How To Get Your Lighting Solution Well Balanced?
Since I first took part in a lighting project 7 years ago, I have participated in more than 50 lighting projects, big and small. These have led me to understand one thing above all others: the best solution is always a well-balanced solution. It is easy to work out a solution that is generally doable but is difficult to get a well-balanced solution when taking into account ROI, utilization efficiency, reliability, maintenance frequency, etc. if everything is counted together. We all used to use a lot of traditional lamps – HID, fluorescent, induction – and you could always find big brands to follow: Philips, GE, Osram, etc. Lighting designers were pretty familiar with most of their models by repeated use of the same model – you did not have to think too much about anything except the price.
Things are now changing, people are using more and more LED lights. There are now more than 2,000 LED lighting suppliers here in China, tens of thousands of different models of LED lamps are available, and new models are coming to the market every day. Yes, you heard me: every single day. Today’s lighting designers (or project/facility managers) have to face the challenge of using unknown and unfamiliar lighting products. But let’s get back to what I’m going to talk about.
The first time you see a LED light, it comes with special (though not always that SPECIAL) appearance: the way it illuminates, the materials, the finishing treatment, the lumen output (that you believe), what kind of driver/LED chip is used, and all such things. By personal experiences, people can make a quick judgment of whether it is close to what they’re looking for. But my suggestion is, ask your supplier more questions and give as much detail of what you are looking for as you can. LED light manufacturers will surely give you detailed spec sheet for each LED light, but they don’t know what the individual customer is wanting or the project that they are dealing with, given that every lighting project is different. So here are some tips for project managers to make better decisions.
First thing: where are you going to install these lamps.
Break this question down, if you already know the building well enough (if you don’t, find out), what is the vertical distance from where the fixture can be reasonably installed? What is the best distance between each two fixtures, and how bright is the space expected to be (the illumination level)? These questions will help you to decide what wattage is needed and what the proper beam angle will be. Always try to best utilize the existing structure of the building, for example, the columns and beams or maybe the path of the current powerline, because this will help you minimize the installation cost (which can sometimes be more expensive than that buying a fixture). Today’s LED lights are available in different wattages, beam angles, color temperatures, quality of key components (LED chip, driver), etc. You can even customize your LED lights. Therefore, you can think about the light itself later after you have thought about the building.
Secondly, what the building will be used for?
We have to think about possible lumen loss over time. A lot of heavy industry facilities produce lots of dust or steam during the production process, such as steel cutting and forging, oil refining or food processing companies, etc. For example, the fixture surface can become covered with greasy dust and powder day after day and the flux will decrease. In this case, you will probably choose easy cleaned lighting fixtures (smooth surface or with fewer fins, for example), or those that can be easily disassembled. And you will set up extra more lights or higher power in advance to prepare for the possible lumen loss in the future.
Thirdly, how difficult (or how costly) will it be to maintain your fixtures in the given building.
Maintenance is a high portion of the operational cost, especially in developed countries where labor costs are high and the labor law is strict (I once saw five maintenance engineers fixing one street lamp). It is a good idea to choose a high reliability LED high bay if the LEDs are going to be deployed at height or over dangerous equipment, where maintenance will be difficultor unsafe. You will have to give higher priority to reliability rather than flux or price.
Last but not least, think about the ROI (return on investment).
My customers always come to me and say, Ben, I want best LED lights for my project. Of course, everyone wants the best. But business is business. ROI determines how quickly you will get your investment paid back. A good solution always gives you a safe and quick payback, especially for energy management companies (EMCs). You need to nail down the life span you (and your customer) are expecting. A product with a 5-year guarantee certainly comes with better quality and a much higher price than a 3- year guaranteed one. And think about the price drop of LED lights. Over the past 5 years, general LED luminaires have experienced a dramatic price drop of over 70% and the price of a LED light source (LED bulbs, spotlights, and tubes) has dropped even more. This price drop is predicted to continue due to ongoing technical progress (though surely not to the same extent as before). So, you need to balance the solution that is better for you: to buy a 5-year guaranteed LED light, or to buy a 3-year guaranteed light and replace it after 3 years, by which point the LED lights in the market will probably be cheaper and better, but in this case, you will also need to consider your service contract, predicted price drop, and replacement cost. And you also need to notice the difference between guaranteed lifespan and the lifespan in reality, because in many cases not all lights will lose their economic life by the date that the guarantee is due. Many of our customers had experiences that more than 80% of our 3-year guaranteed LED lights are still working well after 3 years of usage.
The light efficiency of LED light is, of course, the key to ROI if you taking lumen per dollar into consideration. But what’s more important is how you deploy the lights. If you can use fewer lights by perfecting lighting design and adapting a good lighting solution, why would you spend money to buy more lights? Unreasonable utilization of light is the biggest waste. Always remember that by asking more questions of your supplier so that they can know your needs better and you can get to know the light better, you will be saving money.