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Solid-state lighting is contributing to US carbon emission reduction

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Solid-state lighting (SSL) can help alter the course of an industry. On the surface, it seems like a sound bite — perhaps too grandiose. But the fact is the revolution happening in the lighting industry has already done this to some degree. The question going forward really is: Will the industry be able to meet its technical and commercial challenges to achieve larger goals that the power industry faces — in terms of rapidly transitioning to lower carbon generation to achieve aggressive carbon reduction goals and combat even larger issues like global climate change?

Let’s break this down a bit. Over 190 countries recently met in Paris and agreed on a climate action plan with each country producing national plans. The top two producers of carbon emissions are the US and China by a significant margin. In preparation for the global summit, the US in August 2015 unveiled the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the first national carbon regulation in the US. The plan aims to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector to 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. It covers 47 states and excludes Alaska, Hawaii, and Vermont, all currently exempt since they are either isolated systems or have no fossil plants that qualify to be regulated under the CPP.

Now these targets are onerous, but US is well on its way to achieve them. While CO2 reduction goals are mandated relative to 2005 levels, emissions were already 15% below 2005 levels at the end of 2014. We estimate 2015 emissions were 18% below 2005 levels. So how did the US achieve this reduction?

That is where the lighting revolution meets climate change. Roughly 40% of this reduction came from a reduction in energy consumed from lighting. While you can attribute a lot of this to the housing crisis and commercial real-estate market downturn post-recession, gains in market saturation of efficient lighting (CFLs, LEDs) was a good chunk of this. While technology and cost trends were factors, favorable policy mandates like lighting standards helped immensely.

Coming back to carbon emissions, the goals are still aggressive and not all the savings achieved to date are here to stay — at least a subset of the ones that were not driven by lighting efficiencies. So this task of achieving carbon reduction remains formidable. While the Clean Power Plan does not explicitly include energy efficiency as a way to achieve targets, states have considerable flexibility and can look toward energy efficiency in general and lighting in particular to meet carbon mandates. The answer lies across many possible solutions: Replace carbon-intensive coal with cleaner natural gas, build solar and wind facilities, to name a few. But can LED lighting in particular now serve as one vehicle to achieve this transition within the power sector goals to meet larger climate change goals? In return, will there be an opportunity to monetize investments that the industry is making? At the upcoming Strategies in Light conference (Mar. 1–3) in Santa Clara, CA, I will address these questions and provide more in-depth information on this topic.