The Risks of LED Lighting Technology – Part I

How much do buyers really know about the most expensive part of indoor growing?

If you’re involved in controlled environment agriculture, you know that conventional (field) agriculture faces numerous challenges including limits of arable land, chemical use, declining quality and a changing climate. Moving crops into controlled environment (greenhouses or warehouses) can solve many of these problems. But this requires the use of technology managed by farmers who must become technologists . . .  or the masters of the technology.

Of course, much of the agricultural technology has been used for decades in greenhouses, But the technologies that enable the full transition to both types of indoor growing, including soilless platforms, organic fertilizers, mechanization, systems automation (IT) and especially artificial lighting, are all in their infancy. As is the case with any new technology, they are not completely understood (by anyone), and they are evolving rapidly. The farming ‘technologist’ is only as good as his or her understanding of the technology.

It isn’t what you don’t know that will hurt you (you can learn). It’s what you don’t know – that you don’t know, that will hurt you.

The enabling technologies listed above inherently fall into the realm of the category of what you don’t know – that you don’t know. Even the inventors are unsure of the things they don’t know. It is constantly changing. With this in mind, ask yourself what you don’t know – that you don’t know, about LED lighting technology.


Light Image narrow height

  • Do you know about LED bins – the designation that manufacturers give to differences in the quality of individual diodes due to inconsistencies in the manufacturing process? The bin affects light output, spectrum and voltage – meaning diodes used in your lights from a lower bin may perform differently than you expect.
  • Do you know about lumen maintenance losses, and about the impact on your operations?
  • Do you know that the ‘level’ of electrical current (called drive current) determines light output, efficiency, lumen maintenance losses, expected life and even the spectral power distribution (spectrum). And did you know that fixture manufacturers can manipulate the current level to boost light intensity, at the expense of all of the other attributes?
  • Do you know how poor light uniformity affects your production and plant quality? Do you know that the placement of the diodes, their optic, their lense, and the quality of heat sinks determines light uniformity?
  • Do you know an LED component must be tested for a minimum of 6,000 hours before the manufacturer makes an estimate of useful life and lumen maintenance losses? Do you know there are manufacturers who list the useful life (or LM losses) even if the LED components they use haven’t been tested for the minimum required hours?
  • Do you know that as LED components age, their spectrum changes? Do you know that this effect is amplified by the bin, the rate of lumen maintenance losses, the drive current, operating temperature, and the quality of phosphors?
  • Do you know that cheap power supplies can be as much as 10% less efficient than their high quality counterparts? Do you know who pays for that in energy costs?
  • Do you know that there are another dozen nuances just an mind-numbing as those above?
  • Do you know that design and manufacturing process used by your light manufacturer determines all of the above? And do you know that light manufacturers make trade-offs (compromise) in order to achieve a specification they think will appeal to buyers?

The truth is that there is no easy way to navigate through marketing literature and sales chatter to really understand the details of the technology. To fill that void, the Association of Vertical Farming Economics created the LED Performance and Quality Rankings – a quarterly review of LED lighting products that compares 30 different measurements related to the technical nuances referenced above. The report ranks products in each of the 30 categories so the buyer can make an informed decision. Click here to learn more.

For LED suppliers, the Rankings are an alternative method to reaching buyers, albeit in a manner that exposes product weaknesses in the same way that it highlights product strengths. However, it makes for a more informed buyer, which most suppliers prefer. LED Suppliers who join the Association provide the product details and specifications. They take a leading role in putting the interests of the buyer, and the health of the industry, ahead of their own, and in doing so, help the industry to grow more rapidly. Suppliers can Learn more here.


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