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LED Lighting: Market Changer or Mere Green Badge?

While LED lighting is still far from the mainstream, early solid-state lighting products are starting to appear on the market in a variety of form factors and designs. At this stage, it's too early to envisage how LEDs will develop, and what features and applications will prove attractive to consumers, over the coming years. Let's take a look at the current state of play.

The 48-inch LED T8-sized tube light is an interesting example. While it is not intended as a drop-in replacement for the traditional fluorescent tube, which needs a fixture with a ballast unit, the product is targeted at fluorescent tube light markets.

Each 18-watt tube comprises three rows of 96 LEDs; the outer two are cool-white, while the inner one is a warmer yellowish-white. The power supply runs distributed down along the back of the two LED PCBs that are stapled together to achieve the correct length. The tube emits 820 lumens, or approximately 46 lumens per watt, which is roughly half the 100 lumens per watt obtainable with the equivalent high-quality T8 fluorescent tubes.

The tube's life is claimed to be 50,000 hours, which seems reasonable for the LEDs, but a little optimistic for the assembly as a whole, given the large number of electrolytic capacitors used must be de-rated for use in higher temperature environments. The 288 LEDs are arranged in 18 parallel strings, each containing 16 diodes.

Since fluorescent tubes sell for around $2, and have a more than adequate quality of light, the real challenge is the T8's sticker price, which is 30 times more. The high price of LED products can only be justified when the overall replacement cost of alternatives, taking into account labor, downtime, and access difficulty, is greater. But for the majority of applications, this is not the case.

Right now, the LED lamp market is still in its infancy, and demand is uncertain, both due to high prices and an unclear product road map. Lacking is credible top-level direction; governments are pursuing a variety of ad hoc energy policies, most of which don't address the fundamental issue. That is, that most countries do not have enough generating capacity; either demand has to be cut, or the world must build several more power stations close to cities.

To top it off, there are undetermined variables, such as what the price of energy will be, and whether governments will collectively embrace a truly green internationally-agreed energy agenda (and stick with it). Clearly, global energy needs and policies will affect investment in energy-efficient hardware. But the only sensible, sustainable long-term strategy is to cut back on demand.

20 comments on “LED Lighting: Market Changer or Mere Green Badge?

  1. Himanshugupta
    April 27, 2011

    I am not sure whether this is typical ratio of an LED tube price and flourescent tube price. But if this is the typical price difference and we get lower lumen per watt spent then why is there so much promotion about the advantages of LED over conventional tubes? I know that the longer life time is one good thing about the LED but if the costs of LEDs are so high then it will be difficult to buy them at the first place, especially in poor and developing countries.

  2. maou_villaflores
    April 27, 2011

    LED production is really expensive. LED tube R&D should focus on how to lower the cost.

  3. Anand
    April 27, 2011

    “fluorescent tubes sell for around $2, and have a more than adequate quality of light, the real challenge is the T8's sticker price, which is 30 times more”

    Malcolm,

      Do you think this cost can be brought down by mass production of T8's or do we need to wait for new LED manufacturing techonology to push the prices down ?


  4. prabhakar_deosthali
    April 28, 2011

    I do not undetstand why the LED lighting has to emulate the fluorescent tube. The fluorescent tube has many limitations – size is the one, location in  a room is another. On the other hand with LEDs the interior designers can really work out some innovative lighting ideas where the same lumens can de distributed across the room or the sitting hall area to give the same lighting effect , rather than that one fluoresecent tube hanging over the wall some 7 feet high .  Can the LED lighting systems designers think something out of box to make such lighting more popular and more state of art? The cost will become immaterial in that case and the long life of LEDS will pay back for it.

  5. BulbsBoss
    April 28, 2011

    At Bulbs.com we provide replacement lighting to thousands of commercial clients throughout the U.S. and get plenty of feedback from savvy facilities managers.

    When compared to fluorescent T8 their LED counterparts do have quite a performance gap.  A perfect example is the Philips Energy Advantage T8 that lasts 40,000 hours (12 hour cycle), it costs around $4 and delivers 3,000 lumens.  In comparison, many of the LED T8s that are currently available are rated to last 50,000 hours but as the author reports, cost over $50 each.  By the way, its not uncomon for the LED T8 to deliver only a third of the light but still use more than half of the energy of the fluorescent. 

    If you're interested in seeking some very objective assessment check out the weekly Postings of Jim Brodrick , lighting program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy.  His group has done several comparitive tests in this category.

    Mike Connors, Bulbs.com CEO

  6. bolaji ojo
    April 28, 2011

    Mike, Thanks for the additional insight. Do you have the web link for Jim Brodrick for EBN readers? Thank you.

  7. BulbsBoss
    April 28, 2011

    Here's the link to Jim Brodrick's posts.  The T8 papers were done in 2010 so you'll need to scroll down the page in click on 2010 Archives.  I urge those interested in the LED category (whether you're in the industry or and end user) to subscribe to Jim's weekly post – they're short and very informative!

    http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/postings.html

     

  8. bolaji ojo
    April 28, 2011

    Excellent. The additional industry perspective is good for understanding the dynamics of the continuing evolution of the lighting market. I'll check out Jim Brodrick's blog.

  9. jbond
    April 28, 2011

    I think the largest issue facing the LED change over is cost. Until manufacturers can come up with a better technology to reduce the manufacturing costs, consumers are going to pay very steep prices. If prices don't fall considerably, many consumers that took on the added cost of conversion to LED's risk losing their investment if the products aren't mass produced. I do know there are a few companies that are looking at organic substances that can produce the equivalent output of LED's at a fraction of the cost. Of course this is in R&D and could take years to even take hold on the market.

  10. Himanshugupta
    April 28, 2011

    Thanks Mike for your comments. I am curious about LED future. Everywhere i read, there is so much talk about LED being the future replacement of bulbs and flourescent tubes. And that future is predicted in next 2-3 years. Most of todays LED growth is due to LCD backlighting as manufacturers can cover the additional costs of LED. But if the LED lighting solutions are comparatively expensive than the currently available lighting solution then there will not be much demand. Right?

  11. BulbsBoss
    April 28, 2011

    As I mentioned, LED replacements for fluorescent T8 still need a lot of improvement before they are truly viable replacements.  On the other hand, LED replacements for PAR halogen have become commercially viable.  Though still relatively expensive, the cost has dropped nearly 50% in the past 12-18 months from many of our suppliers.  Of equal importance is the improved performance.  A 17 watt LED PAR from Philips delivers 930 lumens and is arguably equivalent to a 75 watt PAR halogen.  The LED costs ten times more than the halogen but lasts 18 times longer. 

    When we run the numbers it still doesn’t make much sense for a residential customer who may have the light on for just 10 hours per week – the payback is over 10 years.  On the other hand, Bulbs.com services retail and restaurant clients who are burning lights for 90-100 hours per week – their payback on a $70 LED PAR is less than 18 months.

    The cost is coming down and it won’t take long for even higher performing LEDs to drop in price by another 50%.  As a consumer I’d wait a little longer to make the purchase.  However, if I’m operating a commercial property where the lights are on more than 10 hours per day, I’m sampling some LEDs now and talking to my utility provider to learn if any rebates are available to offset some of the cost.

    Here is an easy to use energy calculator you may find useful – http://www.bulbs.com/resources/energycalc.aspx

  12. Taimoor Zubar
    April 28, 2011

    A typical household tube-light is rated to be between 30 and 40 Watts as opposed to 18 W for the LED light. There doesn't seem to be much savings in the cost through reduced power consumption especially if you consider the ultra high initial cost. What would make customers buy LED based lights then?

  13. Matt Staben
    April 28, 2011

    One other benefit of LED lighting that may be overlooked (though obvious) is that the heat output is reduced requiring less cooling.  On the other hand, we won't get to turn on all our incandescents to stop the pipes from freezing when the furnace dies (once LED lighting is ubiquitous).

    For example, one person I know of was hired to replace the fluorescent lighting in the refrigerated displays at a grocery store – which prior to the changeover required a substantial amount of energy to remove the heat generated by the lighting.  It turned out that after the lighting had been replaced with LED lighting, the cooling costs were reduced dramatically – so much more than expected that the pay-off is expected to occur within a much shorter time than originally calculated.

    Of course, there's drawbacks – LED based traffic lights for instance won't melt snow – there's already been accidents reported due to not being able to see which light was on – but this is just a re-engineering problem.

     

  14. SunitaT
    April 29, 2011

    “lighting had been replaced with LED lighting, the cooling costs were reduced dramatically”

    Interesting point Matt. We never consider cooling costs when we compare fluorescent lighting with LED lighting. Any idea by how much percentage the cooling costs got reduced ?

  15. SP
    May 1, 2011

    Me too.

     But I feel this tube will be using lot of materials that is not really green. Wont the amount of waste generated by LED tube be more than a conventional tube light?

  16. Ariella
    May 4, 2011

    Today  I saw a blog post on LED lights. The writer concludes that LED lights are worthwhile and likes the idea of not having to change a light bulb for 23 years: If you add this up over the 23 year lifespan of the LED bulb, it looks pretty compelling. The LED bulb would cost $20.70 to operate while the incandescent bulb would cost $110.40 over the same  23 year period.


  17. Hardcore
    May 4, 2011

     

     

    Problem is,

    That these figures are complete nonsense…., there are far too many websites & people stating that using it for so many hours a day is the same as years of life, but that is what you get from  websites that are advertising 'shills'.

    Lets take this nonsense to an absolute extreme, if I use my LED light for 1 minute a year then it will last  25,000 years….,  and if I never use it, then it will last for longer than the age of the Earth.

    Unfortunately many of these so called 'experts' have no background or understanding of electronics, they fail to take into account, aging of components and industry standard mortality figures, not to mention most of these designs contain electrolytic capacitors, these capacitors are liquid based technology, as a result they tend to dry out, especially when subjected to the extremes of heat and cooling.

    Simply taking the lifetime figures of a single components  and then applying it to al the other parts in a product design is ludicrous, the reality is that in its simplest form the product has a lifetime equivalent to the  component with the LOWEST lifetime in the design  minus any aging effects due to power cycling & temperature conditions.

     

    HC

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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