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What Is an Electronic Ballast?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 16, 2024
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Lamps used in a house rarely use much energy, but when an entire warehouse or store uses lamps, they can drive up operating costs significantly. To reduce the amount of power used while still maintaining adequate lighting, an electronic ballast is used. These ballast units reduce the amount of power used by the lamp while ensuring the lamp still gets enough energy to light up. An electronic ballast is used with fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps and works through solid-state circuitry.

A lamp needs energy to light up, but the energy it draws is generally more than it really needs. To get the lamp closer to the necessary amount of energy rather than the excess it takes in, a ballast is connected to the lamp. Each ballast type is different but works by adding an electrical load to the lamp and then including a negative resistance and resistors to balance the energy. Inclusion of an electronic ballast will increase lamp life and lower operating costs.

An electronic ballast works specifically by using a solid-state circuitry design. In a solid-state design, the circuit is only made from solid pieces. The electrons, which would usually rush into the lamp without hindrance, are stopped or slowed down by these pieces. Aside from decreasing the overall amount of electrons in the lamp, the ballast ensures the lamp receives enough power to start and operate, and keeps the energy stable. This means a consistent amount of power will go into the lamp, rather than increasing or decreasing, as it would without the ballast.

Fluorescent lamps are one of the lamp types that use electronic ballasts. This is because fluorescent lamps use a low-pressure stream of energy, and the ballast is able to produce a more powerful light source, making the lamp work better overall. Another benefit to using a ballast with a fluorescent lamp is that it balances the energy going into the lamp. Fluorescent lamps are sensitive to energy changes, which can cause flickering. Electronic ballasts stop flickering, so the lamp will remain constant.

The other lamp that can use an electronic ballast is an HID lamp. These lamps are high-pressure, so the ballast is unable to make the light source more efficient. While the light will get no better, the ballast is able to increase the longevity of the HID lamp. HID lamps lose lighting potential over the course of their life, and the ballast is able to decrease these losses.

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Discussion Comments
By anon301189 — On Nov 02, 2012

Can anybody out there tell me the advantages, or disadvantages of LED Fluorescent lighting vs. Electronic Fluorescent lighting. Or compare the two?

By GenevaMech — On Jun 28, 2011

@Glasshouse- I have T8 electronic ballasts for my fluorescent lamps, and they have bi-level switching as well. From what I understand, these allow you to have two light settings so you can adjust your lights form 50% lighting to 100% lighting. During the daytime, I can reduce my power consumption by 50% by reducing the amount of light in my office, at night, I can turn them up to 100% intensity so that there is adequate lighting.

Lighting accounted for 25% of the operational cost of my building, and after I installed these lights, they only accounted for 15% of the operational costs. I would recommend you go with the lights your electrician recommended. They have been worth the expense for me so far.

By Glasshouse — On Jun 27, 2011

I am remodeling my restaurant, and my electrician ordered bi-level T8 ballasts for the fluorescent lighting. What does the bi-level mean, and are these ballasts worth the expense versus others?

On the other hand, the lights look nice, and my electrician said I could install bulbs that simulate sunlight. I am also able to dim the lights, so I can change the ambiance at night.

By PelesTears — On Jun 25, 2011

@submariner- Advances in ballast technology are taking place in the lighting industry. A digital ballast is an upgrade from the old magnetic coil ballasts of the past. A light bulb for an HID light set can run upwards of $75, and digital ballasts have been proven to extend the life of bulbs by about 300-400%.

Digital ballasts are also cooler and quieter than magnetic coil ballasts because they rely on circuitry instead of magnets to regulate current. This means that you need to expend less energy in cooling your studio or greenhouse, and more energy can be transferred to the lights instead of being lost as heat. Digital ballasts weigh about one fourth that of a magnetic ballast, and they can reach full intensity in less than a minute.

This makes digital ballasts intrinsically safer because they run cooler and can include cut-off circuitry. This allows the lights to shut-off automatically should the circuitry detect a short. Digital ballasts are more expensive, but they will save you money over the lights life cycle, and they can save your greenhouse, studio, or hair from catching fire.

By submariner — On Jun 24, 2011

What is a digital ballast, and what is its purpose? Can you use a digital ballast to adjust the intensity of the light? Can a digital ballasts be used to adjust the amount of energy used?

By GiraffeEars — On Jun 23, 2011

High-pressure sodium and metal halide lights use a ballast to regulate power as well. My parents used to own an organic farm in Vermont, and they used metal halide lights and ballasts to run their greenhouse in the wintertime. One thing I remember in particular is that the ballasts can get hot, and this makes the lights a fire hazard. They also weigh about 20 pounds for every thousand watts of lights, and are covered in aluminum fins.

These types of lights were great for growing vegetables through the winter, when the sun would set at four in the afternoon and temperatures would dip well below freezing. The lights and ballasts put out a lot of heat, keeping the greenhouse a tropical 85 degrees, even on the coldest nights. Just be sure if you are using these lights outside, that you vent your building, and seal it very well. We used double pain, greenhouse glass and a double storm door to keep the heat from dissipating to the cold winter air.

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