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The Lowly Lightbulb Outshines Solar and Wind on U.S. Power Grids

Utility and power grid managers in the U.S. are learning that the best way to cut carbon emissions and improve efficiency is the easiest: Just change your lightbulbs.

The nation’s largest grid, serving more than 61 million customers from Washington to Chicago, is revising its demand forecasts after recognizing that better lighting has undercut its projections. Swapping all of Thomas Edison’s incandescent lightbulbs with lamps containing light emitting diodes, or LEDs, would save enough electricity to power 20 million American homes, according to the Energy Department.

In February, the Super Bowl became the first National Football League championship played under LEDs

Americans’ energy-conservation efforts, from switching bulbs to upgrading washing machines and air conditioners, have done more to reduce carbon emissions than the increased use of solar, wind and natural gas, according to consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. Efficiency can help meet half of the emissions cuts sought under President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy said.

“It’s a total bulb revolution,” Prajit Ghosh, director of power and renewables research at Wood Mackenzie in Houston, said Aug. 10 by phone. “The decline in load growth from both macroeconomic factors and energy-efficiency gains is by far the biggest reason carbon emissions fell. At least for the last five years, a majority of these savings came from lighting.”

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