LED lighting has much going for it. They are energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and long lasting. No wonder then they are so popular today. However, one of their potential disadvantages is that LEDs need a flow of constant and consistent current, at the exact voltage they require. This helps them maintain a consistent temperature. If LEDs become too hot, they may fail to deliver optimal performance or start to malfunction.
This is where the LED driver comes in. It ensures your LED lights always deliver great performance.
What is LED Driver?
Wondering what does an LED driver do? Think of it as a power regulator. It drives the power to one or multiple LEDs.
Because LEDs are super energy-efficient, they need less power to function. At a low voltage, LEDs work on direct current (DC) — generally between 2V and 4V. Due to this, LEDs need something that can do the all important job of converting alternating current (AC) into DC. That something is the LED driver.
Apart from converting AC into DC, drivers also protect LEDs from power surges which may occur. A power surge can cause your LED lights to overheat, which in turn can lead to various issues. So, in effect, LED drivers not only manage the electrical current that drives LEDs but also act as an efficient protective buffer.
When Do Need an LED Driver?
Almost every LED light fixture needs a driver. However, some LEDs have a built-in driver. For example, LED lights designed for home generally come with an integrated driver, so you might not need to buy an external driver for them. Low voltage LEDs, outdoor-rated lights, tape lights, however, generally need a separate LED driver. If an LED light fixture that needs a separate LED driver dies before the expiry of its rated lifespan, usually it can be saved by replacing the external driver.
Why Do You Need a Driver for LED Lights?
You need LED drivers for the following two reasons:
- LED light fixtures function on low voltage, direct current (DC). They usually require 12-24V. But household outlets are alternating current (AC). In fact, most places receive higher voltage (usually, 120 to 227V), alternating current. The LED driver rectifies higher voltage, AC to low voltage, DC.
- The LED driver protects LED light fixtures from current or voltage fluctuations. A voltage change can change the current that LED lights are receiving. The output of an LED light is directly proportional to the current supply. Also, LEDs are designed to work within a set current range. If the current is too little or too much, light output will vary. Moreover, the LED light may degrade faster because of thermal runaway.
Do all LED Lights Need a Driver?
Most LED lights need a driver. A few LED lights are designed to run on AC and they do not require a driver.
What Type of LED Driver Do I Need?
The two most common types of LED drivers are: constant current LED driver and constant voltage LED driver.
1. Constant Current LED Driver
Many consumers ask: What is a constant current LED driver? Well, these drivers regulate the amount of current that an LED receives.
The constant current LED driver varies the voltage to maintain a constant, stable electrical current. Such an arrangement ensures that the current supplied to LEDs will be kept at the designated level, regardless of voltage fluctuations. By regulating the amount of current supplied to LEDs, constant current LED drivers help prevent thermal runaway, which in turn prolongs the life of LED lighting.
You need a constant current LED driver when it is used for powering the LED load directly.
2. Constant Voltage LED Driver
As to the question of what is a constant voltage LED driver, it is exactly what it sounds like — an LED driver that has a fixed voltage, either 12VDC or 24VDC.
The constant voltage LED driver is used with an LED or array that needs one stable voltage. Quiet often, a constant voltage driver is used with an LED product that already has a built-in internal constant current driver for regulating the current. All that it really requires is a device to maintain a fixed voltage. Applications that use LEDs in a strip formation also frequently use constant voltage LED drivers.
If you are wondering how to choose the right LED driver, these tips can come in handy:
- First, take into account your LEDs voltage requirement. If the LED needs 24-volt, pair it with a 24V driver. Similarly, if the LED needs 12-volt, use a 12V driver.
- Also, take into account the wattage requirements of your LEDs. The maximum wattage of your driver should be greater than that of your LED. Do not use a driver whose maximum wattage is lower than that of the LED. Also, do not use a driver with a light that utilizes less than 50% of its maximum wattage.
- If you want a driver with dimming capabilities, purchase a dimmable driver. Whether a driver is dimmable or not should be mentioned in the product specifications section.
The LED driver converts high-voltage, alternating current to low voltage, direct current. Almost every LED requires an LED driver, but many of them come with a built-in driver. LED drivers are mainly of two types: constant current and constant voltage. Using the right kind of driver with your LEDs can improve their performance and lifespan.