Energy efficiency got a moment to bask in the sun of presidential attention this morning. With the Senate poised to take up climate legislation, President Barack Obama took the opportunity to announce  tighter efficiency standards for two widely used light bulbs: long fluorescent tubes and cone-shaped incandescent bulbs that are used in recessed lighting. At the same event, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy has committed $346 million for research and deployment of energy efficient technologies in all major types of commercial buildings as well as new and existing homes.
The new lighting standards take effect in 2012. Many bulbs that are currently on the market will meet the new standards, but the least-efficient products will not. According to DOE, as those less-efficient bulbs disappear, the savings will gradually add up—reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 594 million tons from 2012 to 2042. "This is potentially the biggest efficiency standard ever" enacted, says Andrew Delaski, executive director of the nonprofit Appliance Standards Awareness Project in Boston. Many more are in the works: DOE is currently drafting updated efficiency standards for about a dozen other appliances, including water heaters, air conditioners, microwave ovens, and refrigerators.
The investment in efficiency technologies is drawn from the extra $28 billion that Congress gave DOE this winter as part of the $787 billion stimulus package. Among the programs to be supported is a $100-million competition in advanced building systems research and $50 million to improve the manufacturing techniques needed to commercialize solid-state lighting technologies. "When it comes to saving money and growing our economy," says Chu, "energy efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit; it’s fruit lying on the ground.”