A new technology announced today by a Canadian company could have a “disruptive” effect on the energy efficiency sector by reducing fluorescent light bulb energy consumption by 30 percent, or more, for a fraction of the cost and hassle of other methods.
If fluorescent bulb technology doesn’t sound that exciting, consider this: fluorescent lights are used in 80-85 percent of commercial and industrial buildings; a 30 percent reduction in consumption from those lights could mean gigawatts of reduced demand, and by extension massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The technology, called LumiSmart from Cavet Technologies, is a shoe-box sized device that “compresses” the electrical current for lighting, similar to the way mp3s or jpegs compress audio and visual data. The $2,000 box can be installed in minutes at a building’s circuit breaker, and can reduce lighting bills by the same amount as building-wide energy retrofits costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars more, according to both the company, and outside experts.
Dallas Kachan, managing partner of Kachan & Co., a clean technology research firm, said “we believe it is a potentially disruptive technology.” The firm spoke with more than 35 companies and organizations in the lighting and cleantech space about LumiSmart. “We were impressed with what we heard,” said Kachan.
Like an MP3, sort of
The device uses two different tricks to reduce energy consumption. First, it removes parts of the light spectrum we don’t see, similar to the way digital compression shrinks audio files without a noticeable difference.
As you may remember from grade school, visible light is only a small part of the spectrum of light. But fluorescent bulbs generate the full spectrum; coating on the bulbs blocks out ultraviolet and other parts of the spectrum we can’t see (UV “black lights” are just fluorescent bulbs with that coating removed).
The LumiSmart box shapes the sine wave of the electricity going to the light bulbs, reducing the invisible spectrum 30 percent. The box also reduces the light we do see by about 10 percent. But, similar to the audio in digital music, because of the way our eyes work, a 10 percent reduction in brightness is not noticeable, according to Cavet CEO Albert Behr.
The other way the LumiSmart reduces electrical consumption is by pulsing the electricity going to light bulbs. This works because fluorescent bulbs have a ballast at one end that works like a very short-lived battery with a charge time measured in milliseconds. The LumiSmart rapidly stutters the electricity going to the bulbs, allowing the ballasts to discharge and then be refilled again before the bulb can go out.
The technology was first patented in 1995, and was invented by Vito Rinaldi, who once worked on the Star Wars project for the Pentagon, according to Behr. “Walking into his office is like walking into Doc Emmett Brown’s office in Back to the Future,” he notes.