An Interview with Bill Warren

Bill WarrenYour humble editor sat down with Bill Warren in New York City.  Bill is 84 years young and this was not my typical interview. As I began to ask questions, Bill’s energy and passion took over.  This discussion became more of a monologue than a dialogue.

Q. How are you?

A. Fine- I was disappointed in LIGHTFAIR, not at the show, but with the exhibitors.  So were my colleagues. At the booths we met a lot of physicists, not lighting people.  These physicists were proudly showing small pearls of light (LEDs), when we were looking for lighting products, not components. Maybe they were trying to impress the fixture manufacturers, but those guys are mostly interested in price, not apps. There were 238 products selected for the Product Innovation Awards, but first prize went to a low voltage LED postop unit. For the home runs, they used inexpensive Class 2 wiring and each circuit covered 500 linear feet. That’s a clever app 

I graduated in 1950 from Cooper Union with an EE degree.  While attending NYU Grad School, I was recruited by Clarence Keller, President of Holophane.   For over a year, as an engineer, I was doing lighting layouts by manually calculating illumination point by point from drawings sent in by our field sales engineers. I joined the sales force in 1953, joined the IES in 1954, and was promoted by Mr. Keller from Sales Engineer to Regional Manager.  Next I attained the position of Assistant to the President and finally in 1985 to Manager of Manufacturing.  In addition to being president of Holophane, Mr. Keller was also the former President of the IES as well as NEMA

Holophane was based in New York City, but its plants were in the Ohio cities of Newark, Springfield  and Columbus with another facility in Edison N J, which I traveled to weekly.  Holophane was a great company, very innovative and profitable, specializing in glass and acrylic plastic refractors and reflectors. The plants were located in Ohio, because that’s where there were large deposits of natural gas, which was used to melt sand, costing only pennies per pound.  Holophane turned that sand into glass selling for dollars per pound.

Holophane BrocureHolophane was the first to market industrial HID highbays, and outdoor wall packs complete with ballasts.  They were the first to introduce prismatic wide spread wrap around fluorescent units with acrylic lenses for lighting offices and classrooms. Daybrite made the bodies and we made the lenses and jointly marketed them. In 1968, three of us young “turks”, Bill Langone, Norman Falk and myself , with help from Merrill Lynch, offered to buy Holophane from the founder, Charles Franck, then in his eighties. 

He refused to sell, so Langone and I, joined with Jack Zukerman of Chain Store Lighting, to start US Lighting Systems in Itasca IL . We did very well for a while, lighting the John Hancock Tower in Chicago and many other Tishman office buildings in California, New York and Ohio.  As our business grew, the Japanese perfected a means of extruding acrylic lenses, with decent optics, at half the cost of our (and Holophane’s) injection molded lenses.  That business dried up practically overnight, so Jack and I founded EMCO, which still exists, in Rock Island, IL

EMCO specialized in industrial HID prismatic glass fixtures which we supplied to a number of Publix Supermarkets in Florida as well as gyms, hockey stadiums and even a library.

I received my professional engineering (PE) license after graduating from college, and was offered a partnership in 1971 in a consulting engineering firm, Segner and Dalton, in White Plains NY.  There I designed the lighting for a medical college, a hospital, two nursing homes and a number of schools, including two buildings at MIT for the architect, I. M. Pei and Partners. There was a drop in the birthrate in 1973, and schools were not being designed, so I returned to the lighting field and joined Neo-Ray as president of its subsidiary, Lighting Unlimited, which was a sales rep organization in New York City.  We represented Neo-Ray, McPhilben, Omega, Columbia Lighting and others. I also conducted a study for the Urban Development Co (UDC) of NY State in cooperation with NASA for the development of Flat Conductor Cable (FCC) for use in pre cast concrete multi-story apartment buildings. This was an outgrowth of the wiring of the spacecrafts and LEM module designed by NASA.  FCC is now an acceptable wiring method in the National Electric Code. 

In 1978 I was hired by Beatrice Foods, who owned an electronic products company called EE Tech in Syracuse NY, to conduct a marketing study for the use of electronic ballasts for fluorescent lighting. EE Tech proceeded to manufacture the ballasts and even received a government subsidy to offer rebates to the first 100 customers.
A quarter page ad in the Wall Street Journal was responsible for immediate orders for 1000 units at $ 20 each. Unfortunately, we got them all back within a month because they were not potted and failed due to mutual heating effects.   However, a year or so later, we were hired by Triad Utrad of Fort Wayne, IN to represent them with their electronic ballasts, which performed beautifully, and we represented them for over 10 years. 

In 1988, Neo Ray sold Lighting Unlimited to Genlyte  and we changed our name to the Lighting Group, and took over the sales of Lightolier and other Genlyte companies in the New York metro area. The only redeeming feature of that venture was that I got to work with Bill Blitzer, former president of Lightolier, who remained my dear friend till he passed away early this year.

In 1991, I hung up my PE  “shingle” and started Willard L. Warren Assoc, Lighting and Energy Consultants. My first client was the DMC (Demand Management Company) of Chelsea MA, now a subsidiary of Honeywell. We did a number of lighting upgrades for the New York Power Authority in 20 or so of their major clients in the NYC metro area. These were mostly public schools, hospitals, libraries, office buildings and municipal town halls under the HELP Program (High Efficiency Lighting Program). We pioneered the use of dimming ballasts in every luminaire using fiber optic cable fed by an acrylic prism that sensed daylight, saving 25% more energy than predicted. That program lasted a couple of years and then we provided the same services for Forrest Electric, the largest electrical Contractor in New York City, who had a similar contract with Consolidated Edison to upgrade private facilities in their franchised area. I then went to Germany as a consultant to WILA Lighting, a fixture manufacturer that wanted a presence in the US, and I helped set up a plant in North Miami FL to assemble components imported from Germany. 

In 1996 I travelled to Seoul, Korea on assignment from Samsung, who wanted to enter the US electronic ballast market.  

I surveyed their plant, their R&D facility and their product and advised them not to make the $15 million investment, as their product had such a high failure rate that they would lose it all in a few years and ruin their reputation. Grudgingly, they agreed. I did similar studies for LG and Kytronic, two other South Korean electronic ballast manufacturers. 

In 1997, I started writing a column for the IES monthly magazine- Lighting Design and Application (LD&A). The “Energy Advisor” column is the longest running (15 years) in the magazine and the LD+A Editor, Paul Tarricone tells me it consistently ranks at or near the top of most-read columns in the magazine. 

Today my time is spent mostly doing studies, writing my column and doing lighting upgrades, which I chronicle in my columns.  However my passion today is  ‘tomorrow.’ I believe that LEED and the present lighting codes are ‘yesterday’s’ news. 

The future is control. Our energy codes are codifying connected load, not consumed load. In New York City there are almost no facilities of any kind that exceed 50% of their connected load. Facility Managers  are the real heroes, who clear up the glitches in design and operate buildings for the owners cost effectively. Developers and their FMs are less interested in LEED points than in reducing load and cost. 

A trend started last year in California with the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP), which certifies contractors and facility employees in installing, maintaining and commissioning lighting control systems. The state’s utilities will only certify control systems that have been installed under the watchful eye of one of their alumni. Doug Avery of Southern California Edison started the program with cooperation from NECA and IBEW.  The California Lighting Technology Center at U.C. Davis wrote the exam and the consulting firm, ICF, trains the instructors. The exam includes ten lab tests that must be passed in sequence.  A written exam is administered after the lab work is completed. 

Doug had the inspiration when he discovered that 90% of the large lighting control systems in existence in LA were inoperative because the present owners and managers could not be bothered to keep them working properly.   He put together this program that has already certified over 500 people in California.  The program is expected to expand nationally.

The energy codes take lighting level recommendations from our IES Handbook and mandates maximum allowable Lighting Power Densities (LPDs), which are enacted into law by municipalities. Some are enforced rigidly, some not enforced at all, as they have no relevance as to how the buildings operate.  We should use the common benchmark of total energy consumed; electricity, coal, gas, oil steam measured in kBTU/square foot/year and compare installations of similar use on the basis of year round occupancy, not from connected load from design drawings.

We don’t take any measures to save energy by improving the seeing conditions and perception by mandating the contrast and size of tasks, and mandating that lighting energy be conserved by not allowing it to be wasted on dark surfaces where critical seeing is performed. But we get all exercised over the use of incandescent lamps, when we have no idea how many hours they are in use or whether they are monitored by a control system. 

How much energy is wasted when we could be taking advantage of the technology we now possess to instruct, advise, measure and monitor our natural resources, and save us all from some of the anachronistic regulations that we have self imposed?  We should all have remote monitors that allow us to dial up, or down the illuminance, we need based on the severity of the task and the desired ambiance and let the productivity of the occupants and the lighting bill be the benchmark.