Eric Cole is Bulbs.com's Category Manager for LED lighting products.
I know that many of our customers are trying to educate themselves about LED technology. In a sense, most of us in the industry are doing the same thing. LED technology has been around for some time and we at Bulbs.com have been following its progress very closely, but what LED is going to look like as a widespread, effective, and reliable everyday lighting solution is still evolving. Here are some thoughts on what to look for, and what to look out for, when considering a transition to LEDs.
Let’s look at the benefits
LEDs are most well known for their extremely long life and energy efficiency. LED useful life is based on the number of operating hours until the LED is emitting 70% of its initial light output. Top quality LEDs in well-designed fixtures are expected to have a useful life of 30,000 to 50,000 hours, significantly higher than the 1,000 hours for a typical incandescent bulb and 8,000 to 10,000 hours for a comparable CFL. LEDs usually don’t “burn out” like incandescent bulbs do. Instead, they get progressively dimmer over time. This can be helpful in critical lighting areas. They also tend to use less than one-sixth as much energy as their incandescent or halogen counterparts, and 2-3 times less than most CFLs.
Environmentally, the reduction in electricity consumption translates into a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, LEDs have an advantage in that they don’t contain mercury like CFLs do. Reducing harmful emissions (including mercury) from power generation, and eliminating the chance of it getting into the waste stream when the bulb is disposed is very good news for the environment.
When used in a commercial application, the longer rated life also translates to lower maintenance costs. The cost of a lighting setup is often thought of only in terms of bulb cost and electricity cost. While these are definitely important, they are not the entire picture: HVAC and labor costs play into the equation as well. The longer your bulbs last, the less time and money you spend paying someone to swap them out. Commercial customers may also consider their enhanced durability to be a plus, especially in areas prone to vibration or other stresses. At Bulbs.com, we use LED lighting for the loading docks in our warehouse. For those who are unfamiliar, a dock light is mounted at the dock entrance, and is used to light the inside of the trailer during loading and unloading. These lights take a beating, but we haven’t had to replace a single one since the switchover over a year ago. LEDs are generally dimmable, providing yet another advantage over standard CFLs. One last potential consideration is that LEDs do not emit any UV or IR radiation and are therefore very well suited to applications like retail stores, art galleries, and museums, where these emissions can cause damage or fading.
The primary concerns
Up-front cost and quality assurance. Although the prices of LED replacement bulbs have dropped consistently, they are still generally much higher than comparable CFLs. This higher initial cost means that they’re generally not the best way to achieve an optimal balance between ROI (return on investment) and energy savings…yet.
The other major issue is quality assurance, and this one merits serious consideration as you are shopping for LEDs. Like many emerging products with a high publicity factor, there are a number of companies entering the LED manufacturing and retailing sectors that are much more interested in making a quick buck than in providing a reliable product that performs up to the expectations of the consumer. We saw this when CFLs first became popular in the marketplace, and we’re seeing it again. We’ve tested some great LED products that have stood up to scrutiny, and we carry a number of those products in our LED lineup. We’ve also tested some LED products and found them to be well below our standards. Needless to say, Bulbs.com will not be carrying those products, but it’s important for you to know that they are out there. Efforts are already underway to weed out underperforming product and to help consumers make informed choices when buying LEDs. The U.S. Department of Energy has introduced measures to work toward this goal, by creating standards for testing (LM-79 and LM-80), by creating a Lighting Facts label to standardize product attributes for easier comparison, and by getting out into the market, buying products available to consumers, and testing how they measure up to manufacturer claims (such as with the CALiPER program). The Federal Trade Commission, for their part, has also introduced their own Lighting Facts program, which creates a standardized label similar to the Nutrition Facts labels currently required on food items. The FTC has required this label for most consumer lighting products by mid-2011, but at this point it is unclear how the two labels will work in concert.
It’s also very important to use most LED bulbs in open, well-ventilated fixtures. The bulbs do not generate much heat, but if the electronic components inside of the bulb get too warm, it can cause early failure of the bulb. This can also be a concern with CFLs, but since the initial purchase price of LEDs tends to be high, it’s even more important to install them only in fixtures that are well ventilated.
Hopefully this information is helpful to you when deciding whether to make the switch to LEDs. If you still have questions about our expanding lineup of LED products, don’t hesitate to get in contact with one of our Bulbs.com Lighting Specialists by calling 888-455-2800 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Helpful Resources
-Postings by Jim Brodrick
Jim is the lighting program manager at Dept. of Energy. These are must-read for anyone interested in what is happening in the world of solid-state lighting.
-DOE Briefing on LM-79-08
-Info on the CALiPER Program