4500 store retrofit and where is the lighting designer?

I just read the attached release by GE / Current  regarding their retrofit of 4500 JP Morgan Chase locations and the first thing I mumbled to myself is ” where is the lighting professional?” 

https://www.thestreet.com/story/14199933/2/what-can-a-digital-ge-do-cut-jpmorgan-s-power-bill-15-for-one-thing.html

Quite frankly, I’m a little bit perplexed (or maybe just saddened and jaded). To me, it validates what I have learned in a lifetime of retrofit; most retrofit projects have the end user as the lighting specifier and in fairness to them, they are not qualified to make lighting decisions. Where is the lighting professional in this ? Maybe he or she is there, but just not mentioned. The only person mentioned that I can see is the Head of Property Management and,  no disrespect, but property management and lighting design are worlds apart. If you’re a lighting person, you’ll see what I mean. Below is an excerpt from the article attributing all of this great stuff to “LEDs”

In addition to improving energy efficiency, which will reduce branch operating costs, the LED systems make the offices more appealing to customers by eliminating burned-out bulbs or the variations between color hues when different types of bulbs are installed, Norton added.”With LED, you get a consistent color and a consistent feel for our brand,” he said. “The longevity of LED is much longer. There’s a 10-year life span.”

My comments are:

  • Improving energy efficiency is still up for debate, as LPW (lumens per watt)  is not really a metric of how efficiently you can light a space. That is, PROPERLY light a space. Opting for less light, or glare bombs that deliver light like a laser might equate to foot candles and less wattage but a compromise in lighting design for the sake of reduced wattage does not equal greater efficiency. In fairness to all, I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m making an educated assumption, potentially the fixtures and the light look terrific… if so, I’m happy to post a formal apology.
  • Eliminating burned-out bulbs ? Scheduled group re-lamping eliminates burned out lamps, a maintenance issue not a light source issue. The sad news, and I manufacture fixtures, is that some of the LEDs will fail and will be “burned out”. Boards fail, drivers fail, it happens to even the best of the best. It happens more often to the more “economical” fixtures. Just take a look around and you may start to notice. I’ve already seen, countless times, an LED retrofit with fixtures strobing and flashing, and plenty of failed boards due to a variety of potential reasons.
  • Variations between color hues when different types of bulbs are installed ? Again, a maintenance issue, guys putting the wrong lamp in the fixture but LEDs themselves don’t address this issue. Even if there is tight binning initially for the fixtures ( and for that you’ll pay a premium), there are so many variables in how LEDs color shift over time that unless the fixtures have used the highest of the highest end light engine product ( Lumenetix, Xicato etc. ) the color will be shifting, often in unpredictable and random directions,  and sometimes a lot sooner that you would expect ( see photo example of fixtures installed for just under 2 years, admittedly an extreme example) . For just a general use fixture,  a fluorescent system will maintain its color consistency as well or better than another fixture that is just “LED”.
Untouched photo of LED color shift
  • Longevity of LED is much longer. There’s a 10 year life span? Other than trying to justify something, I’m not quite sure what is meant by this. A fluorescent system has a fixture life, a ballast life  and a lamp life. Last I saw, some fluorescent T8 lamps have been re-rated up to 80,000 hours when burned on commercial hours ( 12 hrs on per start). T8 and T5 lamps are routinely rated at 40,000 hours or greater. Ballasts are typically rated in starting cycles but have become so robust that I routinely see electronic ballasts that are 10-15 years old and older. As for the fixture, again, I’m a recovering retrofit guy, I’ve seen fixtures getting retrofitted that are 25 years old and are still working fine in commercial spaces ( Industrial magnetic HIDs I’ve seen fixtures that are 40 years old working just fine ). Most LED fixtures that I’ve seen are not modular the way the incumbent systems were ( replaceable lamp, replaceable ballast). As an integrated system, when the fixture fails, it’s over, throw it in the trash (actually I encourage proper disposal and recycling); whether it’s reached it’s 10 year rated life or not.

Now, of course, none of what I say is commentary on their controls strategy. The ability to control fixtures, when they’re not needed, is a terrific energy saving measure. You want to use predictive analytics to forewarn when a fixture failure is imminent, terrific. As for the HVAC, building controls and other measures, I’m just a lighting guy, they are way out of my wheelhouse and I won’t insult anyone by even commenting.

So, I see one of the most frustrating issues in the lighting business here; LED’s being touted as the miracle cure. Keep in mind, I’m not an LED hater, quite the contrary. If used properly, in a fixture that is designed properly, it’s a terrific light source but it is NOT the answer to any lighting application or issue. I’ll put the next sentence in bold type:

Just because a fixture is “LED” doesn’t make it great,  doesn’t make it energy saving, doesn’t make it last longer, and certainly doesn’t give it greater color accuracy and color consistency. 

It’s what a fixture company does with the LEDs that matter. Just because a company touts a chip “we use CREE”, “we use Nichia”, “we use Lumiled” it’s meaningless. The aforementioned are all great chips, and it’s very easy to use them to make a really lousy fixture. LED isn’t the answer to anything. LED ultimately gets used in a lighting fixture ( luminaire ). It’s the fixture, not the light source that matters.

Sure this entire retrofit program could work out terrific, I hope for JP Morgan it does. But it would be great if this retrofit was driven by someone who really understands what makes a lighting system appropriate for an application and purpose; a qualified, professional lighting designer. Maybe it was, and unfortunately they weren’t asked to comment in the press release.  I know I’m new to your world, but I’ve already taken the first of the 12 steps. I admit; “My name is Jay Goodman and I am a recovering retrofitter”

Onward !

2 thoughts on “4500 store retrofit and where is the lighting designer?”

  1. Jay,

    Like always, great article and great topic. There is always a potential danger, in any retrofit project, of becoming hyper-focused on energy savings and forgetting that the point of the system being there in the first place is to provide quality lighting for the needs of that given space.
    I remember walking through a department store in a mall a couple of years ago and they had retrofitted all of their downlights with early LED screw-in lamps that were glare-bombs (and that’s putting it nicely). And I thought to myself, all of the energy they saved could not make up for the damage they did to their brand in downgrading the look and feel of the store and the customer’s shopping experience.
    Again great article and keep fighting the good fight!

  2. Jay,

    Glad you started this. Hope to contribute here whenever possible. As a starter, in your “Untouched photo of LED color shift” everybody else just sees the color difference in the LED output on the wall. But what I also see are the Lambertian light distribution balls in each of the LED bulb’s light output. This is the inherent problem in LED-based luminaires that hopefully I can help the industry understand – which is also the cause for high glare when very high-brightness LEDs are used.

    It is a big mistake to co-mingle the LED glare issue with LED spectral distribution with higher blue wavelength content. This isn’t true for any light source including LEDs. I can forgive general people for this mistake-I am not forgiving anyone in the lighting or LED industry for such bogus co-mingling. It is understandable if people make such a mistake when they are not familiar with optics, light, & lighting. But that should no longer be the case because I have published material that explains where LED glare comes from and my explanation is true for any light source. People in the lighting industry deliberately ignored me thinking this wouldn’t matter. In doing so, they are killing people in the roads and such LED lights will also do damage to people’s vision, health & ecology over time. I hope this comment of mine is distributed all over the world in every publication – lighting & otherwise, so that people everywhere knows there is no excuse to overlook and deny the high luminance problem or inorganic LEDs – after I have given the explanation why it happens and what solutions must be implemented to take care of high luminance/glare of LED lamps. The lighting industry should either do this – OR NOT USE LEDs for car lights or streetlights. Period!!!

    Dr. M. Nisa Khan
    IEM LED Lighting

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