US Incandescent Rollback:
Irresponsible or best left
to consumer choice?

As Climate Change continues to make headlines & cities become smarter, it’s hard to imagine going back to making hugely inefficient lighting easy & cheap to purchase, but this is exactly what the US has done.

Jan Kemeling, Chief Commercial Officer, debates this recent decision.

Since the announcement made by the US Department of Energy not to enforce raised standards for traditional incandescent light bulbs, it has caused much debate within the industry. In 2019, climate change was brought to the forefront of news headlines worldwide so it seems incredible that this can coincide with a policy decision to roll back standards on inefficient bulbs in one of the countries that has the largest CO2 output. So what on earth could possibly be the reason behind this shocking decision? Is it just down to giving people the choice? Is it a decision that is really of benefit to some people & businesses? Is it right considering what is happening to our planet?

Inefficient incandescents

The problem with incandescent light bulbs is that they give out light over a broad spectrum, much of which we can’t see & is infra-red. They are therefore inefficient because most (90%) of the energy isn’t going to its intended purpose – to light the room. This heat wastes a lot of electricity. Heat is not light & the purpose of the light bulb is light, so all of the energy spent creating heat is a waste. Incandescent bulbs are therefore very inefficient. They produce perhaps 15 lumens per watt of input power. As of 2016, many LEDs use only about 10% of the energy an incandescent lamp requires.

A Consumer Preference

Some have said to me “I prefer incandescent to LED so I’m pleased they’re going to be available to purchase again” & that there are “fundamental problems with LED technology” so “people should not have harmful lighting forced upon them because of overbearing & overreaching government regulations driven by corporate self-interest dressed as green policy.”

I can understand how many might have come to this opinion. LED lighting, when it first entered the market had its issues as lower barriers were created for market entry & those products that continued to be created on the cheap are also of poor quality. Bad LED binning, poor electronics, cheap capacitors, poor heat dissipation & all other ingredients you need to produce a bad product. But doesn’t the blame lie with the retailers & wholesale channels that commanded prices that would no way allow for the creation of a decent product?

Having been in the LED lighting industry for many years I know that the products supplied by well-known manufacturers are of high quality & do not cause issues that many are pointing out. Today, the technology exists to make good quality LED lamps, but it will take some time before confidence is restored & supply chains have disposed of all the poor quality products.

What are other countries doing?

Brazil & Venezuela started the phase-out of incandescent lighting in 2005, & the European Union, Switzerland & Australia began to phase them out in 2009. Likewise, other nations are implementing new energy standards or have scheduled phase-outs: Argentina & Russia in 2012 & Canada, Mexico Malaysia & South Korea in 2014. The changes in the United States began in 2007 but were suspended in 2019.

Incandescent Substitutes

There are very few incandescent lamps in the world that cannot yet be replaced by a proper LED equivalent so this also cannot be an excuse. Any lumen output, colour, CCT & CRI can be achieved nowadays. There are proper IC’s to optimise the electronic drivers & lamps can dim properly without any flickering in the lower dim regions.

Conclusion

The now rolled back lightbulb rule would have increased incandescent bulb prices by more than 300 percent. This would have presented incandescent bulb makers with no choice but to start innovating while trying to reduce costs. The rolled back rule would have led to greater innovation at a faster pace.

When technology comes to scale by mandating the use of it, it usually quickly leads to product improvements.

For those who prefer incandescent, it’s hard to understand but if it’s due to the inability to find a product that produces a similar quality perhaps the DOE should have considered tightening regulations & create standards for LED too so that there are fewer poor quality products on the market.

LED bulbs are getting cheaper & cheaper, longer-lasting & with a far wider range of colours & output. They now also cost less than they used to so there should be no reason not to make the transition to LED.

The problem comes down to the fact that the use of incandescents are affecting the planet & all of us, no matter where anyone lives. It has to do with social & environmental responsibility. Burning more energy than you could be doing is just not necessary & contributes in no way to personal well being. Therefore I believe that energy efficiency should be mandated, not be a choice. 8 & 12 cylinder cars should be banned as much as inefficient consumer electronics etc. It is not only about what Americans (and any other country’s population for that matter) want(s), it is about responsibility towards the rest of the world, the planet we live on. Social responsibility & environmental responsibility. Unfortunately, Trump doesn’t believe in climate change. He once even described it as a “hoax”.

The results of this rollback won’t make or break the fight to protect the planet, but it will make it more difficult & is likely to take much longer to make it energy efficient.

Jan Kemeling, Gooee Chief Commercial Officer