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LED – the lighting frontier

Lighting attributes to a lot of power usage in homes and industries, and although many people have chosen compact fluorescent lights as an alternative to tungsten filament bulbs, they are less than perfect, says FRED MITCHELL of Drive Control Corporation.

Improving energy efficiency and reducing consumption is a growing concern in South Africa, driven not only by dramatically increased utility costs but also by a global trend towards environmental consciousness. Lighting is one area that consumes a large amount of electricity, and since compact fluorescent light bulbs have become increasingly popular because they offer improved energy efficiency. However, due to environmental concerns around these lamps, Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamps are beginning to come to the fore as the most eco-friendly, energy efficient solution for lighting.

Lighting is undeniably an area for improvement when it comes to optimising energy consumption, as up to 50% of industrial and 25% of home power usage can be attributed to this. As a result, one of the easiest ways to lessen energy consumption and reduce carbon footprints both in homes and commercial spaces is to switch out standard light bulbs for more efficient, lower consumption lamps.

Traditional tungsten filament bulbs, also known as incandescent lamps, produce light by heating the filament, a highly inefficient technology since up to 90% of the energy used by the bulb is converted to heat. Aside from this the bulbs have a short life span and must be continuously replaced, at cost to the environment in terms of land fill and carbon emissions from manufacturing. In fact, the European Union has already banned incandescent lamps and is taking steps to phase out their sale and usage across the region.

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs have been touted as a replacement for tungsten filament: however they are far from ideal. While it is true that CFLs are far more efficient, using less than a quarter of the power to run, and can last up to ten times longer than filament bulbs, they also contain mercury, a toxic substance that is harmful to people, animals and the earth. This mercury is essential to CFL technology, and although only a small amount is used in each bulb there is still reason for concern.

While the mercury is contained within the glass, there is no risk. However light bulbs are easy to break, and once these are broken the mercury vapour is released into the environment. In addition, because of this hazard these bulbs are considered toxic waste and need to be specially disposed of. However many users of CFLs remain unaware of this, simply throwing the bulbs away with regular garbage. This garbage ends up on landfills, where the mercury has a cumulative effect, polluting the earth, the air and potentially the water, exposing people to this harmful gas.

CFL bulbs may be energy efficient, but they are not environmentally friendly. On the other hand, new technology in the form of LED lamps that can directly replace both incandescent and CFL bulbs is both highly efficient and environmentally friendly.

LEDs are diodes that convert energy directly into light through the movement of electrons in the semi-conductor material. This means that they lose far less energy to heat than other light technologies – they are up to 85% more efficient than filament bulbs, and even around 5% more efficient than CFLs. They do not produce a significant amount of heat, so cooling requirements in lighting intensive environments are reduce, and they contain no poisonous gasses, so are eco-friendly.

Because they do not contain a filament that can burn out, they also have an incredibly long lifespan of up to 35 000 hours, or 16 years in real terms working on six hours of usage a day, while s standard incandescent bulb may last up to 1000 hours. Over the course of 16 years, the succession of standard bulbs would have consumed 1400 kilowatt hours, compared to just 350 for the LED bulb, translating into far higher energy costs. The cost of 35 standard light bulbs over the years also far outweighs the higher cost of the LED bulb, and the carbon emissions produced from one LED bulb are just 175kg over its lifespan, compared to 700kg produced by 35 incandescent bulbs.

Aside from this, once they do eventually reach end of life, LED lamps can be easily recycled along with ordinary glass, and if they end up in landfills they will not cause lasting environmental damage due to toxic chemicals. Improvements to the technology also mean that the white light emitted by LEDs can be produced in warm, cool and neutral tones to adapt lighting scenarios as needed.

For both consumers and business, in light of an increasingly eco-conscious planet and the need to optimise energy consumption, LED lamps offer the best of both worlds, delivering superior energy efficiency, incredible lifespans and an environmentally friendly lighting technology.


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