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The LED revolution

Following an unprecedented level of new product development in lighting over recent years,
there are now more options to choose from than ever before.

Artificial lighting is a major source of energy consumption. It currently accounts for around a fifth of all electrical energy consumed worldwide. By 2030, this demand is expected to be 80% higher according to IEA, Light’s Labour’s Lost, June 2006. Understandably then, as the government continues to push sustainable targets for the collective aim of driving Europe towards a 30% emissions cut by 2020, the convergence to energy efficient lighting is a major focus.

This has been seen in the phase out of the traditional incandescent lamp in the UK, saving one million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2020. Conversely, Part L of the Building Regulations has coerced greater emphasis on the specification of more efficient lighting products. Under this regulation, low energy light fittings should make up no less than four out of five of all the light fittings in the main living spaces. Plus, these fittings should have lamps with a luminous efficacy greater than 45 lamp lumens per circuit-watt and a total output greater than 400 lamp lumens. This places even greater pressure on the specification process.

Of course, the wider economy is also having an impact. Amid the background of soaring unemployment and plummeting disposable incomes, consumers continue to face energy price hikes. In fact, experts predict bills could rise as much as 60% over the next ten years with the average electricity tariff increasing by £300 a year to £800 by 2021. From this, it is apparent that there is a need to invest in long term solutions to save energy and as a result, save money.

Collectively, these changes are set to transform the specification of lighting as we know it. While previously one of the most popular choices in lighting, the use of halogen lamps will severely decline. The inherent issue here is that although these lamps offer a brilliant white light and warmth, they are relatively inefficient and have a low life expectancy, thereby failing Part L standards.

Conversely, although compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) offer significant energy savings of up to 80%, a lesser lighting quality makes them unsuitable in high value environments where aesthetics are a factor. This opens up a huge vacuum of opportunity which begs the question – what can fill it?

The answer lies with the LED. Fundamentally, the key benefit of LEDs is that they are incredibly energy efficient and durable. In fact, it is estimated that they use just one fiftieth of the energy of a standard incandescent bulb and last ten times longer than their CFL counterparts. However, there have been a number of obstacles to tackle before bringing LED into the mainstream, including problems with poor lighting quality and high cost. As a result, manufacturers have dedicated significant resources over recent years to new product research and development to resolve these issues.

This is marked with the recent arrival of Schneider Electric LED integrated downlights that deliver the warm-white light that end users are accustomed to receiving from incandescent lamps.

Utilising the latest technology enables a colour temperature of approximately 2,900K within the overall Kelvin scale while providing a lighting output of 637 lumens. The result is a consistent, warm white light, combined with an interim lens to avoid the twinkling effect so susceptible in LED lighting.

The next factor is cost. For a long time, the main limitation to the adoption of LED lighting has been the associated high cost.

However, as with Schneider Electric’s latest offering, the good news is that prices are declining, therefore combining all the inherent benefits of LED lighting with affordability. Of course, while LED is still marginally more expensive than other energy efficient options, this can be recouped time and time again in energy and cost savings.

Ease of installation is also a focus as many of today’s options are ready to connect to the mains supply in the same way as a halogen low voltage downlight and come complete with a low voltage transformer. When time really is of the essence for the installer, this can help speed up the installation.

Functionality is also a consideration. Installers can choose fire-rated LED products where a 60 minute fire rating is needed.

Many models are also rated to IP65, ensuring extra protection in installations in wet environments such as showers and bathrooms.

Finally, it is important to note that not all LED lights are the same. As with every product, there are cheaper, typically inferior products, which are not manufactured to strict UK standards. It is therefore advisable to always choose from a reputable supplier and give careful consideration to ensure the fitting offers the very best efficiency, full compliance to latest regulations and maximum light coverage.

Installers may be reluctant to move away from more traditional energy-efficient lighting options, but as legislation continues to mount, it can no longer be a case of ‘one lamp fits all’. For the shrewd installer, it is important to take a more holistic approach and give customers the choice of the latest technologies.

Mike Bancroft is Category Manager at Schneider Electric

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