US energy legislation mandates $20 million prize fund

Jan. 30, 2008
The latest US energy legislation encourages the use of energy-efficient lighting…and backs its words with big rewards for the development of solid-state lighting with exceptional performance. Brian Owen reports.
On December 19, 2007 President George Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 into law. "Today…we make a major step toward reducing our dependence on oil, confronting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels and giving future generations of our country a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure," he said, adding, "The bill ... includes revisions to improve energy efficiency in lighting and appliances."
Jim Brodrick at the DOE Workshop In fact, the bill provides dramatic changes to the efficiency of lighting, and lights the path for LED with a mandated phase-out of inefficient incandescent bulbs in favour of more efficient lighting solutions such a compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and LEDs.

Section 655 of the Act also gives a great financial flash to the industry, especially for luminaire developers and manufacturers, through the Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prizes, totalling USD $20 million. As all good things that come in threes, so there are three prizes to be awarded.

The first $10 million is for the 60-Watt Incandescent Replacement Lamp Prize and will be awarded for a standard A19 form factor in a single contact medium screw base. It will have to produce minimum 900 lumens using less than 10 watts or an efficacy of 90 lm/watt or greater.

The CRI must be 90+ with a correlated color temperature (CCT) between 2750K and 3000K. Lumen maintenance must be 70% at 25000 hours. The lamp must also be available commercially by conventional channels.

A further $5 million will go for the PAR Type 38 Halogen Replacement Lamp Prize. This projector-type lamp must produce 1350 lumens with less than 11 watts, or an efficacy of 123 lm/watt or greater. All other criteria are the same as for the 60 W incandescent replacement.

The final $5 million is for the "wildcard award" - the 21st Century Lamp Prize. Produce 1200 lumens at an efficacy exceeding 150 lm/watt, with a CRI of 90 or greater and a CCT between 2800K and 3000K and take home the $5 million. As utility is essential, there will likely be some further direction regarding form factor.

The US Department of Energy will administrate the competition and this will likely keep Jim Brodrick's team busy as manufacturers race at light speed to the finish line to collect their bounty.

The only problem is that the Act still requires appropriation (i.e. the allocation of funding). At the US DoE SSL Workshop in Atlanta from January 29 to 31, Jim Brodrick of the DoE said, "I am confident that funding will be in place shortly,” adding, "We are ramping up for a May RFP (Call for Submissions).

The competition is essentially for US-based companies, and this as well as other terms will be spelled out in the RFP. As well, Brodrick said that an information session would be held for proponents that will further explain the Terms of Reference.

Brodrick was quite excited about the progress so far, and believes that the government is moving at light speed to support this endeavour. “The prizes will stimulate a lot of thinking and get a lot of publicity,” he said. “The prize specifications are challenging, and if someone wins they will certainly merit it, and the notoriety from winning,”

So how do standards and legislation play in this equation?

No matter what you legislate; the best way to transform a market is through adoption, either by the industry or the consumer. This is accomplished through awareness, education and action. When a solution becomes available at a reasonable price, the market will buy and in this case, LEDs will move forward regardless of legislation. One thing is for certain, this will be the proving ground that will employ the new ENERGY STAR criteria for SSL, long awaited and needed.

Brodrick concurred by saying, “The prizes are a way of getting that rolling in a formal public way. Sure, you can legislate standards and that’s fine, but the market can and will take off for the LED lamps regardless.”