THE LONG VIEW
A dim idea

Despite popular perceptions, LEDs don’t last forever, and it won’t be long before users start demanding an easy way to replace them. Manufacturers take note…says Miles Pinniger, international lighting consultant

A couple of months ago I noticed a headline in The Washington Post – it said ‘A dim idea’ and so for some reason I read on. It was referring to the recent US legislation that will ban incandescent lamps completely by 2016, and describes how these lamps are increasingly difficult to find in stores already.

Apparently this is causing much concern among less well-off Americans. Having to pay $5 or more for a low-energy lamp compared with the $1-2 for a GLS lamp threatens to increase hardship. There are serious proposals on the table to repeal the legislation and bring back the bulb.

Certainly to the energy-minded it seems irresponsible nonsense to repeal legislation that bans a product that’s only 4 per cent efficient – even the notoriously polluting internal combustion engine is 30 per cent efficient. But after a period during which bargain-price CFLs led us into thinking they are in fact affordable, we’re all seeing low-energy lamps in general increasing in price.

Is this to make LED-based GLS retrofits seem more affordable? A quick check in Home Depot in Alexandria, Virginia bears this out – first brand LED GLS retrofits at $30-40 and Chinese brands at $9.99 each, with CFL versions at $5-10 each.

It becomes a bit more understandable that the Americans are becoming intolerant of big-brother legislation that forces them to use less electricity when they are sitting on oil, gas and coal reserves that will last for at least the next 500 years, and at the same time being offered inferior (but mercury-free) LED retrofits for a mere 10-15 times the price of a GLS lamp – ‘but you can fit and forget it for 15 years’.

In Europe it’s a similar picture. CFLs from the Far East are driving down market prices to the point where first-brand manufacturers are introducing LED-based products as fast as they can to try to differentiate themselves. However, in AKI (DIY superstores around Europe) first-brand LED GLS retrofits are an even higher €35-45 each! That’s inflation for you… So LED technology then is an opportunity for the lighting manufacturers to hike prices big time.

We’re seeing the same with LED-based luminaires – £200-400 each for an LED display projector, more than twice the price of its halogen/compact HID equivalent. Some of them are throwaway (sorry, single-use) products with no possibility to replace or upgrade the LED module. Having completed and commissioned several LED-based lighting systems, I can testify to their reliability – at least 10 per cent of drivers fail in the first few weeks, not the LED module but its electronic driver, sealed in for life.

Since Pinnigers lit Clifton Suspension Bridge with LEDs more than six years ago, the lumen output of Luxeon LEDs has increased by more than 80 per cent – great news, but does the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust want a bridge that’s going to be 80 per cent brighter when the LEDs are replaced? Luckily Crescent Lighting was able to offer dimmable drivers and replaceable LED modules.

Anyone who argues in favour of non-replaceable LED modules and drivers or indeed specifies them on behalf of their client wants their head examining and is doing their client no favours. This is especially so in the case of so-called IP-rated exterior luminaires because LEDs and electronics hate moisture (which, yes, still gets in). We still have no standardised module replacements, LED luminaire format seems to be changing monthly and we’re all embracing the technology with breakneck speed never before seen in the lighting industry.

The helicopter view frightens me – oceans of non-compatible LED replacements with squillions of disaffected end-users wondering what to do about maintaining their super-expensive,everlasting, pays-itself-back-in-no time, fit-and-forget LED lighting scheme. A dim idea.

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