FULLERTON, Calif. - A test of fiber-optic lighting technology in refrigerated display cases at an Albertsons store here indicated that the technology consumed one-third as much energy as fluorescent lighting while providing comparable luminescence.
The results of the test, conducted by Southern California Edison between last October and January, were announced last month by Fiberstars, Solon, Ohio, provider of the EFO-ICE fiber-optic lighting used in the test.
The test focused on 43 freezer case doors, about half the total at the store. Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, a division of Minneapolis-based Supervalu, is keeping in place the fiber-optic lighting used in the test and "leaning toward" installing it, in lieu of fluorescent lighting, in the remaining display case doors at the store, said Keith Tarver, manager of Albertsons electrical systems criteria and design.
Albertsons may ultimately retrofit cases in other stores with fiber-optic lighting or work with display case manufacturers to have the technology designed into the cases, Tarver said. Case doors "are a big opportunity because fluorescent lighting doesn't like the cold," he said. "It's a great idea to fix that."
Fiber-optics - light transmission through very fine, flexible glass or plastic fibers - is not commonly used in display cases in the U.S. The Albertsons test was the first conducted by Fiberstars, which developed the technology for cases about a year ago and is conducting tests with 15 other retailers, including Publix Super Markets, Wal-Mart Stores, Pathmark Stores, A&P, Aldi, Rite Aid and Walgreens, according to John Davenport, chief executive officer of Fiberstars.
In the Albertsons test store, the fiber-optic system was mounted outside of the freezer cases, with thick fiber illuminating the inside of the cases. No heat energy is generated inside the cases, in contrast to fluorescent lighting. As a result, compressors require less energy to cool the cases. "That's the neat part," Tarver said. "You're taking heat energy out of the case. Multiply by 100 doors, and that's a lot of power."
According to the test results, fluorescents typically consume about 803 kilowatts per door per year (including the impact of heat energy released) while the fiber-optic lighting consumes about 267 kilowatt hours per door per year, or about one-third as much. The test factored in lighting, ambient temperature inside and outside the cases, door openings and product loading. The energy attributed to heat inside the cases "might be higher [than what was calculated]," Davenport said. "We only counted what we absolutely could count."
Albertsons is also using fiber-optic lighting as overhead, accent illumination for an open seafood case on ice in one new store about to debut, and plans to use it for this application in all new stores, including five under development. "It creates no heat, so we save on shrink and ice degradation," Tarver said. "We see a big opportunity to use this for fresh seafood and meat cases and in the produce department."
Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, is using Fiberstars overhead fiber-optic lighting in the seafood department and eight or nine other departments in about a dozen stores, said Ted des Enfants, vice president, sales and marketing/general manager for Fiberstars.
According to Fiberstars, fiber-optic lighting in display cases also requires less maintenance than fluorescent lighting. Fiber-optics requires fewer bulbs (one for every four fluorescent) and fewer ballasts (one for every two or three fluorescent). The fiber-optic bulbs typically last twice as long as a fluorescent bulb, Fiberstars said.
In addition, maintenance for fiber-optics is done outside the case rather than inside the case with fluorescents, a much more time consuming procedure. However, fiber-optic bulbs are more costly than fluorescents.
Southern California Edison puts the return on investment for fiber-optics in refrigerated cases at about 1.8 years - less if rebates are available from utilities. Users of the EFO-ICE fiber-optic lighting qualify for rebates from Southern California Edison, and other utilities in California are expected to offer similar rebates, Fiberstars said. "We are taking advantage of that," Tarver said.
Tarver said Albertsons is close to deciding on whether to retrofit the rest of the test store. The biggest issue is dealing with different case styles and door configurations. The decision process has also been slowed by Albertsons' acquisition this year by Supervalu, he acknowledged.
Des Enfants said Fiberstars received funding to develop its fiber-optic lighting technology from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense. Though focused on lighting to be used later this year on U.S. Navy ships, the company saw opportunities for the technology in retail.
Fiberstars has been directed by its retail clients to work with display case manufacturers to incorporate the fiber-optic lighting system into the design of the cases, des Enfants said. "Some manufacturers are starting to offer 'knockout holes' in cases to make installation easier," he said.