Wednesday, April 04, 2012
About Those $50 Light Bulbs
Here's an example uncovered by Bill McMorris at the Washington Free Beacon:
The Department of Energy awarded lighting giant Philips the $10 million L Prize despite the fact that the winning energy-efficient bulb failed to meet several contest criteria requirements, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Philips raised eyebrows when it debuted the winning bulb with a $50 price tag. That is far beyond the $22 cost recommended by the department, which is now working with utility companies to cut back on the upfront cost through rebates.
Department documents, however, cast doubt on whether the expensive LED bulb was even worthy of the prize.
Contest rules outlined by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act required the winning L Prize bulb to shine at 900 lumens. A department report on 200 bulbs tested at two different facilities showed that nearly 70 bulbs failed to meet that standard, including more than 60 percent of the bulbs tested at one of the labs...
Despite Philips’ poor showing at the DOE lab tests, the department passed the bulb after receiving reassurance from the Dutch company...
In 2009, when other lighting companies were still at the design phase of the process, Philips submitted a 2,000-bulb sample to the department. The quick submission intimidated many others vying for the L Prize, according to multiple industry insiders.
“Not once did the DOE ever let anyone know about the testing results; there was no transparency,” another lighting expert said. “If they had made it known in 2010 that Philips didn’t pass the test, then other competitors would have proceeded forward. The inference was that they passed.”
The department closed the competition and awarded Philips the $10 million prize in August 2011.
The brightness test was not the only requirement that Philips may not have reached. Department notes also indicate that reviewers changed the light distribution criteria to Philips’ favor...
“The department cannot just change the rules on how they are going to test, especially if they don’t tell other competitors about the rule change,” said a second lighting insider. “Only Philips benefitted from the criteria change.”
The contest has been marred by several controversies since it opened in 2008...
A House Appropriations Committee report issued in June slammed the department for announcing the $10 million prize without prior approval from Congress.
“The Committee strongly opposes the Department announcing funding opportunities when those funds have not yet been made available by Congress,” the report said. “In the case of the L Prize, the Department risks damaging its credibility.”
The warning was enough to worry higher-ups at Philips, which spent nearly $1.8 million lobbying Congress to fund the program.
The bulb’s $50 price tag also produced sticker shock among industry insiders. It is about double the cost of existing LED bulbs and about fifty times higher than the 60-watt incandescent bulb it was designed to replace.
“I’m impressed with the technology, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s not,” the former LSG engineer said. “But we were going for a $22 bulb, forget rebates, and Philips missed it by a mile.”...
“Letting (the bulb) come out that expensive, I think it set the market back … people are looking for a return on investment and this just tells them they can’t afford any LED bulbs,” he said. “I can’t blame the U.S. citizens for saying, ‘my God, the government is wasting our money.’”