Are LEDs THE Energy Efficient Lighting Solution?

September 21, 2016
Written by: Darcy Veneziale, CPSM, CREW Philadelphia

GlaxoSmithKIine Navy Yard Headquarters 
This Double LEED Platinum project utilizes predominately fluorescent sources paired with a daylight responsive lighting control system. LED task lights supplement ambient light at employee workstations.
Photo Credit: Eric Laignel for Francis Cauffman
Developer: Liberty Property/Synterra L.P.

LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, have increased in popularity since their creation in 1962. They have been touted as the ideal solution for energy-efficient lighting. However, energy efficiency is not the only attribute that makes a lighting design the best solution for your project. I sat down with a few of team at The Lighting Practice and learned about the various considerations that need to be discussed during the design process. Emad Hasan, Associate; Jon Hoyle, Associate; Matt Fracassini, Project Manager; and David Seok, Lighting Designer; provided some insight into energy efficiency and LEDs.

Q: Would you agree that in 2016 LEDs are living up to the hype?

David: LED lighting systems are indeed an ideal solution for energy efficient lighting. LEDs have become the leader in efficiency, comparing the ratio of light output to energy usage. Since their commercialization for lighting, the diversity of fixtures has made LEDs the best solution in almost every application.

Emad: Compared to halogen, compact fluorescent, and metal halide sources, they have lived up to the hype. Linear fluorescent still has higher efficacies, but LEDs are nearly there.

Q: When are LEDs the best solution?

Emad: LEDs are another tool in the tool box. Designers should weigh each scenario before recommending LEDs. If cost isn’t a concern, LEDs are a great replacement for almost any light fixture. They aren’t necessarily the only solution. The input wattage and life expectancy of fluorescents is comparable to LEDs, so you have to weigh factors like cost and appearance.

Matt: LED sources are directional by nature, so they are a great solution for downlights, floodlights and accent lighting. Since LED fixtures are typically much smaller, a higher level of optical control is possible. For this reason, LEDs are not a great solution for applications that require 360° of illumination – like direct-indirect pendants or glowing cylinders. In some cases, linear fluorescent lamps (providing 360° illumination by default) are better than LED.

Q: Currently, LED lighting system cost is the largest road block. If budget allowed, would you recommend LED fixtures on all of your projects or are there still applications that benefit from alternate sources?

Jon: LEDs have become the go-to, but there are still places where alternate light sources are best. Fluorescents are still great solutions for offices and parking garages. A fluorescent source’s life, energy and color quality is about the same as an LED and, if not dimming, it is definitely cheaper. Halogen sources are great solutions for residential environments as well as restaurants and hospitality. Halogens can be used to illuminate artwork and decorative chandeliers. Dimming is easier with Halogen and generally more reliable, even in a lower quality fixture. Halogen color quality and color rendering is generally better. That said, the correct LED source will be as successful.

Matt: Each project is unique, but if budget is not an issue, I’d say there are very few applications where LEDs would not be at least considered. Also, I’m very interested in this budget-free project, can you tell me more about it?

Q: What wisdom would you pass to an architect, interior designer, developer, or building owner who is only interested in a 100 percent LED light system for their project?

Jon: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Know your budget. Review product samples, especially if considering a VE alternate. Pay attention to the control input and dimming range.

David: COMPATIBILITY. Make sure everything is compatible. LED systems allow greater efficiency and flexibility, but LED systems are more complicated. All of the components must be operating together properly to maximize efficiency.

Emad: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. Manufacturers vary the LED chips they purchase. Colors don’t always match and sometimes fixtures are glary. See samples and research color characteristics. Also, LED doesn’t mean “no maintenance,” just “low maintenance.” Early failures happen, so you need access to your fixtures.

Matt: KEEP AN OPEN MIND. LED technology is improving quickly. Their performance a year—or even a few months ago—may be different now. Focus on the goals for the project, and ask your lighting consultant to consider using LED wherever it will be most effective. Generally, it will be, but it’s important to keep an open mind about using the best source for the job.

In conclusion

While LEDs provide a high level of energy efficiency and are a popular solution for energy efficient lighting systems, they should not be the only consideration. Lighting should be selected for the best balance of appearance and operation. Also, lighting controls that respond to environmental influences (daylight, room occupancy, dimming, etc.) increase a system’s efficiency. The right controls will provide energy and cost savings even with less efficient light sources. Remember to do your homework. Confirm system compatibility, research and compare LED fixtures, keep an open mind, and one more—trust your lighting consultants.

Darcy VenezialeDarcy Veneziale is Marketing Coordinator for The Lighting Practice, an architectural lighting design firm based out of Philadelphia. Their portfolio features The Empire State Building, Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Texas Children’s Hospital Pavilion for Women, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts, U.S. Capitol Dome, Brown Center at Maryland Institute College of Art, and the LEED Platinum GSK Navy Yard Offices. Veneziale is a Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM) and member of CREW Philadelphia.