These days just about every company has ongoing maintenance tasks that cost time, energy and money. But for Nick St. Romain, marketing director at St. Romain Oil Company in Mansura, LA, his company has one less item on their ongoing to-do list—light maintenance. The reason? In three of St. Romain’s existing locations and one new location, they’ve installed LED lighting, changing the way they handle their lighting solutions.
At Its Core
As Philip Fritz, product manager of display lighting at GE Lumination, explained, a light-emitting diode (LED) is a very small semiconductor device that produces light as energy is applied to it. The technology is similar to that which produces computer chips.
“Because LEDs are small, robust, energy-efficient light sources with long lifetimes, they offer retailers a unique opportunity to reduce energy and maintenance costs of their operation and become a better steward of the environment,” Fritz said.
In fact, LEDs have been around for more than 40 years, but for a long time they were primarily used in alarm clocks, flashlights and automobile taillights.
“This was in large part because they were previously only available in red—the naturally occurring color of the technology,” said Steve Williams, president of Harbinger. “Now you can purchase them in a variety of colors, and as the technology has advanced, prices have dropped. As a result, usability has dramatically increased, and they are playing an integral role in the green energy push.”
When compared to traditional lighting sources (i.e. HID, CFL, etc.) LEDs are extremely efficient, which translates to a reduced energy consumption and lower energy costs. For example, LSI Lighting Solution’s Crossover fixtures are up to 80 percent more efficient than traditional sources.
“LEDs have a very long life which significantly reduces maintenance costs from lamp changes,” said Scott Ready, president at LSI Lighting Solutions. “They deliver excellent color quality and performance. They don't generate heat, so they are cool to the touch. Moreover, there is no warm up period with a LED fixture so the light comes on instantly when it is turned on. Finally, LED lighting is environmentally friendly, containing no mercury or other toxins. LEDs emit no ultra violet (UV) light.”
LEDs appeal to many business owners because they provide an easy, cost-saving option for those companies interested in using green solutions and lowering their energy bills. In fact, Fritz said there are three key applications where c-store and petroleum marketers can directly benefit from by switching to LED lighting.
• Refrigerated display cases: By switching out fluorescent tubes with more energy-efficient LED lighting that lasts 50,000 hours, retailers can save up to 72 percent in energy and drastically reduce their maintenance costs.
• Outdoor illuminated signage: Retailers can replace existing neon or fluorescent lighting in their signage with a robust LED system that can deliver up to 80 percent in energy savings and lasts 50,000 hours to help slash ongoing maintenance costs.
• Parking lot lighting: Retailers can replace their existing metal halide parking lot lighting with a long-life LED system that can save up to 30 percent in energy costs and provide a more uniform, pleasing quality of light.
Scott Manning, sales manager at Beta Lighting also said that additionally, LED lighting for general outdoor use provides:
• Durability: LEDs are solid state devices containing no moving parts, no filaments or fragile glass to break, greatly reducing the risk of damage during transportation, installation and operation, even in the toughest environments. And unlike conventional light sources, LED sources are not typically subject to sudden failure or burnout.
• Green: LEDs are considered sustainable because they potentially decrease the need for additional power plants that cause the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.
St. Romain worked with LSI to determine the best LED solutions for their locales. “The three sites that we replaced lights at were older sites where the existing lights were at the end of their useful life,” St. Romain said. “We knew that the lights at these stores needed to be replaced and we had seen LSI’s product at the NACS show in 2008. So we decided to look into this product further and chose this product for a multitude of reasons—they looked great, they had a better light output than other options, they used about one-fourth of the electricity of other options, and they are virtually maintenance free (no changing bulbs).”
Because of these benefits, St. Romain also incorporated them into their new ground-up facility that was opened in December 2009. “At this site we not only did the canopy deck lighting in LED, but all exterior lighting at this site is LED—including canopy deck lights, the shell red band around the canopy, the area lights, the porch or soffit lights around the building, and the gooseneck lights that light our sign on the front of the building,” St. Romain said.
[SUBHEAD] Benefits Aplenty
As with any technology, the ROI on LED lighting is dependent on the specific application where LED is being considered and the cost of electricity and ongoing maintenance for that particular retailer. “As an example, a retailer in Texas switched out the fluorescent tubes in their refrigerated display cases in 47 stores and retrofitted them with the GE Immersion LED system,” Fritz said. “Through energy and maintenance savings they saw a ROI of less than two years.”
In addition to diminishing the size of your business’ carbon footprint, LEDs also lower the energy consumption of typical fluorescents. “LEDs use only a fraction of energy that conventional lighting today does and has a much lower heat signature,” said Bryan Warner, vice president of sales and operations at ElectraLED. “This helps lower your energy cost in two ways, first the reduction of energy to produce equal or better light output and second, it reduces the load on the HVAC system due to its low heat output.”
As Williams explained, LEDs also do not have a filament that burns out, allowing their life spans to far exceed those of traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs.
“Use of LED lights provides significant reductions in carbon footprint, with estimated energy savings between 60 and 80 percent,” Williams said. “They produce more light, or lumens, per watt than either incandescent or fluorescent lighting, and as a result require less energy—2 volts versus 110 volts. Unlike fluorescent bulbs, LED bulbs do not contain toxic chemicals, like mercury.”
LEDs also can be implemented in nearly any outdoor sign, from channel letters to digital signage to double-faced illuminated pylon signs. “They produce lighting with equal intensity to fluorescent alternatives and even light more quickly than their less energy-efficient counterparts,” Williams said. “In addition, LEDs function well at both high and low levels of brightness and are easily dimmable for a variety of lighting needs.”
St. Romain and others have found ample reason to invest in LED technology throughout their facilities. “Retailers primarily benefit through a reduction in energy consumption and maintenance requirements for lighting in their stores,” Fritz said. “In some applications, there are additional benefits gained through improved light quality, control and uniformity that makes for a more positive customer and branding experience.”
Retailers also see a reduction in their electric bills at the sites that are retrofitted with LED. “We also feel that the lights have given our older stations a new brighter look,” St. Romain said. “And we have, so far, eliminated the need for light maintenance at these stores.”
And although the initial upfront LED costs are still higher than most other traditional lighting, the return on investment can be extremely attractive over the life of the LED system. “LED lighting is not yet viable for general illumination applications like overhead ceiling lighting that demands extremely high light output at reasonable costs,” Fritz said. “But, as LED performance increases and costs continue to decline, it will become a viable alternative in the general illumination space.”
LED lights do cost more than traditional lighting, but don’t be scared away by this. “The return on investment from installing these lights is about two to three years,” St. Romain said. “This return is generated by electricity savings and maintenance savings. I would not build another ground-up site without putting in LEDs.”
Of course, safety and efficiency are key for most petroleum retailers and LED lighting helps with these efforts. “Profit margins are typically thin at these stores, and customers are often drawn to establishments they perceive to be well-lit, clean and safe,” Manning said.
One of the biggest challenges confronting store operators and facility managers is how to make a facility appear safe and inviting at night. “The lack of optical control in conventional lighting wastes a lot of light, particularly in the U.S., where an estimated 30 percent of outdoor lighting is projected skyward,” Manning said. “LEDs, because of their energy and dollar savings and improved quality of light, have the potential to replace all existing conventional lighting.”
According to Manning, LEDs also meet “dark sky lighting” ordinances that limits exterior lighting to a particular lumen output. “Also, there is a breadth of retrofit and recessed lighting options that accommodate national requirements within LEDs,” Manning said. “And they offer flexible modular LED light bar system, which provides flexibility to accurately meet lighting performance and energy requirements at any location.”
It is important to note that LEDs are not the best solution across the board. “It is important to work with a lighting partner who understands LED as a technology; LED as a light source for lighting fixtures,” Ready said. “It also helps to work with a company experienced in designing and manufacturing light fixtures. For example, there are T-5 and T-8 fluorescent fixtures that are highly efficient from an energy standpoint and they provide very good lighting. In some cases fluorescent just makes more sense than LED.”
[SUBHEAD] A Bright Future
For Harbinger’s multi-location clients, including petroleum marketers and convenience store owners, the company creates new signage with low-VOC paints and LED lighting for a variety of exterior sign applications, including channel letters, main identification signs and cabinet signs. “We also retrofit existing signage with LEDs,” Williams said. “Currently, our team is fulfilling a contract with an international convenience store chain to replace fluorescent lights with LEDs in pylon cabinet signs.” Harbinger will retrofit the company’s signage in thousands of locations throughout the nation, saving the customer as much as 80 percent on their energy and operating costs.
This is just an example of how LEDs are playing a bigger role in the retail environment. “Although LEDs are prominent in many applications today, we are still at the early stages of this remarkable lighting revolution that will play out over the next 10 to 20 years,” Fritz said.
Of course, in a tight economy, reduction of standard operating costs are top of mind for many marketers. “I think we will start to see LEDs be incorporated as standard overhead lighting in the next year or so and you will see prices continue to fall and the efficiencies continue to grow,” Warner said.
Based on Harbinger’s research and experience, they anticipate that the next major technology to take hold in the signage industry will be luminescent plastic. “Luminescent plastic is lit from within, without separate bulbs or wiring. Because signage using this technology would not require a cabinet to house bulbs, the plastic would provide significant flexibility in sign design,” Williams said.
In the area of LEDs, the future certainly is bright. As Ready explained, as with any evolving technology you will continue to see changes in the three core components of LEDs: the electronics, the chip, and the mechanics of the fixtures themselves. “You are going to see an evolution in all three components,” Ready said. “LEDs are an outstanding solution for exterior situations like the canopy, parking and soffit applications. They perform well in extreme ambient temperatures. From all indications, LED lighting will continue to evolve and will become a significant light source—especially as price comes down.”