A Look At LED Lighting

LED (light emitting diode) lighting, with its promise of high levels of energy efficiency and long operating life, is being used in certain applications in many facilities. However, the technology is not mainstream in today’s facilities, but what might the potential be in the coming years?

Chad Stalker, director of products and business development, lighting business group at Luminus Devices, offers some information for facility management professionals. Luminus is a developer and manufacturer of large chip solid state light sources based in Billerica, MA.

Chad Stalker, Luminus Devices
Chad Stalker, Luminus Devices

Q: What characteristics of LEDs give the technology the ability to provide increased energy efficiency and life expectancy over other types of lighting?

Stalker: Let’s talk to life expectancy first. LEDs, as a silicon-based light source, presents a number of the same benefits realized from other electronic devices, especially compared to traditional lamp technologies that are based on glass vessels with filaments and gas inside. LEDs are therefore very rugged and because of this provide useable light for an extremely long time (10×1000’s of hours of operation is not hard to realize). They do not radiate heat, UV, or IR light so the area they are lighting does not get overly hot and the items they are lighting are subject to fading or being destroyed.

Now, when talking about LEDs and energy efficiency facility managers (fms) need to look at this as it relates to the complete lighting application. From a lighting application standpoint, the small size and directional nature of LEDs allow for not only high efficiency solutions but fms can now consider form factors never before possible with traditional lighting and the ability to easily put light where it is needed—in a more “efficient” manner.

For example, cove lighting is a very popular application for LEDs and in most cases, they are replacing fluorescent lamps. Fluorescent lamps produce a lot of light with little power and it is hard to understand why LEDs would be more suitable. It is here that the directional nature of the LEDs provide significant value in that a large majority of the light created by the LEDs goes to where it is needed—to light the top of the cove or even spill out onto the ceiling. In the case of a fluorescent lamp, because the light comes out of the lamp in all directions, not all of the light goes where it is needed. So the overall delivered/useful lumens are significantly less—making the LED-based solution the more efficient one.

Q: At present, what space(s) in a “typical” facility might LED lighting be best suited?

Stalker: When looking at where LED-based lighting makes sense, fms have to look at a number of factors, but two key ones are: the type of space (work area, common area, transit, etc.), the location (high traffic, low traffic, remote, etc.). The type of space defines the light levels needed, the light quality, etc., and the location determines accessibility, more specifically ease of access.

The reason fms want to consider these factors is because from a facilities standpoint most of the LED lighting solutions available now typically present a high initial cost but a significant savings as it relates to control, maintenance, and reliability. Putting LED lighting in an area where traditional sources provide equal energy efficiency and light quality and can be easily serviced make more sense.

LED-based lighting makes more sense from a facilities management (FM) standpoint to be deployed in places like coves, exterior facades, in-grade, interior/exterior common areas, exterior wall packs, etc. These are all places where either the cost to maintain the lighting in these areas goes beyond using a stepladder and switching the lamp. These are lighting installations where fms would need to consider additional equipment (scaffolding, scissor lifts, cherry pickers, etc.), off-hours service as to not impact traffic or productivity and special efforts (e.g. special tooling, new gaskets, etc.) in order to service them.

Q: What capabilities and performance parameters should fms look at when considering LED lighting?

Stalker: When considering LED lighting fms should not compromise the capabilities they already realize with their traditional lighting solutions. From a features/capabilities standpoint LED-based lighting systems can support such things as integration with existing lighting and building control systems (e.g. dimming, daylight harvesting, etc.).

The same goes for performance in that they should see the same performance characterization (e.g. IES files, cut sheets, etc.) and regulatory listings (e.g. UL, ETL, CSA, etc.) for any LED-based light fixture. The LED lighting industry is working hard to make sure this information is in place. The fm may have to ask for it. They will probably have to work with their local inspectors to get the updated regulations, but it should be available.

Q: What additional capabilities are being developed in LED lighting technology for facility applications?

Stalker: This is the exciting part about LED-based lighting. It is where the convergence of semiconductor technology and lighting can provide more than just a new light source. With the power and control technology that goes into making an LED-based light fixture there are additional options that can be enabled to make the fixture more intelligent for little to no additional cost. This would enable things like self commissioning, on-board diagnostics, two-way communications with the building control system, and integration into other building systems. Here are two examples:

  1. On-board diagnostics + two-way communications: The light fixture senses that the light output has gone below a certain level and should be checked. It communicates this to the building control system through the two-way communications and the building control system sends an e-mail to the fm with the problem and location of the fixture.
  2. Integration with other building control systems: A person pre-sets their lighting levels of the lights in their office. When they come into work in the morning and slide their security card the lights in their office come on to the levels they want.

Q: What is the biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of LED lighting for general applications in facilities?

Stalker: The biggest obstacle at this point seems to be having a broad set of LED-based lighting solutions in the market, in a form that meets or beats the price/performance of traditional lighting solutions.

Exactly when and how this is going to happen is a question the whole LED lighting industry asks on a daily basis. Most of the market research published around LEDs has been around the technology advancements to achieve performance levels on par with traditional light sources. In this case, research companies like Freedonia and Strategies Unlimited talk about LEDs being available at an acceptable performance level in 2009/2010. In fact, some of those LEDs are coming available in full production.

But the primary question is: when will white LED-based lighting products be able to penetrate the market at the end user level and in what form? If you assume white LEDs will primarily be used in lighting applications versus consumer products, appliances, or other specialized markets there are two ways this will be realized—either as LED lamps or as LED-based fixtures. In this case, the market potential is in the billions. Freedonia cites the U.S. lamp market alone as being $5.4B and the worldwide fixture market as being $71B. The challenge is figuring out how the light sources will enter the market.