Beat the Bulb "Ban": LED Replacement Lamps in a New Light
The incandescent ban is here, but LEDs have improved rapidly in the last couple of years and there are now several bulbs that meet Energy Star criteria.
Starting on January 12, 2012, the Energy and Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) began regulating energy-efficiency standards for 100-watt screw-in light bulbs (also known as Edison or A19 lamps). These bulbs are now required to use 27% less energy, or 72 watts or less, for the same lumen output.
Over the next couple of years, 75-, 60-, and 40-watt bulbs will have to have that same 27% reduction. And starting in 2020, EISA ups the ante and will require that most light bulbs be 60%–70% more efficient than today's incandescent bulbs.
The law does not mean incandescent bulbs will be illegal, but it will be a challenge for them to comply. Meanwhile, most LEDs already meet those standards.
Why move to LED replacement lamps?You're probably going to to have to switch to LEDs eventually, but there are good reasons to do it now.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which runs the Energy Star program in a partnership with the Department of Energy, replacing one standard incandescent bulb in every home in the U.S. with an Energy Star-qualified bulb--CFL or LED--"would save enough energy to light 3 million homes" annually and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.
Though more expensive, an LED has a few advantages over a CFL: LEDs are typically more efficacious, they don't contain mercury, they work well in cold temperatures, and they can be turned on and off repeatedly without affecting the lamp's lifespan.
Forget watts: Look for lumensAs we move away from incandescent bulbs, we have to stop thinking in terms of "XX-watt light bulbs." Watts simply tell us how much energy a bulb consumes and don't make sense as a metric for CFLs or LEDs.
Lumens, on the other hand, tell us the amount of light produced or how bright it is, and lumens per watt (lpw) gives us the amount of light produced per the amount of energy consumed. (See LEDs: The Future Is Here for more information on LED performance).Standard incandescent bulbs produce anywhere from 10 to 17 lpw, according to the DOE, so a 60-watt bulb is about 800 lumens; a new Philips EnduraLED produces 940 lumens while consuming only 10 watts, or 94 lpw.
New packaging for replacement lamps prominently displays lumen output, estimated annual energy costs, and lifespan. This should make it easier for consumers to find the amount of light they prefer and compare products, but it will take some getting used to (see table for lumen equivalents), and they might have to calculate lumens per watt on their own.
Look for Energy Star-qualified LEDsEnergy Star lists LED A19 replacement lamps that are "omnidirectional" so they shine light down to illuminate the table or work surface, something many older LED replacement lamps (and some current models) could not do, and which limited their usefulness and appeal.
Energy Star-qualified lamps also have to undergo third-party LM-79-08 test methods for efficacy and color quality and must meet the following criteria:
- A minimum of 50 lpw
- A minimum rated life of 25,000 hours while still producing 70% of its original light (the light from LEDs typically fades away rather than the bulb failing catastrophically, so below 70% is considered the end of its service life)
- Specific correlated color temperatures of 2700K, 3000K, 3500K, or 4000K (3000K is similar to the warm white color associated with incandescent bulbs--higher color temperature numbers mean "cooler" blue colors)
- A power factor greater than 0.70
- A color rendering index (CRI ) over 80 (Philip's L-Prize-winning EnduraLED 60-watt replacement has a CRI of 93)
- A minimum three-year warranty.
Are we paying more and getting lower quality?As with early CFLs, the two big complaints about LEDs have been high cost and questionable light quality.
Energy Star for LED replacement bulbs has helped lead to significant improvements in light quality, so it is less of a free-for-all in the marketplace (remember the cylinders with hundreds of individual LEDs masquerading as a lamp?). GreenSpec now lists Energy Star-qualified bulbs from Philips, GE, Toshiba, The Home Depot, and Technical Consumer Products.
Though some of these products are still quite expensive (Philips' 940 lumen EnduraLED is about $40), you can buy an Energy Star-qualified 40-watt replacement bulb from Home Depot made by Lighting Science Group for less than $10! And there are rebates available from local utilities and public service boards that can drop the price even further, making LEDs very cost-competitive, especially when you consider their long lifespans.
LEDs are not a panacea--at least not yetThough LED replacement lamps are improving quickly, the technology still has some challenges to overcome.
They still don't look like an incandescent bulb, and the light from an LED is "different"--after all, there is no burning filament--so it may take time before consumers get used to them. And because LEDs are more like a computer chip than they are like an incandescent light bulb, they are affected by other electronics and wiring, so dimming may not be as smooth, they might flicker, or the color and light quality could change.
In most residential application, these problems will be minimal, but in commercial buildings with numerous LEDs and more electronics, the potential for problems increases. (Look for a follow-up blog on LED problems in commercial buildings)
Nevertheless, the lighting world has changed forever. So get used to thinking in lumens, and if you want to make the change to an LED replacement lamp you should try one in your home or business and run it through its paces so you know what you are getting. The energy savings will be worth the effort.
Posted by Brent Ehrlich on April 3, 2012
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