Finding the Right LED

LEDs-energy-manageEnergy managers are being encouraged by bosses, ownership, customers, government officials and others to use LEDs wherever possible. They generally are eager to comply, since the benefits of LEDs are obvious.

The gains only are realized, however, if the right LEDs are selected. There are several layers to the goal of buying the LED that is safe and optimized for the job at hand.  Testing, assessment and categorization of LEDs seems to be a mix of rules and regulations and less formal best practices.

There is a good deal of which to keep track. The base layer is that it passes safety muster. The next – which applies only to special vertical markets – is that it complies with established requirements. For those outside of these verticals, there may be unofficial best practices or local or state requirements to which attention must be paid. Finally, performance is tested for by various organizations. Bigger buyers could have internal labs and engineering teams that also can attest to the whether the equipment is right for the job at hand

The first level of testing is for pure safety. Companies that make LEDs must follow the same process as other manufacturers. In the United States, the two organizations that do this most often are Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and Intertek, said Revolution Lighting Director of Engineering Todd Peterson.

There are two keys in this step for energy managers. One is to be aware that there is a possibility of counterfeit approval stamps to be placed on devices. The other is a bit more hidden. Peterson said that some unscrupulous vendors say that all devices in their catalog are UL or Intertek listed. However, the energy manager may request a particular part that isn’t included in the official catalog – and hasn’t passed UL or Intertek muster. The bottom line, simply, is to be vigilant and verify all claims and assertions before signing a contract.

There are two other bodies that help sort through LEDs and other types of lighting: The U.S. Department of Energy’s familiar EnergyStar program and the DesignLights Consortium. “The two bodies help consumers choose products that most meet their criteria from a business standpoint, a consumer standpoint and for energy efficiency ratings,” Peterson said.

Things vary a bit beyond the testing labs and DSC and EnergyStar. Some industries have very specific rules for luminaires. These include the government (Revolution Lighting’s 2 foot T8 tube LED was just approved by the Navy, for instance). Healthcare facilities must follow rules that guard against electrical noise that could interfere with MRI and other sensitive equipment. LEDs used in food preparation must follow a set sanitation rules.

In other cases, more informal best practices suffice. Peterson said that there are no national regulations for street lights. There are best practices, however. These often have a local flavor. For instance, LED streetlights in coastal areas must be shown to be resistant to salt and those in earthquake prone regions must be able to withstand violent shaking.

The general arc of LED testing, Peterson said, has been toward higher performance. When LEDs first became a feasible option, performance was rudimentary compared to today. Elements such as control of color temperature, electric noise level and other elements have gradually been added as time passes.

Last month, Rizwan Ahmad, the Vice President of Engineering and Technology for Dialight, discussed the intricacies of ensuring that all the elements of a LED luminaire work in unison to provide the level of service that is promised. Rizwan told Energy Manager Today that it is preferable to go with devices that are composed of elements from as few different suppliers as possible. The LED, power supply and casing each must meet specifications and work together as a unit.

The bottom line is that there are several nuances to the term testing. Energy managers must work out a game plan and be educated. “You must evaluate for safety, performance and then based on your needs,” Peterson said.

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