How quantity-focused certification reduces quality in lighting products

LED lighting is taking over the world. Interest in LED lamps shows no signs of cooling off, as this five-year Google Trends data shows (search term ‘LED lamp’):

Since LEDs are proven to be very energy-efficient, one might think the backing of energy certification (market transformation) initiatives, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Energy Star and the more recent DesignLights Consortium (DLC), are merely icing on the cake.

However, energy-qualified certifications are important because, in the move away from wasteful lighting, many electric utility companies are awarding rebates to consumers who upgrade to LEDs and other energy-efficient lighting. And the basis for those rebates are the ratings coming from the market transformation groups – the most popular among LED manufacturers being inclusion in DLC’s Qualified Products List (QPL). The search for higher energy qualification ratings becomes a competitive cycle: The higher the ratings, the higher the rebates awarded by the utility companies and the more popular and profitable the higher rated LED lighting products become. Consequently, more and more LED light manufacturers vie to create higher and higher energy-efficiency rated products.

There’s nothing wrong with being competitive in itself, but  John Burns, of Global Tech LED, has raised some concerns about the vicious cycle created by trying to achieve higher and higher efficiency. Burns says that, in the scramble for super-efficient LED products, many overlook how this trend detrimentally affects light quality.

This might sound counterintuitive (higher-efficiency LEDs are poorer in quality?), but Burns has pointed out a dilemma in LED fundamentals. The search for higher brightness per Watt used (lm/W) leads to manufacturers cramming more LEDs on lamp circuit boards. But this creates an undesirable tradeoff: with more LEDs on a circuit board, the lamp loses the ability to use lensing to control light distribution. Without the ability to lense-control light distribution, the more energy-efficient LED lamps end up either having too widely spaced or too tightly spaced light distribution (depending on their design). If we get LED lamps with too widely spaced light distribution for our purposes, we’ll need more of them to get the desired lighting levels. If too tightly spaced, we’ll also need more of them to make the lighting look even.

In the end, we end up with more lamps than necessary, more power consumption, higher amounts spent on lighting, poorer quality light distribution, and light pollution. LED lamp certification initiatives should factor in light distribution control and quality in their lighting product ratings in order to prevent a bright but dismal lighting future.

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