Smart bulbs earned their moniker because they can do a lot more than just provide light—you can control smart bulbs from afar, make them dance to the music, and program them to scare off would-be burglars. But those capabilities come at a price—not just a monetary price but an energy price as well—in the form of standby power for network communications.

Philips Hue smart bulb

Photo of the components of a Philips Hue smart bulb

Recent testing by the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) Electronic Devices and Networks Annex (EDNA) showed that some bulbs are much smarter than others when it comes to standby power. The EDNA project tested 11 products and found results that ranged from 0.17 watts (W) in idle mode for a bulb that drew 11.50 W at full power, to a product that needed 2.70 W of standby power and drew 17.17 W when fully on. Several of the products also featured a communications “bridge” that could link multiple lamps to other home networks, but that configuration also added to the standby budget. The IEA estimates that for lamps that are on one to two hours per day, some will use half or more of their total annual energy use while they’re presumably “off.” But the fact that there’s a wide range of standby-power options available proves that it’s possible to keep bulb energy-usage levels low. When designing DSM programs and developing educational materials, utilities can encourage customers to choose bulbs that draw lower standby power.

For details, read the IEA’s Smart Lamp Testing—Initial Results document and “Smart” Wireless Lighting Also Needs to Be Energy Smart. For the results of similar testing in Australia, see Smart Lighting Maybe Not So Smart. For more information on smart bulbs, check out our report Home Energy Management Is Coming: Are You Ready? And to learn more about standby-power levels for a host of other devices, read our report Plugging the Plug Load Data Hole.