ico-electricity [ GWh of Electricity Saved: ] 12.6K
ico-job [ Jobs Created/Lost: ]
  • LOW
  • HIGH
ico-cost [ Budget Impact: ]
  • LOW
  • HIGH
ico-pollution [ Conventional Pollutants Reduced: ]


ico-reduced [ Megatons of GHG Reduced: ] 12.1


Currently accounting for 14% of residential energy usage,1 much household lighting could be upgraded to reduce energy consumption while eliminating waste and without sacrificing quality. Simple bulb replacements have the potential to conserve more than 125,000 GWh of energy per year,2 equivalent to removing 10.8 million households from the grid.3 With only minor government encouragement, a 10% increase in energy efficient lighting adoption could be achieved, saving 12,000 GWh per year.4


Lighting technology has been developing rapidly over the past several decades, from traditional incandescents to high tech light emitting diodes (LED). Incandescent light bulbs run current through a thin wire causing it to glow, much like a toaster. As a result, a lot of the energy is converted to heat rather than light.5 Although very cheap to buy, these inefficient bulbs are energy hogs, at 12 lumens/watt6 and require replacement after only 1,000 hours of use.7

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) became commercially available for homes in the 1980s. Fluorescent lighting works by using a small amount of electricity to energize a tube of mercury vapor which activates a coating on the glass tube to glow.8 CFLs are generally 5 times more efficient and last 10 times longer than traditional incandescent lightbulbs.9

LED light bulbs are more recent additions to the residential lighting market and are also the most efficient. Based on semiconductor technology, LEDs run current through diode chips to emit light.10 Already 8 times more efficient and lasting 10 times longer than incandescent lights, LED bulbs are expected to continue to improve as the technology develops.

Nevertheless, with six billion light bulbs in use in U.S. residences, a whopping 3.7 billion are incandescent, with another 2 million fluorescent.11 Despite the benefits, many residential consumers are reluctant to switch from outdated incandescent light bulbs. Reasons vary from lack of education about the benefits, to quality of light concerns, to the upfront cost.12 Additionally, there has been some controversy over bans and performance mandates, keeping the industry from developing.13


To encourage residential adoption, three separate initiatives are needed to address the reasons consumers are not currently taking advantage of the available efficient lighting technologies.

Simplify Energy Star Standards

To educate consumers on the benefits of compact fluorescent and LED technology, DOE should simplify Energy Star guidelines. While Energy Star branding is strong, the lighting category is confusing because different technologies have different standards, making comparison across lighting varieties difficult.14 Simplifying around a single performance metric, such as lumens/watt, would ensure that customers who trust the Energy Star brand are getting the most efficient option. DOE should also form a public-private partnership with retailers for point-of-purchase education. This program would allow customers to see the lifetime cost benefits of the technologies at the time of purchase.15

Create R&D Prizes for Cost Reduction

To overcome sticker shock and increase efficiency over time, DOE should encourage further industry progress by creating additional L Prizes. Originally established as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 signed by President George W. Bush,16 the first L Prize of $10 million spurred the creation of a high quality, direct LED replacement for a 60W incandescent.17 A second, similar L Prize should be established around reducing manufacturing cost to less than $8 per high quality bulb, aiming to bring the end consumer price of a 60W replacement LED bulb below the $10 threshold, making it more accessible to the average consumer.18

Create a Revolving Loan Program for Residential Upgrades

The government should start a loan program for utilities to bulk purchase and distribute more efficient light bulbs to their residential customers. This would make substantial short-term impact in encouraging the changeover to new lighting technologies. Taking advantage of the relationship utilities already have with consumers, the utility companies would charge customers a small monthly surcharge over 5 years to repay the government loan. Consumers would see slightly lower energy bills, despite the new surcharge, due to energy savings. Utilities would free capacity, reducing the need to build additional baseload plants.19