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What’s the Deal With the DLC?

What’s the Deal With the DLC?

What does it mean to be DLC Approved, or DLC Listed? Chances are you have seen the DLC ‘stamp’ of approval, but what does that really mean? Does it mean the light is more efficient? Or better than others?

DLC stands for the DesignLights Consortium®. According to their website, “The DesignLights Consortium® (DLC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating the widespread adoption of high-performing commercial lighting solutions.”

The site continues, “The DLC promotes high-quality, energy-efficient lighting products in collaboration with utilities and energy efficiency program members, manufacturers, lighting designers, and federal, state, and local entities. Through these partnerships, the DLC establishes product quality specifications, facilitates thought leadership, and provides information, education, tools and technical expertise.”

What does that really mean? We wanted to find out, so we reached out to DesignLights Consortium with a long list of questions. They did not reply to email requests. When contacted via phone, they referred us to their website to find the information and told us we should expect to hear from someone. We never did.

Without the DLC’s input, we searched elsewhere for answers – first on their site, and then from a lighting distributor as well as a lighting manufacturer to see what we could find.

The questions we want answers to are:

  • What is the DLC’s influence on the lighting industry?
  • What (if any) relationships the DLC has with the Department of Energy (DOE).
    • Are the product decisions mandated to/from the DOE?
  • Is the DLC the ‘go-to’ organization for product approvals?
  • How does the DLC confirm product specifications meet your requirements? Does the DLC perform any independent testing? If not, who (or what organization) does?
    • If the DLC does not perform any independent testing/validation of specifications from suppliers what does it mean to have the DLC name/stamp of approval?
  • Does the DLC provide access to its research and testing?
  • Who can join the DLC? Can the distributors and/or manufacturers who read lightED join? How does someone join? Is there a fee and what does that get them? Are they part of the decision process? Would they have an equal voice to the ‘big’ players in the industry?
  • What companies does the DLC partner with? Only major companies? Or can some of the smaller companies who read lightED join and have a voice? Not just your advisory panel, but others with established track records as manufacturers and/or providers of LED technologies?
  • How do you determine your Qualified Products List (QPL)? Is that made up of just products from your members?
  • What geography do you cover? Is it the entire U.S. and Canada? Further reach? What about global products – imports and/or exports?
  • Since you are a non-profit, is there an annual report available to the public?

The DLC’s website has a lot of general information giving an overview of the organization. Specifically to the first question about the importance of DLC to the lighting industry, but more specifically, “why the DLC?” Their answer: The DLC drives energy efficiency in the commercial lighting sector.

The FAQs on the DLC’s website provided a lot of information, but not all of the questions we submitted were covered. For example, one frequently asked question was, “How do I know which utilities will incentivize my product?”

Answer: Each DLC Member has access to the QPL and makes its decision about what products to incentivize based on its own program parameters, including cost-effectiveness tests. Manufacturers should work with utilities/energy efficiency program sponsors on a project-by-project basis to have their products be eligible for rebates. Please note that listing on the QPL is not a guarantee that the products will be eligible for incentives from DLC Members. Any incentives or other rebates are entirely at the discretion of the particular energy efficiency program sponsor.

We did some more random searches on the web as well. One of the best pieces of information we found was from a Border States Electrical article from 2015. The post compared the DLC to Energy Star Ratings. Here is an overview of the DLC:

  • A project created and maintained by nonprofit Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership
  • Has 23 utility and energy organization members from around the Northeast and Midwest
  • Rates lighting products on the market based on quality and energy efficiency
  • Publishes a Qualified Products List (QPL) that is available to DLC members only
  • Manufacturers apply to have products tested and added to QPL
  • Products are tested by independent labs to determine qualifications
  • QPL includes information regarding the product, its manufacturer, light output, luminaire efficacy, power factor, color temperature, rated lifetime and more
  • The QPL is used throughout North America for efficiency program standards
  • Products on the QPL may be eligible for state and utility incentives
  • Is not affiliated with Energy Star
  • DLC does not rate products that are covered by Energy Star
  • If Energy Star begins to cover a new product category, DLC is required to no longer rate that category
  • Currently in the lighting industry, DLC is used as a rating system for LED light fixtures and is the qualification standard for many utility rebates

You can see the side-by-side comparison to Energy Star here.

lightED wanted to get deeper into what makes up the DLC so we reached out to a distributor and a manufacturer. The distributor was Greg Ehrich, Vice President of Premier Lighting – and newly appointed 2018 – 2019 DLC Industry Advisory Committee member.

We put Greg right on the spot and asked him to share his thoughts on what some in the industry think about the DLC and their relationship with the DOE and the utility companies.

“There’s mixed opinions on it – there are people that are against; there are people that are for it. And, there are people that are trapped in between. I think the majority are in between, including myself,” Ehrich states. “I see some real benefit in what they offer because there is so much lighting product out in the market place and there really is no governing body per se, so I think there’s some benefit in the characteristics they put forth that make quality lighting. But it doesn’t necessarily cover everything. They are focused on energy efficiency because they were started by utility companies whose goal is to save energy, so that’s their primary focus. But when it comes to lighting – the whole purpose of lighting is so that people can see the task they need to do. That doesn’t mean necessarily that it always has to be the most efficient light for that source, or seen as the most important thing. That is number one that should be taken into account. I think a lot of DLC’s characteristics now are focused on energy savings and not on quality of light as much. Saying that though…it’s like lumens per watt on a fixture is what they are asking for. They are asking for a higher performing light, so they do have some quality taken in, but they don’t really factor in some of the other benefits that have become more popular in lighting like health benefits, but it’s something that’s become more prominent and they don’t really factor that in at DLC.

“I think there is a place for what they are doing, it’s just a matter of making sure all opinions are covered…and for the entire industry. Not just for the manufacturing side, or the utility side,” continued Ehrich. “I’m a lighting distributor – and that’s why they actually formed this new committee that I’m going to be on – it’s an advisory committee that focuses on the distributor (see DLC memo from November). There’s two of us (Distributors and Specifiers), so I think what they are doing now is being proactive and reaching out to it and how they act on those opinions [is yet] to be determined.

“Basically, if you meet their characteristics, and you are abiding by how you submit your testing, they will qualify you. And, obviously, if you pay the fee! They will qualify you, they’re not saying because you’re not one of these companies we’re not going to give you DLC. I think they are willing to take anybody that is legitimate. So, I don’t really foresee that as an issue, but then again, I’m not a manufacturer.”

Come back Monday to see what one manufacturer does have to say about the DLC. And, let’s just say, he doesn’t mince words…

Tagged with
Jim Williams

Discussion (1 comments)

    Karen Campbell March 19, 2021 / 10:28 am

    Good article. I recently returned to lighting and inherited a project that needed DLC certification.
    So many manufacturers have the DLC logo on cut sheet but find most of the fixtures are not DLC as the cya footnote mentions in very small text.
    In addition the cat. No’s on DLC don’t correspond to no’s on DLC website. It was refreshing to read your constructive criticism. You can rarely find it.

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