By September 29, 2017 Read More →

LED lighting: striking the right balance

Offering customers a wide choice of reliable products, technical advice – not to mention margin-making opportunities and peace of mind – are all part of the job for electrical wholesalers. And helping contractors to take advantage of LED lighting can be a challenge. Michael Morrison, Managing Director of Light Efficient Design UK Limited explains.

It can be increasingly difficult to tick all of the boxes all of the time, especially in areas such as exterior lighting where there are multiple products to choose from, including those from trusted brands as well as from various less well known market entrants and emerging technologies.

As a result contractors and their customers depend heavily on wholesalers to help them decide on the right products for projects while also expecting highly competitive pricing and immediate availability.

There are many product suppliers to conjure with, from the long established global manufacturers, to technology innovators and disruptors, all the way down to the low cost imports. And despite falling prices on luminaires, fixtures and fittings there is the ongoing challenge of helping contractors to convince and cost-justify to end users the benefits of switching over to LED from legacy HID lamps.

While recognising it’s a tall order to strike the right balance, the pace of technological change in today’s LED lighting industry now suggests a need for greater agility and flexibility from wholesalers. What may have previously always been the ‘obvious’ and ‘safest’ brands to stock may no longer be the most appropriate.

At the higher quality end, margin opportunities may not be so attractive, while lower end options may win out on price in the short term but risk compromising hard earned reputations and customer loyalty down the line due to unforeseen performance, reliability and warranty issues.

Fortunately with exterior HID lighting replacements, LED retrofit lamps are increasingly filling a gap for most commercial and industrial applications as they offer an alternative, more economical and non-invasive solution to total LED system upgrades.

A small number of manufacturers are now able to offer contractors retrofits which address the most typical HID re-lamping applications, enabling replacement of 50 – 1000 Watt lamps with fully CE/ROHS tested LED retrofit solutions.

Some have gone further. Light Efficient Design, for example, offers a LED alternative to the now defunct Mercury HID post top lamps as well as low wattage SOX bayonet cap LED retrofits for replacing these increasingly hard to find and expensive lamps.

Apart from the energy savings, after the initial payback period (normally between 12 to 15 months), LED retrofit lamps can be easily and cost-effectively replaced with a more efficient version of the same lamp. For example, due to ongoing improvements in LED efficacy 150 Watt lamps producing 12,000 lumens 18 months are now available at 140 Watts with 16,000 lumens.

Buyer beware

This should all add up to a future-proofed, lower-cost LED upgrade solution for contractors to offer end users and therefore lucrative ongoing repeat business for wholesalers. However, while such advancements by a few quality manufacturers are undoubtedly bringing the LED retrofit approach into the mainstream, there remain spurious claims from importers over the lumen output and lifetime of their products, which have neither been officially tested nor certified.

Tougher EU legislation and certifications are gradually squeezing these out but they have served to create some uncertainty over the reliability, light quality and overall suitability of retrofit for serious commercial and industrial LED applications.

It is therefore strongly recommended that professionals sourcing these types of products ensure data is based on external testing by accredited laboratories, carried out in accordance with the LM79 and LM80 standards.

It is also highly advisable to check the correct thermal management of the LEDs and drivers in order to reach the 50,000 hour promised lifetime. Retrofits which integrate long life fans specially developed for cooling LEDs will therefore be a prerequisite for many applications.

Condensation, dust, chemicals and shock can all adversely affect long term reliability and light quality. To address this, a handful of LED retrofit manufacturers are now applying new production techniques to further enhance the performance of their solutions. The use of a conformal coating, for example, to electrically insulate the circuit from environment stresses. Furthermore the anti-corrosive properties of the polymer will extend circuit life.

Why stock retrofit LED?

For users, retrofit LED eliminates the need for up front capital construction budget and the reduction in labour costs means paybacks can be within 12 to 15 months. The traditional and more expensive route to replacing HIDs with total LED system upgrades also puts margins under pressure. A lower cost approach can increase the margin opportunity for both wholesalers and contractors, offering a regular revenue stream from repeat business as part of ongoing re-lamping maintenance schedules.

It also enables a straight forward and lower cost upgrade path to staying up to date with the latest LED solutions as they continue to evolve. This means a future-proofed solution providing ongoing repeat business.

Easy sell

Retaining existing HID fixtures and fittings makes retrofit quick and easy to demonstrate on the counter, and one or two lamps installed on site for a couple of weeks should be more than adequate for contractors to show the user the enhanced lighting quality firsthand.

Rapid installation

The lamps can be installed in phases while keeping a consistent “look” for the site. Disruption to business activities is negligible which ensures productivity is maintained for both contractors and their customers.

Having assessed the wattage of the lamp to be replaced and selecting the appropriate LED lamp, remove the existing lamp, bypass the ballast and then connect the new LED retrofit lamp. The process should take about the same time as a typical HID re-lamping.

A potential reliability issue is in installations where the ballast has not been bypassed. While there are products on the market that negate this, it is recommended to always bypass or remove the ballast, as using control gear adds wasted wattage. Old control gear can always fail and it is almost impossible to know how long the control gear has been in operation, so it must be viewed as unreliable.

When specifying retrofit LEDs check for:

Heat: Think about cooling issues especially in confined areas. Retrofit solutions with integrated fans may be required. Check for long life (70,000 hour) fans

Ballast: Always bypass or remove the ballast

Luminosity: Check lamps are fully CE/ROHS tested and certified and have LM79/80 data

Suppressors: Protect against surges and spikes in cases of poor power supply quality