High Performance Fluorescent Lighting

Current State of Play

Current recommendations and general thought regarding fluorescent lighting and energy efficiency suggests that the most energy efficient and preferred option is T5 fluorescent lighting with HP electronic ballasts (e.g. the specific credit point for the use of electronic ballasts within the Australian Green Building Council's Green Star™ Rating system). This may be partly attributed to the fact that HP electronic ballasts were introduced at a time when there were no HP magnetic ballasts. However, several documents and case studies have been released internationally in recent times, indicating this may not necessarily be the case. These studies found that installing T8 fluorescent lighting with more recently developed HP (low-loss) magnetic ballasts (class B1 and B2) can, in some instances, provide greater energy efficiency at a lower cost.[1] Further, one particular study compiled by leading European manufacturers of both HP electronic and magnetic ballasts compares various aspects of both ballast types favourably. The final recommendation of this whole-of-industry backed report is that both HP electronic and magnetic ballasts should be used in the future with specific system design configurations for optimum efficiency.[7] For example, HP magnetic ballasts can also be used in conjunction with electronic starters to increase efficiency of lighting systems.[2]

The purpose of this peer reviewed technical guide is to provide a general overview of the industry and recent literature, to assist decision-makers in selecting the most environmentally and economically preferable and sustainable options.

T5 and T8 Fluorescent Tubes Compared

It is generally regarded that T5 tubes are the most energy efficient fluorescent lighting currently available.[3] T5 fluorescents can only be installed in conjunction with electronic ballasts, and as such, this has lead to the current recommendation that electronic ballasts are the preferred option for the fit-out of all new buildings. However, there are other factors that need to be considered.

High Performance (HP) Magnetic Ballasts (B1 low loss):

Traditional (older style) magnetic ballasts (C ballasts) are no longer able to be sold in Australia. Current thinking and recommendations suggest the desirable lighting option for all new buildings is to install a system using HP electronic ballasts and energy efficient tubes, such as T5. However, this adopted direction may be partly attributed to the lack of HP, energy efficient magnetic ballasts available at the time. In place of older style C magnetic ballasts, new class B1 and B2 HP magnetic ballasts are now also being produced. Similar to HP electronic ballasts, HP magnetic ballasts have significant energy efficiency improvements over the traditional magnetic C ballasts.

Efficiency and Waste Energy/Heat:

A major efficiency improvement of HP ballasts, electronic or magnetic, is in the reduced energy loss across the ballast, which equates to a direct energy saving.[4] This energy saving is approximately 9%, when changing from a traditional magnetic class C ballast to a HP B1 magnetic ballast, and approximately 15.5% from a C ballast to a HP A1 electronic ballast.5 Power management technology (hereinafter referred to as Power saver units) that reduces the running voltage of lighting systems after start-up, without any noticable light loss, can also be installed that will further reduce energy loss across the ballast, but these units are only compatible with magnetic ballasts.[4]

Efficiency and Costs:

The significant energy efficiency of T5 tubes in electronic ballasts can largely be attributed to their dimmable capacity. However, only the class A1 electronic ballast (highest performance) has this energy efficient, dimmable capability.[2] The cost of a complete T5  (louvre arrangement) system with class A1 electronic ballast and all components (tube, ballast, fitting, etc.) is approximately $280 + GST (Source- Rexel Electrical Suppliers, August 2007).

The cost of a complete T8 system with new class B2 (high-performance) magnetic ballasts and all components (tube, ballast, fitting, etc.) is approximately $78.50 + GST (Source - Rexel Electrical Suppliers, August 2007).

Electronic starters are available for purchase in Australia (additional cost of $4-6), that are compatible with T8 tubes and B1 and B2 magnetic ballasts, to improve the energy efficiency of the overall T8 lighting system.[2]

Efficiency and Light Output:

A T5 tube installed with a class A1 electronic ballast is generally accepted as being more efficient than a T8 tube installed in combination with magnetic ballasts. Table 1 below provides a comparative example between T5 (installed with A1 high-performance electronic ballast) and T8 (installed with B2 high-performance magnetic ballast) fluorescent lighting systems. The two different systems provide similar effective lumens (light), but the T5 system runs off 28W rather than 35W, therefore using less power.

Table 1- Comparative example of T5 (Class A1 ballast) and T8 (Class B2 ballast) fluorescent lighting systems.[6]

Input (W)


Lumen output

Luminaire efficiency

Effective lumens (output x efficiency)

Difference in lumen output

Difference in power required

28 Watts





Approx 2% less

Approx 20% less

35 Watts







Electronic ballasts are stated in general as saving between 17-25% energy consumption compared with traditional magnetic ballasts.[6]

Maintenance and Costs:

There has also been a recent report (reliable source but unconfirmed by ecospecifier) of a building owner in Brisbane CBD that actually went down the path of having their lighting of an office floor upgraded to electronic ballasts with T5 fluorescent tubes. In this particular case, regular maintenance and associated costs proved to be an issue, and the owner is now considering the option of replacing the new electronic ballasts with HP magnetic ballasts in the office as this will allow them to revert to T8 tubes and install a power saver unit.

Health and Environmental Issues: Copper vs Electronic

Recyclability and Hazardous Nature:

Recycling of new, HP copper-based magnetic ballasts is regarded as less problematic than that of electronic ballasts, due to the varying components of each.[7]

The "diverse materials found in electronic ballasts are unfortunately environmentally incompatible, and these materials must be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of accordingly".7 Given the comparatively high failure rate and lower lifespan of electronic ballasts, their resource use and hazardous waste disposal nature is a significant environmental and economic factor to consider.

Newer, HP magnetic ballasts, on the other hand, are generally considered fully recyclable. The materials used can be separated, reused and reprocessed.[2]

* NOTE - It is important to note here that magnetic ballasts being discussed here, do not, like those manufactured to 1979, contain polychlorinated biphenyls PCBs. PCBs are considered possible carcinogens, and the health risks associated with disposing used fluorescent ballasts containing PCBs include skin, liver, and reproductive disorders. The health and safety aspects associated with this issue are widely documented, but are not relevant to this discussion.

Resource Availability:

Electronic ballasts use rare metals that are already subject to 'peak metal availability concerns' and these resources are not likely to be easily recovered. While we are still awaiting confirmation from manufacturers as to the exact rare metal componentry of electronic ballasts, it is believed they contain indium. At current consumption rates, this rare metal is expected to run out within 5 years.[8]

Longer term concerns about the rates of extraction and availability of copper resources, required for magnetic ballasts, also exist. Recent research suggests that by 2100, the global demand for copper will have surpassed the amount actually extractable from the ground.[8]


There is also significant health issues associated with the metal componentry used in electronic and magnetic ballasts. Indium, a likely component of electronic ballasts (as discussed above), should be regarded as highly toxic and indium compounds damage the heart, kidney and liver, and may be teratogenic (damaging to unborn babies).[9]

Relevant to magnetic ballasts, copper mining has been associated with significant social and environmental impacts in many places around the world (e.g. Bouganville, PNG). The health impacts of communities living around smelters are also an issue. Excess deaths among men by lung cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diseases of the digestive system have been noted,and among women, deaths by endocrine and metabolic diseases and chronic respiratory diseases were also found to be in excess.[10]

EMR (Electro-Magnetic Radiation) Fields:

Ecospecifier is unaware of whether new HP magnetic ballasts have potentially problematic health impacts from EMR, as the older style class C magnetic ballasts did. However, it is known that new HP magnetic ballasts do not have the same interference with computer screens.

New Technology Options

As previously mentioned, energy consumption of a T5 tube installed with a HP electronic ballast is up to 17-25% less than that of a T8 tube installed with a traditional class C magnetic ballast. However, such use of electronic ballasts would allow no further use/benefit of various voltage reduction or power saver units, with recognised potential to reduce energy consumption in fluorescent lighting systems.

Typically these power saver units reduce lighting energy consumption by approx 30%, and seen in the BMASS- Suncorp Metway Office- Power Saver trial below, by as much as 37.45% (kwh). Ilum-a-Lite- Light Eco Energy Controllers is an example of such power saver units:


light eco.png

Ilum-a-lite's Light Eco® is also based on an energy saver/voltage reduction mode which is automated or 'soft-switched' once the unit is activated. Light Eco® extends the life of tubes, ballasts and fittings within a fluorescent lighting system. The temperature of the tube and fitting are also stated to be reduced.

Various case studies have also been documented, where energy savings of approximately 30% (and over) have been achieved through the installation of Light Eco® into existing buildings with T8/T12 fluorescent lamps and traditional magnetic type C and type B ballasts installed. It is also worth noting that Ilum-a-lite Pty Ltd provides a written guarantee of a minimum saving of 25% when using Light Eco®:

Case Study 3*-

Royal Perth Hospital - Achieved annual energy savings of 419MWhr, where annual electricity consumption for lighting was approximately 1250MWhr. This represents lighting energy savings of approx 33%, and is stated to have a direct pay-back period of 21 months.

Case Study 4*-

Sydney Opera House (Car Park) - Achieved annual energy savings of 226MWhr, where annual electricity consumption for lighting was approximately 700MWhr. This represents lighting energy savings of approx 31%, and is stated a direct pay-back period of only 9 months.

*NOTE- All case studies in this document have been provided by the manufacturer/supplier, and have not been verified by ecospecifier.

For further case studies or information, please view the current ecospecifier assessment of Ilum-a-Lite Light Eco Energy Controllers:

Ilum-a-Lite- Light Eco Energy Controller

or visit http://www.ilumalite.com for detailed information.

save it easy.png

Save It Easy® is an innovative electronic ballast adaptor device used to retrofit energy efficient T5 electronic fluorescent tube lamps into existing lighting systems with conventional magnetic ballasts, (i.e. T8, T12, etc.) thereby giving the efficacy shown in Table 1 without the high cost . The kit consists of the electronic ballast adaptor, an end piece and a green connector which replaces the white magnetic ballast starter.

Energy savings resulting from the use of  T5 tubes (28 Watts) in place of magnetically ballasted T8 tubes (36 Watts) for example, can be achieved without the need to change the T8 luminaire fitting. Save It Easy® enables a quick and simple retrofit of electronic T5 tubes, without the significant time, material, disposal, labour and disruption costs involved in replacing T8 luminaires with T5 luminaires. The magnetically ballasted luminaire remains in the ceiling and upgrading is as simple as changing a fluorescent tube.

Save It Easy® is recommended for lighting systems where continuous operation is not a feature of use, or where customers prefer the use of T5 lighting. Installing T5 lamps also encourages 'delamping' - the removal of lamps where customers determine lighting levels can sustain less lamps than those which currently exist. This differs from power saver units/voltage reduction systems such as Light Eco® and BMASS Power Saver Units, where similar energy saving levels are achieved primarily through continuous use or lengthy periods of operation.

As Save It Easy® is an electronic ballast, it cannot be used in conjunction with  power saver units/voltage reduction systems such as BMASS and Light Eco ®

Case Study 5*-

NSW Department of Environment & Conservation (Dubbo)- Save It Easy® upgrade devices were specified and all T8 fluorescent tubes were upgraded to the more energy efficient electronic T5 tubes. Energy savings of up to 33% were recorded, with a direct payback period calculated at 40 months.

NSW Department of Environment & Conservation

*NOTE- All case studies in this document have been provided by the manufacturer/supplier, and have not been verified by ecospecifier.

For further information and case studies, please see the following link:

Save It Easy® Information and Case Studies

Other Energy Saving Options

Replacing older style halophosphor fluorescent tubes with triphosphor tubes can increase light output by 20%, with no additional energy consumption. Where increased light output and low energy consumption is desired by a designer or developer, the incremental replacement (at end-of-life) of halophosphor tubes with triphosphor may therefore be an effective option or alternative to reinstalling.

The Case for Review

Existing Buildings:

As highlighted by the various case studies above, there are instances where comparative, or even greater energy savings than in the use of T5 tubes and electronic ballast combinations, can be gained through the use of power saver units (such as BMASS and Ilum-a-Lite) in combination with magnetic ballasts. These case studies involved buildings with less efficient (older style) magnetic C ballasts, which have now been superceded by HP magnetic class B1 and B2 ballasts. These HP magnetic ballasts are likely to increase potential savings even further.

In terms of retrofitting existing buildings, similar (at the very least) or even greater energy savings may be achieved by installing a voltage reduction/power saver unit, rather than going down the path of re-installing accepted energy efficient T5 tubes, fittings and control gear throughout an entire building (with a significantly greater cost and labour process). Furthermore, new technology such as ecoBright- Save It Easy, means significant lighting energy savings (approximately 30%) of using T5 tubes may be achieved anyway, without going down the path of replacing the whole luminaire (tube, fitting, ballast/control gear).

New Buildings:

Seen in the cases where energy savings of better than 30% have been achieved by installing voltage reduction/power saver units with older style (less efficient) magnetic ballasts, there is actually also an argument to fit-out new buildings with HP magnetic ballasts. This is because the potential energy consumption reduction achieved through power saver units (such as BMASS and Ilum-a-Lite), can actually go beyond the standard 17-25% energy improvement of HP electronic vs traditional magnetic ballasts.

The fact that magnetic ballasts are now only commonly available for purchase in Australia in the form of HP class B1/B2 ballasts, will ensure that potential savings through reduced waste energy/heat loss across the ballast (as previously mentioned) will also be achieved.


There is a seemingly strong case to review the single emphasis on the use of electronic ballasts only, to achieve optimum energy efficiency and environmental outcoems. This review should include the assessment of HP magnetic ballasts, used in conjunction with voltage reduction power saving units, electronic starters, and innovative new technologies in project analyses and Green Star™ credits, to take energy efficiency in lighting to yet a new level of saving.

The information in this report may be used for educational purposes provided the source is cited.

© Baggs, D. and Stanley, M. 2007.

Summary of Reference Papers

European Copper Institute- 'Ballasts for Fluorescent Lighting'

This document provides a detailed technical analysis of the wide range of factors to be considered with regard to the performance of magnetic and electronic ballasts for fluorescent lighting. Some key points outlined in this paper include:

  • Payback period of upgrading to high-performance magnetic ballasts is significantly shorter than an upgrade to high performance electronic ballasts.
  • Standard line voltage reductions are likely to result in significant energy efficiency increases in magnetic ballasts, but will see no change in electronic ballast efficiency.
  • Electronic starters can be used in both electronic and magnetic ballasts, to increase lamp lifetime.
  • Two case studies from Switzerland are discussed, where the use of high-performance magnetic ballasts was a more energy efficient and economic option than using high performance electronic ballasts.
  • In June 1999 the European Commission drafted a directive to move towards electronic ballasts and phase out magnetic ballasts. In May 2000, after being informed of the above, the EU reportedly made an amendment to their document, stating any move to improve energy efficiency and encourage the use of energy-saving lighting systems should be considered, not just a move towards electronic ballasts.

Please see the link below to view the full paper:

European Copper Institute - Ballasts for Fluorescent Lights

'Are You in Line with the Future of Lighting: Keep in Step by using High-Performance Ballasts?'

This paper, compiled by leading European manufacturers of both electronic and magnetic ballasts, provides an interesting comparison between high-performance magnetic and electronic ballasts. Key findings outlined in a table presented in the document show that while electronic ballasts provide a higher lamp lifetime and energy saving, high performance electronic ballasts themselves have a lower lifespan (50, 000hrs) than high performance magnetic ballasts (100, 000 hrs) and also double the failure rate.

From an economic perspective, high performance electronic ballasts are stated to have approximately double the initial purchase cost of high performance magnetic ballasts, and are more expensive to maintain (due to failure rate) and dispose of (due to status as 'hazardous' electronic waste).

The final recommendation from this paper was that both high performance electronic and magnetic ballasts should be used in the future.

Please see the link below to view the full paper:

Ballasts - High Performance Comparisons



  1. European Copper Institute, 2006, Some Basic Facts and Some Advanced Information on Ballasts for Fluorescent Lamps, accessed April 2013 at  http://www.etsii.upct.es/antonio/html_der/papers/Ballasts.pdf
  2. Nickols, D., June 2007, BMASS,  Pers. Comm.
  3. Philips Lighting, 2001, Philips 'TL'5 Lamps: Product Information, Roosendaal.
  4. Ziebarth, K., June 2007, BMASS,  Pers. Comm.
  5. Australian and New Zealand Standard MEPS - Fluorescent Lamp Ballasts, as cited on Comparison of Energy and Ligthing Efficiency Technologies, accessed March 2012 at http://www.bmass.com.au/Energy%20and%20Efficiency%20Facts.htm - no longer accessible April 2013
  6. Prasad, J.,  2007, Pers. Comm., 16 July/16 August 2007,  Philips Lighting.
  7. Are You in Line with the Future of Lighting?: Keep in Step by using High-Performance Ballasts, accessed March 2012 at  http://www.bmass.com.au/images/Ballasts_High_Performance_Comparisons.pdf - no longer accessible April 2013
  8. Cohen, D. 2007, New Scientist, 23 May 2007, iss. 2605 page 34-41 accessed at  http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/mg19426051.200-earths-natural- wealth-an-audit.html
  9. Accessed April 2013 at http://www.lenntech.com/periodic/periodic-chart.htm
  10. Stephens, C.  & Ahern, M, 2001, Worker and Community Health Impacts Related to Mining, LondonSchool of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
  11. QLD EPA, 2007, The Compass: New Directions in Queensland Industry, Issue 19- Autumn 2007, Brisbane. Sustainable Industries Division,