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The unique lighting concerns of power producers, and the shift from HIDs to LEDs

Power plants generate the power we need to light our homes, schools and offices as well as the roads we drive and the places we play. But what about lighting for power plants – huge facilities with complex requirements?

We talked with John Edwards, an electrical engineer with a major engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firm, about how LEDs are meeting the lighting needs of major utilities and other power producers. Edwards develops proposals for the construction of combined-cycle power plants and frequently specs lighting for multimillion-dollar projects. With more than a decade of experience, he has played a key role in the construction or maintenance of 10 power plants including coal, nuclear and natural gas.

What are some unique lighting needs of power producers?

Power plants are industrial facilities, and because they’re particularly harsh environments, they should be approached differently than other types of construction. Power plants often need lighting fixtures that are more rugged than usual – including everything from fixtures with weatherproofing to explosion-proof fixtures.

Most plants are designed sparsely, and lighting is no exception. This means that the fixtures and lighting design are selected primarily to meet safety and maintenance requirements. Aesthetics don’t come into play here. Certain areas require a higher foot-candle; for example, an area with a lot of equipment that is manually controlled will need more light.

Utilities and independent power producers (IPPs) are shifting from HIDs to LEDs. Why?

Power plants are enormous structures. One facility might have 500 to 1,000 lighting fixtures including many different types of fixtures. Maintaining all of those lights in a huge facility is inherently expensive. So, anything that will reduce the amount of maintenance needed is a big win, both from a material and human cost perspective. LEDs already last much longer than HIDs, and they’re only getting better.

In addition to their longer lifespan, LEDs provide more light while using less power. By lighting a plant with LEDs instead of another source, I may not automatically reduce the number of fixtures, but I can reduce the power consumption by about 50 percent without losing any light. In 2014, I worked with one utility to implement a complete LED retrofit at its nuclear station. The project included about 500 LED luminaires and carried a significant upfront cost, but the long-term savings will be significant. My client has enjoyed fewer maintenance needs and better light; in particular, the surface lighting on the floor is much brighter and eliminates the scalloped look that can result from HID and fluorescent fixtures.

What are some other inherent benefits of LEDs?

LEDs don’t produce as much heat as other sources, making them much safer for maintenance teams to handle. Some HID lamps can burn your fingers even 10 minutes after being turned off.

Many LED luminaires are also field-adjustable, meaning they’re a much more flexible source. This is a big deal in a power plant. For example, where an aisle intersects with a hallway and there is irregularly shaped equipment, we can add onto LEDs or adjust the lens angle to account for the slight variation.

Recently, you developed a proposal for a new power plant that included LED lighting. What can you tell me about that project? Why did you propose LEDs over other sources?

LED lighting was actually a requirement from the client, reflecting a clear trend for regulated utilities. The configuration of this particular facility worked well with aisle lighting; we recommended Eaton’s Lighting Division, because they offered products that provided a lot of flexibility for that application.

Do you think the power industry will rely on LEDs for the foreseeable future?

LEDs aren’t going anywhere; in fact, they’ll only continue to grow. Regulated utilities and IPPs are driving this shift, and they’re simply seeing too many advantages to make a change. What’s perhaps most interesting is the speed at which IPPs have jumped on board. Because they have a greater need to keep capital costs down, they’ve traditionally gone with HIDs. Even the biggest regulated utilities are unlikely to be early adopters. But utilities love proven technologies, and LEDs are the total package. The benefits of today’s LEDs are simply too great for the power industry not to get on board.

LEDs offer significant energy savings across the board. What kind of impact are they having outside of the power industry?

I’m seeing increased adoption of more lightweight, durable lighting fixtures by municipalities (for roadway lighting) and industrial facilities. The newest iterations of these fixtures produce better, more attractive light than their predecessors. In roadway lighting, for example, LEDs help ensure the light goes exactly where it’s needed, leading to clearer, darker skies.

The bottom line is that these days, everyone wants a better, more efficient, more controllable light source. LEDs were purpose-built for the job.