In late 2012, the California Energy Commission (CEC) published a voluntary specification recognizing quality light-emitting diode (LED) lamps intended to replace screwbase incandescent lamps in luminaires. Called the Quality LED Lamp Specification (QLS), it covers a range of omnidirectional and directional (spot and flood) lamps.


The specification is important for two reasons. First, the CEC believes it will promote adoption of products that consumers will favor for their performance, not just their energy savings. Second, while compliance with the specification is voluntary for manufacturers, California has mandated that the state’s utilities may only offer residential product rebates for lamps that satisfy the performance requirements.


California set a goal of reducing residential lighting energy use by 50 percent, compared to 2007 levels, by the year 2018. To realize this goal, incandescent lamps must be virtually eradicated from use. Rather than achieve the policy through a mandate, the state is working to achieve market transformation through incentive. The challenge is to avoid some of the same pitfalls that have inhibited adoption of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).


“The Energy Commission wanted to create an LED lamp that people would fall in love with,” said the CEC’s Owen Howlett. He indicated that many consumers continue to reject CFLs because of poor color quality, limited dimming capability, slow start times and unpredictable lamp life. “We wanted to make sure that price pressure didn’t drive the LED market down to the CFL level of performance, so we created a specification that people could point to and say, ‘My LED is better than a CFL, and here’s the proof.’”


The reasoning for the QLS is similar to that of the Energy Star voluntary product labeling program, which recognizes CFL and LED products that provide comparable performance, while saving energy, as the lamps they replace. In fact, the QLS is closely based on Energy Star, using the same metrics and test procedures.


The specification goes further in six key areas: color temperature, color binning/consistency, color rendering (including R9, a measure of how vibrant red materials look under the light), dimmability, rated life/warranty and light distribution. For example, QLS-compliant lamps must have a warm color temperature of 2,700K or 3,000K and a 90-plus color rendering index (CRI) rating, including an R9 rating greater than 50. The lamp must be capable of continuous dimming without flicker or noise from 100 to 10 percent.


The covered lamp types include the following:


• Omnidirectional A, G, B, BA, C, CA and F lamps with an E12, E17, E26 or GU24 (120V) base


• Omnidirectional JC bi-pin and wedge lamps with a G8 or G9 (120V) base


• Directional (spot) MR lamps with a G8, G9 or GU10 (120V) or GX5.3 (12V) base


• Directional (flood) R and BR lamps with an E12, E17, E26 or GU24 (120V) base


• Directional (spot) PAR20 and PAR30 lamps with an E12, E17, E26 or GU10 or GU24 (120V) base


• Directional (spot or flood) PAR38 lamps with E12, E17, E26 or GU24 (120V) base


Some downlight retrofit kits also qualify. The QLS excludes colored lamps, light strips and rope lights, linear pin-based lamps and integrated luminaires.


When the QLS was first developed in late 2012, virtually no products were available that satisfied the requirements. According to Howlett, manufacturers responded quickly, bringing eight compliant products to the market as of September 2013, with more on the way.


“A new compliant lamp becomes available every few weeks, and sources tell us that there are more to come,” he said, adding that, “We’re expecting that California consumers will have access to a broad range of compliant lamps through their distributors and retailers in 2014.” 


At this point, this includes mostly A, PAR and BR lamps.


On Nov. 8, 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a regulation requiring the state’s utilities to rebate only LED lamps that are compliant with QLS in their residential product programs. A transition period of a year was granted, and in 2013, the three California investor-owned utilities began rebating a mix of fully compliant and mostly compliant lamps—about 20 products in all. In 2014, these utilities are expected to rebate only fully compliant products as required by the CPUC regulation.


“It’s a well-known business principle that, if consumers have a positive experience with a product, they may tell their friends, but if they have a negative experience, they will definitely tell them,” Howlett said. “The lamps that comply with the QLS are very good lamps. The difference in color quality and performance compared with CFLs and noncompliant LEDs is visible and tangible. These are lamps that your customers will like, and they can give you an edge over your competitors.”