LED’s – Why Is Everybody So Excited?

President Joanne Cole points us to this article that was written for the Charlotte chapter by Rick Regan. She shares it here with their permission.

LED’s – Why Is Everybody So Excited?

A recent International Trade Show and Conference devoted to Architectural and Commercial Lighting held this year in Las Vegas, raised the question: Why is everybody getting so excited about LEDs? The LED products that most of us have seen have been too dim for serious commercial use, and kind of a blue-ish light to boot. Not ready for Prime Time!

Here’s the thing, LEDs have been steadily getting brighter and more powerful, year after year. And this year marks the first time that LED products will be able to challenge the performance of every kind of light: Incandescent, High Pressure Sodium, Metal-Halide and Fluorescent, to name a few.

The magic number is 100. That is: 100 lumens-per-Watt of electricity. The very latest T8 & T5 products hover around this 100 lu/W level, and HPS and M-H are in the 100 lu/W range too. After 40 years of development and improvements, 100 lu/W is about the best you can get out of conventional lighting. (source: IESNA Lighting Handbook)

But LEDs have gone from 1 lu/W in 1980 to 50 lu/W in 2000, to 100 lu/W in 2010. And the output of LEDs is still increasing: by the end of next year we should see 150-200 lu/W products and by 2015 we should be able to install products with nearly 400 lu/W, which is where the scientists say we will be the limit for LED technology. (source: Radcliffe Advisors, “Solid State Lighting Manufacturing Roadmap-2010”)
What this means is that when LEDs ‘cross the threshold’ of 100 lu/W, there will be no turning back. It simply will not make any sense to ignore LEDs. Will the conventional lights still work? Sure, and be cheaper up front. But the long term trend for LED pricing is down, down, down. Over 30% this year.

Where’s the ROI? Well, the US Energy Information Administration figures that 21% of energy use in commercial buildings is used for lighting. If LEDs do get to be 2x as powerful as conventional lighting, then we can use half as much energy, meaning that we can save about 10% of the overall energy bill. Is 10% enough to retrofit an existing building? Probably not, right now. But for new construction, LEDs should certainly be a part of the equation.

However, despite all the hype from the LED industry, there still are not a lot of people implementing LEDs on a large scale. The economics have not justified it. But once LEDs ‘cross the threshold’ of 100 lu/W, progressive commercial property managers will look to take advantage of the other benefits of LEDs like higher CRI, reduced heat, longer life and shatter-proof bulbs. But you may have to be Green Leader in your company, or your building, or your home. There will be skeptics, but those are a good antidote to the Green hype.

One way to sort out the jumble of messages is to consult a progressive lighting designer because a good designer can improve the quality, the quantity and the cost of your light – which makes tenants, managers and owners happy.

Stan Pomerantz of Light Tech Designs in Durham, NC said on a Department of Energy lighting panel recently in Raleigh, “LEDs are the first real innovation in lighting in 40 years. Everything else has been just tinkering, since Edison. It will take us all a few years to figure out how to properly use LEDs effectively.”

At the US Dept. of Energy, they are taking seriously the possibility of reducing the energy consumption of commercial buildings by 10%, 20%, or more. The DoE has instituted an independent testing lab to test products to provide unbiased information on the performance of commercially available LED products.

At their website for Commercially Available LED Product Evaluation & Reporting (CALiPER), they provide all the test data from their testing – for free, for the public, for non-commercial use. (one LED company was recently fined by the DoE for improper use of the test results.)

Here’s the link: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/reports.html

This program has been very influential in driving accountability among manufacturers and suppliers.
The other element of the lighting ROI equation is the cost of electricity itself, which moves ever and relentlessly upward. The US Energy Information Administration cites the 2010 average nationwide residential electricity rate to be 11.5 cents/KwHr, up from 7.5-cents in 1999, and projects the national average to be above 12.5 by the end of 2012. Commercial rates vary much more widely, but the trend is clearly upward. This means that a 10% increase in electricity costs must be offset by at least 10% of conservation – just to break even. (source: US EIA “Short-Term Energy Outlook, April 2010”)

Contributing to the confusion about transition in the lighting market is the fact that the products and innovations with LEDs are coming, not from traditional lighting companies, but from electronics companies. Some big companies with big bets on LED lighting are electronics and semiconductor companies, mostly in Asia. There are new startups like Nexxus in Charlotte, Gallium in Atlanta and Cree in Durham, to the really big guys like Toshiba, Sharp, Citizen and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC). The landscape is crowded with unfamiliar faces. And make no mistake: the incumbent lighting suppliers are not eager to sell you product that will not be replaced for 5 to 7 years.

“A lighting socket is like a money faucet,” a lighting rep admonished me in Orlando recently. “Don’t turn off the tap, buddy!” he said.

In the Green Initiatives arena LED lighting is not alone. Solar Power generation, high-performance Window upgrades and GeoThermal systems are all vying for your Green money. Only LEDs offer the likelihood of a 12-to-24 month payback.

When LED lighting makes sense to you, you will be in good company with some other industry leaders who are testing the reality of LEDs. Most notably the US government is implementing LEDs in many buildings, particularly new military construction. But a few other names are worth noting: Progress Energy, CITI, JetBlue, Lockheed Martin and McDonalds all have either pilot programs or initial implementations already in place. These are just a few projects where I have personally worked with these companies. One of the largest LED projects in the country is going on right now at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. A team of engineers, energy consultants and lighting designers are working hard to bring a very large operation into a very modern and efficient future.

So at LightFair here is what I am going to be looking for in available LED products:

– CRI over 90
– 0-100% smooth dimming
– 80% less heat (than incandescent, 30% less than CFL)
– Color Temps from 2700K to 6000K (Warm to Cool)
– Shatter-proof, tamper-proof and theft-proof fixtures
– And efficacy over 100 lu/W

Link to the Light Fair: http://www.lightfair.com/lightfair/V40/index.cvn?id=10187

Article submitted by Rick Regan – Charlotte Chapter of IFMA