Foreign Exchange
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

LEDs, such as PebbLED from the German company Leonardo, are favorites abroad.

Energy-efficient lighting staged an impressive showing at the January Dallas Market. Industry exhibitors were quick to show off their high-efficacy options, whether original designs or fluorescent-configured additions to existing decorative lines.

    "People are starting to pay more attention to these products, and I think it has to do with the state of energy costs today," says Jeff Dross, Product Manager at Kichler. "Our California customers are legislated to that end, and there are pockets of America that receive financial incentives to use energy-efficient lighting. Then there are the green builders who are looking to use the products in their projects. So, it's all those things coming together."

    With this increase of buyer interest and the explosion of high-efficacy product introductions, it seems as though the U.S. market is beginning to catch on to what many other countries have been promoting for years: Energy-efficient lighting makes good sense.      

    "Energy efficiency has received a lot of attention internationally," says Paul Vrabel, spokesperson for the U.S. government agency-backed Energy Star® program. "Europe and Japan are far ahead of the United States in terms of residential use of energy-efficient lighting."

    In the Netherlands, for example, close to 60 percent of homes already use compact fluorescents.


    "Even compared to the rest of Europe, this is quite a huge penetration," says Gary Sheikkariem, Assistant to the Counselor for Science and Technology at the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. "[The Dutch] people are aware of the benefits of energy-efficient lighting, and when new products or technology come out that are energy-efficient, consumers in the Netherlands have a tendency to adopt them quickly. The initial cost is high, but the benefits are there."

     European acceptance of light sources other than incandescent may also stem from the way in which those countries approach lighting design.

    "Here in the United States, when designing a product, we start with the lamp and wrap the fixture around it," Dross says. "What's interesting about European design is that they tend to design the fixture first and then figure out what kind of light source to use, whether it's incandescent, fluorescent or even an LED (light-emitting diode). It is a very purist approach."


Light Volumes from Italian-based Prandina takes a fluorescent lamp.

 Despite these cultural differences and the best international efforts, many countries still face some of the same challenges to widespread consumer acceptance as the United States does. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) have faced criticism in the past, mostly because of a perceived inferior light quality and unappealing aesthetic. But these issues have, for the most part, been resolved, and interest in them continues to increase abroad.

    In the meantime, LEDs present an attractive alternative. Just beginning to gain popularity in the United States, the super-efficient, long-lasting technology has been a hot topic overseas for some time in novelty and decorative applications. This embrace of new technology, paired with numerous awareness and standards initiatives, is what has pushed the international market to the forefront of the energy-efficient lighting movement. Here's a look at what strategies other countries employ to promote mainstream penetration:

Incentives: Breaking Down Barriers

"A large portion of Western Europe and Asia has been doing this kind of thing for years, and indeed the rest of the world is catching up," says Stuart Jeffcott of China Greenlights and Coordinator of the International CFL Harmonization Initiative. "There are massive subsidy programs in Europe, Asia, South America and a few African countries."


Mariner, a Spanish company, created the unique Copia employing LED technology.

In the late '90s, the International Finance Corp. began working with Efficient Lighting Initiative (ELI) member countries South Africa, Peru, the Philippines, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Latvia to promote the use of quailty CFLs through each local government via such techniques as monetary incentives, marketing initiatives and product giveaways. As a result of the program, ELI countries have seen dramatic improvements: Prices are down, sales are up and governments and utilities are offering incentives to consumers.

    The United Kingdom has also been successful with its government programs to encourage the use of CFLs. An international leader in the energy-efficient lighting movement, Great Britain's Lighting Assn. launched the Domestic Energy Efficient Luminaire Scheme (DEELS) in 2005, subsidizing the manufacturing of energy-efficient lamps to enable retailers to offer compact fluorescent lighting at the same price as incandescent products.

    To encourage the use of efficient lighting in China, that country's government has implemented such programs as the one in the city of Hebi, through which it gives away coupons for free or discounted CFLs to consumers.


    Canada has also been actively promoting energy-saving lighting with residential incentives. In 2003, the Canadian government introduced a grant program to encourage Canadians to make their houses more energy-efficient. Homeowners are eligible for the grant, which goes toward upgrading household appliances and other electrical products to higher-efficacy versions, based on a home-system evaluation that includes an examination of lighting.

    Lighting manufacturers are also getting involved. Last year, Montreal-based Globe Electric Co. worked with Canadian utilities company BC Hydro to host a torchiere swap program, which invited consumers to exchange halogen torchieres for rebates to purchase Energy Star-approved torchieres from Globe.

Standards and Labels: Ensuring Quality Lighting

    As CFLs gain popularity around the world, product regulation to ensure quality has increasingly become a concern. The number of countries that have adopted standards for energy-efficient products has grown significantly in the last 10 years. In addition to the United States, countries such as Canada, Japan, Brazil, China, Mexico and Australia have standards in place.


Iris Design Studio's Salvador Da Bahia features LED technology. The Israeli company uses energy-efficient lighting to take illumination design to the next level.

    Natural Resources Canada, a government agency devoted to sustainable development and use of natural resources, energy, minerals and metals, forests and earth sciences, is currently working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to implement an Energy Star certification for lighting in Canada. To be eligible, the CFLs must meet the same minimum requirements for lumen maintenance, lamp life, color rendering and color temperature as their Energy Star-rated counterpart products in the States.

    Similar to Energy Star, the European Union requires all lamps to carry the EU Energy Label, so consumers are able to compare products based on their energy efficiency. The labels must include a scale indicating how the product rates ("A" being the most efficient and "G" being the least efficient) and list the bulb's light output in lumens, input in watts and average life in hours.

    China has also launched a quality labeling program, China Standard Certification Center, under which manufacturers can market their products if they meet the efficiency and quality requirements.

    "Product regulation is virtually exploding, although [the programs are] all somewhat different," says Jeffcott, whose International CFL Harmonization Initiative aims to create an international standard for energy-efficient products. "One may test a lamp life by switching the lamp on and off rapidly, while another may test lamp life by leaving the lamp on for long periods and then turning it off for short periods."

Basco from the Swiss company Lumess uses a fluorescent lamp.

        Although a number of testing procedures are recognized internationally, including the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America's (IESNA) and the International Electrotechnical Commission's (IEC) standards, Jeffcott says individual countries tend to use those standards as a basis for their own regulations, while adding additional requirements. Faced with a wide range of performance standards, manufacturers must make the decision to enter multiple markets, which is expensive, or limit themselves to just one. That's where the International CFL Harmonization Initiative comes in. It proposes an international testing method that will ensure higher-quality CFLs and eliminate existing and future obstacles to international trade. The program has received vast support from countries including China, Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, India and the United States.

    In collaborating with foreign countries on efforts such as the harmonization initiative, the United States has the opportunity to take what strides it already has made in the area of energy-efficient lighting and build them into a viable and thriving solution to our nation's energy crisis.

    "The potential for energy savings in the United States through energy-efficient lighting is huge," says Peter Banwell of Energy Star. "We have a long way to go, but we're off to a good start."



Brits' Building Codes Bank Energy Savings

Similar to the building codes set forth in California's Title 24, the United Kingdom requires builders to install a certain percentage of energy-efficient light fittings in new residential constructions. A recently proposed revision of those standards, which were set in 2002, includes the following amendments:

Energy-efficient light fittings should only be able to take lamps that give off 40 lumens per watt or greater.

One fixed energy-efficient light fitting should be installed per 25 square meters of floor area or per four fixed fittings.

The United Kingdom is one of only a few other countries to mandate such requirements.



While the Lighting for Tomorrow design competition has helped boost the reputation of energy-efficient lighting in the United States, Europe's Lights of the Future contest recognizes and promotes green designs abroad.

    Held in conjunction with Light+Building International Trade Fair for Architecture and Technology in Frankfurt, Germany, the competition rewards designs on the basis of innovation, overall design concept, illumination source, materials used and technical quality.

    Both industry professionals and students are invited to enter. Proclaimed the winner, the top professional design is included in the exhibition catalog and international press activities, while the student competition honoree receives 5,000 Euro.

    Victors of the 4th annual Lights of the Future contest will be lauded at the Light+Building fair in April 2006.

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