Let There Be Light-Emitting Diodes

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s a common occurrence. You flip the switch at the top of the stairs to illuminate the basement and those fluorescent bulbs you installed not that long ago begin to flicker. As time passes, the light these inexpensive lamps produce begins to dim while simultaneously emitting heat – not to mention an annoying buzz – that adds to the month’s electric bill.

Now, imagine a warehouse, shop floor or business with thousands of these bulbs that are lit 24 hours a day. Workers operate in dim areas. The constant maintenance along with the replacement costs remains a concern, not to mention the mounting energy expense.

Today, many of these high-use customers are turning to light emitting diode – or LED – technology to satisfy two important objectives: slash electricity costs and reduce the energy used without compromising the quality of the light.

“When I first started doing this, nobody knew what LEDs were and what they did,” says Jim Rosan, president and CEO of Hercules LED in Boardman. “They didn’t know if they would be able to save money, and to be honest, the technology wasn’t quite there yet.”

However, advances in technology have since made these products more affordable and allow commercial, industrial – and even residential – customers to consider replacing their older fixtures with LED lights.

LED lamps use photons that release the energy necessary to produce sufficient light. Fluorescent tubes, on the other hand, use low-pressure mercury vapor, gas and heat to stimulate electrons and produce light.

“Any business that is open long hours can best benefit from this,” Rosan says. “What we do is go into businesses and show them how they can save money through LED lighting.”

Warehouses, restaurants, car dealerships, manufacturing plants – the operations that require long hours of illumination – stand to realize immense energy savings over a longer period of time by converting to LED, Rosan says.

On average, the initial cost of installing new LED lights is much higher than keeping traditional fluorescent lamps, Rosan says. To alleviate some of the upfront costs, however, Hercules LED has launched a program that lets the customer pay monthly for a project with some of the money saved as a result of transitioning to LED. “Our energy efficiency program allows the customer’s savings to pay for the conversion project,” he asserts.

It’s a business model that’s worked well for the two-year-old company. “We’ve tripled what we did last year in business,” he says.

“Our customers average 62%” in savings as a result of converting to LED technology, Rosan says. “That’s a huge savings. Everyone is looking at this more and more.”

Tom Grantonic, director of the Davis Family YMCA in Boardman, says that last summer the branch contracted with Hercules to replace more than 4,000 traditional lamps with LED lights. “The quality and consistency throughout the facility is excellent,” he says.

Grantonic explains the YMCA assessed the output from the older lights and wanted at least to match the quality. “We found that LED allowed us to cut in half the amount of tubes in fixtures,” he says, while the level of light is improved. Moreover, the branch electric bill is between $3,000 and $4,000 a month lower.

“Besides electricity savings, you’re saving in labor costs because they don’t have to be replaced as much,” Grantonic says. Where the YMCA’s older tubes had a life of roughly 8,000 hours, the new LED fixtures can last about 60,000 hours. “It was definitely a good investment,” he says.

Commercial and industrial businesses – and in some cases, residential customers – find that converting to LED lighting reduces their expenses and improves their operations.

On average, the upfront costs for an LED installation are double more traditional lighting, says Jeff Carine, president of Carine and Co., Sharon, Pa. Those costs are usually recouped within three to five years, well below the life expectancy of a new 50,000-hour tube.

One of Carine’s customer – a restaurant whose outdoor spotlights were constantly burning out – replaced its old system with LED lamps. “We haven’t touched them in four years,” Carine says.

On average, he continues, his customers cut their electric bills by between one-half and one-third every month after they switch to LED. Technology has also enabled LED products to provide a variety of colors, while dimming and automation capability gives the customer the ability to adjust the level of light in a room.

Even residential consumers are turning to LED technology as an alternative to incandescent and fluorescent lamps. “A lot of these houses use the recessed can lights that are usually between 65 to 90 watts per lamp and last 1,000 to 2,000 hours,” Carine says. “There are 100 cans in some of these larger houses, and we can put 8.5- to 11-watt lamps in that last 50,000 hours.”

Greg Haren, CEO of Entertech Electrical Inc. in Lowellville, says his company isn’t doing as many LED projects in the Mahoning Valley since the utility companies started to phase out their rebate programs. “The return on investment is still very good,” he says. “It just takes a little longer.”

Much of the demand at the moment for LED is originating in larger metropolitan markets such as Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Haren adds. Recently, his company performed an upgrade of 2,500 light fixtures at the Cisco Foods warehouse near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

In some cases, Haren says, he’s walked into manufacturing plants still using sodium vapor lights, which required a massive overhaul. Plus, with the addition of smart motion sensors that automatically adjust light and energy levels based on the activity in a certain part of a warehouse, for example, businesses can reduce their electrical use and costs even more.

Haren envisions the local LED market coming back soon, he says. “The manufacturers are always improving their fixtures using different materials,” he says. “There’s renewed interest.”

Pictured: Jim Rosan says his company’s customers “average 62% in savings as a result of converting to LED technology.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.