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The Rise of LEDs and the Beginning of the End for CFLs

Krystal Maxwell
Mar 09, 2016

light bulbs

The lighting market has seen numerous shifts over the past decade, and many of these changes have aligned with increased energy efficiency requirements. Compact florescent lamps (CFLs), first created in the 1980s, were the popular choice a few years ago for consumers looking to increase energy efficiency. The popularity of CFLs was greatly influenced by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). The EISA, signed into law in 2007, focused on reducing energy consumption and U.S. dependence on petroleum. The law required screw-based household light bulbs to use fewer watts for a similar lumen output beginning in January 2012 and to be 27% more efficient by 2014.

However, there has been a recent increase in the popularity of LEDs. Initially, LEDs were too costly to be considered a realistic option for consumers, but as technology advanced and the price point fell to be competitive with CFLs, these lights have become a much more appealing option for many consumers. Navigant Research’s LED Lighting: Global Outlook report indicates an increase in unit shipments of LED lamps from 539,424 in 2015 to an estimated 2,592,468 in 2024. The largest individual segment for growth is in residential buildings, with an expected overall compound annual growth rate of 26.4%.

Ending Production

In early February, General Electric (GE) announced that it will end production of CFLs in the United States. The company will instead focus on producing LEDs, which are significantly more energy efficient than CFLs. The sharp rise in LED sales has allowed for this shift. This change should be welcomed by consumers as well. The increased lifespan of LEDs creates less maintenance and the bulbs provide superior light quality and increased efficiency of up to 80% over other lighting options, decreasing the total costs of utility bills. Additionally, CFLs contain mercury, dim poorly, and are slow to warm up, especially as they age. Other companies are expected to follow GE in moving away from CFLs toward LED adoption. The new lighting efficiency requirements proposed recently are helping to encourage this shift.

New Energy Efficiency Standards

On February 12, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposed the Energy Conservation Standards for General Service Lamps rule, the second phase of the EISA. The proposed rule would require an efficiency level that—while not exclusive to any specific lighting technology—is currently only met by LEDs. This proposed rule is in line with the current shifts of increased LED usage and GE’s recent announcement. The proposed rule would greatly reduce CO emissions, with an estimated 52 million metric tons of CO eliminated, which is the equivalent to annual electricity use of 7.2 million homes.

The proposed rule would not apply to incandescent bulbs since the DOE is prohibited from enforcing standards for them by Congress, but they would be required to meet the initial efficiency level, also starting in 2020. However, the majority of consumers have already shifted away from the use of incandescent bulbs in recent years due to their inefficiency.

There will most likely not be an official rule until January 1, 2017, and it will not take effect until 2020. The proposal allows for feedback by stakeholders and consumers before it becomes an official rule. The 3 years between the ruling and initiation provide consumers and manufacturers ample time to prepare for the shift.