As people around the globe dig through their closets this holiday season to locate strings of lights to decorate their trees and houses, a portion of those looking to decorate will decide that it is time to purchase new lights. When those people arrive at stores or check out online retailers, they will find a wider selection of LED options than ever before. Most of the traditional incandescent styles of string lights have been replaced with LEDs. The question is: Will the average consumer make the upgrade?
One of the most important filters is quality. A consumer may be interested in purchasing LEDs, but he or she first needs to know that the product will meet expectations. Though LED decorative string lights have been available for a number of years, their quality has not always been up to par. Early models were often quite dim. For bare white lights, that dimness was not a large concern because the small points of light were still easily visible. For styles with larger bulbs, and especially colored bulbs, the lack of brightness was a significant downside, as the lights hardly looked to be illuminated in any but the darkest conditions. This shortcoming has been overcome. Today’s LED string lights are every bit as bright as their incandescent predecessors.
A second quality issue that affected bare white lights was flicker. Because LED chips can respond so quickly to changes in electrical current, alternating current (AC) power can actually cause them to turn on and off at the frequency of that power (50 to 60 times per second). The blinking that results may not be noticeable when staring directly toward an LED light, but movement of the head or eyes can allow peripheral vision to detect the flicker. When this occurs from dozens or hundreds of individual string lights, the effect can ruin the cheeriest holiday party.
Again, though, LED string lights on the market today have corrected this problem through improved driver technology, eliminating any perceptible flicker. Indeed, depending on the style of light, LEDs can be virtually indistinguishable from their incandescent counterparts.
As with LED lighting for commercial and residential applications, prices for LED string lights have fallen greatly in recent years, but the LED version can still be 2 to 5 times as expensive as the comparable incandescent option. While this range of price difference is similar to the premium paid for residential or commercial LED products, the business case for holiday lights may seem worse.
White Light, No Heat
In our recently published report, Energy Efficient Lighting for Commercial Markets, Navigant Research describes the various trends that are pushing the adoption of LED lighting and shows that upfront price parity is not a prerequisite to widespread adoption, especially if the payback period from energy savings is relatively short. However, commercial lights operate for many more hours compared to decorative string lights, which may only be on for 6 to 8 hours per day, and for one month out of the year.
Other considerations will certainly influence consumers’ decisions as well. Environmentally-minded purchasers might like to know that their holiday lights aren’t consuming any more electricity than necessary. Those who are safety-conscious would surely appreciate that the lights resting on the dry needles of the trees inside their homes generate as little heat as possible, as LEDs do. Overall, not every consumer will be ready to upgrade to LED string lights this year ‑ but the barriers are dropping fast and the future of Christmas decorations is almost certainly digital.
Tags: Building Systems, Energy Efficient Buildings, Energy Efficient Lighting, Light-Emitting Diodes, Smart Buildings Program
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