California plans more exacting LED retrofit lamp guidelines

Feb. 27, 2013
The California Energy Commission has worked with research originating at the California Lighting Technology Center to publish an LED lamp quality specification that SSL manufacturers will have to follow for products to qualify for utility incentives.

Just as it did in phasing out incandescent lamps more quickly than the federal government, the state of California has a new guideline for LED retrofit lamps that is more stringent than Energy Star guidelines in some areas. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has published the voluntary guideline, working initially from research performed by the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) at the University of California Davis, and lamp manufacturers will have to comply to have their solid-state lighting (SSL) retrofits be eligible for utility rebates.

The title of the CEC report, "Voluntary California quality LED lamp specification," clearly indicates the voluntary nature of the program. But just as with Energy Star guidelines across the US, manufacturers that don't meet the standards could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, the CEC is working with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to ensure that utilities only offer incentives and rebates to lamps that meet the new guidelines.

The CEC does not intend to supplant Energy Star but to simply add some requirements in certain areas that the commission, backed by CLTC research, believes can make SSL products more widely accepted. In turn, that acceptance would result in faster deployment and more energy savings.

Specifically the California specification will have quality attributes that exceed current Energy Star requirements in the areas of:

  • color temperature
  • color consistency
  • color rendering
  • dimmability
  • rated life/warranty
  • light distribution.

For example, the California specification will require omnidirectional distribution for A-lamps essentially eliminating the so-called snow-cone style designs. Moreover, it will require either 2700K or 3000K CCT, whereas the Energy Star specification supports CCTs that go to 5000K. All retrofit lamps will be held to a CRI of 90 or better in the new specification.

It's worth noting that the California specification does not address efficacy. Indeed, the CLTC is part of a group that has been lobbying the US Environmental Protection Agency for a relaxation in Energy Star efficacy requirements for lamps with a CRI of 90. CLTC research shows that more people will adopt LED lamps with a CRI of 90. Meanwhile for SSL manufacturers, delivering such lamps and meeting current Energy Star efficacy requirements results in very expensive lamps. The EPA petitioners for lower efficacy believe that such a move could actually accelerate energy conservation via a quicker uptake of LED lamps.

There are no concrete plans for the CPUC to begin enforcing the news specification. But the CEC document says that utilities will start requiring compliance one year after the specification has been adopted and that could mean early 2014.