News Item Image

After maintaining a steady pace for a century, lighting technology has begun to leap forward, fueled by tightening energy-efficiency standards and hefty incentives for manufacturers. And despite a bit of price shock on some lighting products, co-op members – especially large commercial, industrial and farm accounts – are working with their not-for-profit, consumer-owned power providers to see if emerging lighting options can curb rising costs.

New lightbulb standards are being enforced by confusion

Congress first enacted improved energy-efficiency standards for incandescent bulbs under the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. But when new lightbulb rules began to take effect in 2012, they were met with confusion.

Under the law, by 2014, lightbulbs using between 40 and 100 watts must consume at least 28 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light- bulbs, which will save Americans an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion in lighting costs annually. The measure also mandates that lightbulbs become 70 percent more efficient by 2020.

In June of this year, the U.S. House passed an amendment to stop enforce- ment of these standards, mirroring a funding freeze for enforcement efforts adopted in late 2011. Even if the provision becomes law, very little will change, because Congress has not repealed or adjusted existing lightbulb efficiency standards or changed the timeline for implementation. So, major lighting manufacturers such as Gener- al Electric, Philips and Osram Sylvania have no choice but to comply with the 2007 law.

As the next wave of standards kicks in, traditional 75-watt incandescent lightbulbs will no longer be available as of Jan. 1, 2013, and 40- and 60-watt versions no longer will be available as of Jan. 1, 2014.

Electronic chips provide the light

In the race to fill the nation’s grow- ing need for efficient lighting comes a new breed of illuminators, led by light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Tradi- tional incandescent bulbs create light using a thin filament inside a glass bulb – a delicate connection that easily can be broken, as frustrated home- owners can attest. In contrast, LEDs are at the forefront of solid-state light- ing. Inside, two conductive materials are placed together on a chip, creating a diode. Electricity passes through the diode, releasing energy in the form of light.

Invented in 1960 by General Electric, the first LEDs were red. (The color depends on materials placed on the diode.) Yellow, green and orange LEDs were created during the 1970s and the recipe for the color blue – the founda- tion for white LEDs – was unlocked in the mid-1990s. Originally used in re-mote controls, exit signs, digital watch- es, alarm clocks and car signal lights, LEDs quickly gained momentum for large-scale lighting.

By 2030, the U.S. Department of En- ergy estimates solid-state lighting tech- nologies could reduce the amount of electricity used for lighting – currently 13.6 percent of the nation’s total – by half, saving up to $30 billion a year in energy costs.

LEDs aren’t just for home use

Many people have purchased an LED bulb or two for home use – or may have seen strips of LEDs lighting dairy cases in their favorite grocery stores. But LEDs now are being tested in a wide variety of public, commer- cial, industrial and farm lighting installations.

Electric cooperatives, for example, are supporting LED research through the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), an arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Recently, CRN worked with Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, a gen- eration and transmission cooperative based in Anadarko, Okla., and the Oklahoma State University Animal Science Department to evaluate LEDs at a farrowing operation and a dairy farm in the Sooner State. The project measured the effectiveness of LEDs in harsh environments and looked for any influences on animal behavior.

T-Bar M Dairy Ranch, outside of Durant, Okla., normally uses 250-watt metal-halide lights in its barns. CRN exchanged those bulbs in 10 fixtures with 120-watt LEDs. After 6 months, the dairy had cut energy use by 55 percent and boosted brightness by 30 percent.

“Utility costs go up every year – that’s reality,” says Tami Tollenaar, who manages the dairy. “To move forward in your business, you have to look for ways to be more efficient. LEDs are one of the things we can do to help us move forward.”

CRN also worked with Robinson Family Farms, a 380,000-head hog operation in Holdenville, Okla. The farm already used compact fluores- cent lamps (CFLs) but had problems because those bulbs didn’t work well in harsh conditions.

“Lighting for a swine facility is pretty important,” says owner Rich Robinson. “We try to convince the sows it’s spring year-round to improve their eating habits.”

CRN switched 25 fixtures from 26-watt CFLs to 15-watt LEDs. After 6 months, Robinson had slashed his energy use by 54 percent.

“I was worried, because normally when you see an LED it doesn’t seem to put out as much light as a 150-watt incandescent bulb,” he says. “It’s a different type of light. But, after in- stalling the lights, I was surprised at how well they lit up the area. I think the LEDs actually outperformed the CFLs.”

“The initial cost of LEDs is sig- nificantly higher than conventional lighting,” says Scott Williams, West- ern Farmers Electric Cooperative commercial and industrial marketing manager. “Like all modern technolo- gy, you can expect the price to come down as the product develops. How- ever, when you consider all the factors over the life cycle of a light, LEDs have already proved they save money.”

For additional information about solid-state lighting technologies, go to

« Back