EPA, Department of Energy at odds over LED lighting requirements
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

Since 1996, the Energy Star® lighting program has been run jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In June, however, a schism formed over how best to address solid-state lighting, a fast-growing technology that has given rise to ultra-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Both government entities sought to influence and give input into how LED lighting might best be brought into the program — and each chose dramatically different avenues through which to convey their ideas to the lighting industry.

On one side is the DOE, which has spent the last two-and-a-half years preparing an exhaustive, publicly reviewed specification document about how LED lighting could be integrated into Energy Star lighting. Those regulations are set to take effect on Sept. 30, 2008, and the lighting industry has spent the last year preparing for the new policy.

On the other side is the EPA, which holds that Energy Star isn’t about certifying technology at all; rather, the focus should be on evaluating finished products (chandeliers, sconces, etc.) created using the best, most innovative technology on the market.

At issue is the EPA’s Energy Star Program Requirements for Residential Light Fixtures Eligibility Criteria Version 4.2, an amendment to the program’s existing lighting requirements issued June 2, 2008. The brief update expanded the test procedures to accommodate fixtures that might use LED lighting.

“The test procedures that we had in place were not applicable to this new technology,” says Alex Baker, the EPA’s Energy Star Lighting Program Manager. “We’re adding another avenue for residential lighting manufacturers to get the Energy Star label.”

As Baker describes it, the EPA’s amendment simply added LED lighting to the list of valid lighting engines (joining incandescent lamps, CFLs and sodium sources), and Baker points out that the “technology-neutral” amendment was the result of extensive cooperation between the EPA and the American Lighting Association’s technical committee.

It’s here that the disagreement comes in. Energy Star’s government mandate requires a lengthy public review of new specifications to allow consumers and lighting industry groups to help shape the official policy. That’s why it took the DOE nearly three years to develop its own specification program. But the EPA’s recent publication wasn’t really “new” — it was just an addendum to an existing document.

Still, DOE representatives are smarting at the notion that the EPA can unilaterally shake up the industry with a brief addendum that received virtually no public review.

“The industry’s been working to try and get ready for [the DOE specifications] for about a year now, and many of them have said that it doesn’t seem fair to have two programs,” says Kelly Gordon, Program Manager with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the project lead for the DOE’s SSL program.

“It’s a major revision to the residential light fixture specification, and the agencies that run Energy Star are required by law to have a public review process,” she explains.

Specifically, Gordon says the DOE is worried that LED lighting might be welcomed into Energy Star lighting prematurely, before the technology is ready. She watched the same thing happen during the early years of the CFL-adoption campaign: Consumers had flickering, unattractive bulbs foisted onto them by well-meaning advocacy groups, and the public balked at the new technology. The same thing might happen if LED lighting is expedited into Energy Star.

For now, it’s unclear exactly what will happen. The DOE’s LED lighting specification document is on track to take effect on Sept. 30. The latest rumblings from the EPA suggest that the agency is willing to revise its stance and allow a public comment period on the amendment. This comes as Pacific Gas & Electric, one of the nation’s largest utilities, has publicly stated that it will not deal in products qualified under the EPA’s new amendment.

Manufacturer Rebrands, Unveils Mercury-Free Bulb

In an effort to hone in on the energy-efficient lighting market, Telegen Corp. has relaunched its business as Vu1. Current President Richard Sellers will head up the new Seattle-based company.                       

The announcement caps off four tumultuous years for the high-end electronics company, which teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 2004 and was rescued only when shareholders banded together to relaunch the firm as a next-generation lighting manufacturer. Vu1 chose to focus on a new type of energy-efficient light bulb, which the company expects to make available next year.

“What we’re targeting to bring to market in the first quarter of 2009 is an energy-efficienct, mercury-free, totally non-toxic, household disposable [bulb],” says Ron Davis, Chief Marketing Officer for Vu1. “Our electronics are way cleaner than what you’d see in a CFL.”

According to Vu1, energy-efficient lighting in the United States has been growing at an annual rate, exceeding 100 percent since 2006.

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