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LED lamps will eventually be what we use to replace incandescent bulbs - Compact fluorescent lamps are a temporary but still viable alternative to energy-efficient lighting. Think of CFLs as the bridge that connects our older, less efficient lamp technology to the LED promise land. Increasingly more lamp manufacturers are devoting larger shares of their R&D resources towards developing the LED promise land and less so within that CFL bridge. The lighting industry is clearly banking on LEDs as the final replacements for incandescents.

The reason LEDs have not yet displaced CFLs from the market are twofold: the first generation LED bulbs had a narrow and focused light beam, and the cost of LED technology is still too high. With this said, both CFL and LED technology are viable options today when looking for a replacement for incandescent lamps.

We can't stress enough that this lamp technology market is no different than any other emerging market. There are numerous profiteers in the market spewing forth their too-good-to-be-true claims and misinformation for the sake of the quick sale before the dust settles and the facts surface. The old axiom, "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is", certainly applies here. The U.S. market is flooded with cheap LED products manufactured overseas with inferior components that produce low light levels, that can't possibly live up to their exaggerated energy saving and long life claims. Unfortunately, these cheap imports are being sold on well known web sites and through big box retailers.

Also worth noting are the many so-called "manufacturers"  who are in fact resellers and simply repackaging the same inferior products offered through the import channel. And to further add to this confusion, are the more reputable manufacturers that offer a lesser grade LED lamp expressly for the consumer market and a higher grade for the commercial market. As you probably guessed, the commercial grade products come at a higher price point and perform significantly better - but are easily confused with the lower priced consumer grade products. If you're making your decision solely on price, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. The keys here are Lumens and Lumens per Watt Efficacy. This is where the Lighting Facts label comes into play. The Department of Energy (DOE) is an advocate for quality and has established the Lighting Facts program to ensure that the LED products you find on the market meet your expectations for performance. These products include LEDs for everyday lighting purposes, such as table lamps and outdoor light fixtures. They do not include flashlights, nightlights, or holiday lighting.

Participating manufacturers voluntarily pledge to report their products' performance results. Those results appear on the Lighting Facts label, which those manufacturers must include on product packaging or in the product literature. Retailers and other industry buyers can then make informed purchasing decisions for their lighting inventory.

DOE Lighting Facts Label

 

PDF Download Read the fact sheet that the DOE developed to explain Lighting Facts, titled Lighting Facts Label Supports Accuracy in Solid-State Lighting (SSL) Product Information

See also this press release from the Federal Trade Commission: Coming in 2011: New Labels for Light Bulb Packaging.

 

So now we know who the builders and developers are in our LED promise land. We have our low income housing; gorgeous single family homes that were erected overnight with the flaws you would expect from this type of construction and finally we have beautifully designed buildings that are truly the pinnacle of smart design.

With LED lamps, you get what you pay for. A product that costs $10 or $15 is less likely to provide superior light and long life over one that costs $50. Even high-quality LED lamps are in a relatively early stage of development; many major manufacturers are already rolling out their 2nd and 3rd generation LED lamps. As with all technology, in time prices will come down as manufacturing processes gain efficiency and the market drives commodity-like competitiveness. If you're entertaining the idea of LEDs for your commercial facility, look for the lighting facts label, this helps distinguish the manufacturer as quality conscience. Also, as mentioned earlier, make sure you're buying commercial grade lamps. The lower grade consumer products may have a tempting price but you get what you pay for.

You can and should expect long life from quality LED lighting; LED lamps last up to 10 times as long as compact fluorescents, and far longer than typical incandescents.

The expected life of the LED components is a direct function of how hot or cool they operate. The ambient temperature of the environment in which the fixtures operate must also be carefully considered, as it will also impact the overall temperature of the components. Simply stated, LEDs generate a lot of heat and heat shortens lamp life. The term "life expectancy" is defined as the point at which the LED source diminishes to 70% of its initial light output. Conversely, HID sources are rated at mean time to failure (10k - 20k hrs) at which 50% of lamp sources are expected to fail. Most manufacturers are currently claiming 70% lumen maintenance at 50,000 hours of operation, given that the junction temperature is held at or below the published limit (usually 80?C).

It's reasonable to question whether investing in LED lamps, with their comparatively high price are in fact a wise energy saving strategy. Depending on the application, we would answer with a resounding yes. Once you overcome the initial sticker shock, you must push forward and do the math; the numbers will bear out the true bottom line savings:

 

 

Incandescent Lamp

LED Lamp

Useful Life

50,000 hours requires 50 replacements

50,000 hours requires no replacement

Wattage

100 Watts

10 Watts

Cost of bulb/lamp

$1

$100*

Energy costs to operate

$500

$54

Total cost of ownership

$550

$154

 

*Estimated cost of high-end LED lamp. Even at this exaggerated cost, the lifetime savings of the LED makes sense for general lighting applications. 

Depending on your rate, the cost of energy is a variable (as are the actual lamp costs) - but the formula is consistent and logical.
When investing in any energy saving measure you need to take into account the total cost of ownership (including the cost saved on energy). This idea of total cost of ownership becomes even more significant when you consider where the lamps are installed and what's presently involved in lamp maintenance replacement. In commercial or industrial environments this may involve the cost of high lift scissor trucks and several man hours. Eliminating maintenance costs and the disruption it causes is a significant benefit, one that has a very real dollar value - that also needs to factor in the total cost of ownership equation.

Are LED lamps the right choice for every application? No, they're not. No single technology is right for every facility or application. The needs of your facility, environmental factors, light levels and budget hurdles should determine the optimal technology path.

In typical warehouse facilities for example, T5 high bay fluorescent fixtures  still offer an unbeatable combination of energy efficiency, color rendering, lumen output and budget friendliness. Fluorescent technology will remain a smart energy efficient solution for quite some time. The key is matching the right technology to the particular application. When this is done correctly you achieve that near perfect blend of energy efficiency, luminance and return on investment.

Remember those profiteers mentioned earlier? Beware of any company that is pushing LED lighting as their one-size-fits-all solution. Our Connexion Energy Solutions Team has gone out and corrected some of these expensive mistakes - investments made by unsuspecting facility managers who got sold a bill of goods. Don't shy away from LEDs but do your research first, then partner with a reputable lighting and energy consultant. If you decide then to cross the bridge to the LED promise land you'll have a course mapped out leading you directly to those beautifully designed buildings.

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