Biggest challenge in energy efficient industrial lighting? 'Inertia'

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Add up the benefits, and it's tough to argue against upgrading to new technologies

There was a time when all industrial work was done by daylight (there being little other choice). As technology progressed and production went into overnight shifts, industry moved through steadily improving lighting options: gaslight to incandescent, mercury vapour to high pressure sodium and metal halide.

Today, in most applications, those options are becoming lighting dinosaurs.

"People who are shifting to fluorescent systems in industrial applications today are not early adopters," says Eric Strandberg, senior lighting specialist with the Lighting Design Lab, a Seattle-based lighting education facility funded by utilities, including BC Hydro.

"Fluorescents have been pretty well proven as a method that will save energy and improve quality," he says. "In particular, the T5 high output (T5HO) lamp has been a game-changer in terms of quality of light, quantity of light to some extent, energy savings, and longevity.

"And now we have LED platforms coming on. The question is, why wouldn't you be changing? I can't come up with a good answer for that; it's really just inertia."

Multiple benefits from energy efficient high bay lighting

Strandberg recognizes that some industrial operations do not own the space where they are located. But he says the multiple benefits of efficient lighting — which renders much higher-quality light than older technology — make it a choice that goes beyond just finances.

These include:

  • Better visual acuity: newer types of lighting offer better colour rendering, making the workspace feel brighter and allowing better visual performance;
  • Improved speed and accuracy, productivity: workers are able to improve accuracy and speed as their visual acuity is improved, especially relevant for tasks such as colour-matching, stock-picking, or quality control;
  • Safety: better light helps reduce safety risks;
  • Controllability and security: fluorescent and LED lighting allow improved options for ensuring lighting goes dim, or turns off, when not needed, saving energy and allowing activity in a plant to be tracked;
  • Longevity: fluorescent and LED lamps last longer, and have significantly higher "lumen maintenance" and colour maintenance than metal halide, meaning they hold their light levels and do not shift colour as much over time;
  • Reduced maintenance costs: with longer-life lamps plus the ability to extend their service by switching off when not needed, less time and money is spent replacing bulbs (not to mention workplace disruption);
  • Reduced energy costs: cut electricity costs for lighting by about 40%. With BC Hydro incentives, this is often one of the highest payback industrial retrofits available.
Eric Strandberg, Senior Lighting Specialist, Lighting Design Lab
Eric Strandberg, Senior Lighting Specialist, Lighting Design Lab

For industrial lighting, LED or fluorescent?

Strandberg says high bay T5HO lighting is very effective in lower wattage applications (equivalent of 400W metal halide, and below).

In higher-wattage applications (equivalent to 1,000W metal halide), fluorescents can be effective, but the luminaire (fixture) required to hold sufficient lamps can be complicated.

"This is where we’re seeing LED technology come along," he says. "LEDs have been working their way into pretty much every aspect of lighting practice."

Strandberg says LEDs do not yet offer significant additional benefit over fluorescent options in industrial applications, although most major manufacturers now have products that promise to replace metal halides in high-wattage situations.

However, as LED technology continues to develop, he expects it will be increasingly popular, given its potentially longer lifespan, better optical control and solid state (less fragility), particularly in high bay, high-wattage settings.

Other tips

Strandberg says good lighting design — such as choosing locations for occupancy sensors and determining where lighting might be brought closer to a task area — can improve the quality and energy efficiency outcomes of a project. A knowledgeable lighting professional can help with this.

He also notes that lighting warranties — which can range up to 10 or more years — can be maximized by combining the same brand of luminaire, ballast, and lamp, and ensuring you choose compatible controls.

And while an upgrade project is always a challenge, he says there's no good reason for delay.

"We're vision-dominated as a species," he says. "We can be inside a work environment where there is the minimum recommended light level, but we are in this constant twilight. That can be okay for a day or two, but if that's your work environment in and day out, it's hard.

"We know that people do feel more invigorated in a brighter environment. Even without the financial benefits of energy savings, a company gets so many benefits from better quality light, they really ought to make the change to modern lighting."

Eric Strandberg will be presenting on the topic of new and emerging industrial lighting technologies at the Power Smart Forum in October.

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