In Standby Power Race to the Bottom, DOE Takes New Path

In Standby Power Race to the Bottom, DOE Takes New Path

This piece was originally published in the June 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

Alex Boesenberg, Manager, Government Relations, NEMA

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In the November 2015 edition of this magazine, I expressed strong concern over an apparent “race to the bottom” with respect to standby power allowances. With their recent notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) for minimum energy conservation standards for general service lamps, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) found a way to sidestep the lure of the race and rightly focus on a balance between function and efficiency.

Released in March 2016, the DOE’s NOPR will establish first-time energy-efficiency requirements for light-emitting diode (LED) lamps and revise standards for compact fluorescent (CFL) lamps.

In response to the allure of lowering standby power allocations without investigating potential impacts on performance and flexibility, the DOE has come up with a viable alternative. Rather than address connectivity and controllability in a separate requirement (i.e., set a specific standby power allowance as a fixed value), the DOE proposes to make connectivity power part of a device’s overall operating efficiency requirements.

To accomplish this, the DOE has proposed two efficiency requirements for lamps: one for lamps with connectivity and one for lamps without. Looking at a proposed efficiency curve graphically (figure 1), a lamp’s energy-efficiency test results must be above the curve for it to pass muster. The DOE’s two proposed performance curves for lamps look similar, with the connected curve set a little lower, thus allowing slight leeway in terms of overall energy consumption.

The DOE notes that its curve was developed modeling approximately one half watt of standby power, but the proposed curve is gradual, and the effective standby power limit can often be lower because it is a mathematical relationship dependent on the light output of the lamp.

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Figure 1 DOE-proposed efficiency curve for minimum energy conservation standards for general service lamps

Recognizing Need for Temperance

The benefit of having two performance curves, rather than a single curve and separate standby power requirement, is that innovation in luminous efficacy (leading to increased efficiency) can afford a connected product a greater power margin to devote to better connected functionality, if needed.

Critics of the DOE’s proposal argue that it will lead to increased standby power consumption as luminous efficacy grows. This argument is speculative and ignores the benefits of connectivity. The DOE’s move sidesteps the race to tighten limits on connectivity without regard to connected functionality and relieves some of the concern that a myopic focus on lowering standby power consumption without regard to connected functionality might eliminate lighting from the connected space.

By allowing an opportunity for lamps to remain competitive with other connected devices, the DOE enhances flexibility and consumer choice with respect to connected solutions and systems. For example, if one has a Wi-Fi “dead spot” at home, a simple solution is to plug in a Wi-Fi repeater and give it dedicated wall or table space. Alternatively, a wirelessly controlled lamp with an integrated Wi-Fi repeater can be screwed into an existing socket, reducing clutter while allowing for controllable lighting.

By sidestepping the fray of ever-lower standby power allocations, the DOE has recognized the need for temperance in this emerging technology sector.


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