Lighting: LED technology still a hot topic

Keith Isoldi, VP, development, New World Restaurant Group, Golden, Colo.

Although LED lighting (also referred to as solid-state lighting) is one of the hottest topics in the industry, it’s not always easy to distinguish between the reality and the hype of this still-emerging technology. But speaker Kraig Kasler did just that at the SPECS/2007 session, “LED Lighting: Inside and Out.” The workshop, part of the conference’s energy management track, offered a comprehensive overview of LED technology, including the benefits and challenges therein.

There are hundreds of different LED “package” types (indicator, standard, high current and high power, to name but a few). And once a package is selected, there are still many other factors to manage, including, color bins, voltage bins, intensity bins and optics.

“LEDs are a complicated business and science,” said Kasler, VP of marketing and product development, Lumination, LLC, GE Consumer and Industrial’s LED business. “They are highly technical products, and performance varies significantly by color and material type. It’s important to do your homework [in selecting a system].”

Solid-state lighting has many benefits, including efficiency, long life, durability, compactness and color (and color-changing) capabilities.

“All the talk about LED efficiency is causing a lot of confusion in the marketplace,” Kasler said. “The reality today is that LEDs are much better [in terms of efficiency] than incandescents and halogen, but are not as good as fluorescents. However, the efficiency of LEDs is improving every year and we expect the trend to continue. The technology has the capability to get to 150 lumens per watt, but that’s not where it’s at today.”

LEDs vs. Fluorescents Savings Comparison (based on a five-door refrigerated case)Energy SavingsMaintenance Savings*Estimate based on: 24 hours/day FLU and 15 hours/day LED, 365 days/year, $0.082/kwh, 0.453W in compressor savings per lighting watt reductionSource: Lumination, LLCEnergy Savings + Maintenance Savings=$263 + $190=$453/year on a five-door case
Light SourceT8FLULEDLight SourceFLULED
Five-door reach-in case360W205WScheduled re-lamp $/door$8
%energy savings 43%Unscheduled maint. $/door$35$5
Lighting energy $/year*$278$97Total maintenance $/door$43$5
Compressor energy $/year*$117$44Annual maintenance savings$190
Energy savings $/year$263 

LEDs are very robust, with no filament or cathode failures. Plus, end-users don’t have to worry about shattered glass, as there is no glass to break.

“The durability of LEDs is a big advantage,” Kasler added.

The color capabilities of LEDs allow end users to create interesting effects with the technology that are not doable with traditional light sources.

But LED technology is not without its challenges. Cost tops the list.

“While the cost is coming down,” Kasler said, “it is still significantly above incumbent technologies.”

Performance in terms of brightness also needs to be improved.

‘We’re doing 15 to 20 company-owned stores and 50 licensed ones. We’re also starting a new franchise program.’

“It’s getting better, but further improvements are needed,” Kasler said. “Another hurdle to overcome is color consistency, or uniformity. There are lots of variations, and different shades. You can live with this in certain applications, but in some retail applications this can be a problem. It’s important to remember that not all LEDs are created equal.”

What’s on your schedule for 2007?

Acceptance is another challenge.

“We still have a long way to go in terms of acceptance,” Kasler said. “The end user has to understand the value of LEDs and, as an industry, we have to get standards out there. And we have to continue to improve on efficiency—lumens per watt—and cost.”

The LED industry is growing about 15% a year, with strong growth potential. Currently, the vast majority of LED use is found in mobile applications, primarily cell phones, which accounts for about 58% of the overall LED market. The auto industry is next, at 13%.

“Retail illumination, at 5%, is a small slice of the pie,” Kasler said.

To date, LEDs have not been widely adopted for general illumination. But as the technology advances, it is expected to become more widely used.

“We believe that violet chip and multi-phosphor technology has a lot of potential for general illumination because it allows you to get a high quality of light,” Kasler said.

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