Once every decade or so, a technology or process comes along that is universally accepted and adopted at breakneck speed. LED lighting is one of the most quickly adopted technologies in human history, but it is not well understood by many. That lack of understanding can expose contractors and their clients to substantially higher commercial risks than most realize, especially when commercial LED lighting projects are being considered. This article discusses LED benefits, helps explain why some risks exist, and shows how to avoid them in the first place.
The Hidden Risk: Inbuilt Obsolescence of Legacy Lighting Systems
Most commercial risk from new or replacement lighting work stems from the fact that the price of CFL or HPS schemes is much lower than LED lighting, making their initial costs very attractive to many clients. That’s particularly true when there’s a need to limit costs to a given financial cycle and tactical considerations take priority over a more strategic approach where the full spectrum of lighting costs and benefits are examined over a longer timeframe.
The risk from this short-term thinking comes from the fact the lighting industry has embraced LED technologies for every application, from car lights to home lights, and flood lights to pool lights. History shows that once an industry leading technology is adopted by the manufacturers, there is no way back for the old way of working. Think vinyl records versus CDs, video tape versus DVDs, and Blockbuster video rental versus Netflix.
Fig 1 found in The Low Carbon Economy Report by Goldman Sachs
The argument usually made against adopting new methods and technologies is one of timing. It is often said for example, the best time to buy a new smart phone is tomorrow , meaning technology adoption is uncertain so it’s better to stick with what you know until the market direction is absolutely known. Figure 1 shows why this argument can no longer be made in regard to LED lighting.
It is pretty clear; LED lighting will have near universal adoption by 2025. Fueled by spectacular energy use savings and government incentive plans designed to minimize energy use in the lighting sector which accounts for about 18% of all US energy consumption.
The inevitable consequence of manufacturers moving toward LED technology is the obsolescence of competing solutions such as traditional incandescents, CFL’s, HPS, and so on.
As LED manufacturing processes become more mature and are geared up for higher volumes, LED lighting costs will plummet still further and older solutions will begin to disappear from stores and distributor line cards.
As they do so, owners of commercial lighting systems that do not use LEDs as the light source will find themselves out of spare parts or paying premium prices from a diminishing list of stockists and suppliers who chose to invest in the death throes of the traditional lighting industry.
The obvious way to mitigate obsolescence risk in new commercial lighting applications in 2019 and beyond is to avoid legacy lighting technologies altogether and design the entire system using LEDs.
Here are those 9 benefits of LED lighting we mentioned earlier that will help show why modern commercial lighting applications should use this technology despite the large difference in upfront costs over legacy lighting.
1. Retrofit LED Lighting
an indirect, but very important technology benefit
There’s no need to dive straight into a large LED lighting job without knowing exactly what the benefits are. Retrofit LED lighting provides what can be described as a try before you buy experience making it easy to determine which LED lighting scheme best illuminates your application. Retrofit LED lighting systems allow replacement of the old light bulb with the LED solution in the existing socket. The most important benefit to companies who specify LED lighting is cost savings over their existing systems and the fastest way to show those savings is to retrofit LED bulbs and their associated drivers straight into the line socket of the older bulbs.
The costs of the retrofit are quickly paid for by the energy savings of the new lights, and since there’s limited disruption to operations, it’s easy to strategically select sections of the overall project and get fast feedback from users and employees about their new LED lighting environment.
Once real evidence of the ROI and positive feedback from users is received it’s a much easier task to justify an overhaul of the entire lighting system.
Pros for Retrofit LED Light Bulbs
- Relatively low initial cost
- Uses existing wired infrastructure
- Long life compared to any traditional lighting system
- Strong lighting rebate programs in every state which help offset initial retrofit costs
- Massive choice of suitable bulbs means fixture modifications are rarely needed
- Lights can be easily updated as more efficient bulbs or better color renderings emerge
- Dimming and other lighting controls can sometimes be problematic, making it common for retrofits to be limited to on/off applications like outside lights, hall lights and other areas where required control is limited
- The maximum power (Wattage) supplied to the bulbs is limited by the existing fixture infrastructure rating.
Direct Benefits of LED Lighting
The direct benefits of commercial LED lighting are becoming pretty well known, but the first three below stand out as the major reasons the technology has been widely adopted so quickly.
2. LED Power Consumption
Compared to other lighting technologies, LED power consumption is dramatically lower. The principal reason for this is there’s no requirement to heat a metal filament until it’s white hot (incandescent light) or create a gas plasma (fluorescent, CFL light types). Instead most of the energy supplied by the electricity source is converted to light directly by the light emitting diode (LED). There are still some heat losses in LED systems, but as the technology advances, even the current loss level is expected to reduce still further.
3. LED Energy Efficiency
This is the level of light produced by an LED per unit of energy supplied. One of the more confusing topics in the LED lighting world is the seemingly interchangeable use of the terms power consumption and energy use, so let’s fix that before explaining LED energy efficiency.
Electrical power consumption is measured in Watts and is shown on the label of every electric light bulb in the familiar 40W, 60W, 100W format. Energy use is calculated by multiplying the power rating by the time the light bulb is used for. Energy use is shown in our utility bills as kWh (Thousands of Watts consumed per hour).
Lighting system energy efficiency is calculated by examining the light output of a bulb and noting how much energy is used to generate the light.
The US Department of Energy produced a compelling report showing just how efficient LED lighting is compared to common light sources. The report is summarized in Table 1 below and compares energy use of a 60W traditional Incandescent light bulb with other technologies producing light output of the same intensity over a 2-hour use period per day for a year.
Table 1: DOE Energy Use Comparison of Lighting Technologies
4. LED Bulb Lifespan
The lifespan of a typical LED light bulb really seals the deal on preferred lighting use because of the multiplier effect it has on the advantages of high energy efficiency and low power consumption. Table 2 shows the minimum expected lifespan for several lighting types.
|Bulb Type||Minimum Lifespan (Hours)|
|CFL / HID||10,000|
Table 2: Minimum Life Expectancy of Light Bulb Technologies
Putting the three major benefits together allows us to calculate the likely cost savings per bulb. Table 3 shows average costs from Amazon and Home Depot (at the time of writing) for residential lights and the total lighting costs and potential savings with LED lighting over a twenty-year period. Commercial lighting typically uses different light bulbs and has much lower costs per item based on volumes, but the point is the same; LED lighting offers dramatic cash savings for the user and a much needed 87% reduction in energy consumption for our planet.
|Average cost per light bulb||$4.49||$2.74||$1.49|
|Minimum Lifespan (from Table 2)||50,000||10,000||900|
|Bulb use per 50,000 hours of light||1||5||56|
|Cost of energy per year at $0.11 per kWh and 2 hours / day from Table 1||$0.64||$1.04||$4.82|
|Total purchase price of bulbs over 20 years at 2 hours use per day||$4.49||$5.48||24.17|
|Cost of Ownership over 20 years||$17.29||$28.4||$120.57|
|Total 20-year cost for a typical 50 lightbulb home||$865||$1,420||$6,029|
Table 3: Dramatic Cost and Energy Use Reduction from LED Lighting
5. Commercial LED Lighting Costs Are Dramatically Reduced
All of the above savings apply to businesses and commercial concerns, but there are a few additional ways a commercial LED lighting strategy helps further reduce the cost of lighting in the business world.
Electric Utility companies are highly focused on energy efficiency and provide cost incentives to businesses to reduce their energy consumption. Many see that as a gimmick that could be overturned at any time, but it’s not. Utilities want to increase their customer base without the need to grow infrastructure. Commercial LED lighting offers the perfect way to do that. 75% of the energy that was previously used on fluorescent lighting can now be used elsewhere, effectively increasing grid capacity without adding generation resources.
Market research shows commercial LED lighting growing at nearly 12% CAGR through 2025 with more than 85% of companies still employing legacy lighting, so these incentives will be around for a very long time.
There can be 10,000 to 50,000 light sources in a mid-sized business, lighting corridors, conference rooms, office space and parking areas, all of which need to be maintained. The reductions in bulb count through LED use can free up lots of time and money that is otherwise required to keep the lights on.
One of the biggest savings attributed to commercial LED lighting comes in the form of a new Energy as a Service (EaaS) model designed to remove the high capital cost of replacing legacy lighting with its lower cost LED equivalent. EaaS allows companies to rent their new LED lighting systems from the EaaS provider, reducing balance sheet debt and reducing monthly utility expenses.
6. LEDs Emit Very Little Heat
We touched on this in the discussion on Energy Efficiency but it’s worth making specific reference to heat from lighting sources. In traditional lighting, a substantial level of energy consumed is dissipated as heat. In fact, heat accounts for more than 90% of the energy used to shine an incandescent light, and as much as 30% in CFL and Halogen equivalents.
The fixturing for these lightbulbs must be able to dissipate the heat and protect the lights from over temperature problems which create reliability issues, but they also must protect the business from the risks of fire. LED lighting protects against fire by removing the heat source in the first place and is strongly recommended by The National Fire Prevention Association. It is not all downhill running however. The NFPA also issued this ‘ know your stuff ’ warning to companies attempting to take advantage of the cost savings from LED retrofit kits and dimmers.
Environmental heat is clearly increased by traditional lighting systems, affecting room temperatures and requiring AC cooling to maintain the office or workspace at a temperature suitable for the tasks being performed. Wholesale installation of commercial LED lighting not only reduces the lighting energy bill, it also reduces AC costs during the warm seasons.
7. LED Lighting Has Many Colors
This image highlights LED lighting’s unique ability to create ambiance, provide pinpoint color rendering for a displayed article, and show the best level of detail possible in every lighting application.
This is possible because LEDs can be designed to emit light at different frequencies. The Kelvin temperature scale is used to denote color because of the quirky equivalence the stated color has to the color of a piece of rock at the temperature indicated. Red hot to white hot and beyond. To convert from Kelvin to degrees Centigrade simply add 273°C (ok 273.14°C if you’re being picky).
The curated world is a great place to view the known problems of illuminating works of art and precious museum pieces. The natural instinct of most curators is to keep these items away from all light sources, but the LED is changing that attitude. LEDs emit virtually no UV radiation which can degrades colors of illuminated artefacts over time. The absence of noticeable IR radiation as a bonus makes the LED the perfect light source for this application.
One of the hidden benefits of LED lighting currently being explored is so-called Human Centric Lighting which attempts to reconnect humans, and workers in particular, to their natural circadian rhythms. Stark blue light may be great to highlight the workspace, but it can be shown that changing light color patterns to more closely follow the colors of the sun can have a marked improvement in productivity.
8. Future-proof Lighting Systems
That last point on Human-Centric activities is the perfect Segway into the great unknown that comes with adoption of a still evolving technology. Lighting is now a networked function in the home and office and in many commercial spaces such as warehouses, tunnels, call centers, etc. Many LED lighting systems are designed with automation and networking as part of the fixture and the increasing use of connected IoT sensors to LED bulbs to detect things like occupancy levels, airborne pollutants, RFID tags and many more targets, makes it especially important that the modern lighting system is designed with the future in mind. A major benefit of commercial LED lighting is surely its ability to future-proof the lighted environment and convert what used to be full scale rewiring efforts into software-controlled actions targeted to specific IoT enabled lights.
9. Climate Change Mitigation Through Commercial LED Lighting
No article on the benefits of commercial LED lighting would be complete without a comment on what might be considered the greatest single success story in efforts so far to mitigate climate change. The invention of the blue LED and its recognition by the nobel prize for physics in 2014 started a revolution in energy saving technologies that requires no user lifestyle change, no sacrifice of functionality for lower CO 2 emissions and no cost hikes to participate in this climate friendly lighting revolution. In fact, drastically reduced user costs are experienced when compared to traditional lighting costs amortized over just a few short years.
The fact that less than 15% of the world’s commercial entities have made the switch to LEDs, and most know the risks of being trapped in an obsolete world of legacy lighting, suggests the benefits of this marvelous technology will continue to grow for at least the next couple of decades.
There you have it, 9 advantages of commercial LED lighting when compared to traditional lighting technologies.
Now we want to hear from you: Are there any advantages or disadvantages that we have not covered and that you think should be included? Let us know in the comment field below.