Guest post by Jim Brodrick, reprinted with permission from Postings: from the desk of Jim Brodrick

[Recently,] DOE published the final ENERGY STAR criteria for integral LED lamps, which go into effect August 31, 2010. These criteria are the culmination of a long process of comment and revision, with the first draft published in January 2009, a revised draft in May, and a third draft in September. My colleague Richard Karney asks that I thank those of you who were among the dozens of stakeholders that submitted comments along the way, as the comments we received were a crucial part of the process and enabled us to do some important fine-tuning.

Integral LED lamps are intended as replacements for the conventional light bulbs we’re all familiar with. Even though SSL works most efficiently in fixtures that are specially designed to take maximum advantage of its unique technology, the replacement market is still an important one. There are millions of conventional sockets already in place, and consumers are becoming increasingly eager to fill them with energy-efficient light sources.

In response, a profusion of LED replacement products has entered the marketplace, and many of them are disappointing, to put it mildly. In general, performances haven’t lived up to the claims. That’s a guaranteed recipe for consumer dissatisfaction. Publication of the new ENERGY STAR criteria for integral LED lamps is a key step in creating order out of this chaos. Now there’s a tool to push manufacturers to raise the quality and performance bars. Starting next year, when consumers see the ENERGY STAR logo on an LED replacement product, they can be confident that when it comes to light output and distribution, it will perform as well as, or better than, the light bulb it’s replacing, and will be highly efficient. While we await the date for these new criteria to take effect, energy efficiency programs and utilities besieged by vendors pressuring them to provide incentives for their products now have a concrete set of guidelines to distinguish the worthy from the unworthy.

The new ENERGY STAR specs require that LED replacement products be at least as energy-efficient as comparable CFLs, with light output, color, and distribution equivalent to that of incandescent or halogen bulbs. That means warm to neutral white, not cool white. Lifetime is another key factor. CALiPER testing has shown that some LED replacement lamps last less than 500 hours, despite claims of up to 100 times longer. Under the new criteria, manufacturers that want full ENERGY STAR qualification for their LED replacement lamps are required to test 10 samples for at least 6,000 hours continuously, with an LM-79 test performed at the outset and at the end, to determine the lumen maintenance. If the lumen maintenance at 6,000 hours doesn’t exceed thresholds established in the criteria, the products won’t qualify for ENERGY STAR. The same goes for any product whose light output, distribution, or color quality isn’t equivalent to those of the conventional bulb it claims to replace.

Just a few years ago, the LED replacement products we were seeing on the market didn’t work well at all. They put out hardly any light, and the color tended to be less than desirable. Some of those products are still out there, so consumers still have to exercise caution. But the industry as a whole deserves kudos for the significant improvement in overall quality since then. Today there are some viable LED replacement lamps on the market, which perform as well or better than conventional bulbs while using a fraction of the energy. Thanks to the new ENERGY STAR criteria, it should be much easier to distinguish those products from the wannabes.