A Melbourne inventor’s illuminating idea could dramatically reduce lighting energy use all over the world. But he wasn’t even trying.
“The prospects are bright,” Graeme Huon says, and the pun is intended. The 58-year-old Mt Waverley man is the inventor of an energy efficient light globe that promises to revolutionise the way we light, well, pretty much everything. “This could be the next generation of lighting,” he says.
The technology, which he calls ‘controlled plasma’, will be a godsend for the environment. “Not only is it lower energy consumption, but it’s a much longer life product,” Huon says. His globes use one tenth of the energy of a standard 50-watt downlight and with a life of 15,000 hours, they last about ten times longer than the next best offering.
Huon rattles off features with pride. The globes are very small and will come in a range of colours, including the warm white of standard bulbs. They can be individually dimmed, are fully compatible with existing wiring, and over their lifetime will cost about half what we are used to paying.
And there’s more. The lights have in-built sensors that can be set to follow you around the house and can regulate their output according to the level of natural light at any given time.
But that’s not all, “Now for the steak knives,” Huon says. Each socket has a unique code, which means that if you want, you can control any light in the house from one switch – without any rewiring. “When I show people this, they just go ahh! and suddenly they say ‘But that means I can control the front when the visitors are coming’,” he says, smiling.
How is all this possible? Right now, our standard incandescent globes, halogen downlights and fluorescent tubes all need filaments and generate heat as well as light. Even low energy compact fluorescent globes need mini-heaters in the base to make them work.
In contrast, Huon’s globe is a “totally cold operating light”. The technology is a combination of three existing lights that don’t use filaments – neon, cold cathode and high intensity discharge – along with a new controller to regulate the way it works. “You can grab hold of it and not burn yourself and that indicates that it’s very efficient,” Huon says.
In time, the technology could be used in the whole range of lighting applications, from reading lamps to night-lights on sporting fields. But for the moment, Huon and his team have fashioned his invention into a product that will directly replace the current halogen downlights. They’re the little globes that sit flush with your ceiling and usually appear in rows, especially in newer houses or renovations.
“The halogen light is one of the worst wasters of energy. It has a short life and it gets extremely hot, which means you have to use expensive materials instead of plastic fittings,” Huon says. “In countries where it’s hot, you need air conditioning just to extract the heat generated by the lights. And yet they are ubiquitous.”
Getting rid of these greenhouse guzzlers could make a significant dent in our national energy use. “If we were to replace 75% of lights in homes with these globes in the next five years, we could save building one new power station,” Huon says.
Ever since Edison saw the light, new ideas have been shown as a glowing overhead bulb. But Huon, a world-leading inventor in acoustic technology, didn’t even set out to develop an efficient light. “We weren’t in lighting, we came at it from doing a lighting package for home cinema. I just said, well we need to make a better light. And we did and somebody told Canberra and all hell broke loose.”
That’s no surprise, because this technology may be a key to Australia phasing out inefficient bulbs by 2009-10 under targets announced earlier this year by Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Huon first developed the technology three years ago and now, his business CP Envirotech is moving quickly towards full commercialisation. “We began production in January this year and we’ll be shipping to customers in April,” Huon says. “They’re coming to a lounge room near you.” And after your house, next stop the world.
With his controlled plasma globes lighting the way, Huon is upbeat about our capacity to overcome just about any hurdle. “If you clearly identify what the problem is and then have no preconceptions about what the solution is, I reckon you can solve it every time.”