25 Years of Power Smart: The T8 fluorescent lamp

Contractor installing new T8s

What's a T8? A leading light in B.C. businesses' move to efficient technologies

Second in a series of stories looking at Power Smart, which turns 25 in 2014

As part of a lighting upgrade that will save them close to $40,000 a year, managers of the Harbour Centre office building in Victoria switched more than 7,000 lamps to energy-saving T8 fluorescent lamps.

Retirement Concepts, which operates seniors housing in communities across B.C., switched to T8s in their facilities' parkades as part of efficiencies that save more than 700,000 kilowatt hours a year, or enough to power nearly 71 B.C. households

Donald's Market in Vancouver upgraded to efficient T8s in entrance, cashier, aisle, office and other areas to save close to $2,000 a year, helping them to total electricity savings of over $11,000 a year via a comprehensive Power Smart energy-efficiency makeover.

It's long been a Power Smart mantra that, for many businesses, looking to save energy and money should start with lighting. And while LED and other lighting technologies are muscling in on its dominance, the T8 fluorescent lamp remains a prominence opportunity for BC Hydro's commercial customers, big and small, to upgrade their lighting.

The T8 has been vital because, while there are variations from one type of business to the next, the rule of thumb is that about 40 per cent of electricity used by many commercial businesses — including large office buildings, schools and hospitals — goes to lighting. And for years, it has started with replacing the energy-sucking T12.

So long, T12 tubes

In British Columbia, Power Smart has offered incentives to encourage businesses to switch from larger T12 tubes using magnetic ballasts, to thinner T8 lamps using electronic ballasts. T8 lighting uses around 40 per cent less energy and reduces maintenance costs because the tubes last longer.

The number in the name of a fluorescent tube type corresponds to its diameter. So a T12 tube is 12/8 of an inch in diameter, while a T8 is exactly one inch. T8s are not only more efficient, says Power Smart engineer Cristian Suvagau, they provide a better quality of light that has less of the flicker and stroboscopic effects that can be so irritating to people.

In some situations, such as environments with high ceilings, Suvagau says that even more efficient, high-output T5 tube systems are recommended in lieu of T8s.

Power Smart incentives, resources, drive adoption of efficient lighting

The story of the fluorescent tube transformation in the province has hinged on BC Hydro and Power Smart helping bring about the change through incentive programs and significant efforts to encourage both market adoption and regulatory change.

"Providing financial support helps overcome customer barriers, such as payback periods and return on investment, as well as educating customers about the benefits of energy saving measures to help gain wider acceptance," says Paul Seo, who manages commercial programs for Power Smart.

When the standard for commercial lighting was using magnetic ballasts and T12 tubes, BC Hydro was encouraging businesses to shift to electric ballasts with T8 lamps.

When the standard for commercial lighting was using magnetic ballasts and T12 tubes, BC Hydro was encouraging businesses — starting in the early 2000s — to shift to the more efficient electric ballasts with T8 lamps. And Power Smart couldn't move the T8 market alone.

Key to the widespread adoption of T8s is the work of the Power Smart Alliance, a 2,000-strong network of independent lighting, electrical, mechanical, and system professionals who assist BC Hydro customers in energy efficiency upgrades. Alliance members know Power Smart programs, are trained to deliver the latest energy solutions, and work with customers to investigate and implement the most cost-efficient solutions.

And then there are the incentives.

"The rebates left $19,500 for us to pay," Harbour House operations manager Allan Teuling told back in 2012. "Our projected savings work out to about $3,288 per month, which means payback for us could be six months."

Thanks to quicker adoption of T8 and other efficient technologies through Power Smart, governments are using regulation to formalize the transition. Magnetic ballasts were banned in 2009, and the federal and provincial governments plan to legislate a ban on T12 lamps in the near future.