In With the New

An update on the metal halide lamp industry:

The opportunity to replace the approximately 7 billion residential and commercial lamps that are currently in use in the United States probably won’t arise, since two-thirds of the lamps in question are incandescents in use in residential installations; however, according to the National Lighting Inventory and Energy Consumption Estimate produced for the Department of Energy in 2002, of the 7 billion, approximately 105 million were high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. Though dated, there is little argument that the numbers in the report are understated. The report also concludes that 35 million of those lamps are old-fashioned energy burners, candidates to be replaced with newer technology developed in the last five years.

“HID technology has made revolutionary strides in the lighting arena and offers end-users a significant value proposition,” said Timothy Hill, senior product manager at Advance Transformer in Rosemont, Ill. In a world of $75 per barrel oil, a significant value should warm the hearts of those managing the budgets for commercial installations.

Metal halide (MH) and high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps have been lighting the pathways of the world since their introduction decades ago. The lamp types have historically produced large quantities of light in commercial installations more economically than other alternatives. However, it is no secret that the lamps’ color rendition left something to be desired, since they often produced a yellowish hue. Compared to incandescents and newer fluorescent lamps, the lamps took an eternity to reach full power. Interruptions in a power supply were accompanied by long periods of darkness, during which the lamps prepared for a restrike.

Though the lamps typically enjoyed long life and lumen maintenance, they often began flickering before exhaling their last breath, sending a false alarm regarding their demise. The result was the need for the often unnecessary and expensive attention of maintenance crews.

Given those shortcomings, American ingenuity and the vagaries of the energy world, it is no surprise that since the introduction of ceramic metal halide lamps for commercial use a decade ago, millions have been sold. Industry estimates are that the market for the product is increasing more than 10 percent annually.

As a function of their improved technology, the lamps offer superior color rendering, a more stable color throughout lamp life, longer service life and a more consistent color appearance from lamp to lamp.

But that’s not all. Most recently, the benefits of the new technology may be fully exploited when driven by electronic ballasts.

“While the installation of ceramic metal halide systems may involve a higher up-front cost than other alternatives, ceramic metal halide lamps driven by electronic ballasts deliver higher quality light and greater cost efficiency over the total life of the investment. As a function of their reduced energy consumption, the use of electronically ballasted ceramic metal halide systems enables the installation of up to 3½ more fixtures per circuit, lowering overall installation costs and further reducing material and labor costs,” Hill said.

Plus, the newer lamps are covering a broader spectrum of the lighting world. Until recently, ceramic metal halide lamp systems were only available for 35 watt to 150 watt applications; these days, an array of wattages is in the marketplace, ranging from 20-watt and 22-watt compact models to beefy 400-watt versions suitable for high-bay applications.

“The low-profile, low-wattage systems have positioned metal halide as an ideal replacement for halogen in retail, hospitality and other settings utilizing accent and feature lighting,” Hill said.

They also deliver retailers the 1.9 watts per square foot of lighting power density currently mandated by ASHRAE 90.1-2001 energy standards and may qualify a retailer for tax deductions offered through the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005).

Chuck Piccirillo, senior applications engineer for Sylvania in Danvers, Mass., echoes the sentiment. Since the 2005 introduction of the Powerball lamp, a 320-watt lamp with a ceramic arc tube that replaced existing 400-watt lamps, Sylvania has broadened its product line by introducing low-wattage lamps, as well. Powerball carried the development of MH lamps to a new level by introducing a rounded arc tube that improved color rendition to 95 when the color temperature is 3,000, compared to 100 for a comparable halogen lamp.

On another level, Sylvania expanded the output of its Metalarc Supersaver line. Lamps had been offered in 150-watt and 360-watt sizes; the company added a 950-watt lamp as a replacement for traditional 1,000-watt metal halide lamps. Beyond the utility of a smaller lamp that produces more light, which is especially appropriate in outdoor settings like parking lots, is an additional benefit: replacing the existing lamps is as simple as screwing in the new ones.

On another front, Philips Lighting Co. introduced the Cosmopolis HID outdoor lighting system, which features CosmoWhite, the first in a new generation of outdoor lamp and ballast systems, said Steve Goldmacher, director, corporate communications, Philips Lighting Co., New Jersey.

CosmoWhite consists of 60- and 140-wattage types and special lampholders, which are driven by a long-life electronic ballast designed for outdoor applications.

“CosmoWhite generates a warm white light that is almost as efficient as HPS light,” he said.

In addition to providing whiter lights, Cosmopolis reportedly consumes up to 10 percent less energy than most exterior lamps. The lamps are 65 percent smaller than most outdoor lighting options, which allows for the use of smaller fixtures.

Linda Pastor, HID product manager, GE Consumer & Industrial, Dallas, touts the company’s 320-watt PA SPXX CMH high-watt ceramic metal halide lamp. The new, smaller lamp is more efficient and provides higher quality light than standard 400-watt metal halide lamps.

In addition to consuming 20 percent fewer watts, CMH provides a color rendering index of 90 CRI, greater color consistency and superior lumen maintenance. Its 20,000-hour rated life eases maintenance pressures and costs.

The new lamp joins a lineup of previously introduced 250-, 350- and 400-watt lamps, each offering a 20,000-hour rated life.

Pulse-start metal halide ballasts

As some version of California’s Title 24 energy standards are adapted nationwide, probe-start ballasts are becoming the dinosaurs of new construction.

“Sylvania also has developed a 320-watt pulse start ballast as a replacement for traditional 400-watt probe-start ballasts,” Piccirillo said.

A Catch-22, however, is that companies are being granted a one-year window during which probe-start ballasts may still be installed; however, some manufacturers have discontinued importation of the ballasts, so pulse starts are becoming a hot commodity.

“Pulse-start metal halide has so many advantages over standard metal halide that the latter should get a fond farewell and gracefully retire,” said Stan Walerczyk, LC, principal of Lighting Wizards, a consulting firm in Walnut Creek, Calif. “It is a shame how many new standard metal halide high-bays are still being installed.”

Pulse-start lamps also are highly efficient, producing 60–110 lumens of light output per watt of electrical input, compared to 60-85 for probe-start lamps. They operate cooler than probe-start lamps, which can extend lamp life. Plus, because pulse-start lamps produce higher light output initially and over time, fewer fixtures may be required to achieve the desired maintained light levels.

“The foot-candles per watt performance of pulse-start or ceramic MH with high-performance dome and electronic ballast is very similar to T5HO or T8 with electronic ballasting and good reflectors,” said Walerczyk. “Although some of the electronic dimming MH ballasts can cost significantly more, their flexibility and performance can often provide the best total solution in some applications.”

“For new installations, this can translate into reduced fixture counts and lower cost of ownership. While high-bay fluorescent technology is an excellent choice in certain installations, pulse-start MH systems are optimal in environments where ambient temperatures fluctuate, or are extreme, or in applications where facility professionals want to minimize lamp and fixture maintenance requirements. For retail environments, the ‘sparkle’ of the HID point source is often preferred to the more muted appearance cast by fluorescent lamps,” he said.

Since pulse-start lamps cannot be used with standard magnetic ballasts, a retrofit may require the installation of a compatible pulse-start ballast, which may translate to a higher installed cost. Nonetheless, a pulse-start system should produce marginal wattage savings versus a probe-start system and reduced operating costs.

At Intense Lighting, a mid-sized manufacturer in Anaheim, Calif., the future includes a new product line dubbed Pluris, that will add a new dimension to the low-wattage, MH marketplace.

Allan Grey, president of a firm that specializes in quick turnaround production runs of specialized lamps and ballasts, said that Pluris will add a myriad of options to MH fixtures.

“Modular components, continuous runs of joinable lamps, [and] different types of lamps on the same circuit, along with different wattages, will be features of the new line,” he said, adding that accent lighting and wall washing will be a part of it.

Clearly, the once staid market of MH components is undergoing a transformation that will provide better illumination at lower cost than at any time in the past.

All that is left is to replace the overabundance of outdated products still in use.        EC

LAWRENCE is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bozeman, Mont. He can be reached at


Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.