The Problem with Metal Halide Bulbs

As with all industries, lighting has gone through an evolution. Like any evolution, it is a progression and it is rare one element will be replaced directly with another.

High intensity discharge bulbs (HIDs) have been a very important stage in this evolution, with few more important than metal halide bulbs. Unfortunately for them, as with all evolutionary stages, eventually they will be replaced by something better. Fortunately for you, this something can save you money and energylike nothing before.

How does a metal halide bulb work?

Like all high-intensity discharge bulbs, metal halides work by passing an electric current through a closed, gas-filled container, usually a mixture of argon and mercury. An electric current passes between the two electrodes, which heats a metal halide (metal and halogen compound). When metal compounds heat up, they disassociate, leading to different types of light, depending on the type of compound present.

Metal halides are considered particularly good because of the white light quality they produce. In some cases, this can mimic daylight.

What are the negative effects of metal halide bulbs?

Metal halides have proved useful as substitutes for fluorescent and incandescent lamps. About a quarter of the operating energy in the form of electricity ends up being lighter. That's something other light bulbs can't achieve in terms of energy efficiency.

However, starting a metal halide bulb requires a lot of energy. They need ballasts to adjust the voltage so as not to cause damage inside the bulb. The arc may be damaged and, because the halide is encased in glass, it may even break or shatter if enough charge enters too quickly. It's kind of like a kickstarter on a motorcycle.

A lot of charge not only risks blowing the bulb, but also wastes energy. Does not immediately meet HID intensity. As the metal compound is ionized and the light becomes brighter, it requires a lot of energy. Essentially, this wastes time (getting the best lumens of light) and money (using electricity). HID also emits a lot of heat during this ionization process, further weakening the efficiency.

The quality of light is affected when the bulb consumes the gases and metal compounds. Although it starts out well, it depreciates over time. Once this lumen depreciation reaches a certain point, the bulb may fail to perform its function and must be replaced.

What's the solution?

Often, the solution is evolution. In the third quarter of super bowl XLVII in 2013, a power outage caused the main lights to go out completely, leaving only a backup generator to power the entire stadium. That left the game on rest for 34 minutes, with no game, and upset players, managers and fans alike. The culprit is believed to be HID metal halide bulbs, which suck up too much electricity and cause shortages.

After the incident, the bulb was updated with $1 million worth of LED bulbs. This is because LED bulbs are:

Safer - they don't puff like HID and contain no mercury.
More cost effective - they use less electricity.
Faster - they light up instantly.
More energy efficient - they waste almost no heat.
Easier to install - they do not require ballasts.
Better quality - they depreciate less in lumens.

For these reasons and many more, metal halides are no longer competitive with new lighting standards. All of their advantages in terms of high bay, light weight and durability are outweighed, but you can also save money, especially as LED lighting becomes more affordable in the early stages.

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