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When you fly into a city at night, most of the lights you see through the window are high-intensity discharge (HID) lights used in stadiums, factories, airports and street lights. HID lighting makes up a $10 billion global market annually, with some 120 million HID lamps already installed in the United States alone, according to Thomas Weisel Partners. But the lights are inefficient, says Antonio J. Espinosa, CEO of year-and-a-half-old lighting startup HID Laboratories, which is launching a more efficient smart-lighting platform, called the SmartPod Luminaire, on Tuesday.
The Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup’s platform is built around a ballast — the box that controls the lamps — which the company claims reduces HID lights’ energy use by between 31 and 42 percent. That reduction represents a significant energy savings potential, as lighting accounts for about a quarter of U.S. electricity use, with most of that coming from commercial buildings, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Investors see the potential. HID Laboratories raised $6 million from the California Clean Energy Fund, American River Ventures, Sempra, Greenhouse Capital Partners, Big Sky Partners and the Potomac Energy Fund last year. The startup is now in the process of raising a “double-digit” second round, which it hopes to close this year, Espinosa told us.
HID Laboratories’ ballast uses electronic circuits and a robotic control algorithm to more tightly control elements like the current and frequency in the lamps. (Instead of using a filament, like incandescent bulbs, HIDs have a capsule filled with gas that produces light when hit with an electric current.) By smoothing the current and running the lamps at a higher frequency, the controls can get more light out of a lower-wattage bulb, Espinosa said.
While conventional HID lights get between 60 and 80 lumens per watt, the SmartPod will deliver 90-103 lumens per watt, the company claims. For comparison, typical incandescent bulbs get 10-20 lumens per watt, fluorescent lights get 70-80 lumens per watt and most LEDs deliver 60-90 lumens per watt, though some LED companies have achieved more than 100 lumens per watt.
The SmartPod also comes with intelligent controls that customers can use to dim lights during daylight hours and turn off lights that aren’t in use, boosting energy savings up to an additional 30 percent, according to HID Laboratories. Aside from those potential savings, the SmartPod reduces the maintenance and doubles the average life of metal-halide HIDs, makes all HIDs dimmable and reduces their response time, the company says. (Other HIDs can take 10 minutes to turn on, for example.)
The SmartPod has a price of $325, which compares to $288 for a regular HID fixture, Espinosa said, adding that customers get a return on their investment from energy savings, in under two years without rebates. The payback comes as soon as 15 months if customers use the optional lighting controls, and in 6-12 months if government incentives are included in the calculation, he added. Regular HIDs deliver a payback in four years, he said.
HID Laboratories is targeting three markets with its SmartPod: industrial manufacturing, commercial warehouses and what’s called “ultra-high bay” lighting, which illuminates large spaces with really high ceilings, such as some NASA or Boeing facilities. The company is aiming for applications where HID is the only type of lighting that will work because they need such high wattage, Espinosa said. HID Laboratories plans to initially target states with aggressive energy-efficiency mandates, such as California, Oregon and Massachusetts, he said.
The company began shipping to its first commercial customer in April and already has 14 installations in place and 35 orders in the pipeline, Espinosa said. Most installations have been in California so far, with “a handful” in Tennessee. The company wouldn’t disclose most of its customers, but named Pet Extreme, a chain of pet stores based in Woodland, Calif., as one of them.
The company is producing its SmartPods in San Jose, Calif., using OnCore Manufacturing Services, and currently has a run rate of “hundreds” per year, Espinosa said. HID Laboratories plans to expand with additional manufacturing in Mexico and expects to reach a capacity of thousands annually by the end of this year, Espinosa says. The company aims to get 30,000-40,000 SmartPods on the marketplace in the next 18 months, he says.