It’s been Halloween time here in the U.S., and the ghosts and goblins haunting my neighborhood (and trolling for candy) got me thinking about how there are things out there that are beyond the comprehension of most of us. Often, the solutions to difficult problems fit into that category. In fact, a “Silver Bullet” was originally thought to be a way to slay werewolves and other demons. Now, a silver bullet usually refers to a new, fairly simple solution that solves a vexing problem as if by magic, or at least by an approach that’s not easily understood.
In the search for ways to save energy without bringing inconvenience or discomfort, it’s often been said that “there is no silver bullet.” Achieving increasing levels of efficiency is expected to require a combination of innumerable technologies and solutions whose results will eventually sum to a significant total. It’s believed that our uses of energy, and especially electricity, are too diverse for there to be simple solutions.
However, has Cavet Technologies, a startup based in Toronto, created a silver bullet for at least one of those major uses of electricity – fluorescent lighting?
The International Energy Agency estimates that lighting accounts for about 17.5 percent of global electricity use. According to Osram, fluorescent lamps generate 70 percent of the world’s artificial light. In the U.S., for example, fluorescent tubes account for about 85 percent of the lighting in commercial office buildings. So clearly, fluorescent lighting consumes a significant share of the world’s electricity production.
I recently spoke with Albert Behr, Founder, President and CEO of Cavet Technologies. Behr has a long history in technology. During his tenure in Silicon Valley, he helped lead businesses such as Fujitsu and Symantec. A couple of years ago, he was introduced to an invention that had the potential to save a lot of the electricity currently used to power fluorescent lights. He decided to focus his considerable personal energy on figuring out how to turn this technology into a business that would make a major dent in global energy consumption.
Behr explained that Cavet’s LumiSmart uses digital techniques to vary the power applied to the ballast so quickly that there is no perceptible drop in the light emitted. The key patent addresses ““electrical waveform modification.” So, by shutting off the electricity for nanoseconds at a time, the system can reduce the electricity used by fluorescent lights by at least 30 percent without the need to replace any existing lamps, ballasts or fixtures. LumiSmart is compatible with T5, T8 and T12 fluorescent ballasts (magnetic/electronic, rapid start, quick start, high efficiency, FHF) and CFLs.
Behr stated that in places like Ontario, where electricity costs less than ten cents per kilowatt hour, payback can be achieved in less than two years. In regions where electricity prices are higher, payback could be as rapid as a year. These are the payback time frames building managers are generally requiring in these times of tight capital.
It is common that when faced with a potentially significant advance in a technology, especially using techniques that aren’t well understood, there will be some who will claim that the solution doesn’t, and in fact can’t, work. (These parties tend to be heavily invested in the status quo.) Behr says that Cavet has been able to convince skeptics, one by one, with a large number of tests and pilot projects. They’ve been working with a lot of major companies that pay huge lighting bills. Cavet has also been in contact with electric utilities, which are seeking energy efficiency solutions as an alternative to building new power plants.
LumiSmart has just received the UL certification that allows it to be sold in 38 countries. It is available for sale in Canada and the U.S. and through master distributors in other parts of the world. Additional capabilities are planned for next year including networked communication with and control of the LumiSmart units and connectivity to smart grid functions such as demand response signals.
Cavet’s plan for success, though, goes far beyond leveraging a powerful patent. Behr stressed that they’ve built everything around the principle of “simplicity.”
– Simple product: Just a single device, with no variations and selling for $2,000 per unit, for all types of fluorescent lamps and fixtures. Each LumiSmart unit can connect to up to 150 lamps.
– Simple production: Rather than building their own factories, Cavet has been working with Celestica, one of the world’s largest contract manufacturers of high-tech electronics (and a demonstration site for LumiSmart). The expectation is that Celestica would be able to ramp up manufacturing volumes very quickly.
– Simple installation: It takes just “two screws and connecting four wires” to install LumiSmart. Cavet states that any electrician can do it in less than 40 minutes without special training.
What could it mean if LumiSmart lives up to its billing?
– Office buildings, big box stores, schools and hospitals, which have huge installations of fluorescent lighting, could quickly become major customers, investing in projects with great ROIs to achieve significant electricity savings.
– Utilities with statutory requirements to reduce demand through efficiency programs could have a powerful new tool to add to their rebate programs. Behr says that a number of utilities have already expressed strong interest in LumiSmart.
– Adoption of LED products in some of these markets could slow down even further than I projected in Pike Research’s Energy Efficiency Lighting for Commercial Markets report published earlier this year. The LED price premium would take even longer to justify if their incremental energy savings over fluorescent technology isn’t as large.
– Well-established, well-understood fluorescent technology, expected to remain a very important light source throughout this decade and beyond, could become even more attractive as compared to alternatives. For example, adoption of fluorescent lighting in “high-bay” applications, which is already increasing, could expand further.
What if it turns out that Cavet’s solution isn’t quite as good as is being promoted? Well, there will be one more small company slugging it out with innumerable others, trying to demonstrate that their solution is the key to big savings.
It’s interesting to note, though, that Cavet isn’t playing with anyone else’s money here. Behr says that he and his partners are funding this venture on their own. He also jokes that this is really the only way he’s been disappointing people. Once he proves to someone that LumiSmart delivers as promised, they invariably ask how to invest in the company and he has to say, “Sorry.”
So, has Cavet Technologies developed the silver bullet to slay (or at least tame) one of the demons of electricity use? We’ll see what kinds of orders they announce in the coming months.
Mike Wapner is a senior analyst at Pike Research with a focus on building efficiency.
Article appearing courtesy Matter Network.
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