Federal Bill Demonstrates Why SSL Must Stand on Its Own

Posted: December 17, 2014 in General SSL Commentary

While the proponents of LED technology in the US market have felt safe under the House Bill HR6 (see prior discussion – the supposed incandescent lamp ban) since 2007, much of the power of the federal government to enforce the law has been stripped. This month was yet another blow to the cause, with the latest budget compromise for 2015 “Cromnibus” continuing a ban of more critical import: The continued ban on federal funding for enforcement of the efficiency standards set out in HR6. A summary of the latest inclusions in the budget bill can be found at Reuters. The relevant summation is as follows:

It also prohibits funding of the Energy Department’s enforcement of controversial light bulb efficiency standards, which ban higher-wattage incandescent bulbs.

Other summaries can be found elsewhere, like the Washington Post:

The bill once again prohibits new standards that would ban the use of cheaper, less energy-efficient incandescent bulbs. The proposal was first introduced and set in motion by the Bush administration, but the Obama White House allowed the change to continue, despite sustained consumer demand for older bulbs.

… and the National Priorities Project:

Energy & Environment
  • Continues a trend of declining funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which will lead to the lowest staffing levels at the agency since 1989.
  • Prohibits the use of funds to require manufacturers to phase out production of incandescent light bulbs.
  • Prohibits President Obama’s requested increase in funding for renewable energy research.
  • Prohibits funding for the Green Climate Fund, an international effort to address climate change.
  • Increases funding for nuclear energy programs, especially research.
  • Increases funding for fossil energy research and development.

Note that when it comes to energy, the Federal Government is not a progressive body in any form of the word or concept.

What’s my point? Simple… When one depends on a Federal action to ram through change, or to back ones project, marketing scheme or pipe dream, one must be aware that, when it comes to energy policies, the Federal Government has a bad habit of reversing itself, or saying one thing and doing the opposite with a straight face. My arguments against prioritizing SSL deployment on a massive effort into the headlong rush to retrofit incandescent sockets, founded primarily on the advertised claim that the incandescent lamp was being outlawed, were not laggardly, they were realistic and pragmatic. Consumers are not buying the energy efficiency saving money story (they spend more on smart phone service each week than electrical energy costs over a month),  they don’t get $9.00 light bulbs that look goofy, they are extremely resistant when feeling forced to change by a government they distrust – while the laws attempting to cut incandescent lamp use are essentially just words on paper, with zero backing to enforce.

For this reason, we come back once again to the need – no mandate – that for SSL to succeed, it must stand on its own two feet, it must deliver new value, and it must deliver as promised. I covered this in the post about quality being critical to success in Without Quality – LED Retroifts Will Fail . I also covered the HR6 issue and it not being the free ride at its core. I have also shared my view on retrofit lamps to the point of being a bore on this topic.

So, how do we deploy a technology many of us know is the future? the first step is to ween the entire industry from its ties to any federal mandates or programs. If you have to rely on a government to ram your products down customers throats, your product is garbage, and will never be accepted beyond compliance with a law. This is not how you build a revolution in any market. Lighting being a low enough priority on the general populace, all that being achieved in the current trend of marketing for solid-state lighting is impressing upon customers who know little of the real potential of lighting in their lives is this:

  • Lighting sucks energy from the power grid – which is bad. We must stop this parasitic draw on our national resources before it destroys the environment.
  • The incandescent lamp you love for its light and low-cost is the enemy and is being taken away from you by law, since you are too stupid to choose better for yourself.
  • While replacements to incandescent lamps are expensive by a factor of 9, produce poorer light quality, are strange-looking, don’t fit into your fixtures, don’t dim when you want them to, and flicker… you’re just going to have to live with it, because they are the future.

While commercial customers must live with energy code demands causing uncomfortable compromises, the consumer market is not as motivated. In fact, every architect, interior designer, lighting designer, building owner, decision maker, comes home as a consumer. While they are obligated by law to comply with energy use codes and accept the impact of this on their commercial spaces, when they go home, they don’t feel the same pressure to comply. In fact, they may act at home in ways opposing what they are forced to accept in business. The general consuming public only knows that laws forcing them to do anything against their own will are to be complied with under duress. When those laws have no teeth, they are ignored.

For these reasons, the success of SSL in the consumer market comes down to adding value and selling the technology without connecting it with a federal mandate or law. I am of the personal belief that the surest way to end or significantly delay the deployment of a technology is to make it law. The best and only real foundation on which to base the deployment of a technology like SSL, is to deliver value so compelling that consumers flock to it by choice. That has not been the case with LED retrofit lamps, which have been horrific in quality, extremely high in price, and poor substitutes for the low-cost lamps they propose to replace. In Europe, reputed to be far ahead of the US market, has been revealed to be avoiding LED and CFL lamps, preferring the halogen based replacements to their disappearing incandescent lamps. Makes perfect sense to those who know lighting. Halogen lamps deliver the same qualities as incandescent, some improvement in efficiency, and a way around adopting the less attractive higher technology alternatives. And the response to this revelation in the EU? More call to action to force consumer behavior. No demand that alternative products be made to deliver higher quality light, add value to support their existence.. just more demands for mandates and laws to force something the market is naturally rejecting into existence.

So, with the Federal Government once again failing to back its play on the lamp ban, including de-funding enforcement of manufacturing bans, it comes down to the very essence of marketing products. Sell value. While energy efficiency is a value, it is not the reason we buy lamps. energy consumption is a by-product of what we want when we buy lighting. We buy light fixtures and lamps to deliver light, of a quality we find acceptable, that serves our visual need to see when no other natural source is adequate or available. We accept that we must put energy into them to get light out. The same can be said of lamp life, another byproduct of extracting light from the product over time. So, basing value on reducing the by-products of realizing the core values being sought is simply bad marketing. It’s how the US auto industry failed when it attempted to sell junk cars that got great mileage, while the Japanese and Germans sold cars that were reliable and fun to drive, that also got great mileage and were cheap to maintain. A more robust program for lighting products would be able to state:

  • Delivers a higher quality of light than you have ever experienced in comfort, color appearance, and enhanced visual performance.
  • Reduces eye strain and associated headache, dryness, and discomfort caused by flicker and glare.
  • Produces a smooth, beautiful light beam pattern with no hot spots, rings or glare.
  • Fits into any fixture designed around a standard lamp, open or enclosed, with improved overall appearance without compromise – or replaces an outdated fixture with something new and fresh, delivering an attractive product that delivers light that is exceptionally attractive.
  • Dims smoothly from full to nothing, with no flicker, stutter, or cutoff, using familiar dimmer controls.

That will get SSL place at the table to then press the case of less energy use and longer service life to justify a small price premium. But, reading through the list, how many current LED retrofit lamps can make this collection of claims? Missing one or two means compromise, as halogen replacements are available that can nail all of these claims, at a very small premium, delivering a level of energy-saving and longer life.

With the Federal Government once again demonstrating its lack of support for its own force feeding program, and a conservative agenda almost assured to whittle that down further in the next few years – for those in the business of deploying SSL technology and product, it is time to truly engage value delivery beyond dependence on the dope of legal compliance. The technology is capable of delivering all of the real values being sought by lighting customers, and more. Let’s build the future on those values, and leave the government to its dysfunctional self. The sooner we can make lighting an industry of self-sustaining excellence, the sooner we can be free of impotent legislation that only creates negativity as its sole contribution.

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