Think hard about the yard

Industry Database

Bright Light Systems' John Chalmers shines the spotlight on plasma technology

Outdoor lighting accounts for 34% of the annual electricity consumption at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, according to a 2013 study by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. It's a percentage that many other ports will find familiar. 

This outdoor lighting can include a number of different types of fittings, for example, exterior building lighting, street and area lighting, flood lighting, high-mast yard lighting, and cranes and bulk equipment lighting. Of these, high-mast pole lighting typically consumes the most electricity.

While new lighting technologies are entering the market to address high energy usage, they can also provide often-overlooked benefits, such as improved safety, enhanced security, and reduced maintenance.

Light emitting diodes, or LED, is one such technology making an impact in crane and bulk equipment lighting with significant energy savings and three to four times the life of conventional high pressure sodium or metal-halide technologies. Another, perhaps less well known technology, is electrode-less plasma, which is an energy efficient lighting technology highly suited to high-mast application due to the nature of the light source.

Electrode-less plasma is a full-spectrum light that shares chemistry with traditional metal-halide discharge technology but uses radio frequency energy to create the plasma arc, thus eliminating the need for electrodes. In contrast to LED, light is emitted directly from the individual atomic transitions occurring within the bulb and is independent of any crystalline structure. Light emerges directly from the lamp without passing through a phosphor conversion layer.

Think of plasma as the next evolution of metal halide, but with longevity and the performance of a solid-state source. The plasma light source is small but powerful and emits a spectrum (color temperature) most similar to daylight. Use of a highly-specular reflector distributes the light evenly which is ideal for yard lighting or other area lighting applications.

Cleaner light 

Safety is a priority for port and terminal operators, and a cleaner, whiter light can offer greater contrast between personnel on the ground and better visibility for cameras in the yard. Ports America Outer Harbor in Oakland validates this confirming that the facility has not had any serious incidents along 'the stringer' or at Berth 22 since Bright Light's plasma lights were installed. The reduced glare has been particularly welcome; the recessed plasma lamp reduces glare and eliminates light pollution for surrounding communities.

Full-spectrum plasma light, is flicker-free and provides enhanced color recognition for security cameras and workers in a terminal environment. This can improve the readability of container numbers, ultimately increasing productivity. One customer at a Caribbean port recently noted that the new plasma lighting made it much easier to read the pole numbers and container locations. Under the previous yellowish high pressure sodium lighting, misplacing a container in the wrong row or location happened frequently which directly impacted operations until the container could be found. With productivity a key driver for terminal operators, taking time to locate a missing container is costly and time consuming. 

Maintenance is also an important factor when investing in a new lighting technology. High-mast lighting is typically 80 feet or higher so replacing a lamp or fixture can be expensive and disruptive to port operations. LED and plasma are both dimmable technologies and have rated lifetimes over 50,000 hours, which significantly reduces maintenance and labor costs.

With legacy lighting systems, the industry is accustomed to replacing a lamp when it fails. Here, plasma has a similar benefit as it offers direct lamp replacement without need for replacing an entire fixture.

While energy efficiency - and ultimately long term costs - is of key importance when deciding on which lighting technology to invest in, port operators should not neglect other benefits. The electrode-less plasma lamp has been around since 1990 when Fusion Lighting developed a sulphur-based lamp. Today, plasma is an energy-efficient and stable light source derived from proven metal-halide bulb chemistry and solid-state electronics. For those port operators concerned about the long-term compatibility of LED modules or LED driver continuity, plasma is today’s ready alternative.  

John Chalmers is vice president, marketing at Bright Light Systems.

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