Breaking Light Bulb Myths

I have to agree with the Tea Party; the US government should not choose the light bulbs I use in my home. And fortunately, it does not.

Yet that’s the spin being pushed by those who want to roll back federal lighting performance standards. An odd mythology is developing around the standards.

Opponents claim that the standards amount to government picking and choosing winners and forcing them upon us. More specifically, they say that the feds have banned the incandescent light bulb, which has been around since Thomas Edison’s time.

This is not true; the incandescent light bulb is not being banned; the standards are agnostic about technology type as long as they perform as required. The 2007 law is meant to act as a market mechanism that encourages innovation. With a benchmark to work towards, scientists, engineers and product designers are working to displace older, inefficient devices. Already several different kind of light bulbs have made their way into the marketplace, including a new and better incandescent.

We have efficiency standards not only for light bulbs, but also for refrigerators, water heaters, air conditioners, microwaves and other appliances. They are nothing new. Those who see them as government intrusion may be surprised to find that the first US appliance standards were set under Ronald Reagan.

Still one might ask, do we really need appliance standards? Are they worth the bother? That’s a $300 billion question – the amount the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates the US will save on electricity costs by 2030 through existing appliance and lighting standards.

Here are other important points about appliance standards made by Steven Nadel, ACEEE’s executive director, in a testimony on March 10 before the US Senate’s Energy and Natural Resource Committee. Nadel urged that Congress reject S. 395, the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act (BULB), which would repeal lighting standards set in 2007 under the Bush administration.

  • Appliance standards generated 340,000 net jobs in the U.S. in 2010.
  • The majority of the standards are based on consensus agreements between manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates.
  • Four types of bulbs already meet the standards, although the standards do not take effect until 2012. Two are incandescent bulbs.
  • The 2007 lighting standards, alone, are expected to reduce annual electricity use by 72 billion kWh by 2020, enough to serve the annual electricity needs of 6.6 million average households and avoid construction of about 30 power plants.
  • ACEEE forecasts that the lighting standards will reduce consumer energy bills by more than $7 billion by 2020, or about $50 per American household annually.
  • A recent USA Today survey of 1,016 adults found that despite misinformation circulated about a light bulb ban, 61% of Americans favor the 2007 lighting standards, while 31% say they are bad.

Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry’s top magazines and newsletters. She is publisher of the Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

Have any Question or Comment?

2 comments on “Breaking Light Bulb Myths


This one keeps coming up,

the notion that

“This is not a ban, efficient incandescents like Halogens allowed!”

Sure it is a ban

– any bulb not meeting allowable standards is banned.

Yes, efficient halogen incandescent replacements are allowed, but

still have light type etc differences with regular bulbs, apart from

costing much more for the small savings, which is why neither

consumers or governments really like them, since they have been around

for a while now without being sold much.

LEDs are not yet ready as bright omnidirectional lighting at a good

price – which leaves CFLs:

How manufacturers and vested interests have pushed for this ban,

and lobbied for CFL favors: with documentation and copies of official communications

All light bulbs have their advantages in different rooms and

situations – none should be banned

unless they are unsafe to actually use:

The “switch all your lights and save lots of money” campaigns are like

saying “Eat only bananas and save lots of money!”


The whole relevancy here is of course of WHY people should be told

what they can buy

as the author says “the US government should not choose the light bulbs I use in my home”

1 The society savings aren’t there as laid out clearly on the website

USA overall energy savings less than 1% using DOE figures (remember: their big lighting percentage includes industrial, street etc non-incandescent lighting)

2. Even if the savings were there:

People pay for the electricity they use, of which there is no shortage justifying restrictions – and even less foreseeable future shortage, given the development of a lot of renewable low emission sources etc

3. Even if the savings were there:

There are better ways to save energy, in power plant delivery, grids, etc

– competition, rather then regulation, between suppliers as between

light bulb manufacturers guarantees energy efficiency in their energy


— and indeed forces manufacturers to supply people with what they

want, which includes

bulbs that can save them money.

“Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run”?

Energizer bunny etc commercials show how such products can

imaginatively be sold.

Manufacturers should get off their backsides and

market their products “If they are so great”as ban proponents say

rather than push for bans on cheap alternatives, to make easy big profits

4. Even if the savings were there:

Other better ways to save energy are to reduce actual waste, whether

in the generation, distribution or consumption of electricity,

eg with lights, how they are left on commercially etc,

and to target relevant greater usage

eg freezer types, and other heavy energy using products in relevant households

5. Even if the savings were there:

Taxation would be more relevant even for ban proponents (tax is wrong

– just better than regulation eg for liberal bankrupt California:)

2 billion US and EU sales of relevant bulbs show massive government income potential, and can lower tax/subsidize greener bulbs, pay for home insulation measures etc, overall lowering society energy use more than the remaining taxed bulbs supposedly raises it, while retaining

consumer choice

As said tax is wrong, but better than banning useful products.

Do bans on bulbs matter?

Some ridicule it,

but people spend half their lives under artificial lights, and they

should have a free choice.

More importantly,

it matters because of the underlying ideology, which is how an efficient yet creative and free society is developed (Edison would

have been stopped from this invention), better

furthered, in my view, with market competition rather than regulation,

when it comes to the use of safe products: We are not talking about

banning lead paint here…

(and yes it is a ban – see previous comment)

“Obsolescent technology” is safe and known technology, compared to new complex alternatives:

Yes, we should welcome the New: But it does not necessitate banning the Old.

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