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Sustainability: Because Sunlight Is Better For Us Anyway

It’s a simple concept really: during the day when the sun is shining your light bulbs don’t need to burn as brightly. With that in mind, Nebraska-based Axis Technologies came up with a product to improve efficiency and cut electrical costs at the same time. The Axis Daylight Harvesting Dimming Ballast works with fluorescent lights in commercial buildings; the company says it can improve energy efficiency by up to 70 percent on sunny days and can cut as much as a third off the building’s electrical bill.

It’s a simple concept really: during the day when the sun is shining your light bulbs don’t need to burn as brightly. With that in mind, Nebraska-based Axis Technologies came up with a product to improve efficiency and cut electrical costs at the same time. The Axis Daylight Harvesting Dimming Ballast works with fluorescent lights in commercial buildings; the company says it can improve energy efficiency by up to 70 percent on sunny days and can cut as much as a third off the building’s electrical bill.

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In lighting systems, a ballast is the device that converts the voltage that comes out of the electrical socket into a current the fluorescent light can use. The Axis ballast is installed much like any other ballast, but its potential for decreased energy usage is twofold. First, a dipswitch attached to the ballast allows all the lights to be dimmed by a certain increment (say 40 percent). More importantly, a photocell on the ballast itself measures the amount of sunlight in the room and adjusts the level of fluorescent lighting accordingly.

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The Axis Ballast in action at Dallas Forth Worth International Airport (photo courtesy of Axis Technologies)

“Lighting is one of the highest energy uses of a building,” says Axis CEO Kip Hirschbach. For most office buildings, lighting accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the electrical bill. “There were other companies that made dimming fluorescent ballasts, but they were all very complicated, very difficult to install and very expensive to install,” Hirschbach says.

The Axis ballast will still cost $30-40 more than the average ballast although it is one third the cost of the competing system, Hirschbach says. However, many states offer incentives or rebates for such products that can help ease the extra cost. California even takes it a step further by requiring daylight harvesting in all new construction and major retrofit projects, and Hirschbach expects other states to follow suit.

Such legislation may be necessary to induce people to commit to energy efficiency and other environmental goals. “A lot of companies are announcing that they want to be green,” Hirschbach says. “But when it comes time to walk the walk…they don’t always do that. Even though the payback is there, they don’t want to spend the extra money.”

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Even so, Axis has managed to convince a lot of people that its ballasts are the way to go. They’ve sold almost 20,000 throughout the country; notable projects include a Dallas-Fort Worth Airport terminal, University of Massachusetts library and the National Park Service building in Omaha.

“We’re really a niche company,” says Hirschbach, “but it’s a huge niche.”

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