LED there be light!

LED there be light!

By Ari Katz

There’s an old joke…how many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change. Ha!

To begin a discussion about the origins of light, we need to look no further than the first couple of lines of the Torah. The first thing Hashem created even before the world was light. And for as long as Humans have been around, we have been finding better and better ways of extending the daylight hours of our days.

If I asked who invented the light bulb, my guess is that everyone would already know the answer: Thomas Edison. What people may not know is that since then, not much has changed. Sure, there have been vast improvements over the years in quality, efficiency and cost, but there have been few revolutionary developments in lighting. Much like Henry Ford and today’s automobiles; they’re faster, safer, more sophisticated, on-star, Northstar and five star; but in the end, it’s an internal combustion engine mounted to four wheels with a seat. Until flying cars, fully electric cars or solar cars literally “take off,” we’re all driving around in a 60th generation Model–T.

So too with lighting. With one notable exception: the florescent light. That honor goes to Peter Cooper Hewitt, who in 1903 discovered a way to generate light by passing electricity through a gas-filled tube. The name comes from a mineral called fluorite used in the early years. The curlicue bulbs most of us use are the same thing, but they’re twisted up to save space. Due to their efficiency, longevity and brightness, florescent light bulbs have been the choice for commercial lighting for the last 75 years. The downside is the actual light, which gives your skin that greenish, institutional, ‘night-of-the-living-dead’ tone. There are also questions about their overall health effects on people, but I don’t know if there is anything conclusive about that.

LED is not the old type of light bulb, nor a halogen or florescent. It’s completely new. It’s a flying car. The technology is revolutionary in that it uses a new process to actually make the light, which uses half the energy, produces more light, lasts for years and is much more pleasant on the eyes than florescent light. It’s quite flexible so it can be adapted to any shape, thus utilizing existing fixtures and infrastructures. It’s also scalable, from micro-tools used by surgeons to street lamps and stadiums. Automobile lights, power tools, flashlights and emergency lights, airplanes, refrigerators and on and on are all using this technology.

By far though, the magnum opus of LED is the savings in electrical costs. For example, a Yeshiva, office building or parking garage using 1,000 bulbs can reduce its yearly lighting expense by 60-70%, saving 500,000 nis over the lifetime of the bulbs. This is more than five times the cost of the entire conversion project. I have had to explain this to people many times over, as they simply can’t believe that it can be true, but it’s not rocket science. If your 50 watt lights are being replaced with 21 watt lights, that’s less than half the power required to get 20% more light and last for five years. Remember, watts are a measurement of how much electricity is being used, NOT how much light is actually given.

If you’re interested in changing over to LED, make sure you do your homework; the quality scale is huge, and advertising can be deceiving. There is a large, name brand light bulb company that claims their new LED lights last 35,000 hours and come with a “three year warranty.” However, the fine print says “according to six hours of use per day,” normal residential use. A hospital, however, never turns the lights off, so the product has to be of a much higher quality to really last five years in a place like Hadassah.

I work with an importer who can manufacture commercial bulbs to spec. If he wants a two-dollar bulb, a ten-dollar bulb, a fifty, or a one hundred dollar bulb, it can be made accordingly by adjusting the quality of components. It seems that for commercial use, 35,000-45,000 hours is what people are looking for. That’s between five and seven years. Anything less, and it doesn’t seem to justify the expense. Longer than that, it becomes more expensive, and people are nervous to invest that far down the road.

If you have any questions about LED, or to get a free quote on savings and costs for your office, retail store, commercial property, school, yeshiva, clinic, etc…it would be my pleasure to speak to you about this awesome new technology and see if it can work for you.

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