Bulb ‘Ban’ Is Back: New DOE rule will move the market away from inefficient incandescents

Published On
Jun 15, 2022

“Ban the bulb” is back. In April 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued two final rules regulating general-service incandescent lamps, effective 75 days after publication in the Federal Register, though a degree of leniency in enforcement is expected during the transition.

The final rules adopted revised definitions of general-service lamps as well as general-service incandescent lamps while interpreting a backstop energy standard as applying to these incandescent lamps. As a result, more incandescent lamps are covered by energy standards, and incandescent and halogen A-lamps that previously complied appear likely to be eliminated.

The legislation history

There’s a tangled web to unpick here, and it starts in 2007 with the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act. This major energy legislation included definitions and energy standards for a range of common incandescent lamps. As of Jan. 1, 2012, 100W lamps had to become 30% more efficient or be prohibited from manufacture and import; Jan. 1, 2013, for 75W; and Jan. 1, 2014, for 40W and 60W.

Back in the mid-2000s, some 2 billion incandescent lamps were sold annually, according to the California Energy Commission. Between 2012–2014, more than 4 billion residential light sockets went up for grabs.

At the time, there was some outcry over incandescent lamps being banned, though they really weren’t—not outright. Consumer choice didn’t shut down so much as change. While others expected the market to shift to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), it didn’t turn out that way. CFL sales grew significantly for a time, but the majority shifted to the next-best thing, which was halogen A-lamps that produced comparable performance while operating around 30% more efficiently than standard incandescents.

LEDs change the game

Then LED technology matured toward competitive performance and cost, completely changing the market. Consider A-line lamp shipments reported by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association: in 2013, LED A-lamps barely registered in the market at just 0.7% of sales. By the third quarter of 2021, they had captured 76.8% of the consumer lamp market, followed by halogen lamps with 22.5% and CFLs now at 0.7%.

DOE’s 2020 Residential Energy Consumption Survey provides another view. Nearly one-half (47%) of households reported using LEDs for most or all of their indoor lighting in 2020, a dramatic increase from just 4% in 2015. In contrast, only 15% used incandescent/halogen and 12% used CFLs for most or all indoor lighting in 2020.

The mission to save energy

The energy-saving mission was more or less accomplished, but the measure went even farther. It required DOE to initiate another rulemaking to determine if general-service lamp efficacy should be increased, and, if not, a backstop measure would be triggered that required a minimum efficacy of 45 lumens/W by Jan. 1, 2020.

In January 2017, DOE issued a final rule that eliminated the exemptions for rough service lamps, shatter-resistant lamps, three-way incandescent lamps, vibration service lamps, reflector lamps and decorative lamps (T-shape lamps of 40W or less or length of 10 inches or more, and B, BA, CA, F, G16½, G25, G30, S and M-14 lamps of 40W or less). The Trump administration withdrew the new definition. In April 2022, the Biden administration reinstated it, producing a regulation that was to take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Meanwhile, as DOE failed to establish a new energy standard before 2020, the backstop provision was expected to take effect. The Trump administration interpreted it as not applying, with a determination issued in 2019. In April 2022, the DOE issued the new rule, in which it summarized itself:

“In this final rule, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is codifying in the Code of Federal Regulations the 45 lumens/W backstop requirement for general service lamps (GSLs) that Congress prescribed in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, as amended. DOE has determined this backstop requirement applies because DOE failed to complete a rulemaking regarding GSLs in accordance with certain statutory criteria. This final rule represents a departure from DOE’s previous determination published in 2019 that the backstop requirement was not triggered.”

As a result of these rules, numerous incandescent and halogen lamps are in jeopardy. In the case of the backstop 45 lumens/W energy standard, the act’s language is unusual in that it does not prohibit manufacture and import, but instead prohibits the sale of noncompliant lamps. According to the National Resources Defense Council, about 1 billion sockets will switch, likely shifting to LED. In a press release, the DOE said it expects the regulation to save consumers nearly $3 billion annually on their electric bills.

DOE announced an enforcement policy intended to support a managed transition across the distribution chain. The policy contains periods of enforcement leniency and progressive enforcement, with an emphasis on transitioning production first, culminating Jan. 1, 2023.

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