During my travels, I recently met with a self-serve/in-bay automatic carwash operator who was experimenting with LED lights in his bays. I was surprised at how bright the bays were and how little energy the LED lights used. Being the hands-on guy that I am, we climbed into the attic with a volt meter and took readings of both the standard lights and the LED lights. There was no comparison; the LED lights used 80 percent less energy than the incandescent light bulbs. That set off a light bulb in my brain — an LED light!
When I returned home, I started researching LED lights further to understand how they work and how I could implement them into my wash bays. Here are a few of the basics:
What is an LED? LED is an acronym for light emitting diode. It is a semi-conductor device that emits light when electricity passes through it.
How long has this technology been around? LED lighting was first discovered in the early 1900s. In the 1920s, scientific journals reported on the creation of an LED by Oleg Vladimirovich Losev of Russia. LEDs were introduced into electronic components in the 1960s and have been increasing in use ever since.
Does an LED lamp work the same as a standard light? Yes and no. Some manufacturers of LED lamps design devices to resemble normal light bulbs. They cluster the LEDs together for more intensity and build in a driver and screw plug so the lamp will fit into a conventional socket. Other manufacturers have developed their own fixtures and devices that typically consist of a fixture of clustered LEDs and a transformer for power supply.
How long does an LED last? One of the benefits of LED lighting is the operational life. Several manufacturers claim their LED lamps can last up to 100,000 hours. That is more than 20 years of normal use and is an operational life 10 times longer than what I currently use at my carwashes.
How does an LED use less energy than a conventional light? One of the bi-products of regular incandescent bulbs is heat. Eighty percent of the energy used in an incandescent bulb is lost as heat. Just 20 percent of the energy is used to actually light the bulb. In contrast, LED lamps are 80 percent efficient and lose only 20 percent to heat loss.
In real dollars terms, if you are using a 350-watt bulb over a period of a year, you are basically spending $305 on electricity, with $245 spent due to heat energy. If you were using a comparable LED lamp, your electricity cost would be around $80. That translates to a cost savings of $225 per light, per year.
Lower power consumption – LEDs produce more light per watt than incandescent bulbs. Their efficiency is not affected by shape or size. Less energy used means more money to the bottom line.
Operational life – LEDs last up to 100,000 hours. You would have to replace a normal bulb 20 times within the operational life of a LED lamp.
Cold lighting – LEDs do not have a filament like a conventional light bulb and therefore generate a very small amount of heat.
Durability – LEDs are usually covered with a solid transparent plastic material so they are more resistant to damage than standard bulbs which are sealed in glass.
Slow failure – LEDs fail by dimming over time. There is no sudden burn out.
Instant on – LEDs turn on instantly when they are supplied with power. There is no warm-up time.
Effectiveness – In an LED strip, 100 percent of the light is directed downward, whereas other bulbs direct light both up and down.
Mercury free – No mercury is used in the manufacturing process of LEDs.
Simple to use – LEDs can be powered by either AC or DC voltage.
No infrared of ultraviolet radiation – LEDs are excellent for outdoor use because they do not attract bugs.
Upfront costs – The initial upfront cost of LED fixtures are three to five times more expensive than conventional lighting fixtures.
Heat sensitive – When exposed to high heat, LEDs tend to have a reduced light output and decreased lifespan.
Reflector needed – LEDs typically cast light in one direction at a narrow angle. A reflector is needed to broaden the beam if you want to light an entire area.
Limited availability – Although the number of manufacturers of LED fixtures for commercial use is increasing, choices are somewhat limited.
The biggest hurdle for the adoption of LED lighting as a lighting standard is the current high cost to produce. However, researchers have recently developed a process for using inexpensive silicon wafers to replace the expensive sapphire-based technology which had been the standard. This promises to bring LEDs into competitive pricing with other light sources.
Even at current prices, the cost to install LED lighting is recouped over time by lower energy costs and reduced maintenance costs associated with bulb replacement. Many municipalities have switched their traffic lights and outdoor signs to LEDs to reduce their maintenance and replacement costs.
It will be interesting to see what developments occur in the near future for more commercial uses of LED lighting. Other industries are starting to release more products with LED technology. Recently, I have seen flashlights, task lights and automotive head lights that use LEDs.
Researchers have been developing the technology for decades, and we are beginning to see practical applications from their work. There is already widespread use of LED traffic lights and information signs in use around the world. Most luxury car brands have developed LED headlights because they are a reliable light source that is cheaper and less labor intensive to maintain. Some predict that LED lighting will replace virtually every type of light, bulb and lamp currently in use.
I am in the process of implementing a plan to convert my bays to LED lighting. I believe in the technology and think this is the way of the future. Once the plan is implemented, I should realize a cost savings of more than $12,000 per year in energy savings. I see green on two levels. Wash on!
Bobby Willis has been in the carwash industry for 15 years. He currently owns Cool Wave Carwashes in Virginia and Wash Consultants LLC , a carwash consulting firm. He speaks often at regional and national trade shows on carwash marketing and site selection. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .