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Lane Burt’s Blog

The New DOE Steps Up: New Lamp Standard Will Save More Energy Than Any Previous DOE Standard

Lane Burt

Posted July 1, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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On Monday, President Obama and Secretary Chu announced a strengthened final rule on lamps that will save consumers $4 billion annually by 2022.

This standard would cover the tube fluorescent bulbs (general service fluorescent or GSFL) that we are all familiar with and the flat faced bulbs that fit into recessed can fixtures in many homes (incandescent reflector lamps or IRLs).  I have blogged on the importance of this standard before and we asked our online activists to tell DOE to improve it.  Thanks to the 9,800 of you who took the time to tell DOE to strengthen the proposed standard that left more than $25 billion in energy savings on the table.  The final rule is much improved from the previous version. 

The total savings from the new final rule are tremendous. In the coming decades we will save,

  • 12.3 Quadrillion BTUs of energy or quads, enough to power all the homes in the country for a year and two months
  • $71 billion dollars
  • 600 million metric tons of CO2, which could be worth an additional $26 billion in consumer savings
  • 9.3 metric tons of mercury - This is enough mercury that if emitted all at once could contaminate 9 Lake Superiors

Not bad for a program with an annual budget of around $20 million and under court ordered deadlines.  This particular standard was more than a decade out of date and subject to the deadlines that resulted from an NRDC lawsuit in 2006. 

This is a good result in the first big rulemaking to come from the "new" DOE.  We fully expect that when this Administration is able to complete their own analysis from start to finish (rather than picking up mid stream as they did in this rule) that the results will be even better.

As to the substance of the rule, the Department responded to the most significant requests made by NRDC and the efficiency community by strengthening the GSFL standard (moving from level 3 as proposed to level 4) and agreeing to close the "BR" loophole by which low cost products could avoid the requirements of the standard.  BRs were a niche product (the same lamp in a slightly different glass case) that grew in sales as a result of their low price and exmeption from federal standards.

The GSFL rule will result in the elimination of older, larger, and less efficient T12s in favor of smaller T8s that fit in the same fixture and provide the same utility.  The IRL rule will eliminate traditional incandescent reflector technology to be replaced by more advanced halogen infrared reflector technology.  Users of these bulbs will not notice a difference.

Since it is my job to nitpick, there are a few things that could have been improved.  For GSFL, the highest level of efficient lamps considered was shown to be cost effective (level 5, level 4 was selected).  We think the concerns about level 5 (which would eliminate all but the best T8s) were largely overstated and the savings present at this level outweighed the costs.  Even so, the lion's share of the savings were captured.  In IRLs, the Department decided to allow "modified spectrum" lamps (those that are labeled as "soft" or "daylight") to be slightly less efficient than the standard lamps.  We must be aware of the possibility for this to become a low cost loophole in the standard and monitor sales of these products accordingly. 

Overall, a good rule from the Department that fell just short of great.  The Department and their consultants did a incredible amount of analysis and they should be commended for that.  This rule is extremely important and it was treated as such, and now consumers and the nation will benefit by saving money and energy.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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