In the residential sector, lighting is used indoors and out to provide ambient light and meet task-specific lighting needs, for decorative purposes, and to provide security. Commercial lighting applications are more varied and include indoor ambient, task, and decorative lighting, street and area lighting, traffic signals, and sign and billboard lighting, among others.

Compact fluorescent lamps are a well-established option for energy-efficient residential lighting. New solid-state lighting (i.e., LED) products are being introduced for residential applications and should join CFLs to provide high performance, energy-efficient alternatives to consumers as many traditional incandescent light sources are phased out of the market. In the commercial sector, advanced fluorescent and HID (high-intensity discharge) systems, join a growing variety of solid-state lighting products to offer energy savings in a broad range of products for the diverse set of commercial applications.

Research, policies, and programs related to lighting can be found in the links below and to the right. For specific efficiency tips and guidance on residential lighting, click here.

Consumer Electronics

Consumer electronics include electronics used for entertainment, office equipment, or telecom. As the number of these electronics per household increased in recent years, so too has the energy use in this sector. Standby power (power that the electronic device is using while not performing its main function) is one of the main areas targeted for efficiency improvements. However, because the amount of time that people spend using these electronics has been increasing, the “active mode” energy use is becoming a larger concern.

Research, policies, and programs related to consumer electronics can be found in the links below and to the right. For specific efficiency tips and guidance on the consumer electronics, click here.


Elevator energy consumption in North American office buildings is generally considered to be about 5% of building electricity use (for buildings with central air conditioning). In general, hydraulic elevators used in relatively low-rise buildings are much less efficient than the traction elevators used in mid- to high-rise buildings.

Elevator energy use is unregulated and is not covered in common building codes. New technologies, included optimized software packages could reduce energy use in elevators by 30-40%.

Office Equipment

Office equipment is one of the fastest-growing electricity uses in commercial buildings in the United States. It directly consumes 7% of total commercial electric energy, which translates into $1.8 billion in electricity costs to businesses. Furthermore, energy consumption due to office equipment and related energy systems is expected to continue to rise. By choosing energy-efficient equipment, purchasers can save a substantial amount on their office equipment electricity bill. While less than a decade ago it was difficult to compare office equipment on energy performance, today the ENERGY STAR label makes it easy for purchasers to distinguish energy-efficient office products. The ENERGY STAR program is incorporating standby energy into its ratings. Standby energy in office equipment represents a significant hidden energy cost.

In addition to improved technology in office equipment, opportunities exist in behavioral approaches to energy efficiency. For example, computer power modes can be configured (by hand, or automatically via software) to increase efficiency.

Packaged Refridgeration

Refrigeration systems account for about 10 percent of electricity use in the commercial sector. About two-thirds of this is consumed by "packaged" refrigeration systems, which are factory-built units. Commercial refrigerators and freezers, ice makers, water coolers, and beverage vending machines generally incorporate both the refrigeration system and the refrigerated compartment in a single package. Small walk-in coolers and ice makers may be self-contained "packaged" systems, or may use a remote condenser similar to residential central air conditioners. Several of these systems are found in many common building types. Hospitals, schools, and hotels, for example, often have ice makers, and reach-in refrigerators and freezers. In addition, water coolers and vending machines on several floors are common in office buildings, and reach-in refrigerators and freezers, and ice makers are common where food is sold.

Traffic Signals

The evolution of the traffic signal market is a true energy efficiency success story. Prior to 2000, most traffic signals used incandescent lights. Through ENERGY STAR, municipal, and state and utility market transformation programs, light emitting diode (LED) traffic signals were introduced. LED light sources offer energy savings of around 90%. They also last much longer than incandescent signals and fail less frequently, offering additional savings in reduced relamping, routine and emergency maintenance, and liability costs.

As of May 1, 2007, ENERGY STAR specifications became mandatory for traffic signals. While the specifications do not specifically require the use of LED lights, currently LEDs are the only technology that meets the specification. Energy savings are estimated to be 3 billion kWh per year nationwide — a cost savings of $225 million per year — with maintenance and liability benefits on the same order of magnitude.


Distribution transformers reduce the voltage of an electric utility’s power distribution line to the lower voltages suitable for most of the equipment, lighting, and appliances in businesses and homes. They are constantly energized, and they constantly experience some energy losses. Even small changes in transformer efficiency can add up to large energy savings nationwide. Improving transformer efficiency means that a larger portion of the power generated in power plants will reach the point in the electric system where it is put to work. However, increasing efficiency in transformers faces a problem of split incentives; the utilities or construction contractors who install transformers are not the ones who will ultimately pay the electric bills.

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