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The LED lighting conundrum

LED lighting is the technology to slice energy costs – it’s the future, we are told. Or is it? Jamie Harris speaks to Dominic Meyrick, partner at Hoare Lea, about the myths and misconceptions of lighting in the workplace.

29 January 2015

An idyllic picture has been painted by the lighting industry that LED lighting will dramatically cut maintenance time and costs, as well as cut the energy used by fittings to illuminate a room.

But Dominic Meyrick, a partner at Hoare Lea, a consultancy specialising in mechanical, electrical and environmental engineering, has not been entirely convinced by the continuing plaudits.

“Fluorescent is fighting back against LED,” says Meyrick. “The lumen per watt for LED is very close to the fluorescent’s efficacy.”

A key factor in the LED argument is its lifespan in comparison with other forms of lighting – an LED lamp is expected to last up to 50,000 hours, compared with a fluorescent lamp’s estimated 10,000 hours. Low maintenance costs may work in the LED’s favour, but Meyrick explains that should a fault occur, the whole unit needs to be replaced.

Other factors such as the quality of LED produced is often impaired because of the manufacturer’s cost restrictions. 

“The quality of LED and its colour is generally sacrificed, as fittings are very expensive. The quality of LED is already one step below the best available, which will generally be purchased by the automotive industry.”

Misleading manufacturers

In November 2014, Meyrick spoke at Lux Live, a lighting exhibition held in London. He called on manufacturers to “tell the truth” about their products. 

Meyrick pledged to pass on misleading product information to clients and end users, should a light fitting not produce the amount of lumens it claims to.

“I’ve worked on ESOS (Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme) and other energy legislation. These energy audits are going to separate the liars from those telling the truth.”

Ultimately, says Meyrick, the facilities manager will suffer the consequences of the technology that is installed.

Learning curve

Meyrick is, however, keen to stress that the human eye is best suited for natural daylight, rather than harsh indoor office light.

“Lighting and electricity is just over 130 years old,” says Meyrick. “We’ve just started in comparison with architecture.”

“Most of the population moved to work inside,” he says, explaining that the industry is still working towards the best complement of colour, brightness and intensity for the human eye to work in.

Meyrick believes that the end user is falsely following a ‘more is better’ mantra.

“There is a relentless conversation revolving around ‘more light, less energy’. But this is not necessarily a good thing.”

He explains that the fitting size over time has stayed the same - but the light has become brighter, giving a higher Unified Glare Rating (UGR) – often more than we can cope with.

Other factors such as the colour temperature of the light, use of natural light in the design and space planning of an office, and where light is dissipated, should be taken into account, he says. 

“Facilities managers should establish that flicker (and glare onto screens) is not an issue. 

“Switching the fitting on and off also significantly reduces the life of the lamp,” he continues, citing behavioural issues that can affect the choice of lamp.

Next steps

Cost is a continuing concern for facilities managers looking to upgrade their lighting units. LEDs are still significantly more expensive to purchase, but with an increased requirement to produce energy savings, it is hard to ignore the lamp’s significantly longer lifespan.  

More information on energy efficient lighting can be found on the Carbon Trust website.