WEB EXCLUSIVE: Good-bye T12. Hello Opportunity.

This web exclusive comes from John Philip Bachner, executive director of the National Lighting Bureau (NLB), a not-for-profit, independent lighting information organization established in 1976.

Imagine that the year is 1938. You buy a brand new Chevy, the technological marvel of its era. Now imagine it’s 2011 and you’re still driving the same car for your daily commute. Far-fetched? Not if you substitute T12 fluorescent lighting – first marketed in 1938 – for the ‘38 Chevy.

True: We’ve seen an astonishing array of new lighting and automotive technology since 1938. Also true: No one we know of drives a 73-year-old car for daily commuting, but some 500 million T12 fluorescent tubes are still being illuminated in U.S. buildings every day. That will start to change on July 1, 2012, however, when commonly used T12s will no longer be manufactured in—or imported to— the United States.

According to NLB Chair Howard P. Lewis (Lighting Alternatives, Inc.), who represents the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) on the Bureau board, the lamp types most affected by the phase out include:

  • four-foot, medium bi-pin T12 lamps,
  • eight-foot, single-pin T12 Slimline lamps,
  • eight-foot T12 800mA HO lamps with RDC bases, and
  • two-foot, medium bi-pin T12 U-lamps.

“The ballasts these systems need to function are no longer being manufactured in or imported to the United States. Those who own conventional T12 systems will need to modernize them or replace them altogether. If you’re among them, don’t wait,” Lewis said. “Making the change sooner rather than later can result in considerable cost savings, because some of the existing financial incentives will likely be reduced or withdrawn once keeping T12s in place is no longer a reasonable option.”

Don’t think of the change as a nuisance. In fact, it’s an opportunity, as long as you begin the T12-replacement process with the most important question you can ask: “Why do we need lighting here at all?” The answer? “So we can perform whatever visual tasks people need to perform in the space, be it processing words or selecting a prom dress.”

Some folks seem to think that any replacement lighting is fine, especially if it saves energy. But any light is not good light, a point proven when, driving home at night, you’re momentarily blinded by the high beams of an oncoming car.

Fact: Some lighting supports specific visual tasks far better than others and, as such, the value of the lighting that’s truly best for your operation can dwarf the value you’d derive from energy savings alone.

Example: Assume you pay $60/year for the energy consumed by the lighting needed by a worker who earns $30,000/year. Cut the worker’s lighting energy consumption by half and you’d save $30 per year. If the new lighting also provided better seeing conditions that allowed the worker to produce just 1% faster, you’d save an additional $300 per year. And you’d save even more if that improved lighting also reduced production errors and increased safety.

Unfortunately, taking advantage of the huge value adds better lighting can provide is easier said than done because of the resistance that commonly comes from an organization’s “bean counters.” Why? Because accurately calculating the energy dollar savings to be derived from replacement lighting is easy, while doing the same for productivity and such is almost impossible—it all depends on the effectiveness of the system being replaced.

“If you can’t identify how much money we’ll save, why invest?” seems to be the prevailing attitude, so the really big dollar benefits go unharvested. Worse: Think what the cost is when the $30,000/year worker’s productivity drops 1%. Or more.


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