LED lighting has been on an epic journey which in many ways has seen it finally arrive as the foremost lighting technology in 2015. For instance, as little as a year ago, the shelves in Tesco selling lamps were a confused mix of fluorescents, halogen and LED. If this is an indication of consumer experience, LED is now the only credible choice in the retail aisles. Of course from a professional perspective, LED has been with us for a while. The challenge for specifiers has been to finally embrace the quality issues and learn the characteristics that make a good brand of LED lamp, fixture or fitting. We like to think that we have played a useful part in your ongoing knowledge and awareness of solid state lighting. Let’s have a recap!
360-degree globes (GLS), candles and golfball lamps have settled on filament LED technology to present us with dimmable retrofit lights that now look identical to the vision that Edison had 100 years ago. Seemingly manufacturers have woken up to the need of the customer – by scrapping the weird and wonderful alien looking bulbs in favour of the familiar.Gone too are the ‘corn-on-the-cob’ looking versions (although they may hold on to the high light output sector) and a fine filament has become the leading solution. Filaments are now shipping with fully dimmable functions which make them an easy swap replacement for existing lights.
Directional spotlights have adopted and adapted COB technologies to deliver GU10s and MR16 lights at increasing efficiencies in terms of watts to lumens, reaching 115lm per watt and beyond. Costs have been tumbling too. However, vigilance is still needed in the selection of drivers. Leading brands with in-house testing facilities will recommend compatible drivers. It is best to stick with the lamp brands that have the answer. The selection of colour temperatures continues to increase, but it is necessary to go on the kelvin scale rather the descriptive term ‘warm white’ etc – these differ between manufacturer. There are some useful examples of new optics available – and a broadening array of beam widths to choose from.
The market for LED tubes (T8 and T5) has been dormant due to a number of obstacles that makes the replacement of fluorescent strip lights troublesome. The existence of ballasts and how to bi-pass them is an issue – but simply the existing LED retrofit models were not 360 all around light and were not more efficient than fluorescents. Recent entrants in the US market, however, are 120lm/watt efficient which represents a game changer and forecasters predict that tubes will be one of the major growth products in the lighting market over the next two years.
It is apparent from our perspective that LED features in every conversation and project. However, the concern over compatibility remains. The single most important lesson has been to be aware that the light output of a fitting (lumens) is more important than the given wattage. Many continue to grapple with comparisons and how a light will perform when the spec says 80lm output compared to 200lm or 400 lm or 600 lm etc. Aesthetically, LED can feel punchier in reality than the specification indicates.