On the road to more energy-efficient lighting

Emerging technologies that will make indoor and outdoor lighting more efficient.

On the road to more energy-efficient lighting

 After maintaining a steady pace for a century, lighting technology has begun to leap forward, fueled by tightening energy efficiency standards. And despite a price shock on some lighting products, electric cooperatives are looking into emerging lighting options that could curb rising costs.

Shifting standards

Congress enacted improved energy efficiency standards for incandescent bulbs under the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 signed by President George W. Bush. Under the law, by 2014, light bulbs using 40 to 100 watts must consume at least 28 percent less energy than traditional incandescents, which could save Americans an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion in lighting costs annually. The measure also mandates that light bulbs become 70 percent more efficient by 2020. Major lighting manufacturers like General Electric, Philips, and Osram Sylvania are already complying.

In January 2012, the traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs were phased out. As of January 1 of this year, retailers were no longer ordering additional supplies of the traditional 75-watt incandescent bulb, and 40w and 60w versions will no longer be available as of January 1, 2014. The regulations don't exactly ban incandescent bulbs. Some bulbs could meet the new standards, although they would be more expensive. And many types of specialty bulbs have been exempted from the law.

To fill the growing need for efficient lighting comes a new breed of illuminators, led by light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

'Solid' lighting

LEDs are at the forefront of solid-state lighting—small, packed electronic chip devices. Two conductive materials are placed together on a chip (a diode). Electricity passes through the diode, releasing energy in the form of light.

Originally used in remote controls, exit signs, digital watches, alarm clocks, and car signal lights, LEDs soon gained momentum for large-scale lighting.

By 2030, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates solid-state lighting technologies could reduce the amount of electricity used for lighting (currently 13.6 percent of the nation's total) by half, saving up to $30 billion a year in energy costs.

Testing LEDS

A ban on parts for mercury vapor lights is not far off, and North Carolina's electric co-ops have been testing LED yard lights to see if they are good alternatives.

Four County EMC, based in Burgaw, began a pilot program approximately four years ago to assist manufacturers in creating a good quality LED yard light for its system, said CEO Mitchell Keel. "Our first test was with a handmade prototype. Once the unit was tested we gave them our honest opinions, good or bad. This process was repeated several times with successive generations of the light. We did our best to produce a light that fit our needs, but most importantly a light that our members would be happy with."

Early in 2012, the Four County EMC board approved replacing existing yard lights with LED lights. Since then, the co-op has installed 2,900 LED yard lights on its system and will install an additional 3,500 by the end of 2013. All mercury vapor and high pressure sodium yard lights are on schedule to be replaced in approximately five years. Keel said co-op member reception has been "excellent."

The EnergyUnited cooperative, based in Statesville, experimented with high-pressure sodium as an alternative, but were "not particularly pleased" with the results, said Steven Estes, the co-op's system engineer. Estes said, "We have looked at some other lighting technologies, but feel LED lighting offers the best mix of longevity and efficiency."

EnergyUnited is moving forward with plans to replace mercury vapor lights that reach their end of life with new LED lights. The co-op also plans to roll out a three-year program that will eventually result in the replacement of all 175-watt mercury vapor security lights in its system with the more energy efficient LEDs. EnergyUnited will communicate with members having mercury vapor lights prior to the start of the change-out program.

Shedding light on LEDs

Curious to know if LEDs are right for you? Homeowners can visit www.energysavers.gov/lighting to compare LEDs to new energy-efficient incandescent bulbs and CFLs. The Touchstone Energy cooperatives free app, "Save Energy, Save Money" for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, includes a lighting calculator showing the potential savings from replacing incandescent lamps with either CFLs or LEDs. Learn more at www.togetherwesave.com/Energy-Saving-App-Smartphones.

LEDs: A Decade of Change

By 2014, lightbulbs using between 40-W to 100-W must consume at least 28 percent less energy than traditional incandescents, saving Americans an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion in lighting costs annually. The federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 also mandates that lightbulbs become 70 percent more efficient by 2020. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are quickly evolving to meet this challenge. Learn more: EnergySavers.gov/Lighting

LED Timeline

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