DOE Clarifies Energy Conservation Standards for Fluorescent Ballasts

On May 29th the DOE issued a final clarification of energy conservation standards and test procedures for fluorescent lamp ballasts.   The new rule reorganizes, reformats, and clarifies the scope of the energy conservation standards for fluorescent lamp ballasts.  It includes establishing new active mode test procedures, standby and off mode test procedures, and revised active mode test procedures for fluorescent ballasts.

DOE Extends Comment Period for General Service Lamps Standards

The Department of Energy (DOE) has extended the comment period for proposed energy efficiency standards for general service lamps (GSLs) until February 23, 2015. Documents associated with this set of standards are Docket No. EERE-2013-BT-STD-0051. There is a link on that page to submit comments.

You may recall that the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) set minimum efficiency standards for medium screw base (a.k.a. E26) general service lamps (a summary of requirements and exemptions is here). Those minimum standards were phased in by wattage and now cover GSLs from 40 to 100W. Decorative and other specialty lamps are excluded. A public meeting and webcast was held on January 20th to explain the new standards for consumer lamps. You can download a PDF of the presentation here. It’s a long presentation of 94 slides, so here’s a summary.

1.  The DOE is considering establishing standards for the following lamp types:

  • Integrated, non-reflector, medium screw base lamps with a lumen output between 310 and 2,600 lumens
  • GU24 base, non-reflector lamps with a lumen output between 310 and 2,600 lumens
  • Non-integrated, non-reflector, pin base, CFLs with a lumen output between 310 and 2,600 lumens

2.  The DOE is considering requiring the following lamps, which are currently exempted from EISA requirements, to comply with the new standards:

  • Left-handed thread
  • Marine
  • Reflector
  • Rough service
  • Shatter-resistant
  • 3-way
  • Vibration service
  • Specific lamp shapes

3.  The DOE is also considering not setting standards for certain lamp types for reasons that include:

  • Low potential for energy savings
  • Technological infeasibility
  • Restrictions from the Appropriations Rider

There are over three dozen identified issues that are open for comment. These standards will have a far reaching effect, so I urge you to look over the presentation and submit comments.

DOE Updates Energy Conservation Requirements

On September 26, 2014 the U.S. Department of Energy issued a determination that ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2013 would achieve greater energy efficiency in buildings subject to the code than the 2010 version.  The DOE analyses determined that the energy savings would be:

  • 8.7% energy cost savings
  • 8.5% source energy savings
  • 7.6% site energy savings

As a result, all states are now required to certify that they have reviewed the provisions of their commercial building code regarding energy efficiency and, if necessary, updated their codes to meet or exceed the 2013 edition of Standard 90.1.   States must submit certification of compliance by September 26, 2016 or explain why they cannot comply.

Why is this happening?    The DOE is required by the Energy Conservation and Production Act (42 USC 6833) to review each new edition of ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1, and issue a determination as to whether the updated edition will improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings.  If the determination is that the new version will improve energy efficiency, that standard becomes the new nationwide minimum requirement.  States aren’t required to adopt Standard 90.1, but whatever standard they develop or adopt must be at least as stringent as Standard 90.1.

Some of the changes in the new standard are:

  • Lumen Power Densities (LPDs) for most building and space types are reduced by approximately 10% from the 2010 version.
  • More stringent requirements for lighting controls
  • A new table format for determining LPDs and control requirements in individual spaces

The DOE website contains additional information, including PDFs of the analyses they conducted.

Renewables: Responsible and Necessary

There are two interesting and related articles on the interwebs today. The first is an article at Climate Central and reprinted in Scientific American that summarizes a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study is titled Integrated Life-Cycle Assessment of Electricity Supply Scenarios Confirms Global Environmental Benefit of Low-Carbon Technologies. It looks at the life-cycle environmental and climate costs of a continuing shift to renewable energy through the year 2050. The researchers assumed that by then 39 percent of global electricity production will be generated by renewables and asked themselves what the environmental impact would be.

We all know that sources of renewable energy produce less CO2 during their operation than burning fossil fuels, but that’s not the whole picture. The life-cycle analysis looked at the environmental costs and benefits of renewables and traditional sources of power from their inception (such as mining the ores needed to produce the metal parts) through their entire operational lives. For example, wind turbines require more than 10 times the iron needed for comparable electricity generation powered by oil or coal, and solar panels require up to 40 times more copper. That’s a lot of additional mining, with the associated environmental impact. Are renewables really better for the environment?

The answer turns out to be, “Yes.” How could that be? There are two factors. One is that after a solar panel or a wind turbine is manufactured it doesn’t require additional raw materials. Coal, oil, and gas-fired power plants require a continuous input of new raw materials that are extracted, transported, and then burned. The second is that although renewable energy equipment requires more material to produce, the required amount is a small amount relative to global production. For instance, the copper required for the estimated increase in solar panels over the next 36 years is only 2 years of copper production (or 5 percent) at current rates.

An increase in environmentally friendly energy production is good news because the second article, published in the op-ed section of today’s New York Times, says that historical trends in increased lighting efficiency suggest that we may see an increase, not a decrease, in energy consumption in the years to come. The authors explain that as the production of light became cheaper, from coal gas to whale oil to kerosene to electricity, the demand for these cheaper technologies resulted in an overall increase in energy consumption, a process called rebound. They note that

 The I.E.A. and I.P.C.C. estimate that the rebound could be over 50 percent globally. Recent estimates and case studies have suggested that in many energy-intensive sectors of developing economies, energy-saving technologies may backfire, meaning that increased energy consumption associated with lower energy costs because of higher efficiency may in fact result in higher energy consumption than there would have been without those technologies.

That’s not a bad thing. Most people in the world, still struggling to achieve modern living standards, need to consume more energy, not less. Cheap LED and other more efficient energy technologies will be overwhelmingly positive for people and economies all over the world.

But LED and other ultraefficient lighting technologies are unlikely to reduce global energy consumption or reduce carbon emissions. If we are to make a serious dent in carbon emissions, there is no escaping the need to shift to cleaner sources of energy.

DOE Suspends PAR38 L-Prize Competition

On June 13, 2014 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)  suspended the L-Prize PAR38 Competition. The LED PAR38 products currently on the market fall far short of reaching the rigorous L -rize targets, making it unlikely the DOE will receive a qualifying entry in a reasonable amount of time. The DOE cannot lower the efficacy target because it was set by Congress. The DOE will continue to monitor the PAR38 market for performance and price improvements, to consider reopening the competition at a later date.  The graph below illustrates the market vs the L-Prize goals as of November 2013.



More information is available on the DOE web site.

Some Thoughts on Climate Change

The climate related news lately has been pretty bleak.  The news includes:

  • Separate studies by NASA and the University of Washington both find that the Western Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing into the sea.  At this point the melting is unstoppable and could raise global sea levels by 4 feet.  To put this into perspective, the average elevation of Miami is 6 feet above sea level.
  • The Carbon Tracker Initiative has estimated that 60% to 80% of our coal, oil, and gas reserves are “unburnable” if we are to limit global warming to a somewhat manageable 2°C.
  • According to NOAA, CO2 levels measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii have risen by 24% in just the past 56 years.

Which naturally had me asking what I can do as a citizen and as a lighting professional.  My initial thought was, “Not nearly enough to make a difference.”  But, once I recovered my balance I realized that things aren’t as gloomy as they seem.  Yes, we still have a long way to go in order to maintain a livable planet.  This includes that fact that some industries are going to fade away, be legislated away, or be forced to adapt to new circumstances.  The economic impact of that doesn’t worry me too much for several reasons.  First, the IPCC finds that the sooner we act the easier the transition will be, and that the cost of addressing climate change would result in an average annual reduction in economic growth of a mere 0.06% for the rest of this century.  Second, those industries that become obsolete will be replaced by new industries.  Imagine the jobs that would be created if every flat roof in every city were to be outfitted with solar panels.

We also need the Republican Party to join the real world.  When 97% of the world’s climate scientists in industry, government, and research institutions agree that climate change is happening and that the cause is man-made only a fool would join with the remaining three percent.  When someone like Marco Rubio says that he’s not convinced, he doesn’t mean that he’s reviewed the research history and, because of his deep expertise in this field, finds the conclusions lacking.  He means that some of his biggest donors are companies and individuals who rely on fossil fuels for their wealth and that rather than adapt they are going to deny.  Fortunately, although only 25% of Tea Party Republicans believe that there is evidence for climate change, 84% of Democrats and 67% of all American adults do believe the scientists.

On the positive side, our profession has accomplished quite a bit. For example, the maximum lighting power density (LPD) allowed under ASHRAE 90.1for an open office was 1.9 w/sf in 1986, 1.3 w/sf in 1999, and .98 w/sf in 2010.  And, our clients are asking for more.  Here are the number of LEED certified buildings 2000 – 2012.

Source:  U.S. Green Building Council
Source: U.S. Green Building Council


That last number is 4,605 projects in 2012, when 41% of all nonresidential buildings starts were green, as compared to 2% of all nonresidential building starts in 2005.  Better than that, Net Zero buildings are a reality, and as the design and construction industries adapt we’re going to see more of them. Other organizations are working on this, too.  For example, already has commitments from a number of U.S. cities and property owners representing about 100,000,000 square feet of real estate to dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

So designers and builders have begun, and we’re moving with increasing speed toward reducing the effect of the built environment on climate change.  But there’s more to do, including convincing those who oppose action that a planned transition is achievable, affordable, sustainable, and in the best interest of the entire planet.

Energy Code Update

Yesterday the DOE issued a Notice of Preliminary Determination that ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2013 would achieve greater energy efficiency in buildings subject to the code than its predecessor, 90.1-2010. The preliminary analysis estimates national  energy savings of approximately 8.5% for commercial building energy consumption.

The evaluation of every new version of ASHRAE 90.1 is required by law.  Now that the DOE has determined the level of energy savings the analysis is available for public review.  A docket has also been established to accept public comments.  Feedback is requested by June 16, 2014.

If this determination is finalized, States would be required to certify within two years that they have reviewed the provisions of their commercial building code regarding energy efficiency and updated their codes to meet or exceed Standard 90.1-2013.  More information is available on the DOE website.

As much as I kick and scream about being strangled by tight LPDs, the recent climate related news, from the collapsing ice sheets in the Western Antarctic to atmospheric CO2 concentrations that are higher than ever recorded,  has given me a reason to embrace adoption of 90.1-2013.  I’ll have more to say on that soon.