As Energy Star ® prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary beginning with the annual Energy Star Awards  on March 15 in Washington, D.C., the program’s requirements for residential lighting continue to evolve in order to keep up with new technology.
Alex Baker, Energy Star’s Lighting Program Manager, says this constant evolution has helped the Energy Star program, which is a joint effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy  (DOE), stay relevant.
“The efficient lighting technology landscape has been rapidly evolving since 1997, and in order for our program to remain relevant, we had to make sure our specifications kept up with changes in technologies,” Baker says.
When Energy Star first began in 1992, the first products to earn the label were computers and monitors, followed by residential heating and cooling equipment in 1995. Then, in 1997, Energy Star introduced its first residential lighting specification for fixtures to encourage the adoption of efficient lighting. The specification focused on light fixtures, promoting decorative fixtures with efficient sources built in. According to a new retrospective book Energy Star is developing in honor of its 20th anniversary, the most successful product in this new category was torchieres, with one million Energy Star-qualified torchieres sold by September 1999.
In 1999, Energy Star introduced its second residential lighting specification, this time for CFL bulbs. Like the first specification for fixtures, the specification for CFLs required that all products be tested by an accredited laboratory, helping to ensure product performance at a time when CFLs were still fairly new on the scene. Since then, the specification has been updated several times to address issues like light quality, color and warm-up time. By 2003, the number of CFLs sold to stores had grown to 50 million per year, and today has reached almost 300 million per year.
More recently, Energy Star introduced new specifications to keep up with another new technology – LEDs. In 2007, Energy Star implemented new criteria for solid state luminaires, followed by LED lamps in 2009, to again help consumers identify quality products on store shelves using this new technology.
“What we did with these new specifications is, to the greatest extent possible, we set technology neutral requirements,” Baker says. “So no matter the technology in the fixture, whether it’s fluorescent or solid-state, the consumer is going to get high performance and quality.”
These new specifications will also make it easier to update the requirements in the future as the lighting landscape continues to evolve, Baker says.
“This way, once we’re down to only two specifications, over time as the market transforms, we can raise the bar with regard to the lamp and luminaire performance,” Baker says. “This way, consumers don't need to be technical experts with lighting. To select high efficiency and quality, they just need to look for the Energy Star.”
The new Energy Star Luminaires specification goes into effect April 1, and Baker says the Energy Star Lamps specification should be finalized this fall and take effect in 2013.