• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

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In tangential response to an earlier post, a correspondent -- keep those e-cards and e-letters coming to g (dot) rendell (at) insidehighered (dot) com -- sent me some information about a product relatively new on the market. An LED-based replacement for typical fluorescent tube bulbs. I did a wee bit of looking, and it appears that there a few different suppliers out there (what the actual number of different manufacturers and models is, I don't yet know).

May 3, 2009
 

In tangential response to an earlier post, a correspondent -- keep those e-cards and e-letters coming to g (dot) rendell (at) insidehighered (dot) com -- sent me some information about a product relatively new on the market. An LED-based replacement for typical fluorescent tube bulbs. I did a wee bit of looking, and it appears that there a few different suppliers out there (what the actual number of different manufacturers and models is, I don't yet know).

The idea of replacing fluorescent tubes with plug-and-play LED assemblies is immediately interesting; LEDs can save you something on the order of two-thirds of your electrical consumption, particularly if you're using the older T12 (inch-and-a-half diameter) fluorescent tubes. Most of the savings are inherent in the greater efficiencies of LEDs, but some come from the fact that the LEDs don't require a ballast (the electronic gizmo between the bulbs, often covered in a sheet-metal tent -- the older ones were responsible for that high-pitched hum that you may associate with fluorescent lights from your childhood). What that means is that using the LED tubes isn't simply a matter of switching bulbs; some minor rewiring is required. No new fixture, though. No sheetrock dust, no repainting, no major distruption of office activity. (Sorry about that last.)

Even given the need for rewiring, going to LED tubes is an attractive proposition. Like CFLs compared to incandescent bulbs, there's a greater up-front cost but a much longer product lifetime. Thus, you not only save electricity, your long-term bulb costs go down. So do the labor costs for bulb replacement. All in all, what's not to like?

Well, one thing that's not to like is that it's a no-brainer; a brain is a terrible thing to waste. If you're thinking about changing lighting technologies anyways, it might make sense to think about changing light levels as well. A lot of offices are, to put it gently, overlit. Administrators used to do a lot of work with pencil and paper, and that took a fair amount of light to avoid eyestrain. Now, the high levels of light which were originally designed to avoid eyestrain can actually create it, because much administrative work no longer involves pencil and paper. It involves ... (wait for it) ... PCs! High levels of overhead light in an office where most vision is focused on a PC monitor isn't just wasted, it's experienced as glare. Lighting experts suggest that the appropriate lighting in PC-based offices is half what it used to be, or less. As a result, if you simply replace fluorescent bulbs with LED tubes designed to provide the same number of lumens (a common measure of light output, as opposed to watts, which measure electricity consumed), you could still be consuming twice the amount of electricity -- and spending twice as much on lightbulbs -- as you really need.

Still, there's no question in my mind that LED tubes are a product with a future. There are gazillions of fluorescent light fixtures out there, not just on college campuses but in stores, factories, warehouses and homes. Invest virtually nothing in planning and very little in electrical maintenance, and you can realize significant dollar and energy savings. Invest a bit more in planning and analysis, and you might be able to cut even those reduced expenditure levels in half!

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