Lights out on old bulb technology

Americans are spending nearly $23 billion a year in energy costs to light their homes. Nearly 20 percent of our nation’s residential electricity is used just for lighting.

The Department of Energy estimates that lighting consumes about 8.2 quads, or about 22 percent, of the total electricity generated in the United States. The commercial sector alone accounts for more than half of lighting energy use. Consumers and businesses together spend approximately $58 billion annually for lighting. Switching to more efficient lighting is an easy and significant step every one of us can take today to save both money and energy, while helping reduce our nation’s climate impact.

Not surprisingly, then, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is the first committee on Capitol Hill to install a new energy efficient and environmentally friendly lighting system in its offices. The upgrade, part of a “Greening of the Capitol” initiative by the Architect of the Capitol, is more than just better bulbs; it includes an energy management system that dims and brightens ceiling lamps in committee offices, depending on the amount of outside light. It audits the amount of energy our committee staff is using, and it tracks such things as cost savings and the amount of carbon dioxide that is kept out of the atmosphere.

Earlier this month, even in a workweek shortened by the Labor Day holiday, the Senate Energy Committee’s new conservation measures saved 1,762 kilowatt-hours of electricity and $176.22 in energy costs. In addition, the retrofit reduced our carbon footprint that week by 3,348 lbs. of carbon dioxide.

Savings such as these are possible because of new lighting technologies that are now available. In order to bring savings like these to the rest of the country, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and I are sponsoring legislation to phase out older-style light bulbs and replace them with newer ones that burn just as brightly but use much less energy.

Today most residential lamps use incandescent bulbs — a 125-year-old technology that is only 5 percent efficient. Compact fluorescent lamps use about 75 percent less energy and last 10 times as long as traditional incandescent lamps. In 2006, U.S. consumers purchased 1.7 billion incandescent light bulbs and 200 million compact fluorescent bulbs.

“The Energy Efficient Lighting for a Brighter Tomorrow Act” (S. 2017) provides an aggressive timeline for light bulb manufacturers to plan for and implement major changes in lighting efficiency.

Under our bill, beginning in 2012 and continuing to 2014, the current 40-, 60-, 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be phased out and replaced by lower wattage bulbs that produce equivalent amounts of light. The traditional incandescent bulbs found in approximately 4 billion U.S. light sockets will be virtually obsolete, their century-old technology replaced by newer technologies such as halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps, higher efficiency incandescent bulbs and light emitting diodes (LEDS).

When fully implemented, the switch to more efficient light bulbs will save Americans up to $6 billion a year in electricity costs. And, because light bulbs are replaced more often than large appliances, the full savings from better light bulbs will be realized much sooner than savings from longer lifetime appliances.

While the newer bulbs cost more than standard incandescent bulbs, they last much longer. As a result, consumers will see significant savings on the costs to light their homes and businesses.

California and Nevada already have adopted regulations affecting incandescent lamp efficiency. In addition, Australia has announced a phase-out of incandescent lamps by 2010, and the European Union and Canada are considering similar actions.

Many of the provisions in our bill were negotiated between major lighting manufacturers and efficiency advocates. Philips Lighting initiated the negotiations on phasing out inefficient incandescent lamps, and Osram Sylvania and General Electric were actively engaged in the process. Several energy efficiency advocates also participated in the negotiations, including the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Our bill, combined with individual actions across the country, can have an enormous impact in saving energy and helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Together, we can light the way to greater energy efficiency and a brighter future.

Bingaman is chairman of the Senate Energy and Resources Committee.

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