With all due respect to Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who called this topic a distraction from larger climate issues (which, maybe, it is), let’s talk for a moment about the lowly light bulb, which has turned to an unlikely political football in our climate and economic conversations.
Where would we be without these bulbs? In the dark, obviously.
Where would we be without the tremendous advances that have been made in light-bulb technology in recent years? We’d all be paying bigger electrical bills using bulbs with relatively short life spans and are also bad for the environment.
So, why did the Trump administration roll back new efficiency standards that were scheduled to take place in January?
The Department of Energy (DOE) last week announced that it was overturning new regulations, passed in the waning days of the Obama administration, that would have instituted new energy-efficiency standards for bulbs such as three-way incandescent bulbs, candle-shaped chandelier bulbs and recessed reflector bulbs. Another rule change would have imposed new efficiency standards for pear-shaped bulbs. The new standards were enacted to promote even greater energy efficiency, which would cut demand and, consequently, reduce carbon emissions that are believed to contribute to climate change.
A DOE spokesman said the new regulations would be deployed “only when economically justified,” and it was claimed that the new rules would increase the price of bulbs by about 300 percent. Suspending the rules would allow consumers, not the government, to choose how to light their homes and businesses, the DOE said. That’s also the claim of the light-bulb manufacturers, who oppose the new standards in part because the rules would threaten a business model based on planned obsolescence.
But critics such as the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that this action “could cost the average U.S. household more than $100 per year, adding $14 billion to Americans’ annual energy bills as of 2025, and require at least 25 power plants’ worth of extra electricity annually.” It’s estimated the move will increase annual U.S. electrical use by about 80 billion kilowatt hours, as well as do nothing to remove the harmful impact the current bulbs have on the environment, since more energy would be needed to produce the additional energy the old bulbs require.
According to CNBC, “The (new) standards applied to about half of the roughly 6 billion light bulbs used in the U.S, and would have prevented millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.”
The Obama-era rule change was an extension of energy rules passed by the George W. Bush administration — back in the days when “energy independence” was on everyone’s mind — and it was part of an extraordinary evolution in light-bulb technology.
Since 2010, energy consumption in U.S. homes has dropped by 6 percent after decades of steady growth, and a huge reason for the decline has been far more efficient lighting. Bulbs now can last up to 10 years or more and produce more light with far less energy.
It’s true that an LED bulb costs more — about $4 on average for a 12-watt LED compared to $1 for a 60-watt incandescent bulb. But, according to the Department of Energy, the LED, which uses about one-fifth the energy, has an estimated life span of 25,000 hours, compared to 1,000 for incandescent. It’s also estimated that, over the course of 10 years, the running cost of the LED is about $18, while it’s about $90 for an incandescent.
So, the new rules would have further promoted the use of longer-lasting bulbs that use less energy and produce more light at a fraction of the cost … AND they help the environment.
And that’s what we DON’T want?
Why are we changing course on a process that is clearly working on several fronts and can improve even more?
Last week’s decision is not a bright idea at all.