Posts

The decade-long promise for LED has been ‘longer life and lower running expenses’. Whilst this has proved true in many industries, it certainly is not a given in sport applications.  

2kW metal halide fittings have been the industry standard for longer than anyone can remember. Loved by designers for the fantastic light distribution, hated by facilities managers who are forever having to hire a cherry-picker in order to change yellowing bulbs.  

LED certainly seemed like the answer until lighting designers complained about substandard light distribution, heavier fittings and uncertain lifespans. Unfortunately, they were right to be cynical as LED has certainly not achieved any notable success in the sport market until very recently.  

So, you are now going out to find the perfect replacement for your ageing 2kW Metal Halides. 

What do you look for and how do you know a ‘lemon’ if you see one?  

Sadly, this is not always obvious and manufacturers certainly don’t promote their weaknesses so here’s a few tips to keep you on the right side of your clubs treasurer and sports captain.

If Keeping your Old Poles, Ensure you Match Weight and Sail Area

Generally speaking, LED fittings are much heavier than Metal Halides.  

The traditional fittings are often big, but relatively light and so the poles were engineered accordingly.  Replacing 20kg lights with 30kg lights may not seem like a big deal, however, when multiplied by 6 or 8, the results can be disastrous, as some clubs can testify!  

Poles falling over due to weight overload is not uncommon and can be fatal.  

Sail area relates to wind resistance.  Many of the traditional fittings mounted flat or horizontal, giving a small sail area. 

Ideally find an LED that mounts horizontal too, as this removes another of the potential issues with overstressed poles when the wind gets up.

Check Out the Beam Pattern

For all their old age, many of the 2kW metal halide fittings (particularly Phillips MVP) have exceptional beam patterns and are really efficient.  

Do not assume that any LED fitting will be able to replace these old warriors easily!  

Get a lighting plan done by the supplier or wholesaler and make sure you will achieve ‘equal to/or better than’ results with the same or less kilowatts.  

Again, I cannot overstate, this is not a foregone conclusion and if you are basing your decision on energy savings, you may be disappointed. 

Get a ‘Guaranteed’ Lighting Plan

Many companies are willing to provide a lighting plan prior to purchase.  

Ensure that you get some performance guarantee to make sure the results are based on sound IES files.  

Many IES files are generated using optimum conditions and performance of the light and don’t accurately reflect the performance in the field.  

A relatively small error can result in really poor performance on the ground if all negative factors combine.  

In some cases council grants are subject to the facility conforming to national standards (i.e. European, Australian etc).  Non-compliance in this case could result in a grant not being given, or even withdrawn. 

Not only do you not have a compliant facility, but you have lost funding too.

Look Closely at Spill Lighting Control

Any aspect of metal halide lighting was good cut off and control of spill lighting.  

Many LED’s shine at 180 D and rely on the optic or reflector to control the beam.  This is good, provided the optic is good.  

A poor optic will put light where you don’t need it, but worse still, put light where you really don’t want it i.e. in the neighbour’s yard.  

The lighting plan should include spill light calculations so that you can verify that they comply with council requirements.

Make Sure the Lamp Mounts Horizontally

A number of the old metal halides had mastered horizontal mounting.  This reduces sail area as previously mentioned, as well as spill light, and is much better for neighbours and players alike.  

Lamps that mount at a 45-degree angle not only waste light, they cause real issues with lighting control.  

A well designed light should not need to be angled up by more than 15% off horizontal. If it does, you poles may not be high enough or the lamp itself may not be quite as good as claimed.

Conclusion

So, the summary conclusion is there are LED lights out there that can do what you need them to do, but make sure you’ve done the research as there is certainly more ways of getting it wrong than getting it right.  

Don’t ever assume that LED is better just because it’s LED.  Metal halides are great lights and proved very worthy competitors to their digital replacements.  

If you’d like to find out more on replacing metal halide lights with LED, send us an email or give us a call on +61 3 8566 6146 and chat to one of our friendly consultants.

We often get asked the question ‘Can I replace metal halide bulbs with LED bulbs in the same fitting?’ Whilst this would be nice and convenient it is unfortunately not possible at present.  That is not to say it will never be possible.  As most of us over-30-year-olds can testify, things that were totally impossible are suddenly and surprisingly ubiquitous the next minute.  For those under 30 nothing is any longer regarded as impossible, so watch this space!

Although all lamps generate heat in some form or another, the way metal halide and other traditional forms of lighting work is very different to LED.  Metal halide lamps push their heat forward.  This means that they need a glass or high-temperature plastic cover to cope with the heat.  However, the body or frame holding the bulb itself can be light and thin, often mild steel or plastic as there is no heat coming out the back of the lamp.  By contrast LED’s generate a lot of heat but it flows out the back, with very little coming forward.  In this way a plastic lens can be used for the front, but requires an aluminium heatsink as the back part of the housing to help remove the heat build-up.  This simple contrast means that (for the moment) the way the 2 types of lamps operate is fundamentally too different to be able to make the change simply by replacing bulbs.

Whilst we are aware there are products on the market which claim to do this swap out, be very careful.  At this point a realistic wattage replacement is 1.2kW of LED for a 2kW of metal halide power.  As of mid-2018 this would be regarded as a highly efficient sports light.  This means that the heat generated is equivalent to 240 x 5W domestic lamps, but crammed into a light that is about 600 x 600mm.  If you were to further reduce this size to that of a 2kW bulb, it is technically, and practically, impossible to remove the heat.  As a build-up of heat would destroy the LED’s, this leaves the only other conclusion that it cannot therefore produce the right amount of energy. This is of course simple to prove.  Get lux readings of your existing lighting layout and then ask the supplier of the alternative bulbs to do the same.  If they don’t have the facility to produce lighting layouts it is very unlikely that the product will work.  If they can prove that it works then you know that science has again progressed and we need to do some catching up.

The response is often ‘Well it works at home!’  This is perfectly true and is only possible due to the low current draw of these lamps and, consequently, the low amounts of heat that will be generated.  The more that is expected out of a lamp in terms of light output, the more heat will be generated.  Domestic lamps are often only 3 or 5W but produce a good glow in their setting.  Compared to a high intensity lamp like a sports fitting, these domestic units are very large by comparison, giving a lot of surface area which also helps dissipate heat.  If a sports light was created that used domestic 5W bulbs it would likely measure more than about 2sqm.  Space in the ceiling of house is not really at a premium, hence light fittings don’t have to be very streamlined.  However, having a large and heavy light 25m in the air increases the cost and engineering challenges for the pole manufacturers.  Additionally, if clubs are wanting to replace metal halide fittings with LED, the modules have to be similar to the metal halides in dimensions and weight for the same reason.

The only viable solution currently is to have a module that is matched in size and weight as mentioned, but then also has optimised light output to compare with the metal halide.

So, proceed with caution if the option looks too simple and cheap.  As with most things in life, if it looks too good to be true, it may be just that!

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.

If you have looked into LED lighting at all you will have noticed there is dozens, if not hundreds, of options.  So, as you can imagine, there a dozens, if not hundreds, of variations to the answer of this question. They range from 100W to 1500W, big fins, small fins, fan assisted, metal pressed, die cast, white powder coat, black powder coat, COB’s, small chip LED’s, high efficiency LED’s and so on and so on.  Your head begins to spin at the options, but one thing you can be sure of is that LED is the most efficient – right?  Wrong.  Or more correctly – potentially wrong.

Let’s just confirm that point quickly as it is really important – just because it is LED does not mean that it is energy efficient.  Or, conversely, just because it is old technology metal halide does not make it inefficient.  A number of factors need to be assessed to decide if LED is going to work for you.  How often are the lights used, and for how long etc. etc.

So let’s look at some of these factors in a bit more detail…

How often are the lights used and for how long?

A while back we had a client insisting on looking at LED.  They ran a rodeo once a year for one night and he felt LED was going to give him the best return on investment because if ‘was the best’ and ‘the latest technology’.  Needless to say we were dubious.  The LED fittings he wanted cost 4 times that of metal halide and the amount of electricity used in the year would have only been 10’s of dollars because of only being used once a year.  In this case there was no way of justifying the purchase.  On the other hand, making a 40% energy saving on 100’s of hours of use per year can make it very viable.

How many lights will I need to use?

The only way to conclusively check if there is a gross energy saving is to get a lighting plan done.  If you are using the existing poles then you can figure out what lighting levels you already have and get a comparative study done using LED.  You can immediately see if you will require more or less fittings and energy by the layout results.  Don’t take this as a given that LED will reduce your energy consumption.  Most systems are less efficient than their traditional alternatives.

Optics and field size

The larger the field, the more difficult it is for LED to improve on power consumption.  This is because many of the LED optics are not optimised for big field sports and are therefore very inefficient at distributing the light, particularly at a distance.  The critical factor is the control of the light with optics or reflectors as this determines ultimately how many LED watts will be required.  Again, a lighting plan using the IES file for the specified light is the only way to know if it will work or not.  Don’t baulk at this step.  It may cost a few hundred dollars at worst, and at best could save you hundreds of thousands in wasted investment.

To conclude then, efficiency is relative to the size of the investment vs the usage of the lights.  Assuming you get a really good optic and can replace your metal halide fittings and get a 40% saving in electricity, make sure you get a sensible return on investment by looking at the whole lifetime cost, rather than just focusing on the isolated factor of energy consumption.