LED Lighting Prepares For School

Take a minute and total up your energy bill for 2012. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 30 percent of that total pays for electricity to light your school or school district buildings.

Within a year or two, you will be able to make dramatic cuts in your lighting bill by installing light-emitting diodes or LEDs that will finally become affordable.

According to www.eartheasy.com, an LED lamp that provides the equivalent of 60 watts of incandescent light will consume 10 watts of power while a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) will use 14 watts.

Over its projected 50,000-hour useful life, a single LED lamp will use 300 to 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity. By comparison, five CFLs (four will burn out) will use 700 kilowatt-hours over the same period, and 42 incandescent lamps will use 3,000 kilowatt-hours.

At 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, the LED will use $30 to $50 of electricity over that period, compared to $70 for the CFLs and $300 for the incandescent lamps.

Proven Technology
What is LED lighting technology? How does it work? “A light emitting diode is a silicon wafer that glows bright blue when an electric charge is applied,” Hogan explains. “Many of these wafers are enclosed in a shell coated with phosphors that convert the light from blue to white.”

According to the Department of Energy, there are two additional methods of making white LED light. LEDs come in three basic colors, red green and blue. By mixing the light from red, green and blue LEDs, it is possible to create white light.

A hybrid system that mixes red, green and blue LED light and applies phosphor to the shell can also produce white light.

Schools that take advantage of this emerging technology will also see lower maintenance costs. With a useful life of 50,000 hours, LEDs will work for years before anyone will have to spend time replacing lamps.

“Maintenance has to spend half a day to change the lighting in a gymnasium,” says Tim Hogan, vice president, Education Market with Atlanta-based Acuity Brands, Inc., a major lighting and lighting products manufacturer. “They have to bring out a lift and check all the lights before a game. LED lighting will reduce that kind of pain.”

The Trouble With LED Lighting
There is indeed an issue preventing the immediate adoption of LED lighting. It is the high cost of LED lamps compared to conventional incandescent, halogen, CFL and linear fluorescent lamps.

An April 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) entitled, “Solid-State Lighting Research and Development: Multi-Year Program Plan,” compares the current price of LED with prices for other lamps this way:

  • halogen lamp (A19 43W; 750 lumens)    $2.50 per kilolumen
  • CFL (13W; 800 lumens)                $2.00 per kilolumen
  • CFL (13W; 800 lumens dimmable)        $10 per kilolumen
  • Fluorescent Lamp and Ballast System    $4 per kilolumen
  • LED (A19 60W; 800 lumens dimmable)    $30 per kilolumen

LED lamps cost anywhere from three to 15 times the price of conventional lamps.

The good news is that LED prices have been falling for several years now and will soon approach affordability. The author of the DOE report predicted that prices for LED lamps would continue to fall as manufacturing became more efficient and competition increased with the entry of new manufacturers into the business.

Volume pricing is already pushing LED costs down even further. The DOE report says that retail prices for LED packages purchased in quantities of 1,000 will plummet between now and 2020. The volume price for cool white LEDs will fall from about $4 per kilolumen this year to $0.70 per kilolumen in 2020. Warm white LEDs will decline in price from $5.10 per kilolumen this year to $0.70 per kilolumen in 2020.

What Happens This Year?
You can actually begin using LEDs for certain school lighting applications right now. “We’re already seeing a shift to LED lighting in exit signs and emergency lighting,” says Hogan.

“In recent years, almost all new construction has installed LED lighting outside,” he continues. “LEDs are lighting streets, parking lots and garages. LEDs can replace every type of outdoor lighting. The technology, lighting quality and energy savings are proven. These are not issues.

“Still, a typical owner probably won’t convert to LED lighting this year. Then again, school districts located in areas where the cost of electricity is high may want to see if some changes will pencil out this year.”

Hogan suggests considering school spaces that must stay lighted all day even though no one is there all day. As a solid-state technology, LEDs are easy to dim and brighten. Sensors and controls for LED lighting in hallways, corridors, stairwells and bathrooms can dim the lights to 10 percent when no one is around. A stairwell, for instance, can be set up to turn up the lights when a person enters — on that floor and the floors above and below.

If you’re paying a premium for electricity, ask a lighting manufacturer to help you determine the initial cost and payback period for these kinds of LED retrofits. You might discover that it is worth bringing in LEDs this year.