When President Barack Obama took office, he announced that, instead of re-inventing the wheel, he would continue to improve upon the national minimum energy efficiency requirements for lightbulbs developed under President George W. Bush. The plan was to move away from the old technology of incandescent lightbulbs that has been dominant for over 100 years into more energy-efficient, safer, and cheaper technologies available to us now. Throughout the Obama presidency, more types of lightbulbs were added to the list of those needing to meet higher efficiency standards. Obama’s legacy in this area is clear, as more and more Americans have moved to LED technology for their lighting needs. Seems too good to be true?
The Trump administration’s Department of Energy announced that it plans to roll back some of the standards established near the end of Obama’s presidency. Under those standards, vibration service lamps, rough service lamps, three-way incandescent lamps, shatter-resistant incandescent lamps, and higher-lumen (2,601-3,300 lm) incandescent lamps would need to reach higher efficiency standards starting Jan. 1, 2020. The NRDC says that the bulbs in question are used in over 2.7 billion sockets, and that the potential costs to consumers in leaving the highly inefficient technology unregulated will be up to $12 billion over the next five years.
Of course, using more energy because of inefficient incandescent and halogen technology is exactly the kind of thing that drives the fossil fuel industry. Critics explain that the more energy is needed for light, the more pollution is pumped into our atmosphere. But the reality is that LED lighting, which uses 90 percent of its energy to create light (versus incandescent, which spends most of its energy creating heat), is the future. It’s a future that even a dummy like George W. Bush knew, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
A big part of Obama’s legacy in this area was establishing regulations that allowed new companies that promote cleaner and more efficient light technology a chance to grow into the marketplace. In that he was very successful. The switch from incandescent lighting to alternative forms has begun to speed up over the past few years as LED technology has found more popularity with consumers thanks to evolving light quality and cost-savings. LED lights can last up to 12 times longer and save people four times as much in energy costs as compared to their incandescent counterparts. Even more important for consumers and the planet is that LED lightbulbs’ individual prices have been dropping consistently over the past couple of years and can now come close to matching incandescent lightbulb prices.