New Street Light Fixtures Standards Are a Good Step Forward, But Could Have Saved More

Posted on January 30, 2014 by
Andrew deLaski

New national standards for metal halide light fixtures announced by the Department of Energy (DOE) today take another important step toward curbing energy waste and will save businesses and towns money on their utility bills. The new standards also mark progress toward meeting President Obama’s ambitious goal of saving 3 billion metric tons of CO2 from new appliance standards, as laid out in the Climate Action Plan.  But stronger standards could have saved even more.

Metal halide bulbFirst the good news.  Metal halide light fixtures are most commonly used for street and other outdoor lighting, and in high-ceilinged commercial buildings like big-box stores, warehouses and gyms.  According to DOE, products meeting the new standards sold over thirty years will save light fixture buyers more than $1.1 billion dollars and reduce electricity use by 46 to 58 billion kWh.  That’s enough power to meet the total needs of 4 to 5 million typical US households for one year. 

For the climate, the standards will save 6.3 to 6.8 million metric tons of CO2 by 2030, making a relatively small, but still important, contribution to meeting the administration’s overall goal.  Combined with several other standards under development at DOE and due out later this year for electric motors, commercial refrigeration, furnace fans and other products, these standards add up to big savings. As DOE pointed out today, other standards already adopted will deliver 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2 savings by 2030 and net consumers more than $400 billion. That’s huge progress.

Stadium lightsSo what’s not to like?  Unfortunately, the final metal halide light fixture standards pull back a bit from those DOE originally proposed last summer. As my colleague Joanna Mauer wrote in a blog post at the time, DOE originally proposed two levels for the new metal halide fixture standards. Most fixtures would have to meet efficiency levels attained by improved magnetic ballasts, the most common technology used today. But one very common class, the 150 watt light fixtures often used in big box stores and other high-ceilinged commercial buildings, would have had to reach even higher levels attainable only by cutting-edge electronic ballasts. DOE’s analysis shows that electronic ballast standards are cost effective for the 150 watt light fixture class. We would have liked to see DOE stick to their proposed rule. Doing so would have saved another 8 to11 billion kWh over thirty years and more than another million metric tons of CO2 by 2030.  

Admittedly, compared to the overall goal, a million metric tons is a very modest amount. But, adopting electronic ballast standards for those classes where the technology is cost-effective today would have helped pave the way for broader use of electronic ballasts in the future and helped accelerate market adoption of the latest high efficiency technologies, including LEDs, which are likely to drive even bigger savings for commercial and street lighting. 

The pace of new standards development at DOE demonstrates that Secretary Ernest Moniz and his team are working hard to meet the President’s very ambitious overall goal for new efficiency standards. Meeting that goal will require DOE to be equally ambitious in each of the individual standards under development. Although today’s standard is a good step in the right direction, let’s hope that ambition shines through more strongly in the standards due out in the weeks and months ahead.

For more on this issue, check out Meg Waltner’s post on NRDC’s blog, Switchboard.