Lighting technology has been evolving rapidly in recent years, and as technology changes, lighting design must change with it. Al Thiesen, Principal at LKPB Engineers, had some insight on how we’ve transitioned into widespread use of LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) fixtures in our designs.
The first time Al remembers seeing LEDs were in the display of the old Texas Instruments scientific calculators. Back then, compared to a traditional calculator, they used a lot of battery power if you left them on for a long time. Useful, but not yet practical. The applications for LEDs are endless now, and they’re the most energy-efficient option we have.
Al entered the world of electrical engineering building design in 1989. Beyond traditional incandescent lighting, long tubular fluorescent lighting was the most energy-efficient and common lighting to use. Moving through the 1990s, fluorescent lighting became even more efficient and lamp life was extending. It seemed to be the light source of choice in a lot of applications. Compact fluorescent lighting started replacing a lot of incandescent applications but there was still more technology that needed to evolve to maximize utility cost savings and minimize energy usage.
We started hearing about LED lighting in commercial applications a few years into the new millennium but it wasn't until about 2008 that we began seeing reasonable uses for them. The first real LED light fixtures in commercial applications came out for outdoor lighting. They were used on a very public project, right here in Minneapolis in 2009; up-lighting a sculpture on either end and decorative lighting on the underside of the newly constructed 35W bridge.
Like any new technology, LED lighting came with some early problems. The light fixtures were burning out prematurely due to heat, and the light from the fixtures was somewhat harsh. Many of the products entered the market priced very highly compared to traditional lighting products, however the energy savings and long life of the product overcame the price difference. The problems were quickly overcome and the benefits had become very clear. Outdoor lighting would change forever.
Slowly, interior lighting fixtures were introduced, and today incandescent lighting has all but left the commercial building. Nearly all of the work that we specify contains LED lighting rather than fluorescent, HID or incandescent. The diversity of LED light fixtures is wide and robust. They are used in general lighting, accent lighting, utility lighting, and theatrical. Pricing is competitive for LED lighting and color rendering is good. Some time has passed since they were first introduced and the negatives have quickly diminished. The most significant difference people discuss is the tremendous energy savings. General commercial indoor and outdoor LED lighting uses one-third to one-half of the energy an equivalent fluorescent light fixture uses. This is an exciting time for the lighting industry and we look forward to seeing what else comes from this new technology so we can continue to implement the most innovative and cost-effective fixtures into our lighting designs!