Guest post: How LEDs are changing the entire concept of exterior lighting

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Guy Harding, Lighting Development Manager at Woodhouse, sums up the challenges and opportunities associated with LED technology and its adoption for use in external lighting.

The exterior lighting market is changing rapidly and LEDs are a huge driving factor behind this change.

Clearly, discharge lighting still has its place, but with ongoing LED development it is only a matter of time before it will become obsolete. This is made clear by the way many manufacturers are reducing their ongoing development programmes to concentrate only on the most efficient white light sources.

But as with all leading-edge technologies, choosing a moment to release a static product offering is troublesome, especially in the construction industry where projects can be subject to very lengthy gestation times.

The LED early adoption dilemma

Specify an LED for a project today and in six months’ time that particular specification will have been superseded by another, even more efficient source. This means that all those complex calculations on efficiencies and savings can also be rendered useless and the seemingly endless search for the “best” product in a saturated market starts again.

As LED manufacturers are keen to promote their latest and most efficient products, securing a supply of the older variants can be difficult as production has often ceased.

When companies like Woodhouse look to develop a new LED-based luminaire, they are faced with a fundamental quandary: rush in too early and design a luminaire around an inefficient and quickly obsolete LED, or wait and get left behind in the market?

First-to-market mistakes

Many companies experimented with fitting LEDs into existing luminaires that were originally designed for discharge lamps – using LEDs for LEDs’ sake.

This was not ideal, as LEDs are a fundamentally different type of light source, emitting light only in one hemisphere and requiring heat to be conducted away in the other.

To use LEDs effectively, the whole concept of a luminaire needs to change. The external lighting industry is only just starting to address this.

Rethinking the concept to meet the pace of the market

Development costs are high. Careful, considered design is the way forward, not just the selection of LEDs. To create a truly low-maintenance luminaire, the selection of the power supplies and ancillary components is of prime importance. We also need to consider the question of future upgrading or replacement of LEDs within the luminaire.

Having LED modules that can be easily refitted is the way forward, but do you just replace the LEDs or the whole sealed optic module? The former is unlikely to be done reliably, ensuring perfect resealing of the module, out on site. Therefore, having a combined LED and optic module that can be easily factory refitted may seem the logical step.

Adopting the modular approach

An industry-wide working group, Zhaga, is starting to address the modularity approach and has already laid down standards for some LED modules, mainly based on interior down-lights. It is also looking at flat LED modules for exterior lighting, but this work is at an earlier stage.

All these factors lead to the fact that we need some clever and prudent engineering to produce initially affordable LED luminaires that show efficiencies from day one of installation without elongated payback periods when compared to traditional luminaires.

Woodhouse designs and manufactures exterior lighting and street furniture to the highest international standards. The company’s systems have been used on many of the most prestigious public and private sector projects in the UK and overseas, ranging from the award-winning reconstruction of Kensington High Street to Abu Dhabi.

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