Lighting accounts for 20 per cent of all the energy consumption in the UK*, which means it also accounts for a significant chunk of energy bills. Indeed, it can rise to up to 40pc of a building’s electricity bill, meaning any way to make that lighting more efficient can dramatically cut costs. Valued for their crisp white glow, LED (light-emitting diode) lights won their inventors the 2014 Nobel Prize for physics3. LEDs are ‘instant on’ lights unlike many fluorescent lamps and do not need time to warm up before they work at full strength. Consuming less than 80 per cent of the electricity of traditional incandescent bulbs, LED lights can shave pounds off electricity bills. Many of us already have them in the home, but the potential use for LEDs for businesses are much greater – along with the savings.
How LEDs work
Unlike ordinary incandescent bulbs, which emit light as a current is passed through the metal within them, LEDs pass electrons through a semiconductor and consequently have no filament to wear out (which also means they don’t get as hot). They can produce light in a variety of colours and like the white fluorescent tubes that light many offices, can do so without a great deal of glare. Unlike fluorescent tubes though, they can be readily turned on and off without diminishing their lifespan.
The market for LEDs
LED lights have already come to dominate public digital signage in many contexts, and are used commonly to smoothly light the interiors of cars and planes. They’re bright enough to work in torches, and small enough to be added to clothing. An industrial workwear company called Visijax even provides bicycle commuter clothing with LED cycle indicators, integrated in the design of the jackets that cyclists wear. LEDs have been widely adopted and used in medical applications (thanks to their reliable, bright white light) and tiny LEDs are already replacing the tubes that light up LCD HDTVs to make dramatically thinner televisions.
In the global market,5 sales are expected to reach around $30.5bn (£23bn) this year, or roughly 36pc of the total value of global lighting sales. It’s a remarkable achievement for an innovation that reached the mass market only in 1997. Energy company E.ON is in the middle of a drive to replace much of its buildings’ lighting with LEDs, in a scheme that will save 178 tonnes of carbon emission each year, and pay for itself in savings within 7 years. At just one site, Newstead Court, back in 2012, the company installed 1,200 LED luminaires with a lifespan three times that of the systems they were replacing and using around 55 pc less energy. Overall, the £434,000 scheme will save £82,000 every year, and pay for itself by mid 2017.
Advantages of LED lights
The benefits of LEDs for businesses are becoming widely appreciated by customers as they replace standard filament, halogen and fluorescent strip lights. For a start, LED lighting can be more attractive, energy efficient, cost-effective and durable than existing methods.
Mark Wray, B2B large energy solutions sales manager at E.ON says “a cutting edge lighting solution will help the customer make significant energy, cost and CO2 savings while improving the overall working environment, comfort and productivity. “This can be a simple one-for-one retrofit, right the way through to a complex full redesign.” Wray notes that some projects E.ON has delivered have seen up to 90pc reductions in lighting costs thanks to LEDs, but stresses that to get the greatest efficiency it’s important that businesses tailor any approach to their specific site, as a poorly implemented LED swap will not necessarily lead to savings on its own. Generally though, it isn’t difficult for a new lighting solution to make a difference in the bottom line relatively quickly. In terms of energy efficiency, a standard 50W halogen lamp uses just 10pc of the electricity it consumes for producing its light.
In a commercial building filled with halogen bulbs, swapping out these bright but inefficient lights could see businesses reduce their lighting bills by a massive 90pc.6 Although their prices are falling rapidly, LED lights are initially expensive to buy compared to fluorescent tubes. However, some LED lights have an operating lifespan of some 70,000 hours, which is eight to 10 times longer than standard lamps, according to Philips LUMEC.7. And since there are no filaments, LEDs can withstand a greater intensity of vibration and shock than standard lights and can be exposed to rain and snow – which is why Maglite, the manufacturer of rough-and-tough torches, has taken to using them in its products used by the US police and military.
LEDs have other advantages in their size. LEDs can be as small as 2mm, making them ideal for fitting into hard-to-reach and compact areas. In addition, LED lights have distinct cosmetic advantages over traditional incandescent light bulbs which rely on highly inefficient filters to produce colour. While LEDs are offered in a variety of base colours such as red, green, blue and amber they can also be blended together to produce millions of colour options, without including specific filters for each. It is this that makes them ideal for interactive signage, signalling, advertising hoardings and decorative illumination of buildings.
In addition, LED lights are more eco-friendly, since they contain no mercury or other harmful gasses or emit any harmful UV rays – both minor but nonetheless real concerns for users of easily broken fluorescent strip bulbs – and crucially, few LED lights contain glass. And when it comes to the environment, a 13w LED light emits 68pc less carbon dioxide than a standard 40w incandescent bulb, running 10 hours per day.