Will the Rising LED Tide Lift All Lights? Or Sink Them?

a guest post by Lisa J. Reed, Lighting Designer

Rising LED Tide Lift All Lights or Sink

New technology often pushes old technology forward – at least temporarily. When Edison first demonstrated his working electric lamp and began to create a power distribution system to help spread the adoption of the lamp, the gas industry initially responded with innovation. They created brighter, more efficient gas light with the introduction of better gas and gas mantle innovation.

Have you noticed that LEDs have similarly pushed improvement in incumbent lamp sources?

IncandescentEnergy laws initially pushed incandescent lamp manufacturers to increase efficiency, and they responded with halogen replacement lamps. They were more efficient than the old, but haven’t been able to compete with the efficacy of LED replacement lamps. However, when it comes to color and smooth, continuous dimming, incandescent is still the one to beat!

Fluorescent – This linear tube is still competing. The lamp itself cannot be easily replaced by an LED lamp because of complications of ballasts, voltage, and UL listings. LED cannot easily mimic the soft, uniform, omnidirectional output, either. Fluorescent lamp manufacturers have begun to produce long-life 60,000-hour lamps (and longer) to outlive their LED competitors’ 50,000 hour life claims.

Dimming – Fluorescent technology is having a tougher time keeping itself in the fight with LED when you begin to talk about dimming. In the past, dimming a fluorescent automatically meant a $100 adder per fixture, while with LEDs, dimming is standard. However, even fluorescent dimming is making technological advances and coming down in price. The new Lutron EcoSystem H-Series ballasts don’t cost much more than non-dimmable fluorescent ballasts.

Metal Halide – In street and area lighting, LED seems to be winning the race in the United States. But in Europe, the ceramic metal halide (CMH) street lamp is still king. The GE StreetWise lamp, for example, has a distribution that is optimized for roadway lighting, provides white light, and can replace an existing high pressure sodium lamp without a ballast changeout. But with a 12,000 hour lamp life, can the cost of relamping every four years be justified when the comparison is an LED system that won't require relamping for 13+ years? Maybe the CMH can be improved to last longer.

How long will "old" lighting technology continue to be relevant? Is this just a last gasp or will legacy sources have their place far into the future? Why do you think we should (or shouldn’t) keep them around?


Lisa J Reed photo - Lighting Blog

Lisa J. Reed has been attracted to lighting (like a moth to a flame) for 20+ years. She is the Founding Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC in St. Louis, where she designs, teaches, and writes about architectural lighting.


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