A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Energy Efficient Bulb Costs


Q: Will energy efficient light bulbs cost $50 each next year?

A: Some light emitting diode bulbs may cost that much, but some halogen incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs go for about $1.50 to $3 each.

FULL QUESTION

In 2012, will 100-watt incandescent light bulbs no longer be available in the U.S.A?  Will a fluorescent bulb of equal brightness cost $50?

FULL ANSWER

The phasing out of the conventional, pear-shaped incandescent light bulbs in favor of energy-saving bulbs officially begins next January with the 100-watt bulb.

Consumers are looking at potentially paying at least $1.50 per bulb for the more efficient halogen incandescent or compact fluorescent variety, or as much as $50 per bulb for LEDs, or light emitting diodes, to replace the 100-watt bulbs.

In the end, though, the Energy Department says the more efficient — and more expensive — bulbs actually save consumers money in energy costs.

More Efficient Bulbs

Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act on Dec. 18, 2007, setting new energy efficiency standards for general service incandescent lamps. The law stipulates that conventional incandescent light bulbs must be between 25 percent and 30 percent more efficient beginning in 2012. (Some specialty incandescent bulbs were spared, though.)

At that time, manufacturers and wholesalers must begin producing and importing bulbs that provide just as much light as the 100-watt bulb, but use a maximum of 72 watts.

The traditional 75-watt will have to meet the new standards in 2013. The 60-watt bulb — which is the most commonly used — and the 40-watt bulb have to comply by 2014.

Stores will be allowed to sell off the remainder of their inventory of the old incandescent bulbs for as long as supplies last, according to the Department of Energy. But that's it for the older models after that.

Cost of Alternatives

Some alternatives for replacing the current inefficient bulbs could be quite expensive. The Associated Press reported in May that new LED bulbs, or light emitting diodes, being produced by two major manufacturers to replace the current 100-watt bulb could go on sale next year at a cost of nearly $50 apiece. But those won't be shoppers' only option.

LEDs are one of the common alternatives to the traditional incandescent bulb, and one of the more expensive. The Department of Energy says that it expects prices to decline as more of the products enter the market, however.

Meanwhile, there are less expensive options on the market, including the halogen incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs.

Philips is currently producing a line of EcoVantage halogen incandescent light bulbs that meet the new efficiency standards, and serve as alternatives to the current 40-watt, 60-watt, 75-watt and 100-watt bulbs. A local Home Depot we called in Philadelphia was selling a two-pack of the 72-watt version of the EcoVantage bulb at $2.99 on May 25.

Osram Sylvania, another major manufacturer, is also offering a 72-watt halogen incandescent that can replace the typical 100-watt bulb. Two of Sylvania's 72-watt halogen bulbs were selling for $5.96 on Amazon.com, when we checked the same day.

General Electric also has its brand of Energy Smart CFLs. A CFL of between 26 watts and 29 watts would produce about the same amount of light as a traditional 100-watt incandescent, according to GE. We found a six-pack of the company's spiral, 26-watt bulbs going for $13.44 also on Amazon. That's $2.24 per bulb, which is within the range of costs for Energy Star qualified CFLs.

The Energy Department says that while the more efficient bulbs will cost more up front than the older models, they will actually save buyers money in the long run:

Department of Energy: While the initial price of the newer light bulbs is typically higher than the inefficient incandescent bulbs you are replacing, you'll spend less each year to operate them. Most CFLs pay for themselves with the energy they save in less than 9 months.

Average consumers will spend about $4.80 to operate a traditional incandescent bulb for a year (electricity cost). By comparison, average consumers will spend about $1.00 to operate an ENERGY STAR LED bulb, about $3.50 on a halogen incandescent bulb, and about $1.20 on an ENERGY STAR CFL bulb — each that produces about the same amount of light.

The department says the newer models also last many times longer, reducing the frequency at which they need to be replaced. "Even with the higher upfront purchase price added in, energy saving halogen [incandescents], LEDs, and CFLs remain less expensive to consumers over the life of the individual bulb."

D'Angelo Gore

Sources

Energy Independence and Security Act. P. L. 110-140. 19 Dec 2007.

Department of Energy. Lighting Choices to Save You Money. Accessed 25 May 2011.

Department of Energy. Frequently Asked Questions: Lighting Choices to Save You Money. Accessed 25 May 2011.

ENERGY STAR. How much do ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs cost? Accessed 25 May 2011.

Environmental Protection Agency. Backgrounder on EISA of 2007. Mar 2011.

Svensson, Peter. "LED bulbs hit 100 watts as federal ban looms." Associated Press. 16 May 2011.

Koch, Wendy. "America's most common light bulb gets LED replacement." USA Today. 13 May 2010.

Farley, Robert. "Conservative PAC claims new government regulations will force consumers to buy light bulbs that cost six times more." PolitiFact.com. 23 May 2011.