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Sept. 24, 2020

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Energy adviser: LED lighting not yet practical for many uses

The Columbian
Published:

With a countdown under way to eliminate incandescent light bulbs from store shelves by Jan. 1, what should consumers know about LED lighting as an alternative in the home?

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set in motion a transition mandating that all light bulbs use 30 percent less energy than current incandescent bulbs by 2014.

As part of the change — between Jan. 1, 2012, and Jan. 1, 2014 — all conventional incandescent light bulbs with ratings between 40 watts and 100 watts will be gone from the U.S. market. The change does not mean that consumers can’t use incandescent bulbs, just that retailers can’t sell them.

Replacement options from manufacturers come in the form of compact florescent lamps, called CFLs, and light-emitting diodes, called LEDs. This column focuses on LED technology.

An LED is a semiconductor light source that releases energy in the form of photons across a luminescent spectrum. According to industry experts, LEDs offer advantages over incandescent light sources because of their lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, improved robustness, smaller size, faster switching, and greater durability and reliability. However, LEDs powerful enough for room lighting are relatively expensive and require more precise current and heat management than compact fluorescent lamp sources of comparable output.

The advantages of LED lights are that, in addition to their higher energy efficiency, they have a longer life, are rugged and do not contain mercury.

Their disadvantages? More expensive than incandescent bulbs or CFLs and their light output is limited to lower-light-level applications.

According to a report by Portland General Electric, “Because LEDs cast light in one direction at a narrow angle, they are not yet practical or cost effective for general illumination.” In addition, their heat sensitivity can hurt performance and longevity.

Consumers must be informed

Bob West, an energy adviser with Clark Public Utilities in Vancouver, acknowledges that there are still industry “issues” with LED products. Consumers must study up on what LED products are worth the investment and where they best should be used.

To assist consumers, as well as manufacturers and retailers, the U.S. Department of Energy has established a website at http://www.lightingfacts.com. The DOE also has developed a new Lighting Facts label for LED lighting.

Why? “The rapid growth of LEDs has resulted in an increasing number of new products on the market,” according to the DOE. “While many of these products showcase the energy-saving potential and performance attributes of LED lighting, under-performing products are also appearing in the market. Since bad news travels fast, such products could discourage consumers from accepting this new technology.”

When CFLs came to the market a few years ago, the same product challenges and slow market acceptance occurred, the DOE said.

To help consumers sort through the information, new Lighting Facts labeling has been introduced to help “evaluate product performance against manufacturer claims.”

Lighting Facts labeling should not be confused with Energy Star ratings. While Energy Star differentiates products that are above the minimum standards, the Lighting Facts label is an industry tool to help retailers and other buyers better select and understand the products they are selling, DOE’s website said.

“Armed with this information, retailers and other industry stakeholders can keep poorly performing products from reaching their shelves,” the agency said. The good news is that the technology is improving rapidly. New energy-efficient consumer LED lamps have been announced from three of the lighting industry’s largest producers, Osram Sylvania, Philips, and General Electric. As with many new technologies, mass production will mean lower costs and improved performance of LEDs over the next several years.

Certain uses make sense

Clark Public Utilities’ West said that in certain lighting applications in the home LEDs make sense, such as in-can lights at the top of a vaulted ceiling. But because of their higher cost, LEDs are really no more economical than a fluorescent in most applications. To see that you are getting the most for your money, make sure the LED products you buy have been registered and approved to use the Lighting Facts label. This labeling becomes effective on July 1. For more information, go to http://www.lightingfacts.com, click on “consumers.”

Energy fact: Lighting consumes about 6.5 percent of the world’s energy supply, according to a report at http://www.energymusings.com.

The Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities energy counselors, who provide conservation and energy use information to utility customers. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, in care of Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA, 98668. Past topics are available at http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com.

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