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LED Lighting

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October 19, 2017

Risks and rewards

Lighting is going high-tech, presenting new opportunities and threats for electrical contractors. The biggest challenge is that the LED is still a young technology. Attracted by the opportunities and disruption LEDs cause, many new suppliers and products have entered the lighting market, some good, some not so good, and their longevity is uncertain.

Continuing advances in the technology have been extremely disruptive to lighting product development and cycles. New LED chips may create the need for new drivers, which may have different control compatibilities (and capabilities), while also affecting optical, thermal and luminaire design. The product cycle for an LED product could be as short as about a year and as long as about two years. During a long project cycle, what is initially specified may not be available (or compatible) later, requiring contractors to pay attention.

Key voluntary industry standards—IES-LM79, IES-LM80 and ANSI C78.377—provide standardized testing of light output, efficacy, lumen maintenance up to 6,000–10,000 hours (which is then extrapolated to L70 or some other point using IES-TM21), and color characteristics. However, standards covering LED electrical and operating characteristics, electrical connections, and dimming interfaces have not been developed during this very innovative period, but would likely be beneficial. 

At this time, the most beneficial step electrical contractors can take is to familiarize themselves with the technology, products and manufacturers. While owners respond to price, this is still a get-what-you-pay-for period in the LED market. Those who have the expertise to understand the technology’s issues, find reliable suppliers, match lighting and controls, and qualify good products will be more likely to have satisfied customers.

Various government and industry organizations offer a number of tools that can be helpful, including the Next Generation Luminaires Design Competition, Lighting for Tomorrow residential product design competition, Lightfair Innovation Awards, CALiPER testing reports, Gateway project demonstrations, Lighting Facts, DesignLights Consortium’s Qualified Products List, Energy Star and more. These can be helpful, but the best assurance of quality performance, particularly regarding aspects such as color and visual comfort, comes from expert observation. Conduct mockups when possible; request samples; see for yourself.

In the end, the LED is just another technology. Its ultimate limitation is how well it is applied within a well-designed system that not only reduces the electric bill, but satisfies users. As always, electrical contractors can benefit from general lighting education to understand what goes into the installation and what comes out of it.

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