Many consumers in the dark about Jan.1 start of light bulb phase out

Most plan to switch to compact fluorescent lamps, some plan to stockpile incandescent 60- and 40-watt bulbs

Only four in 10 consumers are aware that the most popular light bulbs in the U.S. will be phased out next year as production of the products ends on Jan. 1, 2014.

The popular 60-watt and 40-watt incandescent light bulbs join their energy-wasting cohorts, the 75-watt and 100-watt bulbs, which were phased out this year.

According to Lighting giant Osram Sylvania, which released its sixth annual Sylvania Socket Survey, many consumers are still in the dark about the bulb phase-out.

When suppliers run out of stock, consumers and businesses will have to replace traditional bulbs with more energy-efficient alternatives. They will have three choices: halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Of those who are aware of the regulatory move, more than half (59%) are excited about it, as it will help Americans use more energy efficient light bulbs.

U.S. consumers tend to agree on what is important when making their lighting choices, according to the survey. Respondents say that brightness (92%), followed by lifespan (87%), energy usage (82%) and price (82%) are the most important criteria when choosing which bulb to buy.

Unlike other nations, the U.S. is not technically banning incandescent bulbs.

The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 is an energy efficiency standard that requires all screw-in light bulbs (also known as lamps) to use 30% less power, beginning with 100-watt bulbs this year. The standard requires bulbs to use 65% less energy by 2020.

If a manufacturer could produce an Edison incandescent bulb that used 30% less power today, the maker could sell it. Since manufacturers can't make such a bulb, the EISA essentially becomes a ban on inefficient lamps.

In contrast, China already banned incandescent lamps that use 100 watts or more of power and that will expand to cover any light bulbs that use more than 60 watts in 2014 and to 15 watts in 2016.

In the U.S., EISA standard requirement for 100-watt bulbs began last January. The ban on 75-watt bulbs goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

The phase out of 60-watt and 40-watt lamps will have the greatest impact on consumers, because those products are the most popular, according to Philip Smallwood, senior lighting analyst at IMS Research.

When suppliers run out of stock, consumers and businesses will have to replace traditional bulbs with more energy-efficient alternatives. They will have three choices: halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Forty-six percent of survey respondents indicated they plan to switch to CFLs, 24% will opt for LEDs, and 13% said that they will choose halogens.

According to IHS Research, a $25 LED bulb pays for itself in about 34 months, assuming the lamps are used four hours a day at an energy cost of 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

The Osram Sylvania survey was conducted over an eight-day period in November, 2013. More than 300 interviews were conducted via landline and cell phone.

Thirty percent of U.S. consumers indicated that they plan to buy a lot of traditional light bulbs while they're still available and will continue using them.

The 30% figure was a sharp increase from the 2012 Socket Survey, which showed just 16% said that they plan to stockpile bulbs.

The EISA was signed into law by President George W. Bush. Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and others criticized EISA for what they called a restriction on free choice.

When the ban on 60-watt and 40-watt lamps begins in 2014, sales of incandescent bulbs are expected to drop off a cliff.

In 2011, about 1.1 billion bulbs were sold in North America (Canada also has an Edison bulb phaseout plan, but it has been put on hold). In 2014, North American sales are expected to drop to 200 million, according to IMS Research.

When the ban on 60-watt and 40-watt lamps begins in 2014, sales of incandescent bulbs are expected to drop off a cliff. For example, in 2011, about 1.1 billion bulbs were sold in North America (Canada also has an Edison bulb phase-out plan, but it has been put on hold). In 2014, North American sales are expected to drop to 200 million, according to IMS Research.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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