As the Mitsubishi Electric head office starts its phased installation of new LED ceiling lights, Ellina Webb looks into the light side and the dark side of the growing LED lightbulb market.

The popularity and growth in the LED market has exploded in the past 10-20 years for a number of reasons. First and foremost, LEDs are a no brainer; they are small, powerful and energy efficient, right? It’s no wonder that Australia are planning to ban halogen bulbs by 2020 in favour of them.

In fact such a small little epoxy lens has recently gone on to light up some of our biggest landmarks, from New York’s Empire State Building to London’s Tower Bridge (it had an LED makeover in 2012 apparently) and they’re even taking over UK street lamps. According to this article on the Ben and Jerry website, LED street lights could save the UK council £200 million a year and prevent 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. They also point towards this website which allows you to put in your postcode and find out if your neighbourhood has gone LED (hurrah, mine has!).

So are there any cons to LED lightbulbs? Should you install LED lights in your home or business? And what is Mitsubishi Electric doing to make the switch to light-emitting diodes?

The Pros

When it comes to lighting, I think there are 3 requirements to consider when purchasing or installing (whether at home or somewhere else).

  1. Does it offer the required result
  2. Is it low maintenance
  3. Will the upfront cost be weighed out against the lifespan

Of course, ease of installation is important too and thankfully LED lights can meet all of these (depending on the complexity of the fixtures you choose). At home this can be as simple as changing all your bulbs to LED bulbs which are readily available at supermarkets and DIY stores. Much like with the traditional bulb, they are available in different wattages in order to meet your desired illumination; for example a 3W LED is the equivalent in output to a 45W traditional bulb.

Perfect at home or in business settings, LED bulbs are also available in a wide variety of styles. For example, it is currently very popular to have LED bulbs that look like vintage filaments (the staple lighting option of a trendy coffee shop it would appear). They are also perfect for intimate lighting areas in restaurants, bars and at home in floor lamps.

Other styles of LED bulbs available include omnidirectional which are ideal for large area lighting, flame tip, dimmable globe, and track and string (i.e. fairy lights). LED tube lights are also available and are designed to replace traditional fluorescent tube bulbs commonly installed in offices.

At Mitsubishi Electric we are currently in the process of replacing all our office fluorescent tube bulbs because of their poor energy efficiency levels compared to LED. The 4 tube lighting fixtures dotted throughout our office ceilings have reached the end of their servable life so the logical step towards meeting the 3 requirements (while further improving the buildings EPC rating) is to join the LED revolution.

Office Facilities Manager Andrew Martin-Flaven has estimated that the new LED bulbs will reduce the energy consumption of the lighting by more than 50% as well as reduce the current maintenance activity required to keep the old fittings working. In total all 900 light fittings throughout the Mitsubishi Electric head office building will be replaced in phases.

This format of phased installation is very important to updating office and multi-use buildings where occupants want minimum disruption. Phased installation is the same process used in our building when the HVAC systems were updated 4 years ago, helping improve the EPC rating substantially; and ever since then we’ve continued to improve it where we can. Much like with LED bulbs, picking the right infrastructure solutions like modern air conditioning systems can have a huge effect on energy efficiency and maintenance costs compared to older technology.

This type of efficient and future-proof technology however often comes with a larger upfront cost which is weighed out throughout the product's life span that typically lasts longer and saves a significant amount on energy bills compared to the traditional/older solution. In the case of LEDs the upfront cost could be double that of a traditional bulb but the lifespan is 150% more and the cost of electricity used over the lifespan 40% less.

The Cons

When it comes to the use of LED lighting inside a building, the benefits clearly shine through. Marks and Spencer’s for example exclusively used LED lights in their “Sustainable Learning Store” in Sheffield. This saved them approximately 20-30% on light energy consumed, reduced maintenance costs and are expected to last the lifetime of the store (eliminating replacement costs).

However, the cons are mainly evident when you step outside. Outdoor lighting can have a significant effect on the environment and in the case of the growth in LED lighting, scientists have recently reported on a “Rebound Effect”. This is a concept where the expected gains are reduced because of the increased efficiency of the resource. In terms of LED lightbulbs, the energy savings, the amount of light emitted and all the new computerised LED technology has meant that we are installing more of them in outdoor areas; increasing brightness on the planet and worsening light pollution.

Although it can look really beautiful, like these solar LED illuminated Japanese rice paddies.

According to some news articles the Earth is now nearly 10% brighter than it was 4 years ago because artificial light has increased. By 2050, if the rate of artificial light growth continues then the illuminated area of the Earth at night-time will be twice what it was in 2012.

In order to counteract this, homeowners, business owners and councils need to be sensible when it comes to lighting particular outdoor areas and understand that the saving made by installing LED lighting, doesn’t mean it should be spend on adding more light sources (that applies indoors too).

Light pollution is an issue I’ve spoken about previous on The Hub here.

Other cons when it comes to LED lighting include the use in car headlamps. The Telegraph reported in 2018 that the RAC had warned that LED light bulbs are behind a rise in complaints. Apparently around 15% of drivers have suffered a near miss due to the brightness of some new car headlights. LED bulbs are (in theory) ideal for headlights because of how directional and focused they are. However (in reality) for other road users, the white/blue tones make them appear brighter and the directional quality can be dazzling. 

Last year the Express reported that 2 thirds of British drivers complain that they are regularly dazzled by the headlights on modern vehicles, even though there are regulations in place stating a maximum and minimum luminosity level. Dazzling from light sources such as headlights and the sun are a major cause of accidents as we recently saw when the Duke of Edinburgh suffered an horrific cash in January due to dazzling sunlight.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to LED lightbulbs, as it does it with most building infrastructures (both indoor and out) in order to gain the biggest benefits, placement, design and usage needs to be sensible. Changing indoor lighting to LED in order to save money doesn’t mean more lighting should be installed to use up the budget. Lighting should be placed where required and where necessary and even though LED lighting provides a vast array of options to help enhance indoor ambience, a blue strip of colour in the bathroom isn’t really benefitting anyone – especially not your energy saving potential. This is even more fundamental outdoors.

When it comes to outdoor lighting, even more consideration has to be made here. Of course lighting in certain areas has been shown to reduce crime and having lit up areas does make our streets and car parks feel a lot safer. However, directional street lamps and other downwards facing light fixtures should be part of any outdoor arrangement you’re planning in order to preserve low levels of light pollution.

Either way, changing your existing bulbs to LED is a positive step forward in making your home or business more energy efficient (but it looks like there is a still a big question mark over it when it comes to headlights). Basically the lesson to learn from this is that making energy efficient changes doesn’t have to be one big change all at once, little steps (or phased installation) with a lot of thought and consideration can reap huge rewards later on down the line – both financially and environmentally.

And if you are concerned by getting dazzled by LED headlights while out on the road, this article by Green Flag offers some advice.

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric