Don’t be LED astray

Chalmor, LED, lighting
LED lighting in action — the swimming pool at Tonbridge School

Is LED lighting the best option for a lighting system? Certainly, some schemes have been disappointing. Steven Henry of Chalmor provides practical advice about new lighting schemes — including what to consider to determine if LED technology really is the best for a particular project.

The traditionally conservative HVAC industry has been encouraged by both manufacturers and customers to embrace LED lighting technology in recent years. Forecasters now predict that worldwide revenues for LED luminaires and lamps in high-bay applications will increase from US$2.6 billion to US$7 billion by 2021, making LED the dominant technology for high-bay lighting within the next 10 years. But is the mainstream appeal of the technology, and the ease of ‘selling’ the benefits of LED to the customer, leading us astray?

Increasingly, suppliers and installers are asked to tender for lighting schemes that, quite clearly, are based around a technology that will not offer the customer the full potential energy and cost savings.

It works both ways. Some projects that would be obvious candidates for LED opt for more-traditional options because of nervousness about the reliability of the luminaires and lamps. Other projects specify LED even though the nature of the site means that the higher upfront costs cannot easily be justified.

The potential savings of LED do not simply scale-up from domestic applications.

The complexity of commercial-scale lighting projects means that the paybacks are highly dependent on the application. The decision-making process needs to be more rigorous and take into consideration building usage, maintenance regimes and tenure arrangements, in addition to the more commonly considered factors of capital cost and energy savings. It also needs to build in some safeguards to ensure that if LED emerges as the chosen technology the project is not exposed to some of the risks that have been associated with lower-end LED products in recent years — such as high failure rates, inconsistent light effects, overheated fittings and disappointing energy savings.

LED lighting in action — The Diamond Hangar Aviation Hub at Stansted Airport

For commercial buildings (particularly those incorporating space rented for office or retail purposes), using overall lifecycle cost as the criteria for technology selection could prove misleading.

If cost-savings are based on long-term installation, as for LED for example, the notional savings have to be analysed alongside commercial factors. If lease terms are short, if there are questions regarding tenure, or the building owner anticipates other changes to usage, schemes relying on long-term savings, whilst looking good on paper, could fail to justify higher upfront cost. The technology simply may not be capable of delivering the hypothetical savings, given the limitations imposed by changes of tenant and ‘churn’.

It is also important to understand customer priorities when determining which technology path to follow. Who owns the asset? Who stands to benefit from any potential savings? Is energy saving part of a wider strategy for the building owner or occupier? Is there a corporate technology shift under way to migrate towards LED as a matter of policy? Or is LED just a buzzword? Who stands to gain, or lose, from a change in maintenance regime? And how easy, or difficult, is it to access parts of the lighting scheme for maintenance after installation? Maintenance of lighting is often part of a wider contract with fixed costs, so potential savings are theoretical rather than actual.

It may be necessary to consider guidelines regarding performance requirements. LED lamps, of course, do not follow the same pattern as traditional lamps when they fail. Light output gradually reduces. Will there be non-compliance issues when this occurs? Extremes of temperature must also be considered before specifying a technology route. In addition, if retrofitting LEDs to replace halogen lamps, this may seem simple in theory but could prove difficult in practice. For example, transformer compatibility can give rise to problems.

If LED emerges from these discussions as the best technology for the application, some further research is advisable to identify appropriate system components.

The LED market has suffered, to some extent, from being flooded with new products. Not all of them have been successful, and there are discernible differences in quality across available products. This is particularly the case at the low end of the market, which has been subjected to imitation products and broken warranty promises. As long as some basic provisos are included as part of the product selection process, however, these products can easily be avoided, and nervousness regarding product reliability should no longer discourage the installation of LED lamps and luminaires where the broader commercial picture recommends them as the best option.

LED lighting in action — the sports hall at Tonbridge School

It is best to look for third-party-certificated products (best sourced through a reputable supplier and backed by a credible warranty). These might include IP (Ingress Protection) ratings — signifying the product’s protection against water and dust, and the appropriate safety accreditations. Chalmor, for example, installs products tested to IP66, with CE and F marking and RoHS directive accreditation.

A key aspect of the product design is the LED housing. This should be of a material which removes the heat (metal, for example), rather than in a non-conductible material such as plastic, to prevent failure due to overheating.

In conclusion, whilst LED lighting has received wide acceptance with customers, it is advisable to put the entire project under the spotlight if you are considering a lighting scheme for commercial-scale projects. Considering the building usage, tenancy arrangements, maintenance regimes and lighting performance requirements, in addition to the capital cost and energy savings, will ensure that the decision regarding technology will be the right one.

Steven Henry is managing director of Chalmor.

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