T12 Fluorescent Light Phaseout and Upgrade Alternatives|
Article- Sept 2012 By Larson Electronics.com
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Although it has been a mainstay of commercial and industrial lighting for decades, the venerable T12 fluorescent lamp is now destined for obsolescence. Despite it’s effectiveness and popularity, the end of the T12 lamp was sealed in writing when new energy efficiency standards were drafted and signed into law. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 helped usher in a new era of tighter energy efficiency standards, and although the T12 for its time was indeed an efficient luminary, its design is such the further improvements to increase its efficiency are neither practical nor cost effective. As a result, the T12 is unable to meet the new energy standards required for modern lighting technologies and as of July 2012 was phased out of production.
In 2010, the beginning of the end of the T12 was already in view. The magnetic ballasts most commonly used with the T12 was now no longer legal for sale in the US, thus already signaling a preview of what was to come. Although solid state ballasts offered some respite and allowed T12 to continue in use as old ballasts and fixtures failed, better ballasts were not capable of improving the overall efficiency of the lamps themselves. When the IESA was signed, some enterprising individuals thought to stockpile supplies of the T12 in an effort to potentially cash in on the eventual phase out. However, this is little more than a stop gap measure, and for those who find their T12 fixtures gradually failing, the high cost of replacements will likely make retaining the old units impractical.
One of the big problems with the discontinuation of the T12 fluorescent fixtures is the fact that although many are aware that new energy regulations are coming into enactment, they wholly unaware of how these changes will affect them directly. There are still many operations with T12 units in operation, and until those units fail and the owners attempt to replace them they are unaware that the units are no longer available. This can be a serious problem as many operators have an expected expense in place for maintenance of their lighting, and when they find they must instead upgrade all of their current fixtures, end up with a much more expensive proposition than they expected.
Unfortunately, there is really no simple way to inform every operator of the myriad new changes contained within the new energy regulations. There are, however, alternatives which offer some respite, and in fact offer the potential to not only offset the high cost of upgrading from T12 fixtures, but provide a significant net savings in utilities costs annually. In addition, it is possible to make these changes on a progressive basis and still realize savings, thus spreading the initial outlay over a longer period and reducing the initial impact such a large outlay has while still improving performance. For many, the first alternative will be to simply switch to more efficient T5 and T8 fixtures. These more efficient fixtures allow operators to maintain their preference for fluorescent lighting should they have one, yet still provide up to a 45% ROI, paying for themselves oftentimes in less than two years. Maintenance costs and service intervals will remain similar as they were with the T12 fixtures, and operators can most likely continue their normal maintenance schedules with little modification.
However, for operators who wish to consider the management of their lighting systems in much longer and broader terms, LEDs offer an excellent opportunity to completely revamp a buildings’ lighting and realize greater savings in replacement costs, maintenance costs, energy use, and in many cases improved workplace productivity and safety. Although some still consider LEDs a technology in its infancy, the reality is that LEDs have been surpassing expectations and providing excellent real world results in demanding applications for several years now. Cities in New York and North Carolina for instance have realized annual energy savings of up to 80% in applications where LEDs replaced traditional incandescent or fluorescent lighting. It is now possible to install LED lighting systems which rival HID systems in terms of output and light quality, despite their having long been considered one of the best forms of large scale lighting available.
One of the truly unique features of LEDs those looking to upgrade from traditional T12 fixtures will appreciate is their retrofit capability. In most cases involving an upgrade from T12’s to T8, T5, or HID lighting systems, it is necessary to replace the entire fixture. This adds costs, and in some cases requires additional hardware and wiring upgrades as well in order to fit the lamps to the intended application. LEDs however, are available in configurations which can allow operators to keep their existing T12 fixtures, which in turn means no additional hardware or expense from installation of new fixtures. Although LEDs do not require a ballast as fluorescent lamps do, they can be retrofitted to existing fixtures in many cases simply by disconnecting the ballast and rerouting the existing power leads directly to the LED lamps. This is an excellent feature for those who wish to upgrade, but are hesitant due to the costs involved with replacing dozens or even hundreds of fixtures.
Another interesting facet of switching to LEDs from fluorescent lamps is in how much more effective the LEDs are in distributing the light they produce. In addition to producing light very efficiently, LEDs radiate their light over a narrow width. For example, a typical fluorescent tube may produce around 1500 lumens, yet it radiates this light over a 360 degree spread. As a result, much of the light produced by the fluorescent will not reach the intended area unless it is redirected by reflectors. This results in reduced efficiency as a good percentage of the light produced is lost to absorption and scatter. An LED tube lamp intended to replace a fluorescent however, radiates its light over approximately 150 to 180 degrees of angle depending upon the tubes’ configuration. As a result, a typical overhead fixture fitted with LEDs will radiate more of the light produces downwards and onto the targeted area.
Regardless of whether operators choose to go with T5, T8, or LEDs in place of the now obsolete T12’s they are currently using, this change should not be viewed negatively despite the initial costs involved. While it may be a little more of an issue than originally planned, the savings in lamp replacements and reduced energy costs offer to offset any initial outlays, and provide a positive net return over the life of the lamps, which in turn equates to a better bottom line.