• Energy Efficient Lighting
  • Policy and Regulations

The New Normal for the Lighting Industry

Wendy Davis
Dec 09, 2022


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed that the ENERGY STAR program for lighting be terminated at the end of 2024. The rationale for the proposal focuses on other energy efficiency standards and regulations, highlighting U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) enforcement of a regulation prohibiting the sale of general service lamps with luminous efficacies below 45 lm/W, with the implication that incentive programs like ENERGY STAR are simply no longer needed. The EPA also acknowledges that lighting utility rebate programs—which tend to use ENERGY STAR certification as a main criterion for product eligibility—are becoming increasingly scarce.

The time and expense that the government dedicates to administering the program and that manufacturers spend participating in it are no longer worthwhile, but the justification articulated by the EPA doesn’t tell the whole story. The 45 lm/W minimum efficacy regulatory requirement is substantially lower than the luminous efficacy required for ENERGY STAR certification, which ranges from 61 lm/W to 80 lm/W (depending on other lamp characteristics), so the two requirements are not actually redundant. The regulation will keep the most inefficient products out of the market, but programs like ENERGY STAR incentivize the development and improvement of considerably higher efficiency products.

Mission Accomplished!

Implicit in this news is a growing sentiment that lighting efficiency has already been achieved. Compelling evidence for this comes from the International Energy Agency (IEA) Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. The IEA tracks the progress of six sectors (e.g., transport, buildings, electricity) toward this goal, evaluating the trajectory of 55 subsectors (e.g., heating, lighting, renewable generation), of which only two—EVs and lighting—are currently assessed to be “on track.”

In many respects, this is a major victory for the lighting community. Less than a dozen years after the DOE awarded the first L-Prize for an LED replacement lamp, efficient, high quality, low cost LED lighting products are widely used around the globe. The share of electricity consumed by lighting has decreased, and lighting designers have remarkable technological tools at their disposal to create functional, efficient, and beautiful illuminated environments.

A Different Kind of Disruption

This success is not without its downsides. Over the past two decades, the lighting industry has been a major beneficiary of investments aimed at reducing energy consumption and combating climate change. But things have changed. Whereas the EPA and DOE once fought over control of the ENERGY STAR lighting program, it is now likely to be abolished. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 invested massive resources in lighting, but the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will not. The IEA has 53 other things to worry about—lighting is simply no longer a priority.

This isn’t just a matter of government support. The days of record-breaking technological achievements filling industry news feeds are over. Lighting conferences and trade shows are reporting weak attendance, and the frequency of these events will be reduced in the future, suggesting the dip isn’t just a temporary effect of the pandemic.

Finding a New Normal

This doesn’t spell the end of lighting; it simply signals technological and market maturity. The industry faces new challenges in the post-LED-revolution landscape, but there is plenty more work to be done. Newly constructed and renovated buildings still need to be equipped with lighting systems, and the amount of energy consumed by lighting needs to be decreased. As support and enthusiasm from those outside the industry subsides, the lighting community needs to adapt. Yet again.