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Why LED technology is taking off in outdoor lighting

LED technology is leading the lighting industry’s movement to boost performance, maximize energy efficiency and lower long-term costs. Today it illuminates everything from industrial facilities and medical centers to single-family homes. But the outdoor lighting market was one of the industry’s first to adopt LEDs.

We talked with Product Manager Jay Sachetti of Eaton’s Lighting Division about the benefits offered by LED technology, and why it’s taking off in outdoor lighting.

Energy efficiency makes LEDs ideal for outdoor applications.

In the outdoor lighting arena, LEDs offer energy savings of 50 to 90 percent compared to HIDs, the most common alternative. The initial cost may lead some owners to think twice about upgrading, but the energy savings are so great that outdoor LEDs pay for themselves in one to three years. “The financial incentives alone are enough to make the switch today,” Sachetti said.

Another cost savings inherent in LED technology is the reduced need for maintenance. “It’s hard enough for me to remember to change my light bulbs at home,” Sachetti said. “But most outdoor lighting can’t be accessed without a bucket truck, and that kind of maintenance is expensive.” Because LEDs are so much more efficient than HIDs and metal halide bulbs, they last much longer.

Consistent light output eliminates the spotlight effect. 

Most experts say a new car loses about 10 percent of its value the moment its owner drives it off the lot. Similarly, the light output of HIDs and metal halide bulbs continually depreciates after installation, but for practical reasons, they cannot be replaced as soon as the light output begins to decrease.

“HIDs and metal halides are usually below 50 percent of the original light output once they’re replaced,” Sachetti said. “This means they’re providing far less than the light levels for which they were designed, often creating a spotlight effect.

“On the contrary, the lumen maintenance values of today’s LEDs are at greater than 95 percent after 60,000 hours – enough for over 14 years’ worth of nighttime illumination – and can be projected to maintain high lumen maintenance values long beyond that."

Greater light control has increased design flexibility and improves safety.

LEDs are an inherently controllable light source and can be combined with highly crafted, individual optics that make light output and direction more precise. “Eaton’s Galleon™ LED luminaire offers 16 different optics, all optimized to provide a range of distributions,” Sachetti said. “The patented AccuLED™ technology allows designers creating a photometric layout to pinpoint light distribution and optimize the fixture. The net benefits include fewer fixtures, less energy consumed and more evenly distributed output.”

Even distribution is particularly important outdoors due to safety and security concerns. “No one likes the dark corner of a parking garage or parking lot,” Sachetti said. “Outdoor LEDs help solve that problem.” 

The controllability of LEDs allows owners to synchronize systems.

LEDs offer full campus control solutions for large areas ranging from commercial facilities to shopping malls to airports. “In the past, we approached lighting and lighting controls separately,” Sachetti said. “Now, with the platform provided by LEDs, we can install a single, embedded control solution to handle all outdoor and indoor lighting.”

Pedestrian-scale lighting is more important than ever.

Quality lighting that is placed correctly can help establish feelings of safety and security. Pedestrians may assume drivers can see them after dark, but if overhead lighting is insufficient, they may be in danger. Pedestrian-scale lighting is lower and spaced more closely together than regular roadway lighting. Using LEDs can further increase safety and security by improving light spread and effectively eliminating dark spots.

When we take time to understand how pedestrians are moving through spaces and provide appropriate lighting, municipalities and retail and commercial establishments become safer, more pleasing environments.

LEDs are getting warmer. 

As LED technology and performance at lower color temperatures have improved, outdoor lighting is trending away from color temperatures in the 5-6,000K CCT range, which gives light a cooler or bluish-white appearance. “Most commercial site managers will find that a color temperature of 4,000K provides the right blend of crisp, clean light and subtle ambience,” Sachetti said. “But some types of applications are opting to go for lights in the 3,000K range, which are ideal if you want to create a warmer feeling.”

Now, lighting the space is just the beginning.

LED technology is more than just lighting; it’s an electronics platform that opens the door to new, more flexible solutions. Cameras, sensors and other data collection tools can provide additional value to customers.

“We’re on the brink of amazing functionality,” Sachetti said. “Soon, our lights will allow us to track the number of cars in a parking lot and the amount of pedestrian traffic on walkways. That kind of information can help companies improve the utilization of their property and assets or maximize storefront retail and advertising opportunities.

“The possibilities will expand into other applications, too. As one of the few locations in an open parking lot or garage with power and infrastructure, lighting fixtures can use that advantage to monitor the surrounding environment in any number of ways. We’ll have advanced safety and security capabilities; we’ll have environmental monitoring; we’ll have traffic sensing; we’ll have smarter parking. Have you ever gone to a basketball game or parked at the airport and hunted for your car afterward? The platform that LED technology creates will be able to help people determine where they parked.

“Lighting the space really is just the beginning.”