A new rule adopted by the Department of Energy (DOE) last year took full effect as of Aug. 1, 2023. The rule indirectly prohibits the sale and manufacture of incandescent lamps in the United States, with some exceptions. Specifically, the ban affects general service lamps that provide less than 45 lumens per watt (lm/W) and, at 15 lm/W, incandescent bulbs don’t make the cut.
Despite some controversy over the new policy, concern over the environmental impact of incandescent lighting has been growing for years, and bans like this are not new. Many other countries implemented restrictions like this years ago, beginning with Brazil and Venezuela in 2005. Additionally, discussion about this specific policy in America has been ongoing for 16 years.
The efficiency of LEDs and incandescent lighting
Energy consumed by lighting has a significant impact on the environment. In fact, 15% of global electricity consumption and 5% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to lighting alone. The ban on incandescent lighting is rooted in reducing this environmental impact by pushing for the widespread proliferation of LED lighting in homes and buildings. Typical LEDs offer upwards of 60 lm/W, and they are the most energy efficient lighting option available today.
Additionally, LEDs last 25–100 times longer than incandescents, which last only about 1,200 hours. So, while LEDs may have a higher upfront cost, switching to LEDs further saves money by reducing the frequency of bulb or fixture replacements and, as a bonus, reduces landfill waste. The DOE estimates that the new rule will save Americans nearly $3 billion on their annual utility bills.
Although polling suggests that most Americans are in favour of the new policy, the ruling is not without critics. Hesitancy surrounding the ban includes concerns about lighting preferences and how the new ban was rolled out.
Many people prefer incandescent lighting for its soothing, warm light quality, so there are concerns that LED lighting is too blue and bright. However, modern LEDs offer a wide range of color temperatures, including warm, yellow tones similar to incandescent lamps and can essentially be adjusted to cater to individual preferences.
Some lighting retailers have also faced challenges due to the ban. For example, despite ultimately supporting it for the environment, some lighting retailers have fielded calls from distressed lighting consumers who felt uninformed. They have also expressed concerns about waste from unsold incandescent lamps ending up in landfills, since it’s no longer legal to sell their remaining stock.
The road ahead
Looking ahead, further limitations that would restrict fluorescent lighting are expected to be introduced, with a proposed rule aiming for even higher minimum efficiency levels of 120 lm/W. This would additionally support the widespread adoption of LED lighting, and the DOE expects this new rule would “deliver consumer benefits of up to $20 billion dollars and conserve roughly 4 quadrillion British thermal units of energy in the 30 years after its implementation.”
For now, this ban on incandescent lighting is expected to make a significant difference on its own. In addition to reducing consumers’ utility bills, it’s expected this rule will cut carbon emissions by 222 million metric tons over the course of the next 30 years.