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Old 09-15-2010, 12:39 AM   #1
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A peek into the future of LED lighting technology

I'm sure there are many people on here that have much more knowledge than myself regarding the specifics of LED aquarium lighting. Mine is limited to the fact that it is really expensive but totally cool.

However, today I attended a lighting technology seminar for those in the construction industry. I am an Electrical Engineer and work for a design/consulting firm, and attended because many of our clients always ask about LED lighting, since it seems to be the rage these days. The speaker was Stan Walerczyk of Lighting Wizards, who is well known in the lighting industry. He spoke about most major types of commercial interior and exterior lighting technologies - Incandescent, Linear Fluorescent, CFL, PL (power compact), HPS, Metal Halide, Induction, and, of course, LED. He spoke generally from a neutral standpoint as he specializes in lighting retrofits and is not an extension of the LED industry by any means.

I found his presentation extremely interesting, and while it was geared toward the commercial lighting industry, it gave me great insight into the future of aquarium lighting with respect to LED technology.

LED technology, while relatively new, will dominate the industry in just a few short years. For instance, street lighting and parking lot lighting has typically been HPS or MH, usually 250 or 400W or higher. Right now, the cost of LED lighting is such that it actually makes more sense to use it in lieu of 250W MH or lower, and withing a year, 400W LED will be lower than MH. Plus, if you've ever seen a street lit up with LED, you'll notice it is very uniform.

LED lighting is currently increasing the lumens/watt output by double every year, and the cost is going down about 25% each year. What is currently (and realistically) projected by the industry is that by 2015, LED will achieve an astounding 200 lumens per watt, and THEN the technology will begin to slowly level off, meaning it might take another 5 years to reach 300 lum/W. Currently, fixtures that will be hitting the shelves (some already have) range from 40-65 lum/W and some as high as 80.

Fixture cost is expected to be halved in just a few year. Now typically aquarium lighting technology remains higher cost because it is specialized, but I would expect that within just a few short years, the cost of a truly effective aquarium lighting system, comparable in intensity and effectiveness to T5HO, MH, etc, will be a slam dunk.

LEDs also do not lose lifespan when being shut on and off, are very easily dimmable, and while they do (on average) lose lumen output over time, some manufacturer of commercial lighting are incorporating sensors into the fixture that compensate by starting the output at a lower that maximum level, then increasing the output accordingly as the lumen output drops to compensate, giving you constant lumen output over expected life.

This is just a small portion of the information I absorbed today. I just wanted to pass this on to those of you who have not considered it as a possibility due to the cost. Keep an eye on this technology, because it will far surpass any other type of lighting system, sooner than you think.

I think this is particularly exciting for reefkeepers, because the potential is there to specifically highlight different areas of your tank with different light settings using one fixture - and change it whenever you want. You can spotlight your corals, rotate frequencies to give a true ocean-wave appearance, you could probably even simulate a storm in combination with a wave maker, lightning strikes and all - if you wanted to!!

Actually, I'm pretty sure fixtures like that are available, but cost an arm and a leg. But for the standard no-frills fixture, this is going to be available very soon. However, homework is necessary. This was stressed very much for commercial lighting. The Department of Energy is implementing strict standard for commercial and residential LED lighting, because of the debacle in the 80s and 90s caused by T8 ballast issues. Don't go cheap, don't buy on impulse, and know what you're buying!
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Old 09-15-2010, 01:15 AM   #2
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Great review, thanks for taking the time to post it.
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Old 09-15-2010, 10:10 AM   #3
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Here's a study that was done comparing T5HO, MH and LED lighting over a reef tank.
Feature Article: Quantitative Comparison of Reef Aquarium Lighting Technologies: Metal Halide, T5 Fluorescent and LED | Advanced Aquarist's Online Magazine
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Old 09-15-2010, 10:42 AM   #4
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Very true article, as soon as the cost comes down enough that it makes sense to light larger systems with them, its going to be all LEDs in the reef game. I couldn't be happier with mine.

The problem with commercial systems is by the time they incorporate the latest and greatest LEDs into their system, get them tested and approved and to market, the LEDs that were originally the best, are now outdated. I can appreciate the commercial vendors wanting in on the market but it just doesn't make sense to buy a lot of their systems right now.
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Old 09-15-2010, 02:00 PM   #5
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That's a great article, it really shows how the power consumption has decreased dramatically over a short period of time, which confirms everything I heard yesterday. That second LED fixture had almost 1/3 of the power consumption of the MH.

The other insteresting thing about LEDs is that since the technology is advancing at such a rapid pace, many (commercial) lighting manufacturers are making backwards-compatible components so that when more efficient LEDs become available, users can just replace the light bars and end up with a more efficient fixture. For instance, if a current fixture is designed to use 4 light bars to achieve desired luminosity, an advance might mean they will only need 3 or even 2 bars, and they can just swap them out.

That being said, I think there will be a big market for DIY LED retrofit kits for odd-size aquariua like my 92 corner bow that I have yet to set up. I wonder when we can start buying individual LEDs and driver chips to start making our own fixtures?!
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Old 09-15-2010, 03:08 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Floyd R Turbo View Post
I wonder when we can start buying individual LEDs and driver chips to start making our own fixtures?!
We already can :p Thats what I did. Got individual drivers, LEDs, and a heatsink and wired em all up. I'm working on automating them now with the use of an Arduino board so I can simulate all the fancy features of the commercial fixtures.
My build thread is in my sig if you wanted to take a look.
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Old 09-15-2010, 03:28 PM   #7
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Oh man. I'm in trouble now. Gotta start saving my money and drawing up a plan on CAD for my 92!!!

Stan (the speaker) did also mention that Cree was one of the leading manufacturers. It's good to see that you used those in your nano build, which looks very nice by the way.
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Old 09-15-2010, 04:02 PM   #8
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I've had the Pacific Sun BT-EX units for a few months now. I replaced 3x150 MH and 4x96 PC with 3x120w LED units. Benenfits?
1) No more need to run a fan to cool the tank
3) 30% decrease in top off due to evaporation
4) 2 hour slow ramp up/down for dawn dusk effect
5) I can shorten the ramp up/down a bit add periods of cloud cover
6) Moonlight follows the moonlight phases based on input of last full moon.
This mean that just before and after New Moon, only 1/3 of the tank has moonlight and the other two are totally dark. At New moon the tank is in total darkness for a few nights.
7) Lower electric usage
8) No need to replace PC bulbs every 6-7 months
9) No need to replace MH bulbs every year
10) Same shimmer effect as MH
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Old 09-15-2010, 06:26 PM   #9
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That's awesome! Did the manufacturer say anything about the need to replace the LEDs? One thing that I did learn at this seminar was that LEDs have a useful life indicated by their L70 number, which indicates the projected time at which the lumen output is reduced to 70% of their initial lumens (on average). I can't find where this in my notes, but I do know that many fixture manufacturers are stating up to 100,000 hours, of course a lot can happen to the components over that life span, so 50,000-70,000 hours is more realistic, especially considering that LED fixtures just haven't been in use in great number to give good statistical feedback - and that feedback data will be obsolete by the time it comes in anyways, because the technology will improve. Kind of like driving a car by watching the rear-view mirror.

Still, even if the LEDs have a 50,000 hour L70, and you have the lamps on full 8-10 hours/day, that's 2920-3650 hours/year, so the fixture will last you 13.5 to just over 17 years. That's a LONG time between fixture replacement.

Let's say that a standard combo 4x T5HO and 3x Metal Halide fixture costs $600, with the lamps. The replacement F54T5HO lamps cost $20 each and the MH lamps cost $100 and you replace them once a year at a cost of $180. Over just 15 years, you will have spent $3300 on the fixture and lamps (assuming price does not decrease with respect to inflation) and that doesn't count any ballast replacement, which would most definitely happen during that time. This more than makes the case for LED fixtures if you can afford them.

Perhaps the manufacturers of MH or T8 / T5 lamps & fixtures will start ratcheting down their prices to stay in the market...
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Old 09-15-2010, 06:28 PM   #10
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I just saw one fixture that listed the useful life at 50,000 hours, or 5 years. That would be if you left them on 24/7. Bad marketing!!!!
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