Industrial lighting: a guide to old and new technologies

Image of used fluorescent tubes

Benefits of a lighting upgrade are clear — but which technology is the best choice?

With new technology for lighting developing more and more rapidly, keeping on top of the options for efficient industrial lighting is a challenge.

There are great reasons to upgrade your lighting, including:

  • Safety improvements in well-lit environments
  • Employee satisfaction and productivity
  • Reduced error rates as lighting quality is improved
  • Energy savings

With incentives available, investing in an upgrade can yield an attractive payback. It's not worth waiting for the old bulbs to wear out.

To learn how to tailor a lighting upgrade to your own facility, talk to a member of the Power Smart Alliance, or schedule a free consultation with a Business Energy Advisor. Meanwhile, read this guide to some of the main "old" lighting types that are costing you more than they're worth — and the new types that are replacing them.

Old: High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps

Commonly used in high bay industrial settings, High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps include high-pressure sodium, and metal halide.

High pressure sodium lamps were originally developed for roadway lighting, but are now a poor choice for interior spaces. The light cast by the lamps is yellow, offering reduced visual performance — a situation where workers perceive less light and tend to squint.

Metal halide HID lamps are still found in industrial high bay settings throughout B.C. Although HID lamps still make sense in some industrial settings (see below for an example), they have several significant drawbacks that limit effectiveness and efficiency in other settings.

Because they typically require three to four minutes to reach full brightness, the typical approach in an industrial setting is to keep all HID lights on, all the time — even in areas where workers only operate for a few minutes or hours per day.

In addition, the light quality offered by metal halide lamps declines considerably as they age. Their chemical composition degrades, turning the light pink, blue, or yellow, and the total lumen output declines, while you continue to pay the same amount for energy per lamp.

If you have industrial lamps that are casting coloured light, it's time to upgrade.

Old: T12 Fluorescent

The designation T12 refers to tubular fluorescent lamps with a 1-1/2" diameter.

Most linear T12 lamps are primarily operated by inefficient magnetic ballasts. Most common 4' and 8' T12 lamps are being discontinued and replaced with more efficient electronic ballasts and fluorescent lamps such as T5 and T8.

In addition to saving energy, upgraded ballasts offer multiple benefits, including no flicker or buzz, faster start-up, better dimming, and reduced heat output.

New: Energy Efficient Metal Halide

In cases where HID lighting is still the best option for your facility's type of work and layout, choose efficient metal halide lamps.

Also replace older "probe start" magnetic ballasts with newer "pulse start" versions, which start faster, and hold colours better, and can yield a 20-30 per cent improvement in energy efficiency.

Even more efficient are electronic ballasts, which could bring your energy savings up to 40 per cent.

New: T5 or T8 fluorescent

High Performance T8 fluorescent lamps are more energy efficient and have a longer life than old outdated T12 fluorescent lamps. That means better light, and reduced maintenance time and cost.

T5 fluorescent lamps are very bright; high output T5 lamps (T5HO) are a great energy efficient replacement for High Intensity Discharge (HID) fixtures.

T5 lamps perform better than HID because they have lower energy consumption, better dimming options, faster start-up, better color rendering, and reduced glare. For high bay industrial settings, T5HO lamps are now a standard mainstream option.

Image of the interior of Bridge River powerhouse, before and after lighting upgrades
BC Hydro facility upgrades old and failing HID lamps with T5HO lamps.

New: Light Emitting Diode (LED)

LED (Light Emitting Diode) is a semiconductor light source. They are now being used in applications as diverse as aviation lighting, automotive lighting, billboards, traffic signals, offices and homes, commercial/industrial and roadway lighting. They offer significant reductions in energy use, and a much extended lifetime.

LED applications for high bay settings are appearing on the market, but there are still limitations, such as their uni-directional light, and effective thermal management. It's expected they'll be an effective high bay technology within 1-2 years.

For now, companies are opting to use them in office settings and locations where a screw-in LED can replace an incandescent bulb.

Learn more about Power Smart incentives

Find out if you qualify for incentives: enter your BC Hydro account number into the Business Program Eligibility tool.