp-ph...ncy.html
"Pure laser diode systems can reach the highest efficiencies, sometimes well above 60%"

Thus an LED can be arbitrarily extremely 'close' to being 100% energy efficient, just like I said.

humy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2019
my missedit:

"...have a semiconductor be definition. "

should be

"...have a semiconductor by definition. "
granville583762
5 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2019
As every quietly turned LED

The common market banned traditional bulbs
the Americas have to do as their common market bureaucrats order them
us Britons, we scarpered that rotten club
LED push bike lights, if you buy two
are 4000 Lumens, brighter than Audi's in the dark
and the heat they put out, you can feel the heat in the beam
though the batteries stay cool
well
there lithium ion batteries running within their capacity
in a power cut they light the the house and the whole forest up
you can see a fly at a 1000 paces with these LED lights
Traditional bulbs went out with the ark!
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2019
Yes.
The Incandescent light bulb of which Thomas Edison was beaming proudly (I assume) is now about to go the way of the dodo bird. The last bulbs will be sold to collectors of fine memorabilia and ancient artifacts at exorbitant cost. Others may purchase some as a curiosity and oddity of a bygone era to showcase in their favorite antique glass-door cabinet.
Nostalgia will bring tears to the eyes of those who hold dear their fond memories of crystal chandeliers and outdoor lights luring dancing moths. The time has come to embrace the new and out with the old. LEDs are here to stay - at least until a better bulb comes along.
granville583762
5 / 5 (4) Feb 17, 2019
These LEDs our new nostalgia

Come Christmas time
SEU> Yes.
The Incandescent light bulb of which Thomas Edison was beaming proudly is now about to go the way of the dodo bird The last bulbs will be sold to collectors of fine memorabilia and ancient artifacts at exorbitant cost purchase some as a curiosity and oddity of bygone era to showcase in their favorite antique glass-door cabinet
Nostalgia will bring tears to the eyes of those who hold dear their fond memories of crystal chandeliers and outdoor lights luring dancing moths The time has come to embrace the new and out with the old LEDs are here to stay at least until a better bulb comes along

These LEDs are a world apart
they bring a magic around these towns and cities no other bulbs can
and
to children's shoes
those little colourful LEDs
Complement their little doggies colourful LEDs in the inky blackness of these country Shire lanes
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2019
@Eikka, I'll say this much: I own several paintings and the light that illuminates them is incandescent and museum-approved. That amounts total to a very small percentage of the light I have in my house. Since I use dimmers the lights last a long, long time. I did notice the effects on pigments. Perhaps artists should start using pigments that work under LEDs. Just a thought.
aksdad
5 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2019
Good! We don't need the nanny state to tell us what light bulbs to buy. Why are liberals so anxious to compel other people to do and think what they want? Immaturity? Lack of self-control over the authoritarian impulse common to many (most?) humans?

The reason fluorescents and later LED light bulbs took off is because technological and manufacturing improvements driven by competition eventually made them more cost-effective than incandescents. Most people like efficiency because it costs less. We don't need nanny overloards for that. Go get drunk or smoke pot liberals and leave the rest of us alone. We're actually smarter than you think...and a lot more fun to be around than you.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2019
The reason: Old-style bulbs are notoriously inefficient

There was this genius guy who rebranded light bulbs as 'heat balls'...because more than 90% is lost as heat and they only produce light as a byproduct.

So if you want to heat your home and don't mind the 'light pollution'...buy those.

That said: Dumb people will continue to buy dumb products (because they can't really figure that stuff costs more than just purchase price. Energy bill seems to be something that is "out of sight out of mind" for most people).
BackBurner
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2019
When Horowitz starts paying my bills she can have a say in the light bulbs I use. Until then she can sit down and STFU.
V4Vendicar
1 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2019
Good! We don't need the nanny state to tell us what light bulbs to buy
- askdad

But you demand that the nanny state protect you from Capitalism as U.S. jobs move to lower wage countries and as Mexicans come to compete with Americans for jobs.

LOL!

Republicans love the nanny state.

V4Vendicar
3 / 5 (2) Feb 18, 2019
The reason: Old-style bulbs are notoriously inefficient

There was this genius guy who rebranded light bulbs as 'heat balls'...because more than 90% is lost as heat and they only produce light as a byproduct.

So if you want to heat your home and don't mind the 'light pollution'...buy those.

That said: Dumb people will continue to buy dumb products (because they can't really figure that stuff costs more than just purchase price. Energy bill seems to be something that is "out of sight out of mind" for most people).


I love it when I see mindless conservatives whining about the size of their electric bills and then proclaiming that they haven't done anything to improve their energy conservation.

One Republican Moron I read recently was consuming 5 times the power I consume and whining, whining, whining.

Pathetic Morons.

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