Cost-Effective Dimmable Fluorescent Ballast

Fluorescent lights need a special kind of power–high voltage AC, and preferably high frequency. Standard 50-60 Hz AC power is converted by a device called the ballast which is usually installed in or near the fixture. There are several types available today:

– Magnetic or core/coil ballasts (CESB) ­ least energy efficient, but lowest initial cost (they are being phased-out)

– Electronic ballasts (EB) ­ the traditional electronic ballast is much more energy efficient than the CESB, but is also more expensive than the CESB

– Dimming electronic ballasts (DEB) ­ are substantially more energy efficient than the CESB and the EB due to their ability to match the correct amount of light required for the job while using the minimum amount of energy necessary to generate that light. Control strategies such as task tuning, daylighting and other well recognized schemes can provide significant energy savings.

The DEB is currently much more expensive in terms of initial cost, but less expensive in terms of life cycle cost. Even though they are much more energy efficient, DEB adoption in this country has been severely limited by these high first costs, in spite of the fact that specifiers, government policy officials and users desire the benefits associated with these products. Use of DEB’s has been chiefly in specialized niche applications, like boardrooms and high end retail.

There have been many attempts over the past several decades to break into this market with lower cost products. Some have had technical problems, and others have run into obstacles in the marketplace.

Luminoptics is a company that actually developed dimmable ballast technology in the 70’s, and installed them in a showcase project at Citibank headquarters in 1980. They got a 70% reduction in energy consumption for lighting and more than tripled the longevity of conventional ballasts. Luminoptics products were installed in over two million square feet of lighting systems at Citibank, Bankers Trust and other building in the New York metropolitan area. (See cover story in the 1983 Electrical Construction & Maintenance Journal

Owing to this great success and promise, in 1981 Luminoptics technology was licensed exclusively to a major ballast manufacturer who proceeded to sit on it instead of bringing it to market. A long and fascinating saga followed, with two major trials culminating in a $102 Million settlement in 1997 in favor of the original Luminoptics team. (For details see the Luminoptics website, including NY Times and Wall Street Journal accounts.)

That team is back, with a significantly enhanced and updated suite of technology and products to carry on their original mission. Luminoptics’ new DEB’s are substantially less expensive to produce than what is available today, and will trigger a dramatic increase in DEB sales growth at the expense not only of other DEBs, but more importantly of regular electronic ballasts (EB). Thus the market becomes not just the DEB market, but the entire ballast market.

For the first time, DEBs can be widely deployed, greatly increasing opportunities for total building energy management, and creating meaningful quantities of dispatchable “Negawatts”. Building owners will see large savings in operating costs, which in turn create increases in the book value of the property. Tenants will see improved comfort and productivity.

Today the market in the United States for ballasts exceed $1 billion annually, and electronic units account for over half of all ballasts sold. Worldwide approximately $2.5 billion (USD) worth of ballasts are sold every year.

Luminoptics is presently in the final engineering and pre-production manufacturing stage to produce a low cost (nineteen dollar target) full performance dimming ballast called the “ST-100” which will automatically interface with most lighting control systems. Production is now scheduled to commence in early 2004.

The Technology

Drawing from industry knowledge and experience at Motorola, EBT, Philips, and ESI (now Universal), Luminoptics has updated the technology to 2003 standards and components, and added a significant new feature. Most important, the new Luminoptics ballast is designed to sell for much less than the competition or what the competition would likely do over the coming years in terms of cost reduction to meet the Luminoptics challenge.

The new Luminoptics ST-100 DEB uses a microprocessor for supervisory and control functions of the ballast. In addition, and, perhaps more important, this capability makes it possible to monitor and to interpret controls signals from a variety of competitive control sources to dim the lights accordingly. As it is now, every controller is designed to talk to a narrow range of ballasts. Not so with the ST-100; one ballast can interface with all currently available lighting controllers. Because the control functions are in software, Luminoptics has the capability to rapidly respond to new developments and changes in the marketplace without significant costs.

The ST-100 coupled with the Light Monitoring and Control System (LMCS) provides an integrated solution. The system is designed to reduce electrical energy consumption and demand by controlling the light output of fluorescent lamps (fixtures) in a building. The LMCS consists of one or more SBC (up to 12 special Single Board Computers) and a Master Computer (MC) to supervise, monitor and control all of the SBCs used to run a building. The SBC is a highly reliable stand-alone system which can function independently of any other SBC and the MC. The MC is a standard PC system used to monitor and supervise the SBCs connected to the LMCS system as well as to collect data on the operation of the entire system and to automatically program the SBCs for special events such as unanticipated holiday schedules, demand response (load shedding), fire and emergency use. No operator intervention is required for normal operation. Each SBC usually controls up to 50,000 square feet of space although the system is capable controlling more space depending on the zoning and each MC can supervise at least 12 SBCs.

In addition to the original IP, the company has 5 new patents and 4 more pending.

Full technical specs and additional background are available on the website:

The company is now looking for $1.5 Million in bridge financing (a memorandum is available, along with a full business plan), and will raise another $15 Million in equity and debt over the next 18 months. They are also looking for strategic marketing partners, particularly utilities and other 3rd party energy service providers.

William (Bill) Alling, (775) 356-3600,
John Domingos, (415) 394-7000,