Advancing the effective use of light for society and the environment.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

NLPIP at a Crossroads: 15th Anniversary Retrospective
By Mary Cimo
NLPIP logo

In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency encouraged the Lighting Research Center to initiate a program that would establish an objective source of manufacturer-specific performance information for efficient lighting products, debunking bogus or exaggerated manufacturer claims. The LRC accepted the challenge and established what is now known as the National Lighting Product Information Program (NLPIP), a mutli-sponsored program administered and co-funded by the LRC.

At first, manufacturers were suspicious of the program and acted with caution, according to Russ Leslie, LRC associate director and original NLPIP program director. But manufacturers grew to appreciate the program after realizing that, in addition to debunking false claims, NLPIP could also draw attention to quality products and help increase their acceptance in the market.

Now in its 15th year, NLPIP has changed the way lighting products are marketed and what information is reported, and program sponsors are considering new ways to enhance NLPIP, so it can continue to serve a changing industry. 

NLPIP linear fluorescent lamp testing

Independent evaluation
Similar to how Consumer Reports magazine offers guidance on everyday purchases, NLPIP offers an independent evaluation of product performance to assist specifiers in making their lighting decisions. According to Leslie, the independently verified, manufacturer-specific information contained in NLPIP reports is not available from any other source.

Although national organizations and state groups could pool their resources to perform similar studies, legal repercussions often prevent them from reporting brand-name information. And the expense and technical burden of product testing is often too much for utilities to bear. As a result, such groups have funded NLPIP in an effort to disseminate objective, accurate, timely, manufacturer-specific information about energy-efficient lighting products.  

NLPIP has an academic administration and receives no funding from manufacturers, enhancing its objectivity and credibility. NLPIP also uses a product testing lab accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program, a part of the Standards Services Division within the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  

NLPIP publications
NLPIP’s first publication, Guide to Performance Evaluation of Efficient Lighting, was published in June of 1991. The NLPIP project team then began work on a series of projects designed to evaluate specific lighting technologies that have substantial energy-saving potential.

NLPIP's research and testing have covered many products. Of the 37 NLPIP reports produced over the last 15 years, more than one million copies have been distributed, and the findings have rarely been disputed by the end-user community. The report categories include:

▪ Automation systems
▪ HID lamps
▪ Parking lot luminaires
▪ Compact fluorescent lamps
▪ LED systems
▪ Photosensors
▪ Dimming systems
▪ Light pollution
▪ Polarizing panels
▪ Electronic ballasts
▪ Light sources and color
▪ Power reducers / power quality
▪ Exit signs
▪ Metal halide lamps
▪ Reflector lamps
▪ Full-spectrum lighting
▪ MR 16 lamps
▪ Residential lighting
▪ Halogen lamps
▪ Occupancy sensors
▪ Task lighting

NLPIP reports are designed to be user-friendly and contain a history of the technology, brand name performance data in clear and concise tables, and an explanation of how the measurements were taken. When appropriate, reports also include a primer on what each of the performance concerns are, a discussion of applications, cost-effectiveness and payback information, and an evaluation of alternative technologies. The reports are targeted for people who make decisions about which lighting to specify or purchase.

In 1994, the LRC received a New York State Governor’s Award for Energy Excellence for its development of NLPIP and the dissemination of objective information on lighting efficiency techniques and product performance through NLPIP publications.

Reaching the masses
Adhering to its mission to rapidly provide the best information available on energy-efficient lighting products, NLPIP launched a Web site in 1999 and began offering its reports in the form of free downloads. The site has an average of 7902 visitors a month.

Many of the NLPIP reports have debunked manufacturer claims, or at the very least, given consumers a means to research their purchase. For instance, when power reducers first came on the market, manufacturers claimed the devices could save energy without a noticeable reduction in light output. However, NLPIP testing revealed that the devices reduced illuminance and quite possibly system efficacy. And with the influx of “full-spectrum lighting” products on the market, the NLPIP Web site has recorded more than 16,000 downloads of the Lighting Answers: Full-Spectrum Light Sources report in just the last 12 months.  

NLPIP has also helped energy-efficient products make their way into the marketplace, including new exit signs with reduced power consumption and improved visibility in smoke, and occupancy sensors that work more effectively and detect small motions.

Looking ahead
NLPIP played a key role in the development of reliable conventional lighting products and the decrease of exaggerated manufacturer claims, but the demand for NLPIP data is changing.

The initial drivers for program funding were the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary energy-efficiency programs, such as Green Lights, and utility incentive programs. Support from utilities dropped once they were deregulated, but government agencies and public benefit organizations continue to support NLPIP in the public interest. Meanwhile, facility managers and specifiers worldwide have grown to rely on the program, as evidenced by report downloads from the NLPIP Web site.

But the program is at a crossroads. How does NLPIP maintain support as a “watch dog” when the industry is not feeling the urgency for such a program as it did in the 1990s? Well, the sense of urgency may soon be changing with the rise of light-emitting diode (LED) technology.

NLPIP program sponsors and managers are seeking ways to continue to provide service for conventional lighting, as well as guide new development in LED lighting technology. But this is difficult without any clear LED testing methods and no common LED manufacturing format. There is concern that the industry could slip back to an era of confusion and unsubstantiated claims.

The LRC recently held its annual Partners Day event, and many technical presentations were given. The LRC decided to lighten the mood a bit, and presented the NLPIP 15th anniversary retrospective to the group in the form of an allegory, playing off the themes of several popular stories. We welcome you to read The Tale of NLPIP.

About the LRC

The Lighting Research Center (LRC) is part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and is the leading university-based research center devoted to lighting. Founded in 1988, the Lighting Research Center has built an international reputation as a trusted and reliable source for objective information about lighting technologies, applications, and products. Its mission is to advance the effective use of light and create a positive legacy of change for society and the environment.

Rennselear Polytechnic Institute