By Rick Freistat
From the August 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Out with the old, in with the new. It’s an age-old phrase to be sure, and one that is quite relevant when discussing the challenges to existing lighting industry practices brought on by the increasing popularity of LED technology. Even though many LED products resemble modern works of art with their innovative designs when compared with conventional lighting products, their beauty is more than skin deep.
There has never been a better time to consider a facility retrofit with energy efficient LED lamps. Employing this type of lighting will result in reduced energy consumption and virtually eliminate maintenance costs. In most cases, these improvements will pay for the LED lamps within as little as one to two years.
As with any technology that challenges the status quo, the stream of information pertaining to LEDs is growing, evolving, and changing on a daily basis. If considering an LED retrofit, facility managers (fms) must be cognizant in finding a provider that can handle all facets of the retrofit from full-scale evaluations, project design, and product creation to support, consultation, and procurement.
Fms can consider the following when taking a look at LED lighting. High-quality LED products will reduce lighting energy costs by as much as 50% to 80%, based on a facility’s existing light sources. The usable life of LED products ranges from 200% to as much as 2,500% longer than other lighting sources. A properly designed LED lighting system retrofit will improve color rendering, color temperature, and color consistency within a facility, while often increasing the usable light at the surfaces being lit.
Of course, any retrofit consideration will bring concerns. And as with any emerging technology, there are misconceptions about LED technology that should be addressed. Some of the more common concerns center around glare, quality, cost, and ability to be integrated with existing systems.
Glare. There have been concerns that LED lighting produces a lot of glare. While the first-generation products sometimes produce an inferior light quality, the increased use of better phosphors and optics have resulted in LEDs suitable for all applications.
Inferior quality. As with all products, there variations in quality. This means there are large scale differences in the cost and manufacturing of LED chips and how they perform, thermal management systems that directly affect product life, levels of surge suppression that can void warranties, and other concerns. It is important to only consider distributors that provide lighting audits and return on investment (ROI) proposals and that sell commercial grade products from top-tier manufacturers.
Prohibitive cost. The long life, quality of light, and lumen output of current LED products has reached a standard where it has become viable for fms to endeavor on an LED retrofit. While prices might still come down in the future, the monies lost in energy and maintenance savings in the present can be expected to be more than the reduced product cost in the future. The return on investment over the usable life of LED products makes sense in most applications depending on kilowatt hour rates, burn hours, and available incentives.
Incompatibility. When it comes to LEDs, fms are often concerned there are not products available to match the shape, light color, or “glow” of their existing lighting. Although true in the past, that is no longer a concern. Almost all bulb shapes and sizes have been reproduced in LED versions. Many manufacturers offer selections in color temperatures as low as 2400K (similar to a warm chandelier) to as high as 5000K. The color consistency and color rendering of LED products is exceptional, and beam patterns can range from very narrow to wide floods.
Embarking On A Retrofit
An LED retrofit can offer even more options than conventional lighting. For instance, the advent of white LED smart fixtures with built-in occupancy sensors, daylight harvesting, cameras, and RFI wireless connections allows fms to control each fixture independently with software to maximize energy savings, capture traffic, and other vital information about specific spaces.
Meanwhile, there are myriad advantages of innovative color changing LED lighting systems that provide intelligent, controllable color lighting for both interior and exterior architectural applications. While providing color changing capabilities in the past would have been a costly, manual procedure, this is now accomplished with RGB LED fixtures that can be controlled from an iPad or laptop. The uses are limitless, whether for landscape and signage lighting, or other application.
Of course, retrofitting an existing lighting system with LEDs does present obstacles. That’s why it’s important that fms consult with a qualified lighting professional to examine their existing systems thoroughly. This process should start by identifying all lamps that are used in the facility and warehoused in maintenance. Objectives and problem areas need to be identified and voltages documented along with burn hours in each area.
In addition, if a facility’s lighting system was not originally designed for an LED lighting source, samples need to be installed to ensure that acceptable light levels will be met. Some retrofit products require rewiring to bypass using the existing ballasts.
When considering an LED retrofit, outfitting even part of a facility makes economic sense, especially if utility rates and burn hours are above average and incentives are available. An LED retrofit can have the most impact if a facility has an old or poorly maintained lighting system. On the other hand, if a facility uses predominantly low wattage lamps, and the lighting system has been recently upgraded, an LED retrofit makes less sense.
With each passing year, LED technology is gaining momentum. In its 2012 Global Lighting Market report, McKinsey & Company, presents a strong case for its potential, reporting that “LED is regarded as the most promising technology in terms of commercial viability in 2020 from among several kinds of clean technology…” This report also calculated that the “LED lighting market share in general lighting is expected to be 45 percent in 2016 and almost 70% in 2020. These figures are two and five percentage points higher (respectively) than forecast in 2011.”
With the advancements and inherent advantages of the technology, it makes sense to consider an LED retrofit rather than be left standing in the dark in the coming years.
Freistat serves as the business development executive for LED Source, an LED lighting solutions provider based in Wellington, FL. The company specializes in design, support, development, project management, and financing through its retrofit, architectural, and entertainment divisions. In 1979, Freistat co-founded Laser Lighting, a company that provided commercial lighting products to facilities throughout Florida for more than 30 years.