02/20/2014 04:41 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2014

Light Our World Through Science and Testing

As the United States faces new challenges, such as creating greater energy independence, there has been a push by policy makers in the last several years to be less wasteful and preserve this country's resources on a much larger scale. One move in particular -- the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 -- is aimed at enhancing energy conservation and efficiency. With a vision to find more sustainable energy solutions, EISA addresses important areas such as increasing efficiency of products, buildings and vehicles.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, lighting accounts for about 17 percent of the total energy consumption of residential and commercial sectors. Starting in 2012, EISA requires the phasing out of incandescent bulbs in favor of lower wattage, more energy efficient bulbs. Following the phase-out of the 100-watt bulb in 2012 and the 75-watt bulb in 2013, on January 1, the law required that 60- and 40-watt incandescent lamps meet higher efficiency levels if they were to continue being sold in the U.S. Current supplies in stores will be sold, but once they run out, it will mark the end of them.

It has long been widely understood that incandescent lighting was an inefficient source of light -- converting only 5 percent of the energy used into visible light. More efficient products, including halogen, fluorescent and LED, have been around for years, however, the high cost and performance characteristics have been a barrier to widespread use. More efficient technologies are now at the point in performance and price that they could replace the incandescent light bulb with minimal disruption.

One lighting technology in particular shows great growth potential -- LEDs. A recent McKinsey study projects 840 percent growth globally for LED lighting -- from $10 billion in 2010 to $94 billion in 2020, when it's estimated LEDs will account for 60 percent of the total lighting market. Their growth can partly be attributed to their benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LED lighting uses 75 percent less energy and may last up to 25 times longer than incandescent lighting. It also will save the country energy that is equivalent to the annual electrical output of 44 large, 1,000 megawatt electric power plants by 2027.

Despite the benefits of LEDs, the phase-out of traditional incandescent bulbs requires a monumental change in purchasing habits. The 60- and 40-watt bulbs are the two most popular bulbs on the market, according to IMS Research. Consumer awareness of the new energy efficiency standards is low: Only four in 10 consumers are aware of the phase-out of the 60- and 40-watt bulbs.

As awareness grows and consumers look to new lighting technologies, it's important that product safety keeps pace with advances in LED lighting. UL works with the industry and continues to be on the forefront of new research to help understand and mitigate potential risks of LEDs. In general, the LED light bulb presents few safety concerns:

· LED bulbs operate at a lower voltage than an incandescent lamp, and generate significantly less heat.

· Because LEDs are more efficient at converting electricity into light, they require less electrical wattage to generate the same level of light, running cooler and thus presenting a reduced risk of fire.

· The plastic LED lens is safer than glass, which can break and cause harm to the user.

Ongoing research helps understand the use of LEDs with traditional lighting fixtures, which are in many of our homes and offices. For example, thermal management, which looks at how heat is distributed and how that might impact other parts and materials in a lamp, is critical to help ensure long product life and safety. LED technology continues to evolve along with consumer adoption. Research and safety requirements, such as those developed by UL, not only minimize risks in LED products and usage today, but also help facilitate future innovation, such as with LED product design.

Lighting is an essential part of our lives, yet something many of us take for granted. As our government leaders work to implement widespread change that harnesses our country's resources, at the individual level, innovation in lighting technologies now gives us an opportunity to make small changes in our day-to-day lives. Cumulatively, these changes can have a positive impact on the environment and our wallets. In addition to creating the right framework for energy efficiency, it is critical that government officials, business leaders and safety experts work together to catalyze the mass-market adoption of LEDs, contributing to a more efficient and sustainable world.