On Nov. 14, 2011, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced new fluorescent lamp ballast efficiency standards that take effect Nov. 14, 2014, and affect seven product classes. These regulations cover T8, T5 and T12 ballasts, including ballasts designed for nonresidential and previously exempted residential use. They also cover previously exempted outdoor sign and T12 dimming ballasts. The ballast must operate at a nominal input voltage at or between 120 volts (V) and 277V and an input current of 60 hertz (Hz).

The product classes include the following:

1. Instant- and rapid-start nonresidential ballasts designed to operate 4-foot medium bi-pin, 2-foot U-shaped and 8-foot single-pin (“Slimline”) lamps
2. Programmed-start nonresidential ballasts designed to operate 4-foot medium bi-pin, miniature bi-pin (standard and high output) and 2-foot U-shaped lamps
3. Instant- and rapid-start non-sign ballasts designed to operate 8-foot high-output lamps
4. Programmed-start non-sign ballasts designed to operate 8-foot high--output lamps
5. Sign ballasts designed to operate 8-foot high-output lamps
6. Instant- and rapid-start residential ballasts designed to operate 4-foot medium bi-pin, 2-foot U-shaped and 8-foot single-pin (“Slimline”) lamps
7. Programmed-start residential ballasts designed to operate 4-foot medium bi-pin and 2-foot U-shaped lamps

Exemptions include dimming ballasts that dim to 50 percent or lower output (except T12 dimming ballasts), T8 magnetic ballasts labeled and marketed for use only in electromagnetic interference--sensitive applications (and sold in packages of 10 or fewer units), and programmed-start ballasts operating 4-foot medium bi-pin lamps that deliver less than 140 milliamps to each lamp (0.71 ballast factor).

The new rules create a new ballast efficiency metric; require an efficiency improvement in a significant number of today’s fluorescent ballasts, including ballasts previously exempted in fluorescent ballast rulemaking; and require a power factor >0.90 for nonresidential use and >0.50 for residential use.

Manufacturers will use a new metric—-ballast luminous efficiency (BLE)—to express ballast efficiency and demonstrate compliance, providing a new tool for electrical contractors to evaluate and compare products. Previous regulations used ballast efficacy factor (BEF).

BLE is established by a defined method of measurement and requires submittal to the DOE to demonstrate compliance. As a direct measurement of electrical efficiency of the ballast, BLE is more accurate and repeatable, removing variations in results caused by the lamp, which typically represents about 90 percent of the total load for the lamp-ballast system. The higher the BLE, the more efficiently it produces light. Contractors should ask manufacturers to provide system input watts and ballast factor numbers for selected ballasts that are correlated to BLE for accurate and true apples-to-apples comparisons.

The regulation’s final effect is uncertain, as manufacturers check their product lines to identify noncompliant products. A majority of today’s T12 electronic ballasts, sign ballasts, residential ballasts, and T5 and T8 programmed-start ballasts lacking a cathode cutout design, along with some T8 electronic ballasts, currently do not comply and will be discontinued or re-engineered on a model-by-model basis. Manufacturers may try to recover investments by re-engineering any noncompliant products with future price increases.

According to the DOE, the new energy standards will result in savings of 2.7 to 5.6 quadrillion Btus of energy over 30 years, or $6.7 to $21.6 billion (2010 dollars) in consumer energy cost savings.

Old exemptions are gone
Several ballast types previously exempted are now covered, which is expected to result in outdoor sign ballasts transitioning from magnetic to electronic designs across the board, T12 dimming ballasts being eliminated, and residential ballasts being re-engineered.

The new rules follow previous rulemaking that eliminated a majority of fluorescent magnetic ballasts from the market between 2005 and 2010. Additionally, on July 14, 2012, the DOE fluorescent lamp rulemaking was expected to eliminate a majority of 4-foot linear and 2-foot U-shaped T12 lamps, many 8-foot T12 and T12HO, and some lower-color-rendering 4-foot T8 lamps. Exceptions include lamps with a CRI rating of 87 or higher, lamps designed to operate in cold temperatures, ultraviolet lamps and certain other specialty lamps.

Contractors may continue to purchase noncompliant ballasts until and after the 2014 transition date for as long as inventories last. Overall, this change should be regarded as an opportunity to advise customers about the availability of the lighting they use and offer an upgrade.

Customers still using magnetic ballasted T12 lighting systems, in particular, should be encouraged to upgrade as soon as possible; the ballasts they are using, and soon the lamps, may no longer be available, along with remaining utility rebates targeting T12 replacement. Some ballasts already comply with the new rulemaking taking effect in 2014, including a majority of today’s high-efficiency electronic T8 ballasts labeled as “NEMA Premium.”


DILOUIE, L.C., a lighting industry journalist, analyst and marketing consultant, is principal of ZING Communications. He can be reached at www.zinginc.com.