Noah Horowitz, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency, San Francisco, CA
Six years ago, President Bush signed a federal energy bill phasing out energy-wasting light bulbs on a staggered schedule to ensure a smooth and successful transition to more efficient bulbs – and eventually save Americans $13 billion on their annual energy bills. All of the major lighting companies, including GE, Philips and Sylvania, support the changes and have upgraded their supply chains to produce the energy-savings bulbs. On January 1, the next chapter begins when the old, inefficient 40- and 60-watt bulbs, which represent over half the market, no longer can be manufactured or imported into the United States.
This follows the recently completed transitions from the old 100- and 75-watt incandescent bulbs over the past two years, a process that unfolded very smoothly because there are so many better-performing options available. Consumers now have three major types of bulbs to choose from: new and improved incandescents that use 28% less energy, and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that provide energy savings of at least 75% and last a lot longer. (You can see the internal workings of the LED bulb to the right that only needs 9.5 watts to produce the same amount of light as an old 60-watt bulb.)
In fact, these standards requiring improved efficiency have led to more lighting innovation over the past five years than we saw during the 100-plus years since Edison invented the light bulb!
To be clear, incandescents are not disappearing at the first of the year — they’re just getting more efficient.
And technological advances — like the GE 43W bulb below that replaces the 60-watt incandescent — have already saved homeowners and businesses billions of dollars on their energy bills. The new standards eventually will save as much electricity as is generated by 30 large coal-burning power plants – and the associated pollution that harms our health and contributes to climate change – every single year.
Lumens, not watts
The new light bulbs use less power to give off the same amount of light. Therefore, consumers will no longer be buying bulbs simply based on their power, expressed in watts, and will shift toward buying bulbs based on their light output, expressed in lumens. In the near term, manufacturers are including claims like “replaces 60W bulb” or “13 W = 60 W” for a 13-watt CFL that gives off as much light as the old 60-watt incandescent bulb.
The chart from NRDC’s light bulb buying guide below provides an easy way for consumers to choose the bulb with the amount of light they are seeking. For example, the new incandescents, sometimes referred to as halogen incandescents, that replace the old 60-watt bulbs, only use 43 watts.
Some other things to know when shopping for a new light bulb:
- Not all CFLs and LEDs are created equally. To ensure you are getting a good one, only buy those that have the ENERGY STAR® label. These not only save you energy but will also perform well over time.
- CFLs and LEDs last 10 to 25 times longer, respectively. Even though they might cost more to buy, they will save lots of money over their lifetime as well as prevent the need to replace each of your light bulbs every year.
- Light bulbs come in different flavors. If you want the light to look just like it did with your old incandescent, buy one that says “warm white.” Those that say “daylight” or “cool white” will have a much whiter, almost bluish white light, which many consumers may not like.
- If you want a dimmable bulb, buy a LED or incandescent bulb.
Bottom line, our nation’s switch toward more efficient light bulbs is well under way and the shift from the 40- and 60-watt bulbs should go without a hitch. The manufacturers and retailers have really stepped up to the plate and we now have a great energy-savings bulb on the shelf ready for every socket in your home.