The problems of policing the LED industry

The integrity of the LED industry is in danger of being damaged by an influx of poor quality products. Joseph Smith Head of Sustainability at Tamlite Lighting reveals how to avoid getting stung.

For any building manager looking for ways to reduce energy consumption and cut carbon, LED lighting is bound to be considered an easy win. This, after all, is the technology that’s promising to fundamentally change the way we light the built environment. Little surprise, then, that the LED industry is growing rapidly. It’s growing so rapidly, in fact, that it’s becoming increasingly hard for laymen to differentiate high quality LED products from those that may offer high efficiency, but only at the expense of good light quality.

With limited regulation or industry-wide standards and plenty of suppliers giving the best possible spin to their poor quality LED products, separating fact from fiction can be difficult. An alarming number of newly-formed ‘lighting’ companies are now promoting LEDs. At best, through lack of knowledge, at worst, knowingly, these companies are supplying lighting that’s simply unfit for purpose.

The fact is different LED products can vary dramatically when it comes to light quality. An ideal light source mimics daylight in terms of warmth and colour – referred to as the colour temperature. It also reproduces colours accurately, so reds look red, blues look blue, and yellows look yellow when measured on a colour rendering index (CRI). Yet poor quality LEDs typically fail on both counts. They can create light that feels unpleasantly ‘cold’, distorts colours, and produces a patchy appearance due to non-uniform colour rendition.

Poor quality LED products are often found to breach health and safety guidelines. The minimum acceptable CRI (colour rendering index) is 80 where people are present for long periods of time. Yet many LED suppliers provide products with a sub-par CRI of 70 for offices and other spaces where good light quality is legally required. Many poorly designed LED products are also supplied without glare control, creating an unpleasant level of lighting glare that also breaches health and safety.

Fudging the figures

Great energy savings may be offered up to compensate for compromised light quality. Yet the energy saving potential of poor quality LED lighting may not be as spectacular as the efficiency figures quoted by the supplier. Many new players in the LED market are not bothering to carry out testing on their products to find out the LEDs’ efficiency and lifespan, so their quoted figures are mere guesswork.

Other companies are misrepresenting the efficiency of the LED, by quoting the efficiency of the LED only, rather than the efficiency of the whole unit, including the luminaire (since, when you build an LED source into a luminaire, you naturally lose some of the efficiency, this makes the energy savings figures look better than they really are).

The lifespan of LEDs is also a sticky subject. Quoted lifespans of 100,000 hours are pure fiction. It might technically be true that some of your LEDs may still be giving out some light after 10 years’ continual use, but the drop-off in quality of LEDs after about 50,000 hours is such that you’ll want to replace them anyway. Even the standard quoted lifespan of 50,000 hours can be a misnomer. After all, most companies, especially those in retail or hospitality, will want to refit their lighting with something new and fresh long before 50,000 hours are up.

With so much creative spin and flat-out misrepresentation now rife within the LED industry, it may come as a surprise how little is actually being done to police this industry. Unless a company wishes to take out a commercial law suit against a rogue supplier, even misrepresentation cases can be difficult to prosecute.

Fostering business confidence

Zhaga, a consortium for the standardisation of LED engines, has been much-touted as a means to establish industry wide standards on LEDs. Yet it has made little head-way over the last few years. Since LED technology is developing so rapidly, with new products hitting the market every day, current standards cannot be established or maintained and Zhaga risks becoming irrelevant.

The onus, therefore, falls on the major players in the lighting industry to foster business confidence. As part of this push towards industry excellence, Tamlite has established a new INFINITY mark. This mark of excellence allows customers to simply and easily recognise LED products that are proven to produce good light quality. The INFINITY mark will appear on all Tamlite LED products that meet the minimum criteria for efficiency, life, colour rendering, colour temperature and testing.

It’s clear that anyone investing in LED lighting needs to keep their eyes wide open. The burden still rests on the purchaser to check that what they’re buying not only delivers energy savings, but also produces a comfortable quality of light. The policing of rogue LED suppliers may remain inadequate, but, fortunately, those at the forefront of the UK lighting industry are stepping forward with initiatives like the INFINITY mark, to help businesses avoid getting stung.

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