LEDs take over from T5? I don’t think so

The success of the T5 fluorescent is the principal reason LEDs remain a curiosity in the office environment, says Ray Molony

A few years back, the speculation was, ‘when will LEDs take over in general lighting?’ Well, we’ve become a little bit more sophisticated since then and now we know that that’s not the right question.

We can now see that this particular technological shift isn’t happening in one fell swoop. Instead, LEDs are conquering the industry niche by niche. First it was bicycle lights, then car stop lights, then emergency lighting, then fibre optics, then refrigeration, then task lights, then car headlights. If you were at the Euroshop exhibition in March, you’ll know that we are at the tipping point in the retail display sector too.

But what of offices? Well, I predict that offices, along with supermarkets, will be the last sector to fall to solid state. And it’s all because we did too good a job with fluorescent: the T5 is just too perfect a source, why would you want anything else?

Trumping LED

First and foremost, the T5 still trumps the luminous efficacy of LED. How many LED units on the market can hit the magic 100-lumens-per-watt metric? And how many can match its colour quality?

And even if they did, can you buy an LED source that delivers 6,000 lumens for the price of a Big Mac? Thought not. The fashionable new metric – lumens per dollar – cruelly exposes the shortcomings of LED.

Ha, you say. But what about life? What about maintenance? Well, yes, T5 has a life of about 17,000 hours and LED has the mythical 50,000 hours. But is maintenance in an office such a big deal? To change a T5 in an office you don’t need an expensive team of highly-trained contractors. You don’t need a cherry picker. You don’t need to stop the traffic. You often don’t even need a ladder.

The truth is that, looking soberly at the costs and technical specifications, T5 wins hands down.

The sober facts

But if we judged everything on the sober facts we’d all be driving Skodas. There’s a degree of aspiration at work here. Often clients are determined to have LEDs installed because they’re sexy. And we all like to be early adopters, don’t we?

The aesthetic appearance, not the efficiency, was cited as one of the main reasons that Japanese bank Namura installed 70,000 Luxeon Rebel LEDs in 2.2km of recessed luminaires from Wila at its office in the City of London. At the time, last autumn, it was the largest LED office scheme in the world.

But – after dissing the form factor for years – the Big Three are all unveiling LED tubes. And really impressive ones at that – ones where they believe they can tell a ‘cost of ownership’ story.

Well maybe. Yes, LEDs will eventually take over from T5, but it won’t be this side of the Olympics. The Rio Olympics that is.

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Let’s make this interesting

Unsurprising fact of the month: concern over poor quality is one of the main factors holding back growth of LED lighting.