Helping Consumers Embrace New Lighting Standards

by Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR

Beginning in 2012, new federal standards for energy efficiency will usher in an era of improved lighting options for consumers. This presents consumers with the opportunity to enjoy energy savings, but the change brings with it consumer concern over the implications of the change. Utilities can and will play a significant role in building awareness, educating consumers and offering energy efficiency programs targeted to the new lighting standards.

The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 requires that lightbulbs use less energy beginning in January. It’s a common misconception that the act bans incandescent lightbulbs; it doesn’t. But the EISA’s minimum efficiency standards are high enough that the incandescent lamps most commonly used by consumers today will not meet the new requirements. So the act will eliminate most traditional 100-, 75-, 60- and 40-watt incandescent lightbulbs between 2012 and 2014. 

The change doesn’t mean consumers need to stock up on the old-fashioned bulbs. Instead, the new standards have spurred innovation, giving consumers choices that provide better lighting, are more energy-efficient and last longer than traditional bulbs. Manufacturers across the country already produce lighting products that meet the requirements of the new standard. So there’s an increasing number of new lighting options, such as LEDs and halogen-incandescent bulbs, joining the ever-popular compact fluorescents.

But consumers must be aware of these lighting changes and understand how to evaluate new lighting options. Another important change brought about by the EISA will be a focus on comparing bulbs based on light output, or lumens, rather than relying solely on the traditional comparison of electricity use measured in watts. As all bulbs get more energy efficient, comparing lumens will be a much more effective way to decide which bulb is right for a particular application. Simply put, the higher the lumens, the brighter light. That straightforward measurement is an apples-toapples comparison consumers will warm up to over time. But with this movement to lumens brings additional educational opportunities with consumers.

Consumers naturally will look to their local utilities to provide them with unbiased information on the lighting standard changes and options. Utilities can meet this need by generating consumer awareness of the upcoming changes, providing education about the changes, and further by offering energy efficiency programs targeted to new lighting products.

From an awareness perspective, utilities can remind consumers of the upcoming changes using traditional outreach channels. These reminders can reinforce the reason for the change in the standard. Most consumers are unaware that 90 percent of the energy consumed is converted to heat with just 10 percent to light. This awareness building can be provided via utility websites and traditional bill stuffers.

Utilities also will want to ensure their customer service representatives (CSRs) are prepared to respond to consumer questions on lighting. Providing CSRs with training and fact sheets associated with the lighting changes will enable the reps to assist consumers.

Augmenting the awareness by providing consumers with education and valued information about the upcoming lighting changes is critical. Utilities can provide frequently asked questions and offer links to other educational websites on their websites. To ensure consumers are happy with new lighting choices, utilities can provide education on lumens. Beyond that, utilities can provide information comparison information on compact fluorescents, LEDs and halogen- incandescent bulbs based on lighting output, energy usage and bulb performance. A couple of informative websites on this subject are http://lumennow.org and http://lightingfacts.com.

Energy efficiency programs offered by utilities can help promote these new lighting options by providing funding that lowers the retail price for many Energy Star-qualified bulbs. These discounts benefit customers every time they purchase qualifying lighting products at home improvement, hardware and other local stores.

As utilities and providers of energy efficiency products and services, we must do our part to inform customers about the upcoming changes and explain the benefits of moving toward more efficient lighting options. The success and popularity of the new standardsdepend on it.

Author
Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, “Energy Effi ciency: Principles and Practices,” is available
at http://pennwell books.com.

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