The North American market for ballasts is already recovering from the sluggish economic conditions of 2009, according to Randy Dollar, vice president, systems market development for Universal Lighting Technologies, Nashville, Tenn.

Energy savings is the driving factor behind new sales and product innovations, he said.

Based on analysis of industry data, Philips Lighting Electronics North America, Rosemont, Ill., expects to see the U.S. ballast market remain flat in 2010, but that’s following a year in which the market dropped 19 percent.

“It’s important to remember that the size of the 2009 decline is firmly rooted in the general construction downturn, meaning that the fixture market was even further down,” said Doug Stoneman, Philips’ senior manager, channel marketing.

Currently, the most widely applied fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) ballasts are programmable start ballasts, said Ira Greenberg, executive vice president of Keystone Technologies, LLC, Ambler, Pa.

“Program-start ballasts are becoming popular because they integrate well with motion controls systems,” he said.

Building owners and operators are constantly looking for ways to improve energy management, and occupancy, and motion sensors are being deployed to help in that effort. The latest programmable start ballasts, Stoneman said, incorporate independent lamp operation, which helps lower maintenance costs by eliminating unnecessary lamp replacements and extending group relamping cycles.

“These ballast designs also contribute to improved light level maintenance by reducing dark spots in fixtures,” he said.

Key to the versatility of a programmable start ballast is its ability to operate all energy-saving T8 lamps as well as standard T8s. Features of energy-saving T8 lamps, such as auto lamp restrike, allow the use of programmable start ballasts in tandem-wired applications.

“When this feature is embedded in the ballast design, burned-out lamps can be replaced and will ignite without turning the power off and on,” Stoneman said.

Dollar said the latest trend in ballasts today is defined by intelligent energy management. In particular, this includes the development of the most versatile and cost-effective energy-efficiency and demand-response technologies, which enables ballasts to be “tuned” during installation to the proper power level for the application.

Trends in lighting
Energy efficiency remains the most significant trend in the lighting industry because of the return on investment that consumers now expect and the ongoing regulatory changes that are pushing the industry forward; it is the driving force behind the development of new products. With lighting accounting for up to 45 percent of a building’s electrical load, according to the California Energy Commission, the ability of ballasts to tune lighting circuits down and control features such as time-of-day scheduling, occupancy sensors, daylight harvesting, or a combination of them, is vital to a building’s energy management profile.

Mentioned previously, energy-saving T8 lamps, combined with high-efficiency ballasts, contribute to the lowest energy-consuming fluorescent systems in the marketplace, Stoneman said. In response, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has developed the NEMA Premium Electronic Ballast Program, which provides a method of identifying the most efficient T8 fluorescent ballasts in the market and the models that are consistent with the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) specifications for high-performance lamps and ballasts. Products eligible to participate in the program include either instant-start or programmable rapid-start electronic ballasts designed for use with 4-foot, 32-watt T8 fluorescent lamps. Qualifying products bear a special mark to help lighting professionals, end-users and installers recognize that the product will help support a project’s energy-efficiency objectives.

Another trend is the shift in HID’s that occurred in 2009 with probe-start metal halide ballasts being phased out in favor of pulse-start metal halide, Greenberg said.

“The shift is driven by federal mandates in new fixture installations and the fact that pulse-start ballasts are more efficient and require less energy to provide comparable light levels,” he said.

Need to know
“Electrical contractors need to understand that developments in ballasts are partially driven by lamp innovations and that Energy Star and the NEMA Premium Ballast Programs are driving higher efficiency in ballasts in residential and commercial applications, respectively,” Greenberg said.

Contractors should be well versed in how to compare different lamp ballast systems in terms of energy efficiency and light output.

“An understanding of how ballast technology affects light output and system efficacy will help contractors upsell products and differentiate themselves in a competitive market,” Stoneman said.

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