LED technology offers many advantages to designers of architectural lighting systems. LEDs are more energy efficient, offer a lower overall cost of operation, and provide the potential for eye-catching aesthetics and innovative design. The features and specifications of LED lighting fixtures themselves are important, but the choice of architectural LED power supplies (or drivers) is also critical. Let’s look at five ways architectural LED drivers affect the design and performance of LED lighting systems.
LED drivers take AC current from the mains and convert it to low-voltage DC current required by the LEDs themselves. Like any complex electrical component, drivers must be installed by qualified technicians, which means that ease of installation is a key factor in reducing the cost of deployment. Devices like GRE Alpha’s Easy Install drivers, for example, incorporate features like integral wiring compartments to reduce installation time and eliminate the need for additional components during the installation process. These drivers are also user configurable to constant-current or constant-voltage output, which offers design flexibility while minimizing tracking of extra SKUs.
Reliability is a key factor in reducing down time of LED lighting systems. The LEDs themselves, if used properly, last far longer than incandescent or neon lights, so LED drivers should have a correspondingly long lifetime. The mean time between failure (MTBF), a measure of the reliability of a high-quality LED driver, helps in estimating operating costs of an architectural lighting project at the design stage. Typical MTBFs of LED drivers range from 50,000 hours to 500,000 hours under normal operating conditions.
LED drivers must also exhibit sufficient ruggedness to protect against voltage surges. Like most electronics, LEDs are sensitive to such surges and to accidental electrostatic discharge during handling. Some LED drivers are designed to withstand surges of several thousand volts. In applications such as outdoor signage where lightning strikes are a problem, optional surge protectors that protect the drivers themselves are advisable.
LED drivers and dimming modules enable fast and flicker-free control of LED intensity from 0-100%. Dimming LEDs with manual switches lends itself to energy efficiency, of course. But modern lighting systems require a greater level of control, especially through integration with smart building systems that can be monitored and controlled over intelligent networks to optimize lighting quality and minimize energy consumption.
For example, intelligent control and monitoring of LED lighting systems can make it possible to collect information about how lighting is used in each room or section of a building to help optimize energy consumption over time. Eventually, lighting might even be optimized for a person based on preferences stored on their smartphone, or for a particular meeting room based on how many people are present.
To enable intelligent lighting control, or to future-proof a lighting system, it’s essential to deploy high-quality LED drivers that can integrate with dimming modules with industry standard DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) or DMX.
In the hands of a creative designer, LEDs offer the potential for the attractive and dynamic lighting of signage and building exteriors and interiors. Their fast response and controllability offer a relatively inexpensive way to freshen the appearance of both the interior and exterior of older buildings without extensive renovation.
In some cases, architectural lighting systems are deployed in stages with LED strips, so it helps to have power supplies used for LED strips that enable scalability. Constant voltage architectural LED drivers offer the flexibility to add LED lighting strips without replacing the drivers themselves. For example, GRE Alpha’s constant voltage Signage-Pro driver offers maximum flexibility and robustness for exterior architectural lighting. This driver features user-adjustable voltage, output for cooling fan control, and a heavy-duty design for use in exterior applications.
Many architectural lighting applications require a high quality of light, over and above brightness, which includes a minimization of flicker and control of the temperature of the light. These are all a function of the LED driver which must take AC line current, sometimes of unpredictable quality and stability, and convert it to steady and clean direct current without ripple to ensure a light that’s pleasing to the eye.
Some drivers can also help LED light appear more natural. The GRE Alpha Tunable White SLD-DimTW, for example, can change light from a warm to cool temperature as a function of brightness. This mimics natural light as it progresses from the soft warm light of sunrise to brighter and cooler mid-day light.
LED technology offers many advantages to designers of architectural lighting systems including energy efficiency, scalability, and light quality. Since they are inherently electronic devices, LEDs require high quality drivers to operate, and the choice of drivers is critical for optimum lighting design and performance. The most important features of architectural LED drivers include installation cost, reliability, and scalability, as well as control of light quality and integration into smart building systems.
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