The U.S. market for ballasts ranges from about 77 to 100 million units for electronic and magnetic fluorescent devices. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) estimated 2005 shipments of fluorescent ballast systems in the $829 million range, according to Jeff Plaskon, ballast product manager—North America for GE Consumer and Industrial Lighting, Cleveland.

“NEMA has no figures for high-intensity discharge (HID) ballasts, but internal GE estimates for 2004 put the market at about $265 million. With approximate 3 percent overall growth rates for the category, the 2005 market for HID ballasts would have reached $273 million,” he said. That 3 percent growth rate has been pretty consistent overall and is tied directly to new construction in both commercial and residential markets.

Overall, the U.S. market is growing between 5 to 6 percent per year for electronic ballasts and shrinking in magnetic ballasts at rates up to 15 percent per year. The electronic market could increase even more rapidly in the next few years because of recent changes brought about by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), which provides tax breaks from the government to end-users who change their older, obsolete ballasts for the newest technologies, according to Rich Hanlon, product marketing manager for Electronic Control Systems (ECS) at OSRAM Sylvania, Danvers, Mass. Because of EPAct 2005 and other federal energy legislation, magnetic ballasts today can only be used for replacement purposes and will be entirely eliminated by 2009.

“Federal legislation mandates electronic ballasts in new fixtures as of mid-2005 and, by 2009, will require that replacement ballasts also meet federal ballast energy conservation standards,” said Plaskon.

Ken Walma, product manager at Lutron Electronics Inc., Coopersburg, Pa., believes that, by volume, the ballast market as a whole has actually been relatively stable over the past several years because of the leveling off of new construction and because major office renovation projects slowed for a period of time after 2001 and have only recently begun to recover.

“Dimming ballasts, however, make up more than 10 percent of the total dollar volume of the market and the segment has been steadily increasing as their use has gone beyond conference rooms and auditoriums toward a number of varied applications in an effort to reduce energy consumption and improve the environmental aesthetics of the workplace and home,” he said.

Technical changes

The key advances in ballast technology have stemmed from the push to increase the number of high efficiency devices that provide greater than 90 percent efficiency, as compared to the 85 percent efficiency levels derived from older electronic ballasts. This has led to the development, and fast-growing market demand, of T5 lamp technology.

“T5 lamps and ballasts have also been moving into the HID high-bay market because of their higher efficiency levels and increased control flexibility,” said Hanlon.

The improved efficiency of these ballasts can reach 6 to 8 percent, which is a significant savings in facilities where hundreds or thousands of ballasts are in daily operation, according to Greg Bennorth, market specifications manager for Universal Lighting Technologies, Nashville, Tenn.

Electronic ballasts are also available now for general-use HID lamps up to 400 watts. These products provide energy savings and operate HID lamps in a manner that improves their lumen depreciation.

“With better lamp lumen maintenance, lighting designers can take advantage of this feature and use fewer fixtures or lower wattage lamps, providing end-users with lamps that remain brighter for longer periods of time,” Bennorth said.

Technological developments in the fluorescent ballast industry include the introduction of multiple-voltage technology and programmed start electronic ballasts.

“These ballasts can be used with occupancy sensors and provide increased controllability through digital dimming technology,” said Doug Stoneman, senior product manager for Advance Transformer Co., Rosemont, Ill.

Other features being provided by high-efficiency ballasts include adherence to Underwriters Laboratories Inc., anti-arc ratings, and anti-striation controls for use with energy saving four foot lamps.

Finally, new dimming technologies have been developed that will provide significant energy savings when they are combined with controls for daylight harvesting and other strategies.

“Dimming lights result in less energy being used and this strategy is often employed when natural light is available or spaces are unoccupied,” Bennorth said.

According to Walma, the first generation of digital addressable lighting interface (DALI) technology opened the market to the potential of digital dimming ballast capabilities.

“Digital dimming ballast technology is more cost-effective today than that first generation and provides simpler solutions, easier programming, and less hardware for a state-of-the-art system,” Walma said.

In addition, digitally controlled ballasts are entering a phase of true distributed networking, in which ballasts are communicating with each other. Such inter-ballast communication eliminates the need for a central controlling system and allows a facility’s lighting to be more intelligently programmed and controlled.

Market drivers

One factor driving the high-efficiency electronic ballast market is that end-users are demanding that lighting be as flexible as other building systems and provide the ability to adapt to new uses of space as needs change.

“End-users are requiring that their lighting systems adapt to changes in their environment, rather than having to rewire the lighting system for a space’s new uses,” Walma said.

But the primary driver of the ballast market is energy savings, whether through tax incentives provided by the government’s EPAct or through new technologies.

“People want to save money and take costs out of operations, as well as reduce reliance on worldwide oil supplies,” Hanlon said.

The desire for energy savings and improved lighting quality has led both to the use of fluorescent lighting technology in high-bay applications and to the retail segment embracing the bright, energy-efficient, and cost-effective benefits of low-wattage electronic HID technology.

“The increased demand for energy-efficiency lighting and ballast systems is being driven and amplified by both recent federal legislation and Department of Energy [DOE] ballast-efficacy stan dards that call for more efficient ballasts that use fewer watts for illumination,” Stoneman said.

What is driving energy-savings mandates, such as EPAct 2005, is the DOE and states looking for ways to cut total power consumption, according to Plaskon.

“The biggest impact of these mandates is the increased demand for energy-saving lamps and the increased use of daylight-harvesting technology, occupancy sensors, photocells, and other type of lighting controls,” he said.

Lighting the future

According to Walma, ballasts will continue to become more advanced, both in their communication capabilities and in their efficiencies.

“Research and development will be driven by the overall demand to use less power for the same amount of light,” he said.

The installation, programming and commissioning of lighting systems and ballasts will continue to transform as technology advances.

“In the past, if a facility wanted to renovate and add dimming controls, the owner was required to make extensive wiring changes and investments in equipment,” Walma said.

Today, however, it is easier to incorporate new ballast technology into an existing system, thereby moving more of the costs toward programming and away from the installation process.

“We expect to see a large push in the future in the development of lighting and wireless controls for ballasts in both the residential and commercial sectors,” Hanlon said.

The drive toward wireless controls, especially in the non-commercial segment, will allow utilities to have more control over end-user power use, particularly at peak usage times. And in the residential segment, wireless controls will fulfill the demands of sophisticated homeowners for technology that helps them to reduce energy consumption and to improve both control functions and aesthetics.

According to Stoneman, the electronic HID ballast market will continue its growth march, based on the benefits offered by this emerging technology.

“Electronic HID ballasts will bring HID lamp performance levels closer to those offered by traditional fluorescent technology, such as color stability, higher lumen maintenance, and better maintained light quality over time,” he said.

Plaskon predicts that the biggest trend in new ballast products will be controllability of lighting systems and the interoperability and communication capabilities of ballasts that will allow end-users the freedom to set their own energy savings.

“The more control a facility has over its lighting system, the more energy-saving techniques, such as time-of-use rate pricing and peak-demand management, it will be able to utilize,” he said.

According to Walma, electrical contractors who want to maintain or increase their edge in the ballast arena will have to focus on improving their estimating and budgetary capabilities.

“Those contractors that are familiar with the technology will be able to more properly and accurately estimate the job and will be more likely to perform work on a greater number of lighting projects in a shorter period of time, thereby increasing profitability,” he said.

More technically, electrical contractors need to understand the differences in wiring requirements between instant start and programmed start fluorescent ballast systems to ensure that they are using the correct configuration, said Stoneman.

“Other than that, they need to be aware of the full range of new technologies available and the current energy-consumption mandates so that they can educate and support their customers’ new or retrofit construction needs,” he said.

In just about every major market, electrical contractors are becoming high-tech system providers. Embracing new technologies and demonstrating both technical ability and adaptability to changing markets will provide opportunities with customers to install energy-saving ballasts and controllable lighting solutions.    EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or darbremer@comcast.net.