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HID Labs brings IT smarts to industrial lighting

A Silicon Valley start-up adds intelligence to commercial lighting, allowing building owners to cut electricity bills through automated controls and sensors.

HID Laboratories is the sort of company you get when you cross IT pros from Silicon Valley with lighting experts.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company plans on Tuesday to officially launch and detail its light fixture, called the SmartPod Luminaire, which it says reduces commercial and industrial lighting costs by 40 percent.

High-intensity discharge (HID) lighting systems are typically used in street lights, warehouses, big box retail stores, sports arenas, and other industrial spaces.

HID Labs' SmartPod is a solid-state replacement for the ballast which holds the wiring and controls the current to lamps. The SmartPod's chip allows building owners to lower their electricity and reduce the significant amount of heat that metal ballasts generate, said HID Labs CEO Antonio Espinosa.

A replacement for traditional HID lamp ballasts can reduce energy consumption by 40 percent, according to HID Labs. HID Labs

The lighting units can automatically dim lights based on set policies, such as turning a zone off at night. When used with sensors, lighting fixtures can turn on when somebody enters a room or dim to compensate for daylight. The replacement ballast also eliminates the long warm-up time for HID lamps, Espinosa said.

The company calculates that replacing the ballast in existing lights will give a building owner a return on investment within two years.

In the future, the company expects to introduce wireless networking, which would make centralized management of lighting and automated control easier, Espinosa explained. Right now, a person needs to connect a laptop to a light to adjust wattage across multiple lamps.

Better control and data gathering on performance, heat, and other factors will make it easier for utilities or demand-response companies to adjust the lighting load. Rather than fire up additional power plants, utilities are developing programs to lower electricity use, such as dimming commercial lights during peak times.

"When you can bring intelligence to the end point, now you can have a node on the smart grid. That's unheard of in the lighting industry," Espinosa said.

The trick to more efficiently managing the HID lamps is manipulating the frequency of the electrical signal, he explained. The company, which is less than two years old, raised $6 million in venture funding and now has about 15 customers.

There is growing interest in energy efficiency because it is often an investment that recoups the initial cost relatively quickly. But HID Labs faces the challenge of overcoming corporate inertia in adopting a new product. It also faces competition from compact fluorescent bulbs.

Espinosa said that the company's experience so far with customers is that they purchase the SmartPod to cut their utility bills. But because the ballast replacement gets more light from existing lamps, the benefit to workers becomes a selling point.

"People fall in love with the light. They had no idea that they were sitting in a cave. It quickly moves from energy efficiency and then the human element drives everything," he said.

Updated on June 16 at 8:10 am PT with corrected spelling.