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The Hidden Costs of CFLs

Jan 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Beck Ireland, Staff Writer

Will there be a price to pay for the increased residential use of electronic ballasts with low power factor
ratings?

Mandates in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 call for lamps that use 25% to 30% less energy by
2014 and 70% less energy by 2020 — ostensibly putting the incandescent bulb out to pasture. With light-emitting
diode (LED) technology still out of reach for the average consumer, this essentially paves the way for compact
fluorescent lamp (CFL) products.

In tests at the Lighting Research Center, Troy, N.Y., most Energy Star-rated CFLs measure between a power factor of
0.5 and 0.6.
Already, many electric utilities have launched rebate programs offering free or low-cost CFLs to their customers. In
addition, high-profile campaigns and higher energy costs have piqued consumer interest in energy efficiency and
green products for their homes, resulting in increased sales of CFLs from big-box stores. The majority of bulbs being
used to replace incandescent lamps are electronically ballasted, screw-base CFLs. Although some of the programs
offering these types of bulbs require purchase of power factor-corrected bulbs to be eligible for rebates and other
incentives, many do not.

Fight the power
CFLs can replace incandescent lamps roughly three to four times their wattage, saving up to 75% of the initial lighting
energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Yet, incandescent lamps use power as it is supplied by
the electric utility, whereas electronically ballasted, screw-base CFLs must contain circuitry that corrects for poor
power factor and total harmonic distortion (THD) ratings. When uncorrected, CFLs draw currents in bursts, altering
the electricity that flows through them and increasing line losses on the electric utility network, which can cause
transformers and cables to burn out more quickly. This has led to several recent studies that claim any efficiency
gained through the use of electronically ballasted, screw-base CFLs with low power factor ratings and high THD
percentages is lost in the transportation of power that runs through them. Some argue that electric utilities may begin

. but they're not 1.” Unlike commercial customers.S.” says Peter Morante. we haven't found any CFLs less than 0. the joint program of the U. “The meter on the house doesn't measure power factor. the more distortion you get. the recent meteoric rise in the popularity of this type of CFL has some industry experts warning against bulb-for-bulb replacement of incandescent lamps.5. “For a rating above 0.” LeMay Madden says. Under this rule. because the only way to make it yummy and clean is to make it huge and expensive. A lower power factor allows them to keep the cost of the bulbs down. you have to add something to the electronics. which greatly helps market penetration. the higher the power factor.” says Alex Boesenberg. Belmont. either. and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). At a power factor rating of 0. Rosslyn.Y.5. New York. Yet. For example. “Any device that uses some sort of power supply or power filter is going to put some harmonic distortion into the load. requiring more energy to compensate for losses on the line. The electric meters on residences measure watts. the power factor is less than 1. the shift from simple mechanical devices to more sophisticated home electronics — such as audio and video equipment.charging residential customers fees to compensate for expensive corrective measures required to combat the problem and the additional generation resources required. or draws a current that differs from the sinusoidal waveform provided by the electric utility. When a load draws current that is not “in phase” with the voltage waveform.” LeMay Madden says.” Size is another factor in setting the power factor rating standard. in some cases. However. Power quality has traditionally been thought of strictly as an issue for the electric utility. U. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). and microwaves/kitchen appliances — is also responsible for increases in THD to the voltage waveform that electric utilities supply to their residential customers. a load with a power factor of 0. says Doreen LeMay Madden. personal computers.. In general.9 or greater for electronic ballasts. Va. “I really think they should mention on the packaging what the power factor is off the ballast. However. “But right now the consumer doesn't have that information. residential energy users currently aren't charged extra to compensate for loads with low power factors. Power factor ratings range from 0 to 1.5 for screw-base. plus they're causing distortion in the sine wave. “There are people that make high power factor CFLs — I think all my manufacturers have a design handy if they need it — but the cost and the footprint of those things have made them undesirable. the higher the cost of the lamp. “In our testing for Energy Star. and they should be educated. D. Washington. director of energy programs for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center (LRC). you get what you pay for.” Corrective measures . For a variety of reasons. CFLs can cost three to 10 times more than comparable incandescent bulbs. N.” Even so. founder and principal designer for Lux Lighting Design. and chairman of the Residence Lighting Design & Application for the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).” Morante says. Mass. The lower the power factor. Uncorrected electronically ballasted.5 will require twice as much current as a load with a power factor of 1 for the same amount of usable power. screw-base CFLs are not the only cause of non-linear loads from electrical devices in residential applications. a 15W screw-in CFL will actually use 30VA of energy and.5. Troy.C. so that will up the cost of the lamp. “The original thought was to let the power factor go a little bit lower to reduce the first costs of the lamps. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U. requires a minimum power factor rating of 0. Poor power factor causes inefficiency in the delivery of electricity to the end-user. Over the last two decades. “They'll see that 75% savings. How low can you go? Power factor is the ratio of the real power flowing to the load to the apparent power. Energy Star. the consumer may not be receiving the same light output the incandescent provided. Power factor ratings are rarely included on the lamp packaging. “The end-users don't fully realize that these low power factor compact fluorescents are not using the small amount of energy that they think. electronically ballasted CFLs. technical manager for the Lighting Systems Division of NEMA. manufacturers have not produced many power factor-corrected CFLs. even in the face of proven wattage savings.S. recommend a power factor of 0. the consumer may be unaware of this exchange rate. Standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). “They're using twice the amount of energy.” Morante explains. with 1 indicating a perfect power factor..” Residential customers wanting to use power factor-corrected bulbs may have a hard time figuring out which lamps at the store to buy.S. so consumers realize the wattage savings indicated on the lamp's packaging through savings in their energy bill.

according to Morse. “The harmonic distortion the utilities deal with is there regardless of whether there are any CFLs at all. there is a cost to make these corrections. and transmission lines have inductances and parasitic capacitances that tend to reduce harmonics as reflected back through to the generation system. The bulk comes from electrical motors. “There is a benefit to the distribution system: less generation and less amperage. most energy providers champion residential CFL use. But I would not be awfully worried about it. and electric ranges. air-conditioners. per se. that can affect the distortion of the sine wave exponentially. Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.” Morse says. make corrections a non-issue. screw-base CFLs. “Only the transformers in the local neighborhoods — where the harmonics are generated — would see it. There are thousands of utilities in the United States after the deregulation in the '70s.On the energy provider end. Berkeley. . formerly with the Lighting Systems Research Group.” Morante says. says Oliver Morse. “I'm not certain there is a critical mass. as severe as they are.” says LeMay Madden. “I would guess that the utilities don't even see it at the generation station. they either add capacitors to the distribution system as close to the load as possible or increase generation capacity.” the Lamp Section of NEMA wrote. as far as volume or the amount of correction required.” But what happens when CFLs comprise more of the load? “If you have hundreds of homes on one particular grid and everyone screws in these low-power factor lamps.” Critical mass In its 1999 paper. Yet. screw-base CFLs still comprise a fairly small percentage of the total residential load. However. fans. Calif. so I think they must all deal with it in their own way. “Using screw-in low power factor CFLs in hotels. electric utilities must still correct for the THD caused by devices with power factors less than 1. decreases overall system load and generation needs. the wattage savings will be less than 75%. electronically ballasted. Applied Science Division. in homes there is enough resistive load from electric ranges and refrigerators that.” Currently. “There's enough clean power consumed by motors driving refrigerators. To do so. However. “Power Quality Implications of Compact Fluorescent Lamps in Residences. A study from New Zealand estimates that correcting for low power factor electrical devices could cost electric utilities as much as $4 million for every million low power factor CFL bulbs installed. Morante argues against the idea that utilities will begin charging extra fees to pay for the corrections. Transformers contain inductors. it's in their kilowatt-per-hour charge.” Some experts say that single-phase residential systems only require minimal corrections by the electric utilities.” The power distribution system acts as giant low-pass filter. “Obviously. “Dirty power and harmonics are less of a problem in single-phase systems than in 3-phase systems. motels. when combined with the low power factor devices. others disagree about the cumulative ability of CFLs to bring down the grid. “It's there today.” especially in residential applications.” says Boesenberg.” Even with a reduction in amperage.” he says. It's just not a 75% reduction from a utility capacity standpoint.” Morse says. “So there are those benefits even though power factor isn't what the electric utility might like it to be. “Electrical motors are the biggie. “Utilities have to compensate for this low-power factor distortion by purchasing more capacitors. For residential customers.” LeMay Madden says. are essentially “no sweat. when compared to incandescent bulbs. and retail stores have not proven to create any power quality issues for users or utilities since the CFL load tends to be relatively small compared to other loads. It's such a small percentage of the total load. so they should take some readings. which. The harmonics generated by electronically ballasted.” Morante says. You're still reducing wattage. According to Morse.

Placing a bare spiral CFL in an open outdoor fixture exposes the tubing and electronics to the elements and is likely to result in an early failure. read the packaging and also check out the following tips on how to best use CFLs:  To determine the approximate equivalent incandescent lamp watts. and disposal of products. screw-base CFLs can provide energy efficiency and a long bulb life (See Best Practices for CFLs).-based nonprofit organization that develops standards and product certifications designed to reduce the environmental effects associated with the manufacture.  When choosing a CFL replacement.9 and THD of less than 33%. Va. electronically ballasted. Check with your photocell or timer manufacturer for compatibility. In applications where higher quantities of CFLs are specified and where the load would be a higher proportion of the total connected load. Although the total accounted for approximately only 20% of the total U. To determine if a CFL will work in your specific application.and THD rating-corrected versions available on the market. If you live in a cold climate.700°K to 3.100°K gives a bright white light. has developed its own rating system.  Use CFLs in places where you will have the light on for at least 15 min. Check the packaging for the color measurement. Ballasts for such applications are available in power factors equal to or greater than 0. Most CFLs are for indoor use. When used according to their specifications. it would be expected and recommended that luminaires designed for pin-based (plug-in) CFL lamps and separate ballasts be used rather than screw-base CFLs. Most CFLs do not produce enough light for high-ceiling (above 12 ft) ambient lighting applications  Although most CFLs come in “warm” colors to match the yellowish light output of incandescent bulbs. For warmer color.000°K. residential CFL use — the bulk of it screw-base models — is on the rise. technical manager.S. use. check the packaging for starting temperatures to make sure the bulb will work properly.9 and THD ratings less than 32%. These bulbs have special cases that protect them from the elements. multiply the compact fluorescent watts by 3. “The CFL is not the perfect answer for all your needs. Rosslyn. be careful to use a lamp that has a very similar size. recommends NEMA in its report.5. There are also power factor. Not all CFLs are designed to work in every socket. you can also choose “cooler” colors with whiter and bluish hues for reading and task lighting. it amounted to nearly double the number sold in 2006. Sidebar: Best Practices for CFLs Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) come in several sizes and configurations and can be energy-efficient solutions for many lighting situations. D. light bulb market in 2007.C. shape. sales for Energy Starrated CFLs totaled 290 million. Green Seal.000°K to 6. Its Class A CFL rating demands a power factor rating of at least 0. look for 2. . at a time.Even so. a Washington. Frequently turning a CFL on and off will shorten the bulb's life. and 5. National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).500°K is a bluer white and most like daylight. 3.  CFLs are designed to operate within a specific temperature range.500°K to 4.” says Alex Boesenberg.  Most photocells and timers are not designed to work with CFLs. In 2007. but there are models available for outdoor use. according to a recent report from the EPA. Temperatures below the range cause reduced output. Lighting Systems Division. and lumen output to the original incandescent.

so check the packaging to make sure it is. . Better-quality recessed lights do not require the light bulb to have a reflector.  For use in ceiling fixtures. However. Incandescents dim smoothly from 100% of their light output to no output. ensure there is enough airflow to prevent excessive heat from shortening the life or decreasing the amount of light the CFL gives off. Fixtures or lamps with dimmer switches require the use of dimmable CFLs. then an incandescent product with a reflector is likely a better choice. this does not create any problems for the vast majority of cases where general doorway.  If a bulb breaks. Go to www. façade.energystar.  The ability to provide a concentrated narrow beam of light is greatly reduced because the CFLs do not have a single-point source of the light produced.epa. such as accent lighting or glittery retail display. or walkway illumination is required. Not every CFL is dimmable.  When your CFL burns out. where tight beam spread or sparkle is needed. If an outdoor luminaire is to provide a concentrated beam of light that must travel great distances (such as a spotlight on a reader board at some distance). and their light color changes from a bright white to a warmer yellow. because they are specially designed to direct the light out of the fixture and to withstand the heat buildup that occurs in these fixtures. because their trims act as reflectors and are well-designed to distribute the light. Dimmable CFLs maintain light color more consistently and dim to 10% to 40% of their original brightness.gov/bulbrecycling for recycling locations.gov/CFLsandMercury. Dimmable bulbs typically come in soft white color temperature. follow the guidance found at www. recycle it.  Indoor reflector light bulbs work best in track lighting and some recessed cans. Dimmable CFLs work differently than incandescent bulbs.  CFLs are not appropriate for certain situations.

flicker. and glare. these lamps are more expensive (more than $10 each). That's why it's critical to reduce THD at the source (clean load) to prevent interactions with your building system (Promoting Power Quality Prowess on page 15). 2009 12:00 PM. typically less than 30% — even 10%. even budget-conscious contractors are now turning to more energy-efficient alternatives. Note that if one CFL is mixed with another load. for lighting retrofits in an effort to achieve increased energy savings in the long run. As an energy cost-cutting measure. Announcements about legislative bans that will make incandescents. clean CFLs — Commercial-grade CFLs typically generate THD under 80% — sometimes even under 33%. your project can lead to overheated transformers and nuisance tripping of overcurrent devices. overloaded motors and neutral conductors. prompting many building operators to purchase residential-grade lamps (around $2 each) that can result in THD levels of more than 150%. Although all of these factors are valid reasons to pursue a lighting retrofit. Unfortunately. while others are set up as a quick “upgrade” unit for older incandescent units. You may also be motivated to look into a lighting upgrade based on complaints from your staff about poor color rendering. adding several CFLs may be enough to cause a problem. if you're not careful. THD tends to be low. upgraded luminaire units often overheat and cause premature ballast failure (one to . instead of creating power quality problems that have to be solved by installing very expensive filters.Lighting Upgrades and Power Quality Problems Share This Article (1) Dec 1. with ballasts built into the base of the lamp. However. T12 fluorescents. such as CFLs. When upgrading from incandescents to compact fluorescents. and premature failure of power factor correction capacitors. it’s important to understand how the switch can sometimes contribute to power quality issues in a facility. Install commercial-grade. very small and inexpensive components generate high THD. Residential-grade lamps are usually of the screw-in variety. Some CFL luminaires are designed as “hardwired” units from scratch. Total harmonic distortion (THD) can drop or dramatically increase following a lighting retrofit. Manitoba Hydro How to ensure total harmonic distortion (THD) doesn’t dramatically increase following a lighting retrofit Lighting can be a large part of any building's electrical load — 30% or more if it is heated by non-electrical means. it may not cause a power quality problem. Install CFL luminaires where ballasts are separate from lamps — In CFL luminaires where the lamp and ballast are separate. However. consider upgrading your lamps from incandescent to compact fluorescents (CFLs) or switching from T12 to T8 fluorescents. and mercury lamps obsolete may also push you in that direction. How to decrease THD when replacing incandescents Although incandescent lamps have been historically inexpensive to install. According to several ballast manufacturers. By Eric Witkowski.

You may not plan to replace ballasts. it can be much higher than 30% — up to more than 150%. they conduct detailed investigations of the product specifications and often perform in-house testing. Fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts typically run at frequencies above 30kHz. which rectify the supplied power and invert it to high frequency. CSA/UL performs tests that you may be able to use to support claims in the manufacturers' specifications. Install low THD (premium) ballasts — T8 electronic ballasts are usually more linear than T12 ballasts. If you need budget support for installing premium ballasts. which can have a dramatic effect on the life of the ballast. Qualifying technical specifications are also typically posted on utilities' Web sites. How to decrease THD when replacing T12 fluorescents Magnetic fluorescent ballasts are now being replaced by more efficient electronic ballasts.000-plus hr). For example. Unfortunately. A warranty not only protects your investment. Note that these groups test products for performance only. Testing by independent utilities — Various utilities offer incentive programs for installing energy-efficient lighting components and systems. To confirm that performance. distribution is spread over a larger frequency spectrum — from the 3rd to the 15th harmonic and beyond. and there are no brand affiliations. How to confirm manufacturers' specs Here are several ways to verify manufacturers' claims about their lighting products: Look for independent lab tests — In the past. resulting in a lamp that runs more efficiently. but it also is a good indicator of the expected life of the product. CSA/UL usually covers electrical safety-related testing. and other aspects of newly installed lighting systems warrant the payment of financial incentives. Beware of factory internal testing — Design engineers can use advanced computer tools supported by internal factory laboratories to create specifications from sophisticated sets of data. assess its construction not only for convenient cleaning optics. 20%. many manufacturers hired independent laboratories to perform verification testing. Unfortunately. They have THD under the 10%. Install a few fixtures. as some offer financial incentives on premium ballasts. select the lowest THD you can afford (preferably one with THD less than 10%). often designed for 90°C operation. not reliability. check with your local utility or government agency. Lamps have long life (20. manufacturer warranty periods can be even longer. Review product reports carefully. Access to this data is typically free. there may be a 12-month warranty on each complete luminaire but an additional 4-yr warranty on ballasts and an additional 6-month warranty on lamps. When selecting new lighting equipment for an upgrade project. Mockup and review of existing installations usually address any concerns about construction and reliability. but trust me… you will! . however. this may be the most economical solution. CSA/UL or similar tests — During their certification work. or 30% mark. Install new linear fluorescent T8 or T5 systems — If larger size T8 luminaires can be installed in the space. so its files may be incomplete for what you require. so ensure your system is protected by a sufficient warranty. they are only as good as the brand name of the manufacturer. redesigned products. When choosing a new ballast. and ballasts are economical and heatresistant. and use a light meter/power meter to gain a true picture of how well the lighting system measures up in real-life settings. the location of the ballast in the fixture is also important from a maintenance standpoint and for heat dissipation. energy savings. When you use a combination of ballasts and recommended lamps. this option is used less often today because of cost-cutting and frequent product redesign. Request a mockup — Seeing really is believing in this case. but also for easy lamp and ballast replacement. Note that if you do not see THD published in the specification. sometimes old reports may be submitted with new.two years). How to protect your investment Check with your potential supplier for the warranty on all major components instead of the entire system. Be aware that while such specifications may be optimistic. Aside from power quality issues.

or independent lab.mb. Winnipeg. with Manitoba Hydro. He can be reached atewitkowski@hydro. easy-to-maintain system that does not create power quality problems:  Minimize harmonics at the source by using ballasts with a total harmonic distortion of less than 10%. government department. customer engineering services.Witkowski is a senior electrical systems engineer. Sidebar: Promoting Power Quality Prowess If you're thinking of upgrading your existing lighting system — or designing an entirely new one — follow these rules for a green. Manitoba.  Protect your investment by checking the warranties on major components of your lighting system rather than on the overall system.  Review the construction of fixtures for maintainability. Canada.ca.  Verify manufacturers' claims by having specs checked at a test lab operated by a utility. .