The hidden cost of ‘saving’ on LED technology

The future of LED technology is pretty certain; efficiency will continue to go up, pricing will go down. But how far ‘down’ is it really wise to go, before hidden costs start to creep in?

Over the years Levent Aci has watched the UK LED market develop to its current state of saturation: “I co-founded Pitacs in 1990, so I’ve been building this business for 3 decades, focussing mainly on selecting and sourcing our cable and electrical products, and cultivating relationships with our suppliers,” says Aci. “Across the LED technology sector, we are starting to see quality becoming a key issue, with cheap products starting to flood the UK market.”

Aci encourages specifiers, and installers who are making recommendations to consumers, to advocate for products that are cost effective over time, and to think about the total cost of lighting a space, as opposed to focussing on the initial cost per LED unit.

“Take our new Prestige 8W Fire Rated Downlight under our TIME LED brand,” says Aci. “Yes, more expensive per unit than other products that appear identical in lots of ways, be it size, bezel finish, colour temperature, ease of installation. But our product gives you a 900lm output, compared to the ‘identical’ cheaper product, which maybe gives you a 300lm output. The cost per lumen of the cheaper product is actually quite a bit higher. And when you look at this in the actual space, the number of Prestige units – and therefore the total cost – needed to achieve that same lighting effect is significantly less.”

793947 Prestige 8W LED CCT Pro Fire Rated Downlight

In protecting against unexpected cost over time, the Prestige 8W Fire Rated Downlight also offers a choice of 4 colour temperatures, with a simple switch operation. This can be invaluable for consumers who are installing lighting for the first time, and are new to the concept of colour temperature. Realising, for example, after a few months, that the very warm lighting originally specified was a nice idea, but not practical for the actual use of the space, does not have to result in a costly replacement of units, but instead, the simple process of flicking a switch.

“Or, if the installer wants to show immediate value of this feature,” suggests Aci, “invite the consumer to compare the various colour temperature options as soon as the units are fitted. Give them the opportunity to see the effect, in their own space, so they can feel confident in their final decision.”

LED technology, as is commonly established, offers cost savings compared to incandescent technology, by lasting much longer and using energy more efficiently. But ‘hidden cost’ issues tend to stem, not from the LED technology itself, but from the technology incorporated into the products. Batteries often fall into this category, which are needed, for example, for commercial Emergency LED lighting solutions.

“The reality is that when a cheap Emergency lighting solution offers a 1 year warranty on the battery, that battery is going to fail very soon after the 1 year mark, if not before,”

Explains Aci

“So yes, you’ve saved some money at Stage 1, but if you’re having to replace the entire product after only 12 months, the cost of lighting your space over time becomes much higher.”

793503 5W Surface Mount Downlight

New for 2021, TIME LED’s Guardian Collection of Emergency lighting solutions is ideal for both commercial and industrial usage. The 3 Year Warranty offered on all Guardian products covers both the fixture and the battery, which is a LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate) solution.

“We’ve selected a quality battery to give a minimum guarantee of 3 year’s lifetime,” affirms Aci, “but the expectation is that the product will last even longer than that.”

793497 5W Emergency Bulkhead
793497 5W Emergency Bulkhead

The plastics used to create the light guide plate in panels and bulkheads can also affect the usable lifetime of the LED product. A solution using a PC (Polycarbonate) or PS (Polystyrene) plastic will be cheaper than one that employs PMMA (Polymethyl methacrylate). While the warranty on a PS or PC panel might be 3 years, overtime, PC and PS plastics will visibly discolour, as they are exposed to the heat generated by use, which both affects the quality of light diffused and makes the product look much older than it really is.

TIME LED’s Premium selection of Ultra Panels offer quality PMMA light guide plates, backed by a 5 year warranty. There are added benefits to choosing a premium product too; “a PMMA light guide will distribute light much more effectively,” explains Aci. “This means that you can effectively light a space with less units, so the total cost of lighting that space is lower.”

SMD (surface mounted device) options, where LED is mounted or placed straight onto the surface of a circuit board, and integrated directly into a lighting solution, can also pose a hidden cost to the consumer. Aci finds this particularly relevant for outdoor and garden lighting.

“We see consumers are drawn to integrated LED products for their outdoor spaces, where a ‘hands off’ approach sounds convenient, and, in the weather, a sealed shut fixture seems sensible” explains Aci. “They look at the cost of garden bollards, for example, and they see that integrated products, where the LED board is prebuilt into the fixture, are the same price or even cheaper to buy, in some cases, than the equivalent version which comes with a E27 fitting.”

However, Aci cautions against this apparent upfront saving.

“When the cheapest option is SMD, the LED technology will be mass-produced, as cheaply as possible, with consequent increased risk of fault, and reduced lifetime. And in the garden, with more chance of collision, humidity, sun and heat exposure, the chance of failure is even higher. Now, if you buy the cheapest LED bulbs to use in your home, and you have to replace them more often, or the odd one doesn’t work at all, perhaps you are ok with that, because of the low price you paid per unit. But with an SMD garden fixture, you can’t just replace the light source. You have to replace the entire bollard every time, and this does not justify the small initial saving.”

The problem is compounded when outer materials are expensive, such as stainless steel, which is often chosen for garden lighting solutions, for its non-corrosive qualities, or if the fixture is secured to stone or external brickwork, where replacement can also include a costly removal and installation process. Compare this to the relatively simple task of replacing a bulb, which the consumer can usually do themselves. TIME LED’s Landscape Range Stainless Steel Garden Bollards house E27 LED lamps, and are IP44 Rated – protected against solid objects over 1mm and splash proof in all directions.

Across the LED market, these examples all point to a need to build relationships with trusted suppliers, to use buying power to drive up the demand for quality products over cheap pretenders.

“Safety and reliability are key areas to check,” advises Aci. ”Consumers, and indeed those at every step of the buying chain, need to be aware of what they are buying, and to make sure they are not falling prey to fake performance and bogus safety claims, especially from online marketplaces.”

TIME LED takes care to select high quality, fully certified products for its new releases, as well as conducting its own in-house testing, and is a member of the LIA. TIME LED supplies exclusively to Wholesalers and Stockists in the Electrical sector.

Electrical Times Magazine – TIME LED May 2021

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