Whilst we don’t envisage having to answer this question in 3 or 4 years’ time, it still often comes up at the moment – What is the Return on Investment for installing LED lighting?  However, to answer this we have to go a lot more deeply into the application of the lighting, rather than just what we are replacing.

Broadly speaking, in comparing LED to LED there are typically two ways of driving LED’s – for effectiveness (maximum light output) or for efficiency (maximum lumens/watt).  When running LED’s for effectiveness, you are driving them hard to get as much light as possible from as small an area as possible.  This typically reduces the size and weight of the heat sink and the number of LED’s.  In this scenario a 5W LED may be operated at 5W. Whilst this gives the maximum light output per cm2, the LED’s are not running very efficiently from an electricity-usage perspective.  This is due to the fact that LED’s lose efficiency as they get nearer their maximum output.  Therefore a 5W LED running at 1W may well be twice as efficient in terms of lumens/watt, compared to the same LED running at 5W.  This means that to have a lamp designed for efficiency means more LED’s, bigger surface area, more weight and, obviously, more cost.

The other comparison factor would from metal halide to LED.  A well designed metal halide fitting like the Phillips MVP is a very efficient module in terms of lumens per watt.  When new, a traditional 2kW metal halide needs a minimum of 1600-1700W of LED to come close.  For a LED fitting this size it means that the LED could well be double the price of the MH units.  Multiply this by 24, 48 or whatever is required for your lux levels, and this could be a significant amount of money. 

So, when we come to the question of ROI we have to look at the application.  In a warehouse with dozens of high bays which are running 24 hours/day, the criteria are very different to a sports pitch which is only used a few hours a week.  In the warehouse there is no airflow, the lights are on for long periods of time and are often inaccessible.  Running 100 x 150W lamps for 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year equates to 360kW/day, or 131mW (million watts) per year.  By comparison, a football club using the field for training a few times a week would use around 10mW/year.  The club therefore should be more concerned about the cost of the fittings and the poles.  If a club were to spend an extra $20000 on a more ‘energy efficient’ system due to increase in luminaire weight and the consequent pole strength, it would take a long to time to get the value back.

This brings us back to the ROI question for sports fields.  As seen in the above examples sports lights are designed around output rather than efficiency due to the short time they operate in a year.  ROI therefore has to be calculated on the cost over the whole life of the project.  In this way efficiency or ‘use of electricity’ becomes much less important and maintenance and hassle factor takes over.  Whilst metal halide fittings perform extremely well and are cost-effective to buy and run, they don’t operate at peak performance for very long – typically around 400 hours.  This means that after 400 hours the output is nearing about 75% of what it was at new.  The bulbs then turn from orange to pink and finally stop working.  Although the actual cost of the bulbs is not that high, bulbs for some older fittings are more and more hard to find and certain models are no longer made.  Having said that, for those that can get bulbs, the bulb is the cheap part – fitting them becomes expensive.  The costs would include the electrician and some form of high lift apparatus.  For many rural towns a boom lift to 30m may be many kilometres away, adding to the cost significantly.  This can result in bulb replacements costing over $5000/year, even if they are batched together.  Over a 10 year period this significantly increases the cost of what looked like a really inexpensive option.  By contrast, LED fitting typically come with a minimum of 5 year warranty.  If the contract is locked down well, most (reputable) companies offer the warranty to cover parts and labour, including high-lift equipment.  This means that there is an average saving of $25000 for the first 5 years, even for a relatively small club.


Don’t take the face value of the raw dollars comparison of metal halide versus LED.  Do the calculations carefully and make sure there is still an advantage after 10 years.  The other risk factor is many metal halide suppliers have stopped manufacture of their fittings so spare parts like ballasts and bulbs may not even be available in 10 years.  This may result in you having to buy spares and keep them in stock which further adds to the costs.  Add the extra hassle of delayed start-up of metal halide and LED looks more and more attractive.  As said at the beginning, we certainly don’t expect to be having this discussion by 2023 but for the moment, metal halide is still just hanging in there. 

You’ve proved to be an awesome light over the years’ metal halide, but with LED’s advances in the last 12 months, your days are nearly done.

Ben, an earnest young project manager brings his new idea to the board meeting – replace our ridiculously outdated metal halides for new, singing-and-dancing LED’s.  ‘Everyone is doing it, the whole world is changing to digital LED – it must be the right thing to do!’ Thoroughly researched, he is confident of 100% buy-in from all.  The features are great, the benefits are blatantly obvious. Then, the boss asks the dreaded question ‘That’s all very well but what’s the return on investment (ROI)?’  Ben fumbles around restating the features and benefits for the fourth time.  Opinions are divided and another amazing project get scuttled before leaving the harbour.

The “ROI” question is perfectly fair to ask and not always easy to answer.  So what we’ve attempted to do is give a clear matrix of influencing factors in relation to replacing metal halides with LED lamps.  We have focused on replacing metal halide fittings on a one-for-one basis, although the calculation is still valid for new build, assuming you select an LED fitting that will allow you to use the same pole construction as you would with a metal halide fitting i.e. luminaires are the same size and weight.

The main and obvious influences on ROI are power consumption and maintenance costs.  However, a number of external factors also will impact a decision like this which are more emotional things which everyone will put a different value on.  These are all benefits we take for granted in our homes and businesses but at this early-ish stage of LED development can be easy to overlook in a sporting application when club funds are stretched.  These include carbon footprint responsibility, spill light control to have happier neighbours, the convenience of digital app based control and ‘instant on’.  Basically the convenience and usability we expect in the 21st century which is often hard to put a price on directly.

Carbon footprint responsibility

There may well be differing views on global warming and how this is impacting our planet and what sort of crises we are generating for future generations.  Whichever end of the scale we are at in this argument, saving electricity has to be a good thing.  In most countries electricity production is stretched and costs are only going to go one way.  Additionally many municipalities offer incentives to use more efficient devices, further enhancing the benefits.

Happier Neighbours

Spill light not only costs money in wasted energy but also makes for aggravated neighbours.  Having a pay-to-play system is good news for the club who can maximise their investment, but perhaps not such good news for those nearby who don’t like sleeping in simulated daylight.  Many LED systems offer excellent light control due to each LED having an optic.  This allows for very specific focus of the light to go just where it should, dramatically reducing the stray light.

App based control

Imagine your facilities manager being able to turn the lights off from his bed at 2am when the last rowdy players have forgotten to do so. Better still, set the app so that the lights turn off after a specified time, or when the key-holder leaves, or when the players’ credit has run out etc. etc.  In other words, digital lighting gives us exceptional control of how we manage our lighting to minimise running costs and maximise the clubs ROI.  By making pay-to-play so simple and controllable, clubs can rethink how they make the facility available 24/7, boosting attendances and fees without impacting on their pay-roll.  Additionally, being able to control the intensity of the lights allows you to have different levels of lighting for different sports or levels of play.  This again gives more control of your costs as you can dim the lights to pre-set levels if full power is not required.

Instant On

Have you ever been frustrated with how long your lights take to warm up?  Or worse still had a match in progress and the electricity has tripped, causing a 20 minute delay while the lights warm up to full power again?  A benefit of LED that is hard to put a value on is the way they power up in seconds.  Even with a soft start they are operating at full power in under 5 seconds.

Digital Convenience

Like with many things in our modern world there is a convenience about digital which is hard to put a price on.  Ever considered what life would be like without a smartphone? We now can’t even imagine how terrible this would be but smartphones have only been in existence since 2007. Once we have made the commitment to going digital the benefits compound and it becomes very difficult to image how we managed ‘in the old days’.


So, bearing in mind the somewhat ‘intangible’ benefits mentioned above, put your numbers into the ROI Calculator below and you’ll quickly be able to see how long the investment will take to pay off.

A question we regularly get asked is ‘Do I need to replace all the lights at once or can I do it over time?’  The answer is definitely that if can be done in phased approach over time, but needs a touch more planning to make it successful.  Get it right and you’ll be everyone’s hero, get it wrong and no-one will remember to thank you for the money you’re saving them in the long run.

Legacy high powered LED lights have been designed to replace traditional metal halide fittings on a one-for-one basis.  This means that the weight and size have been optimised so that existing poles can be used, but also means that the beam pattern is very similar to what a standard narrow beam flood light would produce.  One of the key advantages therefore is that lights can be replaced as they fail, or as budgets permit, without causing big issues in the meanwhile.

Case Study

A city based recreational football ground had reasonable club attendance but only a small amount available annually for maintenance and repairs.  With replacements globes costing around $250-$300 each, the biggest expense was in the hiring of high lift equipment and the technicians time to do it.   The field had 4 poles with eight lamps on each.

The planning phase was the most important to ensure that all interested parties were getting what they needed:

The Players

Whatever decision was made it had to work all the time for the players.  Having a hotch-potch make-shift system was not going to cut it for players who were paying membership fees.  Being a city location ensured there were other clubs within easy reach if the facilities didn’t come up to scratch.

The Neighbours

The current metal halides, whilst old, were professionally designed and installed and the neighbours enjoyed glare-free lighting, being mounted horizontally.

The Treasurer

Whatever the solution the club had to pay for the installation and be able to live with the results.  Proving a reasonable return on investment (ROI) was important to get everyone on board with the increased capital requirement that new LED’s would require.  The fact that all expenses could be recouped within 10 years was enough to convince the money guys that it was a worthwhile investment.

The Facilities Team & Volunteers

With much of the work being done at the club by volunteers, using maintenance free lighting would free up the volunteers to do other tasks, or give them the day off!

With some targeted fund raising activity is was found that they could afford to replace the lamps on one pole each year, thereby taking 4 years to complete the project.

The facilities team used lighting simulations from 3 manufacturers to decide which lamp would be the best in the ‘phased approach’ by seeing which would give the best, most-even light distribution when used in conjunction with the old metal halides.  It was decided to replace one pole at a time and if lamps on other poles failed in the meanwhile, the working units from the swapped out modules were used until that poles turn came around.  In this way the expense was budgeted and easy to predict. Using a Return on Investment calculator it was estimated the pay-back period to be 10 years which gave the club confidence that they were making the right long-term decision.  This was over against the instinctive thought to rather just constantly carry on paying out a smaller amount annually for maintenance.

A 5 year, 50 000 hour warranty went a long way to convincing the board that the lamps would be for benefit of the club well into the future.  Delaying the decision to move to digital lighting only postpones the end date of having an efficient and effective lighting system, like which is not possible apart from LED.

So if you’re looking to do a phased approach ensure some key points:

1)      Will the light pattern of the new lamp blend with the old in terms of light distribution and colour temperature

2)      Can I replace my existing units one-for-one in terms of size and weight so that the current poles can be used?

3)      Have points 1 and 2 been backed up by an accurate simulated lighting plan and been compared to existing light levels?

Once you’ve gone through this whole exercise you will be far more likely of a successful change-over and more able to maximise the benefits into the future.