LEDs are now a regular discussion point, not only in construction but across many sectors, and with the breakneck speed at which the technology continues to develop, the face of lighting is changing as we know it.
A technology that, just a decade ago, industry leading manufacturers considered as only useful for applications like tail-lights and indicating lamps, LEDs have proven many sceptics wrong and have turned what was straightforward luminaire selection into a much greater challenge.
Much to the glee of architects, lighting designers, consultants, even contractors, the flexibility of lighting solutions LEDs offer now and going forward has never been seen before in the industry However, the technology doesn’t come without its potential pitfalls. From what was a relatively straightforward process of specifying a particular type of luminaire, ballast and lamp combination is now akin to selecting the latest computer technology – what is specified now is certain to be obsolete come the time of procurement or installation.
The wide diversity of LED solutions and technologies housed in the same form-factors, makes “spec-busting” a greater risk than ever. It is no longer simply an equal comparison. This coupled with the typically limited technical/photometric data available due to the fast-paced evolutions adds to the appraisal challenges.
This new specification challenge together with a growing number of “cost-effective” solutions from the Far East (with perhaps questionable customer support or product warranty), opens up the client/end-user to greater risk of being exploited by less reputable contractors or suppliers.
We interact with artificial lighting daily; where well-designed lighting goes unnoticed by the everyday Joe, poorly designed or performing lighting is almost always a cause for complaint. Therefore one of the biggest potential long-term problems yet to be faced by the building owner/ operators and their FM teams will be as the installations begin to age.
For instance, during a typical maintenance, cleaning/re-lamping cycle, what is the solution when LED luminaires have failed? Is that generation of LEDs still available? Is it still supported by the manufacturer? More than likely, the same luminaire form factor will be available with the same name, however it may house a completely new generation of LEDs which will perform visually in a different way to the old ones. Does the owner/operator just have to accept the visual difference?
No, but as manufacturers race to be able to offer continually better performing solutions – though only very few appear to be considering the maintenance and serviceability of these products through the installation’s serviceable life – this is yet to be addressed. The user replaceable lamps, sourced from the local wholesaler, are becoming a distant memory; luminaire integrated light sources create longer term challenges, and the owner/operator must be confident that they will be furnished with the long-term support from the manufacturer for repair, replacement, and/or retrofit of the light fittings through their operational life.
The owner/operators must be better informed about the influences that now go into selecting the right lighting solution and be introduced to these issues much earlier in the design process. They must be able to engage with the lighting manufacturers as a partner rather than as a procurement item, and get the support and guidance of the consultant engineers in order to understand the dynamics (which are not limited to the Capex/Opex), energy-savings, payback periods, but also maintenance, spares, repairs etc.
Budget is always a high priority, but the higher initial Capex can realise greater returns over the operational life, when the right manufacturer and solution is selected.
The future is bright with LEDs, but true success for this evolving field lies in early integrated collaboration from each end of the supply/ consumer chain to select the best solutions for the life of the project.
Mick Reilly is associate and head of Electrical Building Services at WME Consultants.