Special Report: Lighting, LED and Legislation

A panel discussion at the 2011 GreenBuild conference explored options for energy-saving lighting, noting that 70 percent of energy consumed in North America comes from commercial and residential buildings.

October 7, 2011
By Diana Mosher, Contributing Editor

Unlike the old Edison incandescent light bulbs, LED lights don’t suddenly burn out. “It’s a gradual process,” says Robert Horner, director of public policy for the Illuminating Engineering Society. “They fade away, getting dimmer and dimmer. That’s why a standard is needed for defining the life of the product.” Such is the role of the IES, which is tasked with helping the lighting industry and the public make a smooth transition to new light sources such as LED.

Standards are changing around the globe. Many governments are proposing that incandescent light bulbs be phased out in an effort to switch over to more energy-efficient lighting alternatives like compact fluorescent lamps and LED lamps. Brazil and Venezuela began their phase-outs in 2005; the European Union and Australia began in 2009; Argentina, Russia and Canada in 2012; and the United States in 2014. Despite the promises of energy savings, the program has stirred controversy due to the potential for mercury pollution.

Experts at the Lighting Legislation media lunch organized by GE Lighting during GreenBuild 2011 shared a surprising statistic. According to the panel, only 35-40 percent of consumers are aware that incandescent bulbs are being phased out — so education and outreach are clearly needed. And, to help the public feel comfortable about new products being rolled out, according to Shelli Sedlak, GE Lighting’s North American Specification Engineering Team Manager, Federal Trade Commission labeling requirements will be implemented. “It’s the same concept as nutrition facts on [food products].”

Right now about 70 percent of the energy being consumed in North America is used by commercial and residential buildings. We will need to reduce that amount drastically in the coming years. Horner noted that lighting affects us in a much broader way than other energy guzzlers like air conditioning. “Whether you have very low light levels — or very high levels — somehow the human eye adapts. But, improper lighting affects productivity and shapes our perception of how comfortable we feel in a space.”

Other trends the panelists will be watching: an increased use of daylighting and LEDs; net-zero energy buildings; and wind and other recoverable energy sources. From now and through 2020 they expect to see even more regulations including energy regulations on LEDs. Anything that uses power — motors, air conditioning, refrigerators — will be looked at every five to six years. Also, they noted that the price and availability of rare-earth elements from China will likely affect the pricing of lighting products going forward.

Following the panel discussion, GE Energy Industrial Solutions announced a new partnership with Inovateus Solar, a U.S. solar-power distribution and integration company, to build new solar carports with electric vehicle chargers.

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