Why LEDs Are Taking the Marine Industry by Storm|
Although heavily promoted in some circles as a “new” lighting technology, LEDs or Light Emitting Diodes as they are less commonly referred to, have in reality been in use for over 60 years. Their first uses were in applications with low power requirements such as appliance indicator lights or the early versions of pocket calculators that rose to prominence in the late 1970’s. This was mainly due to the low light output of early LEDs and their inability to produce white light. By 1993, however, white light producing LEDs with higher lumen output were developed and the push to introduce LEDs into mainstream lighting applications began. Unfortunately, these early and late 1990’s LED also suffered from lumen output that was unable to match that of traditional incandescent bulbs. Worse, the light quality of LEDs was also found by consumers to be much poorer. This resulted in something of a false start for the LED’s introduction into mainstream use as consumers and critics quickly dismissed LEDs as undesirable and impractical.
Beginning in the early 2000’s, however, LED technology began improving at an increasingly amazing rate. Developers were not so quick to dismiss the LEDs potential and so aggressively sought solutions to the problems of output and light quality. By 2008 LEDs were appearing on the markets that were not only up to 80% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but matching them in light output and quality as well. By 2010 LED technology was overshadowing all other forms of lighting, with projections predicting LEDs to make incandescent lamps obsolete within the next five to ten years. The implications of the growth in LED development have been inescapable and undeniable to the point of governments the world over factoring in the development of the LED into their plans to ban the use of incandescent lamps entirely. Clearly, LEDs have finally begun to demonstrate their true potential. Now in 2011, LEDs are available that outperform, outlast and outclass incandescent lamps in every aspect from light quality to energy efficiency to total output.
The total array of applications LEDs are now seeing use in is staggering and continues to grow at an increasingly fast rate. From manufacturing and industrial operations to everyday consumer products, LEDs continue to make inroads into uses that were once the sole realm of the incandescent light bulb. One of the fastest growing areas of advancement and application is in the marine industry. A large part of the reason for this is the unique power requirements of boats and how this power is produced and managed. Since watercraft operate independently of any external power sources once they leave dock, all power must be generated onboard. On large ships such as cruise liners, the cost of producing this energy can be staggering. Although alternative energy sources like solar and wind have seen limited success in the marine industry, neither has proven entirely capable of producing reliable and practical reductions in power consumption. Particularly with smaller boats under 40 feet in length, power management continues to be a serious concern and area of great challenge in the marine industry.
As with power usage in land based applications, a great deal of the energy used onboard watercraft can be traced to illumination. With the advent of the LED, many experiments and trials have been performed that have demonstrated the real potential for energy savings that LEDs represent. In some cases, a total switch from incandescent to LED lighting has produced a two thirds reduction in power consumption. What’s perhaps more important, however, is the reliability and practicality demonstrate while performing such amazing feats. Unlike alternative energy sources, LEDs immediately and permanently reduce total energy needs. There is no intermittence, no unreliability and no special allowances that need to be made. From the moment an LED light fixture is switched on, energy savings begin. Additionally, LEDs far surpass incandescent lighting in durability and longevity. If we assume that an LED is not due for replacement until it reaches 50% of its original lumen output, we can expect up to 100,000 hours of operation from a single LED fixture. Since LEDs do not normally simply burn out, but instead lose luminosity over a long period of time, this kind of estimation is reasonable.
Even allowing for only a 70-80% reduction in luminosity, and LED fixture can be expected to operate for 50,000 or more hours, often approaching up to 10 years of operation. The potential savings are thus further increased beyond simple energy efficiency and now begin to include both maintenance and replacement costs as well. With the typical incandescent lamp lasting only 1-2000 hours, the savings over the life of the LED fixture become significant. Should we also factor in maintenance costs, of which there is little to none for LEDs, this savings potential grows still more. On a large ship like the aforementioned cruise liner, this can add up to savings in the hundreds of thousands annually in maintenance, fuel and replacement costs. For smaller craft like pleasure boats and cruisers, the savings are smaller but statistically consistent. Switching to all LEDs on a 30 foot boat may cost $4,000 initially, but the savings in fuel maintenance and replacements costs can produce a good return on investment in as little as 3-5 years,
With such potential savings possible, it is only natural that every conceivable form of marine lighting would soon be addressed with LEDs by manufacturers. Even better, LEDs hold further benefit through a versatility that is impossible to match with incandescent lamps. A Larson Electronics LED Spreader Light for example although fitted with the moniker of “spreader light”, in reality is capable of filling a wide variety of lighting applications effectively. Mast lighting, effects illumination, work area lighting and more are all practical applications that LEDs can easily work within without modification or special allowances. Still more practicality, particularly in marine environments is found with the LEDs inherent durability. With most high quality LED fixtures featuring fully potted LEDs and drivers, the units are sealed and protected from the elements. With additional protection added through specialized housings and fixtures, and LED fixture used in a marine environment can realistically be expected to outlive the length of boat ownership.
Although their initial introduction into the mainstream has been marked by a somewhat unsure beginning, LEDs have begun to quickly make up lost ground. The huge advancements and improvements in LED technology have begun to erase earlier erroneous first impressions of their practicality and now consumers are beginning to realize their full benefits. Within 5 years it will probably be safe to say that rather than be an amazing “new” technology, LEDs will be as commonplace as the soon to be extinct incandescent light bulb.