The world’s first major light bulb maker is building on its nearly century-old mission to teach industrial and commercial users of lighting how the accelerating technology advances of the past decade can save them money, make them safer and accent their appeal.

With the US customer still largely in the dark about the details of the upcoming lighting standards set to go into effect at the start of 2012, GE Lighting is teaching students at its Cleveland, Ohio GE Lighting Institute that although the savings are compelling on their own, the advantages of new LED lighting technology go far beyond mere efficiency advances.

“Numbers only get you so far,” Manager of GE’s Lighting Institute Mary Beth Gotti told Breaking Energy recently.

“Our challenge is to lay out the options” for the 4,000-5,000 students who come to the Lighting Center for short courses ranging from introductions for neophyte facility managers to more advanced courses laying out the latest developments in the technology, Gotti said. If her students and the broader public consider lighting options fun rather than daunting, she will have done her job.

While the debate on Capitol Hill has focused on the potential lack of consumer choice arising from the new standards, which would preclude the sale of traditional incandescent bulbs, the new standards are accelerating an existing trend away from use of incandescent bulbs as the cost efficiencies and other benefits of new lighting technology steer customers toward the new technology on their own.

“Demand for standard household incandescent bulbs having declined by 50% over the last five or so years, and the onset of lighting efficiency standards, GE Lighting has been reshaping its global manufacturing footprint and consolidating production of incandescent bulbs,” the company said in a presentation on the issue, quoting numbers from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

“Now everybody’s paying attention to lighting and it is a chance to make a difference,” Gotti said in discussing the future of the Lighting Institute with Breaking Energy. After decades of incremental change, the lighting industry is accelerating change in both the product itself and how it can be used for tasks and integrated into architecture. The industry is building on the discovery of LEDs by a GE scientist in 1962, and change has picked up over the last 20 years.

In its delicate dance with consumers wary of change to a basic ingredient of their quality of life, GE has been careful to implement lessons learned in past product launches and developed products based on consumer needs and preferences. Among other things, a new brand of fluorescent bulb resembling a traditional incandescent bulb includes a small halogen component that allows light to shine instantly without the warm-up period most fluorescents require.

With brightness the deciding factor for most customers, future generations of light bulb buyers will be able to choose their products based on lumens rather than watts, integrating the total cost of light rather than the cost of a disposable “hot wire in a bottle” bulb into their decision making. And many of their new habits will have been tried and tested first on students in classrooms and labs at the Lighting Institute.