This post was written by Keith Dawson for UBM Tech’s community Web site All LED Lighting, sponsored by Philips Lumileds. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the All LED Lighting site may go dark at any time. This material is Copyright 2013-2015 by UBM Americas.

2014-09-23

SSL Ecosystem Conference Brings Vision, Hard Reality

The first day of the Smithers Apex SSL Ecosystem Summit in Cambridge brought plenty of big-picture thinking, and ended with a bracing dash of cold water.

After attendees took in inspiring visions of possible futures for LED lighting from speakers representing Philips Lighting, Xicato, and Osram Sylvania, they were treated at the end of the day to the perspective of John Marzec, North American energy manager for Staples.

Can LED-based lighting economically replace modern T8 fluorescent tubes in commercial area lighting? That prospect is currently driving much of the SSL industry, since office troffers represent one of the last remaining pockets in the lighting landscape that LEDs have yet to conquer convincingly.

While suppliers of fluorescent replacement tubes cheerfully calculate payback periods of as little as three or four years and falling, they do so in the absence of the real experience of the mass-market retail world that Marzec inhabits. Marzec has been squeezing energy and cost savings out of Staples's 2,600 retail and warehouse locations for over 4 years, and Staples had been winning awards for energy-consciousness long before his tenure began. The easy gains have already been achieved.

Do you calculate ROI based on existing fluorescent tubes consuming 32W? Staples retail stores use 28W tubes, and most are upgrading to 25W fixtures. Do you tout the superior longevity of LED products against fluorescents that last 25,000 hours? Marzec benchmarks proposed lighting replacements against a new crop of 80,000-hour fluorescent tubes.

Does a retail location need an 80,000-hour light fixture, or even one lasting 50,000 hours? Marzec says that such lifetimes -- which equate to as much as 16 years of clock time -- are out of phase with the reality of building upgrades and the changing nature of business.

Marzec ran through the numbers on a single-store LED upgrade that he orchestrated at Staples recently. The store was chosen for its favorability to the case for moving to LEDs: It was in an area in which energy cost 18.9¢ per kWh. Still, the LED retrofit promised on paper annual savings of only around $4,000. Once the new fixtures had been in place for a while, measured savings of only $2,900 per year materialized.

The time to ROI on an LED retrofit stretches to the breaking point under such conditions.

Worst case
In a sense, Marzec's application represents the worst-case scenario for anyone pitching LEDs to save energy and money. Lighting is only 29% of a typical store's budget. Save a fraction of that and you are down in the single-digit percentages on the bottom line. The stores don't need high-end, high-CRI lighting -- the average customer is in and out in 12 minutes.

As for saving money or improving the customer experience through lighting controls: "In our stores, on/off is kind of where it's at," Marzec deadpanned. About control systems generally, he said: "Everybody's got one, they don't speak to each other."

We left the first day of the Smithers Apex conference soberly considering how much ground the SSL industry still needs to cover.

— Keith Dawson Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page, Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting