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3 reasons politics won't kill the lighting efficiency movement

Fundamentally, research shows at least two-thirds of Americans support the broad lighting-efficiency standards set to take effect Jan. 1, 2012.

This 35-watt incandescent equivalent LED bulb from Lighting Science reduces energy consumption up to 80  percent and lasts up to 25 times longer. (Image courtesy of Lighting Science Group)

This 40-watt incandescent equivalent LED bulb from Lighting Science reduces energy consumption up to 80 percent and lasts up to 50 times longer. (Image courtesy of Lighting Science Group)

As green techies doubtless heard or read late last week, people in Congress just can't seem to keep themselves from trying to mess with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. You know, the one that includes new light-bulb efficiency standards.

The latest strategy: impose funding limitations on the Department of Energy's ability to enforce the standards, which still take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Personally speaking, I can't understand why this particular crusade is so meaningful to certain elected officials when we have far more important things to worry, but I also think they are wasting their time because. The fact is, Americans have figured out that energy-efficiency lighting is one of the quickest ways for individuals, businesses or municipalities to save money. Indeed, I believe there are three big reasons why politics can't kill the lighting efficience movement:

#1: Lighting efficiency projects work. Depending on what estimates you believe, lighting accountings for about 12 percent of the energy usage in the average American home. (Way more during certain times of the year, I'm sure; my husband's friend is one of those over-the-top Christmas light display artists, and his electricity bill at least triples during December and January.) In any event, the generally accepted estimate is that using energy-efficient lighting -- whether it is LED, compact fluorescent, whatever -- could save an average of at least $100 per year. That more than makes up the higher price tag for the bulbs, because they last much longer than the typical incandescent one. Back in July 2011, the Natural Resources Defense Council did a state-by-state analysis of the potential savings and came up this figure for the potential consumer savings: $12.5 billion.

Businesses and municipal governments can realize an bigger return on investments in efficient LED, especially when they team it up with intelligent sensors and control systems that help automate certain functions. In November 2011, Pike Research predicted that LED technologies could account for about 52 percent of the commercial lighting market by 2021.

I've written about the sorts of savings that can be expected from lighting efficiency projects. Here's a new example that just crossed my inbox. The village of Baldwinsville, N.Y., is replacing 15 (just 15) streetlights with a system from Ephesus Technologies. The fixtures are supposed to last 50 percent longer, use 20 percent less power, produce 50 percent less heat and be 20 percent brighter. In a much larger implementation that I wrote about over the summer, Canon U.S.A. was able to squeeze out 2.7 million kilowatt-hours of annual electricity use through a number of measures including a lighting efficiency project. That translates into utility cost savings of $300,000 annually.

#2: Lighting technology manufacturers support the standards. One of the arguments that the lighting efficiency critics have used in their crusade is that the phaseout of certain incandescent bulbs would result in lost American jobs. The fact is that many American manufacturers, including General Electric, have invested millions in the transition and many new start-ups have sprung up around the movement, including Lighting Science in Florida, which doubled its workforce in 2010 alone.

NEMA (the Association of Electrical and Medical Imaging Equipment Manufacturers issued a statement Dec. 16 criticizing the call for enforcement delays, saying that it would cause confusion and regulatory uncertainty. This move would have the effect of penalizing those companies that have spent money on compliance.

"NEMA reiterates that EISA 2007 does not ban incandescent light bulbs. Consumers will have expanded lighting options that include energy-efficient advanced incandescent, compact fluorescent lights and new lighting technologies such as light-emitting diodes.

#3: The average person thinks the idea is pretty cool. Just this morning, I read an article on SmartPlanet about a new U.K. study that shows people feel safer around LED lighting. The research was based on the government's monitoring of LED replacement projects in public housing projects. Earlier this year, marketing firm EcoPinion published a study showing that two-thirds of Americans supported the adoption of more energy-efficient lighting technologies.