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Energy efficiency can deliver big rewards

New federal standards could cut energy bills by about $16 billion by 2030.

David Dionne, a senior technician, is in the life test lab at Osram Sylvania Corp. in Beverly, Mass. Here, new kinds of fluor­escent lamps are tested for their longevity. Some have been on since 2003.

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff

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In a dimly lit Osram Sylvania lab humming with sensitive electronic equipment sits a potential environmental breakthrough – a glowing pink fluor­escent bulb that may one day lead to super-energy-efficient lighting without mercury.

Currently, all fluorescent lights – including energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs – use at least a little toxic mercury. But before a new nonmercury lamp can become a hoped-for environmental turning point, it must become frugal with electricity, too.

This one isn’t – yet.

For lighting and appliance manufacturers alike, energy efficiency is now Job One. Driven by legislative mandates and the Obama administration’s new push on energy, the US is on the cusp of a massive drive for efficiency breakthroughs in appliances that could pay off big for consumers and the environment by increasing energy savings and slashing the number of power plants needed to run all those gadgets.

At least 25 new federal energy-efficiency standards for consumer lighting and appliances are slated to be revamped over the next four years. Together, they could deliver about one-fifth of the administration’s goal of cutting electricity use by 15 percent by 2020, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reports.

By slashing the energy use of everyday appliances such as microwave ovens, clothes dryers, washing machines, pool heaters, refrigerators, and room air conditioners, the new standards could:

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