Incandescent bulb legislation doesn't matter (MAGAZINE)

Feb. 23, 2015
Governments may or may not enforce inefficient bulb bans, but Mike Watson, vice president of product strategy at Cree, writes that consumers are driving the SSL revolution.

Governments may or may not enforce inefficient bulb bans, but MIKE WATSON, vice president of product strategy at Cree, writes that consumers are driving the SSL revolution.

January 2015 marked the one-year anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inefficient lamp phase-out, commonly referred to as the "incandescent bulb ban." Enforcement of the phase-out has recently been defunded as a result of a new government-spending bill. Despite the end of funding to enforce the incandescent "ban," this legislation doesn't actually matter.

To better understand why this is so, we need to first remember its roots. In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security act, which initiated the phase-out of inefficient light bulbs. This law effectively banned the importation and domestic manufacture of the most commonly used household incandescent bulbs. For the purpose of energy policy, the EPA believed that the Edison-era incandescent bulbs were wasting significant amounts of energy and needed to be replaced with energy-efficient alternatives.

Fast-forward a month after enforcement of the incandescent phase-out was defunded, you'll find the energy-efficient lighting market is in full swing. Manufacturers are producing bulbs with higher efficiency than ever before, retailers are promoting energy-efficient bulbs on their shelves, and consumer LED bulb sales are steadily increasing. The enthusiastic replacement of century-old inefficient lighting with better LED lighting is proof that consumer choice is the driving force behind meaningful market transformation. Consumers deserve lighting alternatives that aren't just energy efficient but are better and deliver more economical light.

According to Cree's own consumer surveys, the ability to reduce in-home energy costs without compromising the lighting experience is the most important factor for consumers when they're choosing a light bulb. We've also found that most consumers are interested in LED bulbs because they last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, and are environmentally friendly. In the end, consumers are making educated, well thought-out choices in lighting, with or without legislation or its enforcement.

Even as consumers continue to evaluate and make lighting choices in favor of energy-efficient LED bulbs, many regulators are still concerned that the unenforced incandescent ban could set the country back in the execution of energy-efficient policies. This would be true and problematic if the industry and consumers weren't already headed in the direction of energy efficiency. The lighting industry and consumers have been taking - and will continue to take - energy efficiency and choice in lighting technology into their own hands. As a result, competition in the lighting industry is heating up. Ultimately, this is to the benefit of consumers, the economy, and our nation's energy-efficiency aspirations.

Look at the consumer lighting market today and you'll see a wide range of energy-efficient options that didn't exist a few years ago. In the past two years alone, the quality of light from LEDs has risen sharply and the price has significantly dropped. For instance, in 2013, we were the first to offer consumers an LED bulb that actually looked and worked like an incandescent bulb for under $10, while delivering 25x the lifetime of typical incandescent bulbs and reducing energy consumption by 84%. Other bulb brands are following suit, and as a result, the number of cost-effective, quality LED options will only continue to increase as more consumers become aware of a light bulb's impact on their wallets. Further, the smart home market will evolve. This means adoption of LED bulbs will grow, as the market utilizes the inherent advantages of LED technology to deliver even greater value to consumers. Overall, we see the outlook for LED bulbs as very promising.

Legislation and enforcement, well intended or not, can only go so far. The irony of the "bulb ban" is that it was never driven by the LED industry - it was driven by the very incandescent lighting incumbents who had already handpicked halogen as the heir apparent. What our industry must learn is that legislative priorities and advocacy, as seen this past December, continue to change. What doesn't change, however, is consumer demand for better lighting alternatives that happen to be sustainable. In 2015, we continue to welcome competition that is working toward one overarching goal: giving consumers the best lighting experience possible. By striving to reach this goal, we can all actively move closer to 100% percent LED adoption, regardless of the status of government enforcement. The legislation and its enforcement are simply needless.