Editor's Letter

May 20, 2011
Behold the LED Light

What's the difference between a used car salesman and an LED lighting salesman?

The used car salesman knows when he's lying.

At last month's Lightfair International show, lighting professionals found astounding technology and applications; however, supplier claims about product performance are often taken with more than a grain of salt.

On display at Lightfair were LEDs with life ratings of 75,000 hours and beyond, higher lumen output, higher CRI and tighter color tolerances, controls with higher IQs, and new options for LED replacement lamps — not to mention some stunning visual effects in exterior and interior applications. Solid state components allow extraordinary control, as evidenced by greenhouse LED lighting that emits only the light spectrum that supports photosynthesis. Perhaps driven in part by the advances in LEDs, non-LED options are also making leaps in performance. Two examples on display were T8 fluorescent lamps with far longer life and replacement CFLs with a secondary halogen element that allows them to instantly provide full light output.

The wow factor is large, but ensuring that products perform as claimed is problematic. Light loss factors, color consistency, failure rate, dimming capability and quality of white light are factors that need reliable information from suppliers. And because the inherent properties of LEDs differ so much from those of other lighting types, developing appropriate specs for LED and non-LED options is not a simple matter of equal watts to watts. This is one area where you may not want to rely on LED salespeople alone to develop a comparable spec for your application.

Perhaps any technology developing at the speed of LEDs — so rapidly that the "next generation" seems to arrive in product cycles that turn in months rather than years — encounters such pains. New standards and ratings are helping. DOE's Lighting Facts program is developing its performance scale for commercial LEDs. A new color rendering index is being created for LEDs because the CRI scale rating does not work as well for LEDs as non-LEDs. Underwriters Laboratories is crafting guidelines to define levels of high-energy light that are safe for the human eye. New tests for determining LED life are also underway. In the meantime, a good warranty — from a supplier you can expect to stay in business — is important.

It's not exactly buyer beware, but it is buyer be alert. Still, the pace of LED and non-LED innovation is brilliant.

Chris Olson
Chief Content Director

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