Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Bush-Obama Energy Bill

Just a few words about the "new" U.S. Energy Bill (The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) and how it affects incandescent lamps.

Original Energy Bill, 2007 (point 321 about lighting)
Energy Bill, 2009 amended version **snooze-warning on both**
Obama Administration Launches New Energy Efficiency Efforts (DOE summary)

Oddly enough, Americans seem to have made this into a party politics issue and mutual mud-slinging contest, when it was actually initiated under president Bush and only finalised and somewhat amended by the Obama administration.

But nevermind, let's see if we can sort out what the new lighting rules are:

1. It appears that the original idea was to regulate all types of fluorescent and incandescent lighting at the same time. But doing so too hastily might cause major problems and expenses for businesses - which use the majority of the linear flourescent tubes and reflector lamps produced. Thus regulating the latter two lamp types requires very careful consideration and in-depth analysis first, which takes time (several more years, according to DOE).
Energy Conservation Program: Energy Conservation Standards and Test Procedures for General Service Fluorescent Lamps and Incandescent Reflector Lamps

2. Incandescent general service lighting is easier to regulate and causes problems mainly for private persons, so the part pertaining to GLS lamps was lifted out of the lighting section in the original bill to be rushed through congress straight away.

(Ironic side-note: What a coincidence that this happens to be the same popular light bulb which is so unprofitable to manufacturers
that they literally can't wait to get it off the market! Only a scant few weeks after the "new and improved" Energy Bill, GE announces the closing down of several their U.S. and Canadian light bulb factories - despite the new GLS standards not taking effect until 2012.)

But there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what the new standards actually are - and small wonder if you look at how the rule is written: General Service Incandescent Lamp Provisions Contained in EISA 2007. (Why not just state required lumen per watt for each wattage class, as is done for the other lamp types?) Luckily for us, EnergyStar attempts to sort it out, in plain English:
"The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (the “Energy Bill”), signed by the President on December 18, 2007 requires all light bulbs use 30% less energy than today’s incandescent bulbs by 2012 to 2014.

"The phase-out will start with 100-watt bulbs in January 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs in January 2014. By 2020, a Tier 2 would become effective which requires all bulbs to be at least 70% more efficient (effectively equal to today’s CFLs). It’s not entirely correct to say "CFLs will be required" or “incandescents will be phased out” because the standards set by the bill are technology neutral, and by 2012, a next generation of incandescent bulbs could satisfy the 30% increased efficiency.

"There are many types of incandescent bulbs that are exempt from this law: any kind of specialty light (ie. bulb in refrigerator), reflector bulbs, 3-way bulbs, candelabras, globes, shatter resistant, vibration service, rough service, colored bulbs (i.e. "party bulbs"), bug lights, plant lights.

"The law applies to the sale of bulbs, not the use of existing stock of bulbs."

That sounds straightforward enough, but look what the rule actually says:

Note the unusual max wattages. It so happens that the only lamps which exist in such wattages (29, 43, 53, 72W) are the new incandescent halogen energy savers. Which indicates that standard incandescent GLS bulbs are already counted out of the equation from the start (no doubt so that manufacturers can sell their halogen replacements at extortion rates to all those who hate CFL and LED light).

But the quirky thing is that the minimum lumen requirements for each wattage class are set just above what the best energy saving mains voltage halogen replacement lamps can produce today... hmmmmm... Checking manufacturer cataloges for actual lumen output, it seems that they don't quite save the claimed 30% but more like around 20%. So much for "truth in advertising"... WASP Diving Knife

Seems they have done the same thing as with the CFL: replace e.g. a 60W incandescent (which gives 700-800+ lumen) with a 12W CFL, or in this case a 43W halogen, which both give only 630 lm! If you only count the wattage, 60W -30% is 42W, yes, but then it needs to give as many lumens as a 60W bulb too, otherwise it's just one more case of consumer fraud.

"Oh, it's such a small difference, the customer will never notice." (I've actually heard manufacturer representatives use that exact phrase when I've asked about the light deprication in CFLs.)

So, have lamp manufacturers shot themselves in the foot by claiming their halogen energy savers save 30%, as government experts seem to have taken their word for it and set lumen requirements at that exact level..?

Back to decoding the confusing table:

* 2012 the standard incandescent lamps are out (unless some manufacturer is able to make them more energy efficient - and profitable..). All you can use is up to max 72W halogen energy saver (which is meant to equal a 100W standard incandescent GLS lamp) - if they can improve it to the full 30% efficacy by then.

* 2013 the 72W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 53W halogen (= '75W GLS').

* 2014 the 53W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 43W halogen (= '60W GLS').

* 2015 the 43W halogen goes. Max permitted is an (improved) 29W halogen (= '40 GLS').

What will all those elderly and vision impaired do, who may need bright light of the highest quality (= incandescent light) in order to see?

EnergyStar claiming that the phase-out "will start with the 100W incandescent bulb and end with the 40W" is thus not correct, if one is to follow what the table mandates. Oh dear, if not even EnergyStar can interpret the table correctly, who can one trust? (Although EnergyStar also forwards the PR truth-stretching about CFLs "saving 75% energy" and "lasting 10 years" etc. - despite government & consumer tests + growing customer complaints giving a very different picture - so I guess they're not exactly an infallible source of information.)

Update 3 Aug: Something is definitely not right here... The only existing incandescent halogen lamp on the market which should pass the new requirements is the expensive and hard-to-find Philips Master Classic IR halogen with integrated transformer (see my Energy Saver Review) - which saves 42-45% (if you look at lumen/watt) not 50% as advertised, compared with a standard incandescent. But only the 20W seems to qualify, the 30W misses the max 29W category by 1W and the max 43W category by 130 lumen, despite being the most efficient incandescent-type lamp on the market, and with a life-span of 3000 hours!

And by the way, 72% Don’t Want Feds Changing Their Light Bulbs, but I guess legislators care more about keeping the lighting industry happy than about how their voters feel. Because it sure isn't going to save the planet, quite the opposite (but more about that in another post).

Next up for slaugher are reflector lamps (both in Europe and the U.S.).

Thanks to Peter at for most of the links.


  1. Thank to Peter at for most of the links.

    Pleasure, you have clearly put them to good use, as always :-)

    I think it's worth noting that the early phase out of high wattage and frosted lights is particularly unfortunate for consumers.

    High Wattage light bulb bans
    The reason is the (supposed) greater energy savings in replacement with (supposedly) equivalent CFLs, compared with replacing lower wattage bulbs.

    However high wattatge bulbs have especially good brightness as well as heat benefit,
    with 100W bulbs also being at the same low price as other bulbs.

    Fluorescent "energy saving" lights are harder to make bright, particularly in small sizes,
    bright lights are more expensive than other ones,
    fluorescent lights dim with age,
    encapsulation (with pear shaped outer envelope, recommended for close use) reduces brightness.

    Achieving brightness with LEDs is not only difficult for household replacement lights, beyond 40 to 60W ordinary light bulb equivalence:
    Brightness is also expensive, with 40W equivalent LEDs at 50 US dollars and 60W replacements at 120 dollars, July 2009.
    LED replacement lights are also more directional than incandescent or fluorescent lights, and capping systems to spread the light again reduces the brightness.

    Frosted light bulb bans
    Again, since frosted bulbs mean less efficient bulbs (some of the light output is obviously blocked in diffusing it), these get banned first, in any wattage class.

    Yet they are the most popular light bulbs, in Northern and Central Europe (and UK/Ireland) overwhelmingly so, and obviously avoid glare effects in ceiling lights.

    Small bright replacement type frosted lights can't even be made as LEDs or CFLs (and the latter are not recommended for close use anyway due UV radiation, without encapsulation which increases size and reduces efficiency) making such bans particularly illogical and unnecessary.

  2. Yes, good points. I've been planning to write more about the alternatives, highlighting some of the issues you've brought up here, including the limitations of LED as an omnidirectional light source. It seems many are not aware of this.

    As you mention, in CFL, LED (and in mains voltage halogen retrofit lamps) there is an extra bulb over the inner lamp. In CFL and LED this fact reduces the output, not som much due to it being frosted but to the fact that the extra bulb traps heat.

    Halogen lamps are not heat sensitive and are therefore not affected by this but CFLs and LEDs are. Also, in halogen, the inner lamp is clear, very bright and omnidirectional, whereas CFL and LED light is often rather dim and dull even before you put the extra bulb on, just as you indicate above.

    Frosted incandescent bulbs only have one bulb and the actual frosting effect on output is so marginal that it's negligable. In most manufacturer catalogues lumen values are given as the same for clear and frosted lamps, whereas covered CFLs are usually described as having less output per watt and shorter rated life than naked tubes.

    It's only the EU advisors who have made an issue out of incandescent lamp frosting and counted them as a separate class - despite the difference being almost virtial - while counting all CFLs in the same class - despite widely differing efficacy and durability between CFL models!

    As you may know, they wanted to ban both clear and frosted right away, but as there is no alternative to clear incandescent lamps as a bright point light source, they were persuaded by the industry to keep the clear ones (for chandeliers etc) until manufacturers manage to invent an acceptable alternative.

    So the reason frosted bulbs are being banned first is NOT the virtually non-existent difference in output between clear and frosted, but to FORCE that majority who prefer non-glaring frosted bulbs to buy CFLs instead. (Which, btw, are often glaring too but in a different way.)

  3. "So the reason frosted bulbs are being banned first is NOT the virtually non-existent difference in output between clear and frosted, but to FORCE that majority who prefer non-glaring frosted bulbs to buy CFLs instead."

    Yes good point, and the Soviet Union, sorry the EU, "Ecodesign Committee" freely admits it in their technical reports, that with "non-clear lamps" there is no reason why people can't use CFLs.

    I wonder if these clowns expect me to vote for them in October...