Retail Applications for LEDs

March 19, 2012
LEDs are increasingly used for ambient lighting and other retail applications.

Ambient lighting and highlighting are both needed in retail spaces, and in light of recent technological advances, LEDs can now provide both.

A common practice in the retail industry involves contrast – increased illumination is designed to emphasize featured merchandise against general light levels. An increasingly efficient and feasible way of providing contrast is with LEDs.

“The key is to highlight,” says John Dombrowski, director of retail corporate accounts at provider Acuity Brands Lighting. “Highlighting certain merchandise with special lighting makes the merchandise pop. A lot of that is being done today with LED track lighting or LED directional downlights of some sort.”

However, LEDs can now be used to replace fluorescent tubing for general light, says Gary Trott, vice president of market development at Cree Inc., a major provider of LED technology.

“If you want to be ahead of the curve and ahead of your competition, now is the time to consider LED lighting for your ambient lighting,” Trott says. “Downlights were the pioneers. If you’re not doing those, you’re actually behind the industry and leaving a lot of money on the table.”

Savings and Payback
Downlighting and track-lighting have typically been done with halogen or metal halide lamps. However, David Mullane, vice president and general manager of Capitol Light, a national lighting supplier, has already seen a significant shift to LEDs.

“Halogens are the cheapest light source you can initially purchase,” Mullane says. “But over the long haul, they’re more expensive because of how often they burn out. We’re replacing a lot of halogens right now with LEDs.”

The 3,000-hour burn life of halogens requires that they be changed about every eight months, Mullane adds, since the average burn in most retail environments is 4,500 hours per year.

LED burn life can last up to 50,000 hours, he notes, resulting in substantial maintenance savings. The payback tends to happen in two years or less, Trott says.

“We’ve been doing a lot of retrofits and conversions to LEDs these last 12 months, and we have a lot of projects in the works,” Mullane says, adding that Capitol Light has converted over 200 Yankee Candle stores. “There’s quite an ROI for it.”

Technology and Cost
Many retailers are still wary of converting to LEDs because of their higher upfront costs, but the savings from LEDs are more dramatic in later years when you’re not only saving energy but also the cost of a bulb change, Dombrowski notes.

LEDs also offer aesthetic improvements in terms of the color rendering index (CRI) compared to fluorescents, says Trott. These advancements provide quality lighting design, Dombrowski adds.

“All of the important factors of lighting are either duplicated or enhanced with LED technology,” he says. And as performance and technology increase, cost will continue decreasing, adds Dombrowski.

“A lot of times the industry looks too much at initial cost and sacrifices,” he says. “But the savings potential they could take advantage of is so huge, it just makes sense to go in this direction.”

Dombrowski helped the Chestnut Hill Star Market in Newton, MA, to become one of the first grocery stores entirely lit with LEDs.

Cree Inc. worked with a Wal-Mart in Wichita, KS, to develop the first Wal-Mart nationwide to feature all-LED interior lighting, with an expected 40% savings in energy.

As more and more stores employ LED technology, there is potential for enormous reward, says Erin Pedersen, chief operating officer of Illumetek Corp, a lighting and energy management company that assists with retrofits for all types of lighting.

“There is an opportunity for LED in your location right now, and you should take that opportunity," Pedersen says. "The more demand there is, the more feedback we have. The more we all get on the bandwagon, the more we will collectively drive down price and bring a wider array of solutions to the table. This is the next energy-saving wave of the future,” she adds.

Chris Curtland ([email protected]) is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

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