Energy Star Wars: the Phantom Menace

The decision by EPA to include LEDs in its Energy Star specification for residential lighting fixtures has resulted in widespread disapproval. Tim Whitaker and Brian Owen report.

The big story of the past month has been the controversy over Energy Star criteria for solid-state lighting, or “Energy Star Wars” as our magazine dubbed the dispute between two branches of the U.S. government, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). To say this has caused uproar is an understatement, and we have certainly devoted many column inches (or the web equivalent) to a subject we feel strongly about. Some of the key happenings, and links to the appropriate stories on our website, can be found in the Timeline sidebar.

Energy Star is a voluntary labelling scheme that recognizes energy-efficiency products that meet criteria set by either EPA or DOE. Before getting into the details of the dispute, it’s worth noting that this is mainly relevant to the U.S. and Canadian markets. Lighting designers at a meeting in mid- June in the UK were not much interested in the news from across the pond. But perhaps they should have been; one of the biggest benefits of the Energy Star program is, through the promotion of energy-efficient products, to prevent the insidious infiltration of low-quality products into the marketplace. The phantom menace indeed. This is a particular problem for the SSL market, at a time when the DOE’s own CALiPER program — which tests commercially available SSL luminaires - has highlighted a worrying tendency for some manufacturers to vastly overstate the performance of their products. To quote Kevin Dowling of Philips/Color Kinetics, “Nothing will kill an industry faster than expectations that cannot be met. Performance must be realistic and factual.”

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This article was published in the July/August 2008 issue of LEDs Magazine.

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