NEW YORK (MainStreet) — At the end of 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) released new energy efficiency standards for linear fluorescent lights that will effectively and significantly lower electric bills in the national building sector.

These new lighting standards are one of many released by the DOE, which finalized minimum energy efficiency standards late last year for ten product categories, which also included commercial refrigeration equipment, furnace fans and external power supplies such as the black box chargers needed to power our laptop computers and cell phones.

According to the DOE, these ten standards will save 435 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which translates into $78 billion in electricity bills savings in U.S. households through 2030.

In particular, the new standards for tubular fluorescent lights will save $15 billion over the next 15 years, making it the biggest standard in terms of savings. The DOE estimates that the cumulative electricity savings would be enough to power about 20 million U.S. households for a year and the CO2 savings would equal the annual emissions of over 33 million passenger vehicles.

"The new linear fluorescent lamps standard will affect virtually every office building, school and hospital in America - and lower the utility bills of all of them,” says Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “[E]very time a bulb is replaced, it will be a more efficient one. [T]his will add up to billions of dollars in savings.”

These type of lamps are getting attention, because the lighting they provides is one of the largest sources of electricity uses, being that linear fluorescent lamps are the predominant type of bulb in commercial buildings.

The new DOE standards are set to go into effect in 2018. The new fluorescent fixtures are required to be 4% more efficient than ones that are current available and 23% more efficient than those sold before 2012--when DOE's last standards for them were established.

Initial standards for linear fluorescent lamps were enacted by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 1992, building on standards developed by states. These standards, which vary by lamp type, were updated by the DOE in June 2009, were put into effect on July 14, 2012. Due to the disruption this caused in the market, many manufacturers of linear fluorescent lamps were granted a temporary (two year) exemption from the standard.

There are currently billions of tubular fluorescent lights in the U.S., most of which are usually on for 12 or more hours a day. Nearly 2.5 billion linear fluorescent lamps are installed in the United States annually, with each commercial building containing approximately 300. Fluorescent lighting accounts for 60 to 70% of the total electricity consumed by lighting in commercial and industrial buildings in the nation.

"Besides putting money back into the pockets of property owners, these standards are good for the environment too as they will prevent 90 million tons of carbon dioxide, the main source of climate change pollution, from being emitted by power plants," says Horowitz.

Though the DOE's final lighting rule spells good news for linear fluorescent lights, the agency chose not to issue new rules for incandescent reflector lamps (IRLs)--the bulbs that go into recessed cans and flood lights. While the potential savings for these would be much smaller than those from linear fluorescent lamps, NRDC thought it was a missed opportunity as the lamps represent the least efficient bulbs in the residential sector.

“While a portion of the market is naturally moving to LEDs instead of incandescent based reflector lamps, DOE left hundreds of millions of dollars of annual savings on the table by choosing not to update its standards for these products,” says Horowitz. “As such, many of the bulbs screwed into the cans in your ceiling will continue to be the least efficient bulb in your home for years to come.”

Horowitz suggests that the next time you shop for a replacement bulb for your flood lights, you make sure to pick up an LED.

“While they cost a little more to purchase, they will last up to 25 years,” says Horowitz. “[This will] save you more than $100 over the life of the bulb and eliminate the need to get up on a ladder…every year or two to replace the inefficient bulb that just burned out.”

--Written by Laura Kiesel for MainStreet