February 15, 2022
LED lights are more expensive than other types of light bulbs, and that's because manufacturers claim that they have a much longer lifetime. But is this true? Believe it or not, the reason your LED light bulbs are dying prematurely isn’t due to false advertising. The electrical system in your building just doesn’t mesh well with the electrical system in your bulbs.
Remember back when LED lights were advertised as having a lifetime of upwards of 50,000 hours, and some even 100,000 hours? That's about 6-11 years of straight use! Maybe you’ve noticed that if you look at LED packaging today those claims have come way down to anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 hours.
Either way, with the frequency that you’re changing your bulbs, you’ve likely realized that these claims haven’t held up.
Here’s why the lifetime of your bulbs is much shorter than advertised, and what you or your building manager can do about it.
While there are a number of factors that could affect the lifespan of LEDs (such as quality of the product, usage, and environmental conditions) one of the main culprits isn’t actually the LED (Light Emitting Diode) chips themselves. Many LED chips can actually last close to 100,000 hours if operated correctly.
So it’s definitely true that LEDs have the capacity to last a very long time, but the other components that make the light work do not always have that same lifespan. For one thing, the circuitry inside LED bulbs is much more complex than their predecessors, and also LED lights require DC (Direct Current) power, in fact most electrical devices do. According to LEDs Magazine, 80% of the watts used in your home are consumed by DC loads.
What's the problem with LEDs requiring DC power? Since the power being fed into our homes and buildings is AC (alternating current), an AC-to-DC conversion must take place for these devices to be powered.
If you're not sure what DC or AC power is, don't worry, all you have to know for now is that LED's can only use DC power, but the power in our walls and ceilings is all AC.
Now you have an anecdote you can bring up over dinner about AC/DC’s seriously electric name.
Anyway, this means that the standard for electrical devices is actually that a conversion from AC to DC power must occur at an individual level for each and every device that requires DC power (so 80% of the electrical devices in your building). In order for this to happen, there must be a converter (sometimes also called a driver) connected to each device, and these converters can be VERY inefficient (as low as 50% for some recessed downlights, in our own lab testing), especially if the manufacturer is trying to optimize for cost. I mean, can you imagine the manufacturer having to use a high efficiency converter for every lightbulb? They’re expensive! And the manufacturer has no incentive to make lightbulbs last longer, especially since adding high efficiency converters would make the bulbs more expensive to manufacture, and consumers will typically go for the cheaper products anyway. In fact, 1000Bulbs.com mentions in their article on "Understanding LED drivers" that "Drivers often fail prematurely due to high internal operating temperatures."
So now we know that your LED light bulbs need converters, and that these converters are inefficient because manufacturers won't spring for the expensive internal drivers. Because these drivers are so inefficient, they waste energy in the form of heat, and this heat causes components within the converter to degrade. As the components degrade, the converter becomes more inefficient, and this positive feedback loop continues as the LED becomes dimmer and dimmer, and then the converter ultimately fails.
But you don’t see the converter failing, you just see your lightbulb dying. Again.
When you see an LED bulb flicker, or fail completely (lights out), that's most likely a failed driver. LED's don't actually fail suddenly, instead the most common LED chip failure mode is that their brightness simply drops throughout their lifespan.
Here’s another fun fact. You know those blocks on your laptop charger? Those are converters too! So they provide your laptop with the DC power it requires, and this is why those blocks get so warm when in use. Same with your cell phone charger. Don't believe us? Go feel it.
This has been an issue for a long time, so there are a few innovations in the world of electrical technology available to solve this problem.
It’s just a matter of standardizing these solutions in buildings.
The common solution is to go with LED's that have a removable/replaceable driver. A lot of LED lights on the market today come with a removeable AC driver that can be replaced (especially for commercial fixtures), but if you don't want to replace the driver for every single one of your light bulbs/fixtures, there is a better way.
The best solution is to replace AC drivers with DC drivers and DC power distribution. At Cence Power, we provide DC power distribution to commercial buildings to achieve this for our clients (such as EllisDon). Our DC microgrid creates a single localized, and highly efficient (up to 99%) conversion from AC to DC, and the DC power is then distributed to all the devices that require DC power (including LED lights). This saves our customers on lighting power bills (20% on average), and makes their LED lights last much longer (up to the full lifetime of the LED chips, which could be 100,000 hours).
Remember, if your bulbs are powered directly by DC they are going to last longer, and you’re not just saving on the quantity of replacement bulbs or fixtures you buy, you're also saving on your power bill/operational costs, and helping to save the planet.