DOE proposal more than doubles minimum efficacy of general service lamps

Jan. 3, 2023
U.S. looks to put fluorescent lighting in the rearview with new efficacy standard that is expected to progress net-zero emissions objectives by 2050.

In late December, President Biden’s administration announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would propose raising the minimum efficiency threshold for general service lamps (GSLs).

Last April, the Biden Administration rolled out two new rules for lamps, first redefining the lamps covered under the definition of GSLs and second enforcing the 45-lm/W efficacy backstop set out by Congress that prohibits the sale of lamps unable to meet these efficacy requirements as of July 2023.

The newly proposed DOE rule would more than double the efficacy requirement for GSLs to 120 lm/W, effectively moving the lighting market away from compact fluorescent (CFL) replacements for traditional incandescent and halogen lamps across GSL applications.

Redefining GSLs

In mid-2022, the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) defined a GSL as follows:

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act defines a general service lamp as general service incandescent lamps (GSILs), compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and general service LED lamps and OLED lamps, and any other lamps that the Secretary determines are used to satisfy lighting applications traditionally served by GSILs. A GSIL in general is a standard incandescent or halogen type lamp that is intended for general service applications; has a medium screw base; has a lumen range of not less than 310 lumens and not more than 2,600 lumens or, in the case of a modified spectrum lamp, not less than 232 lumens and not more than 1,950 lumens; and is capable of being operated at a voltage range at least partially within 110 and 130 volts.

The 45-lm/W minimum efficiency threshold for GSLs — more accurately known as “luminous efficacy” — is exceeded by many available LED options available as GSLs today and had already accelerated the phase-out of typical incandescent lamp options. The 45-lm/W standard essentially retargeted specialty lamp form factors aside from the popular A-lamp to bring them under the scope of the new rules.

Energy costs, environmental concerns intertwine

While the inventory of incandescent lamps has already begun to diminish, concerns over mercury-containing fluorescent lamps have lit up across the globe. In 2021, African policy maker Roger Baro urged the lighting industry to support Minamata Convention on Mercury efforts to promote the African Lighting Amendment. Citing the urgency of energy resources, climate disruption, and the environmental hazards posed by mercury-containing fluorescent lamps, Baro stated that such fluorescent lighting should no longer be exempt to mercury mitigating policy as a cost-effective lighting alternative with the advent of affordable and efficacious LED lamps.

In turn, Signify CEO Eric Rondolat responded with a call to industry stakeholders, regulatory bodies, and policy makers to commit to a well-regulated transitional plan to phase out mercury-containing linear fluorescent lamps in particular, as they may not be accommodated properly in the waste management and recycling stream — thereby releasing more toxins into the environment.

Several advocacy groups have already begun lobbying or initiated policy designed to phase out fluorescent lighting in some U.S. states such as in Vermont and California. In a recent guest blog regarding California’s fluorescent ban, contributors from the National Stewardship Action Council and Clean Lighting Coalition cited both the potential energy savings and the risks of mercury contamination, noting that “because LEDs use half as much electricity as fluorescents, retrofitting a small office would save $6,000 over a typical LED lamp’s lifetime, while a school could save as much as $24,000,” while mitigating the risk of a single, improperly managed fluorescent tube contaminating up to 5,000 liters of water supply.

Still, as LEDs has reported multiple times over the past year, rising energy costs have driven the LED message of several larger lighting manufacturers — including Signify — back toward energy efficiency and cost reductions rather than connectivity and data analysis.

Under the Biden Administration, the DOE has established a net-zero emissions goal by 2050, and in its statement, claims that “the new rule, if adopted within the proposed timeframe, will deliver consumer benefits of up to $20 billion dollars and conserve roughly 4 quadrillion British thermal units [BTUs] of energy in the 30 years after its implementation.”

Read the full DOE announcement at energy.gov.

CARRIE MEADOWS is managing editor of LEDs Magazine, with more than 20 years’ experience in business-to-business publishing across technology markets including solid-state technology manufacturing, fiberoptic communications, machine vision, lasers and photonics, and LEDs and lighting.

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