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  • Applications: LEDs Light the Way to Homes and Businesses

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2009
Ashley N. Paddock,

LED technology is moving to a new neighborhood. The light source that once was used to light cell phone buttons, traffic lights and the ball that drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve will now be incorporated into architectural structures and decorative and functional residential lighting.

An illuminated drainage system that incorporates solid-state lighting has been introduced by the ACO Group of Rendsburg/Büdelsdorf, Germany, which specializes in intelligent surface drainage and civil engineering solutions.

“The system incorporates attractive, sustainable LED lighting technology from Lighting Science Group (LSG) as a permanent part of track drainage grates,” said Richard Q. van de Vrie, business group executive of Eyeleds International at LSG.

The grates will provide a natural location for pathway illumination. Because of their low energy consumption and long life span, LEDs are ideal for the illumination of paths, open spaces, sports areas and private driveways, where they beautify as well as serve as a safety feature for pedestrians.

“The Eyeleds product from LSG was key because of its low profile, easy installation and durability,” he said. “The system can be added to new projects and existing removable drain grates, eliminating the need to install light fixtures directly into concrete, tile or wood surfaces.”

Shown is the ACO Eyeleds solution for illuminating outdoor spaces. The new drainage solution will incorporate attractive and sustainable LED lighting technology as a permanent part of track drainage grates, which provide natural locations for pathway illumination. Image courtesy of Lighting Science Group.

Drainage systems are not the only architectural projects the group has in the works. The company’s additional LED projects have been integrated into urban infrastructures, including bridges, parks, and street and garage lights. Other undertakings have included video walls for retailers; “architainment,” including casinos; and hospitality spaces such as nightclubs as well as endeavors such as the New Year’s Eve ball.

The company’s drainage system was created as part of an ongoing improvement of safety and sustainability in urban design.

“The system is exemplary of LSG’s strategy of providing a high quality of light that improves people’s lives by making a meaningful impact on both the environment and the future,” van de Vrie explained.

Advances in LED technology have rendered these light sources ideal for interior lighting. Although incorporating LEDs into residences is costly at this time, consumers can expect to see prices decrease as demand grows and technology improves.

“LEDs offer the potential to create innovative lighting solutions that were not possible before, or were not cost- or energy-efficient,” said Jean Paul Freyssinier, research assistant professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center in Troy, N.Y.

According to Freyssinier, current lighting applications in the home include undercabinet lighting and general downlighting (i.e., recessed luminaires for general illumination).

“The commercial products for these two applications are maturing, and consumers can now find a few good-quality luminaires that will fulfill their expectations,” he explained. “However, there are still many underperforming products in the market.”

Other increasingly popular residential applications include porch and pathway lighting as well as landscaping.

When asked what consumers can expect of LEDs and lighting in the future, Freyssinier explained that LEDs eventually will offer technical advances that change the way we illuminate interiors and exteriors as well as photobiological and environmental benefits.

“LEDs will keep evolving and will offer many possibilities in terms of size, light output and color appearance that will afford designers and manufacturers the ability to customize and optimize lighting solutions for many applications,” he said.

These advances won’t come easily, though. Manufacturers face many challenges on the road ahead. Because LEDs do not produce much light individually, they are grouped so that they provide sufficient light output. This can increase the overall size of the array to the extent that it is larger than an incandescent or fluorescent lamp. This challenge is faced particularly by manufacturers developing products for retrofit applications. Thermal management of LEDs is yet another obstacle to be overcome. Heat sinks are added to keep LEDs cool; however, under some conditions, these are ineffective. For example, heat sinks for recessed downlighting can be inadequate if the ceiling is insulated.

Consumers also are faced with difficulties when it comes to deciding which LED products are most suitable for their needs.

“There are a number of issues that consumers need to be aware of,” Freyssinier cautioned. “The first one is quality … there are vast differences in the quality of LEDs on the market as well as the quality of components that make up a given LED product or fixture.”

Another issue to be cautious about is the suitability of a product for a given application. Because LEDs have thermal sensitivity, they can fail prematurely if installed in conditions they are not designed for.

“Unfortunately, there is a large potential for this to happen because of the great number of products on the market intended for retrofit applications that have not been properly designed,” he said.

Freyssinier also encourages consumers to use demonstration areas and showrooms to test out and evaluate the quality of the product’s color appearance and rendering properties. It is also essential for a buyer to consider the entire cost – the initial expense, the expected life of the product, the ease of installation and the availability of any replacement parts, if needed.

“With the impressive improvement we have seen in the past few years, we can only anticipate that LED technologies will provide cost- and energy-effective solutions for a large number of innovative applications in the near future,” Freyssinier concluded.

The general term for the application of light to a subject. It should not be used in place of the specific quantity illuminance.
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