Essentially, a ballast is a device that regulates how much electricity your light bulb receives so it can operate correctly. Bulbs are sensitive components and need precise power flow to work properly. Too little power and the bulb won’t even light up. Too much power and you risk blowing your bulb.
HID lamps, for example, cannot work directly with 240 volts, the standard voltage for city power outlets. They need high voltage ignition to start up, but then lower voltage to keep them running. To prevent damage, they need some system to limit the current that flows through them. Ballasts are designed specifically for this purpose.
But not all ballasts are created equal. Generally speaking, there are two types of ballasts available: magnetic and electronic.
Magnetic ballasts are made up of a series of copper coils wrapped around an iron (or other metal-based) connectors. When it’s plugged in, the ballast sends energy through the coils to power your bulbs.
The good thing about magnetic ballasts is that they tend to be more affordable, durable and tolerant of a wide range of temperatures. They also don’t suffer from any interference effects from radio frequencies. On the downside, they’re heavy, inefficient, have no built-in protection, and aren’t controllable or dimmable. They also generate A LOT of heat. They need constant cooling and put your plants at risk of overheating. Magnetic ballasts and hydroponic setups that use them need a lot of cooling arrangements to be viable.
Electronic (Digital) Ballasts
Compact and precise, electronic or digital ballasts use integrated microchips and semiconductor devices to regulate power for HID lamps. These components also generate some heat but because of their small size and design, most digital ballasts have internal cooling fans which are sufficient for their cooling requirements.
Their advantages include high efficiency, safety and adaptability while being dimmable and able to work with a controller. This allows automatic or semi-automatic control of on/off states, timings and day/night simulations. They also produce less heat, are lighter and smaller than magnetic ballasts, and often have built-in protection and safety features. However, they can be expensive, vulnerable to radio interference (if not compliant with EMI standards) and show less tolerance for temperature extremes.
Every hydroponics set up is different and has a different set of requirements. It is important to properly assess your own needs first, before deciding what kind of ballast would be best.
For many growers, a well-designed magnetic ballast is a much better choice than a poor-quality digital ballast.
What should I check for when choosing a digital ballast?
So you’ve decided that a digital ballast is the right choice for your hydro set up. The first thing to ask is: How good is its efficiency?
The efficiency should fall within these ranges, depending on the ballast class level.
- Low-frequency square wave: 92 to 93%
- High-frequency low voltage: 94 to 95%
- High-frequency High voltage: 94 to 95%
- Ultra High-Frequency High voltage: 96 to 97%
Also, check what kind of digital ballast is best suited for your lamp.
- Low-frequency square wave: CMH lamps
- High-frequency low voltage: standard low voltage HPS/MH lamps
- High-frequency High voltage: only 1000W HPS/MH lamps
- Ultra High-Frequency High voltage: High Voltage HPS/MH lamps
Always consult your seller for the best match for your equipment.
What kind of digital ballast does LUCIUS offer?
Lucius Ballasts are one of the most efficient and reliable ballasts in the international market. They are designed to efficiently and effectively provide optimum levels of horticultural light. Lucius Maximus and Lucius Recom Ballasts cover all 4 types of digital ballasts, providing world-class performance for every kind of hydro set up.
As a general guide, we’ve paired the best-suited Lucius digital ballasts with the most common kinds of horticultural lamps in the market.
1- Low-frequency square wave (for CMH lamps)
2- High-frequency low voltage (for standard low voltage HPS/MH lamps)
3- High-frequency High voltage (only for 1000W HPS/MH SE lamps)
4- Ultra High-Frequency High voltage (for High Voltage HPS/MH lamps)
Good luck and good lighting!