LEDs light the way

In the beginning LEDs came in red and a yellowish green colour. They were a fantastically efficient way of making light in these colours but were largely restricted to use in electronics. Then a very clever person created blue, which kickstarted a whole industry in LED lighting. That was about 15 years ago and our traffic lights were some of the early adopters of this new technology. Since then, the industry has developed products in leaps and strides and prices have fallen. ($33 per 100 lamp lumens in 2009, down to $7 in 2014). There are now LED products to replace just about any other lighting product you can think of and many investments have become worthwhile.

If you are thinking of investing in LEDs – do your homework to make sure you get the light quality, product lifetime and energy savings to make it worthwhile.

The market for LED lighting products is going gangbusters, largely driven by the energy efficiency schemes in Victoria and NSW. In 2009 the nation’s minimum energy performance standards started to phase out inefficient lighting too and the Government estimates we now use 27% less energy for lighting in our houses. They would like to see inroads into the 75% of lighting energy that they think is still being used by incandescent and halogen lamps which can use double or triple the energy an LED globe consumes.

So in energy efficiency land, LED lighting is a relatively recent development that is worth investigating for every project. (Of course there have been some roadbumps for LED expansion, mainly around product quality, and in response the Lighting Council has developed a number of brochures including this buyers guide, as have governments, who also continue to test and set standards)

LEDs enjoy a number of advantages over incandescents, halogens and even fluoros:

  • an efficient source of light, especially if you want it to shine in a certain direction
  • a long lifetime, up to 50,000 hours compared to old fashioned globes at 2,000hrs
  • easily controlled and tolerates frequent switching

You may know that CORENA puts solar panels on community buildings, but did you know that we make sure those buildings are energy efficient first? CORENA is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change. Energy efficiency is doubly important. It’s usually the cheapest way of reducing emissions, so firstly it reduces the size of the solar system a building might need, and then it also helps pay for the solar system from the energy savings.

In our recent Quick Win Project for Warradale Community Child Care we’ve decided to proceed with the lighting project straight away because the savings will help speed up the solar panel investment. The project replaces 61 standard fluorescent luminaires (36W) with 18W LED lamps. As you can imagine, a child care centre uses its lighting all day so the intensive use means the LED lights pay for themselves in just 2lighting years and 4 months.

I’ve dragged the efficiency graph out of a recent government presentation in order to provide a quick summary of applications of LED lighting that you might consider investigating.

The graph didn’t have LED performance and this is telling. Not only do the products vary widely, the performance in testing has often fallen short of product claims.

Firstly, remember, safety and performance have been two concerns with poor quality products so far, so do your homework and use a qualified electrician to change lighting wherever suitable. Quite a few products have been designed to allow you to replace a globe or fluoro tube without needing an electrician. The alternatives where you replace the whole lamp and the LED is built into the luminaire are more likely to be fit for purpose and benefit from better design. Be cautious about the light level too. If the light level drops over the long life of the globe (by up to 30%), will it still light your space sufficiently?

  • Changing a globe? You can see from the graph that LEDs perform far better than incandescents and halogens and on a par with compact fluorescents.
  • Difficult to change? If the globe is up high and a pain to replace, I would advocate for investing in a long life good quality globe.
  • Infrequently used? One of the best applications for LEDs has been sensor lights. the sensor is built into the light. In public toilets or car parks these can be used to provide a low level light until movement is detected and then instantly bring on full light.
  • Near a window? Some LED products are designed to dim when daylight is available and come back to full light at night time.
  • In commercial applications, LEDs are starting to hold their own against fluoros and other high power applications – and have the added advantage that lamp replacements will need to occur less often. The labour costs are often of more concern to building owners than energy costs.
  • street lighting, exit lighting and traffic lights have all spawned a range of applications for LEDs because the flexibility of the technology provides solutions that traditional lights never did very well.

LEDs have been a great revolution for the lighting market and I think we will see many more improvements over the next few years.


About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
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