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Save Energy with LED Lighting in Commercial Buildings

Why the Big Shift to LED Lighting?

You have probably seen LED lighting in commercial facilities by now.  You may have even tried them in some form or another.  LED lighting is starting to make significant penetration into both outdoor and indoor applications – very quickly.  But why is this occurring now?  How can a lighting technology that costs more up front (capital cost) than traditional light sources be gaining market acceptance so rapidly?  The answers to these questions are clear to commercial property owners that have looked at the lighting performance and ROI of high quality LED lighting products for the right applications in recent months.

LED Lighting professionals often refer to our industry as moving in “dog years”, drawing the obvious analogy that “dog years” are typically 7 times shorter than human years, and so the industry is advancing at a very rapid pace.  This is a common phenomenon any time the semiconductor industry sinks its teeth into new applications (an LED is a semiconductor) – performance accelerates while costs drop.

What does this mean to you?  It means that if you looked at LED lighting even 6 months ago and decided it didn’t make sense for one reason or another, you either looked at the wrong company, the wrong product, the wrong application for the technology, or perhaps it just wasn’t ready yet.  But it might be ready now (remember – advancing quickly), and your competition is probably keeping a close eye on it.  A reputable supplier is going to recognize that education is crucial with a new technology and act more like a coach or teacher and less like a salesperson, so if you were looking at an application that clearly didn’t make sense and your supplier was trying to “sell” you LED lighting for it, you might want to consider a different supplier.  Reputable companies know where the technology makes sense and where it doesn’t.  It isn’t a “one size fits all” technology and one needs to look at the application first.

Halogen 20 Watts

So why is the shift occurring now?  For a number of reasons, which, when combined, add up to a solid value proposition that simply can’t be ignored.

CRS LED 6 Watts

1)       Industry performance claims and standards:  The world of LED lighting has been filled with false claims for light output, life expectancy, light quality, energy savings, and more.  An early lack of education, standards and accountability provided a breeding ground for misinformation.  This is finally starting to go away thanks to efforts from the US Department of Energy and its various programs and conferences designed to encourage market adoption of LED lighting.  One great example is the “CALiPER” program, which anonymously purchases LED lighting products, tests them, and publishes their findings much like “Consumer Reports”, but specifically for LED Lighting.  Another great program is the “Gateway” program where real world LED lighting installations are studied in depth and reports are published.  You can find out more about these and other great USDOE Solid State Lighting programs, conferences, and industry standards by visiting

2)      Lighting quality:  So you tried LED lights a while ago and they were “kind of blue” or “too dim” or “colors just seemed bland under them”.  These are all things of the past if you look at current QUALITY LED lighting products.  Today’s LEDs can rival any light source in terms of their ability to render beautiful colors, even for demanding retail environments.

CRS Industrial LED

3)      Market Education:  Let’s be honest.  You are probably not an LED guru – but on average commercial buyers of lighting products are far more “LEDucated” than just a couple years ago.  As I mentioned earlier, education is critical to a good outcome because, unfortunately, unless you know what to look for there is a significant probability that you will end up buying “lemons”.  You can’t just install one or two LED lamps / fixtures, tell yourself “they look pretty decent”, and expect to install them throughout your facility or organization.  You need to know what’s “under the hood”.  Experienced lighting designers are spending significant time learning about LED technology.  If your budget allows it, tap into their knowledge.  If it doesn’t, find a supplier that will take the time to educate you or your staff.

Drivers for LED Lighting in the Commercial Market

4)      Payback and Lifetime:   If you are the buyer of lighting for your company I feel sorry for you.  You probably receive countless emails and sales calls about “the best LED light” blah blah blah, and of course it has a payback that is really short and it lasts a million years.  Well, fortunately there is some truth to those pitches.  Now that LED fixtures and lamps have some time under their belts there is more data to support payback and lifetime mathematical models.  Payback is a fairly simple one.  You know what you pay for your electricity.  You can use a power meter to measure the power consumed by your current lighting, and compare it to the power consumed by the LED lighting.  Pretty simple math from there.  But what about labor?  If you only need to change light bulbs 1/20th as many times as you do now, are you getting rid of the person that changes them?  If not, don’t include that savings.  In addition, although there is a case to be made for the reduced air conditioning costs by switching to LEDs, many people choose to ignore it.  It’s your call, but you should know that a highly respected lighting designer and friend of mine named Derry Berrigan recently completed a prototype store for a well known restaurant chain that utilized mostly LED lighting.  Due to the lack of heat load from lighting, the restaurant was able to install a smaller capacity air conditioner, making the payback for the LED lighting immediate.   How in depth you go with your analysis will depend on your situation.  If you’re just looking at switching existing lamps with LED lamps, you might want to simply consider the difference in power consumption of the lamps as well as the cost savings of some future lamp purchases avoided (LED lamps should last significantly longer).  This would be a “worst case” scenario.  If it already looks good, you win.

Economic Benefits

5)      Rebates:  Many utilities are offering rebates on LED lighting products.  From LED light bulbs to LED streetlights and everything in between.  We have seen some rebates that actually make the LED product completely free.  Historically rebates have often served the same purpose:  Make new technology more affordable to help market adoption until economies of scale and other forces allow the market transformation to occur.  These kinds of incentives are taking what is, in many cases, a solid value proposition to a complete “no brainer”.  Let’s face it.  If you could simply change a light bulb, maintain lighting quality, reduce your lighting bill by 80%, with an ROI measured in weeks or months, and tell the world that you did the environmentally responsible thing – wouldn’t you look into it too?

6)      Reliability:  Ever heard the phrase “You get what you pay for”?  Yes, it applies to LED lighting just like most other things in life.  I recently overheard a conversation in which someone was complaining about how their compact fluorescent lamps didn’t last anywhere near the 10,000 hours the package said they would.  I chuckled at this statement because this same person earlier in the conversation disclosed that he paid a very low price for them.  You get what you pay for.  LED lighting products can be extremely reliable.  They can also be very poorly made, but you might not be able to tell the difference at first.   Fortunately, overall it is getting much better and thus, more people are having positive experiences with the technology.

Stay tuned for my next article “What you need to know when buying LED lighting”.

by Scott Riesebosch, President of CRS Electronics

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