Lighting costs U.S. businesses and consumers more than $50 billion each year (18% of the total energy use of buildings. The strategic use of research dollars can trim billions from this annual energy bill and prevent unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions. Berkeley Lab's early work on the electronic ballast illustrates the potential payoff from conducting lighting research and working with industry toward commercialization of new products. Ballasts are needed to start and control the current flowing through a fluorescent lamp. Magnetic ballasts, the original technology in fluorescent lighting systems, were energy-inefficient and noisy, and users often saw a detectable light flicker. Virtually unknown in the mid-1970s when the $3 million Berkeley Lab research effort began, electronic ballasts, as of 2006, made up more than 80 percent of the ballast market and are expected to have a greater than 90 percent market share in 2008. A 2001 National Academy of Sciences study found that electronic ballasts sold through 2005 would provide $15 billion in energy savings. Appliance efficiency standards have led to the widespread adoption of electronic ballasts. For a more recent estimate of savings see New Concepts: Appliance Energy Standards.
Although the concept for an electronic ballast originated with work performed at General Electric in the 1950s, Sam Berman and Rudy Verderber, two Berkeley Lab scientists, were the first to recognize that electronics had advanced enough to allow the creation of a commercially usable electronic ballast. They also realized that a significant energy payback would make this technology a financially viable product.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) began funding the electronic ballast program at Berkeley Lab in 1977. From 13 applicants, the Lab selected two small entrepreneurial firms, Iota Engineering and Luminoptics and gave them technological support as they developed the first products. Initial demonstration tests were done in a PG&E utility office in San Francisco. The testing proved that electronic ballasts operate well in a typical building environment and reduce lighting energy use appreciably.
Other lighting equipment companies jumped into the market offering electronic ballasts of their own design, and over time, the market share of the electronic ballast grew—today, more than three hundred companies manufacture and sell electronic ballasts. Verderber and other Berkeley Lab researchers traveled around the United States and to Canada, Mexico, Europe, South America and Japan to publicize the new technology. They also aided the companies who were not involved in the original Berkeley Lab program, testing their ballasts and advising them on potential improvements.
Rebate programs and standards were key to encouraging the use of electronic ballasts. The biggest breakthrough came when electronic ballasts were included in California's Title 24 building energy efficiency standards. Today, more than half of all states have standards requiring the use of electronic ballasts in commercial buildings.
Other major programs have advanced the development of the electronic ballast market, including:
- electric utility demand-side management programs,
- the ENERGY STAR® Program and Green Lights (now merged with Energy Star),
- the Federal Energy Management Program's introduction of energy-efficient technology in federal facilities, and
- the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) voluntary building code IES 90.1-1999.
Federal programs and private groups such as the U.S. Department of Energy's Rebuild America program and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Energy Cost Savings Council have also supported the adoption of energy-efficient lighting technology.
The Rise of Dimming Electronic Ballasts
While standard electronic ballasts have become dominant in the marketplace thanks to their energy-efficient qualities, and the roll-out of energy efficiency standards, dimming electronic ballasts (which can dim the light from a fluorescent lamp continuously) are still quite uncommon because of their high cost (three to five times as high as conventional ballasts). Luminoptics, one of Berkeley Lab's two original R&D partners, eventually changed its name to Lumenergi. The company is developing a dimming electronic ballast (DEB) for the marketplace that it plans to sell at a cost comparable to conventional electronic ballasts. A number of electronic ballast manufacturers have developed DEBs, and the industry as a whole is driving the price of this technology down, which will help increase its use in new and retrofitted buildings.
Research suggests that lighting controls with dimmable lighting systems can result in an additional 30 to 40 percent savings in lighting energy over current efficient technology. Energy savings accrue because an automated lighting control system can sense when daylight is entering the interior space, and respond by dimming the electric lights. Iota Engineering, the other original private-sector partner, also continues to market electronic ballasts and develop new technology.