(Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The LED)
I walked away from LDI2009 scratching my head. Something bugged me that I just couldn’t put a finger on, and it all centered on the conference room that held Robert Juliat’s new LED profile, recently named AledIN. This was the first LED ellipsoidal that I’d seen. In fact, I’m fairly certain it’s the first one anybody at LDI had seen except perhaps for a privileged few. Very rarely do I remember getting goose bumps thinking about the possibilities of a fixture. Looking at this LED profile was one of those times.
The implications of a fixture that has the necessary quality for theatrical applications with the power consumption of a household lamp are stunning. It will, undoubtedly in the very near future, start to change the way lighting designers think and the way lighting systems are developed. But the reason I was scratching my head wasn’t because I was trying to figure out how such an ellipsoidal reflector spotlight (ERS) would be useful; it was more because I couldn’t figure out why another company hasn’t been racing to introduce something similar.
The answer hit me like a ton of bricks: dimming. Right now, many companies out there rely on SCR dimming for income. Racks are expensive, the infrastructure is expensive, the distribution is expensive, and dimming is the core of virtually every theatrical and performance-based lighting system currently designed and installed. Once the LED ellipsoidal is refined, modified, refined again, and finally ready for mass consumption, things are going to change. I’m not saying it’s going to happen overnight or even over a decade, but slowly, people will start to realize that costly SCR dimming racks and all the distribution and infrastructure surrounding them are unnecessary. Granted, the fixtures will likely be much more costly than traditional ERS fixtures for quite some time, but even so, chances are that a plot full of these fixtures will cost less than the dimming racks and distribution.
Add into this equation all of the long-term costs for an SCR dimming system (including the power bills for your minimum three-phase 400A power service), the HVAC costs for dimmers, and the heat created by the halogen fixtures, and the cost of all the tungsten lamps over the lifetime of a fixture. It’s not a question of whether it’s somewhat cheaper, but rather, it’s a statement of just how much substantially less LED systems will be.
In my opinion, there are two possible outcomes of the current situation. I see the first possibility a positive one. We, as an industry, embrace the future once the fixtures can adequately replace standard ellipsoidal technology. The entertainment industry could become a model for green initiatives. The amount of power our theatres would be saving could be phenomenal, and we would be lauded for our efforts. Instead of concentrating on how dimming will be distributed through a building, it would be much more important to decide how data would be accessible. While we would still need plenty of adequate power, it would be equally as important to ensure correct data distribution, and, let’s be honest, it would be a whole lot easier and fiscally responsible to add a new power-over-Ethernet (POE) switch and Ethernet lines when it’s time for expansion.
The LED ellipsoidal reminds us of a phrase not often used in the entertainment industry these days: return on investment. Over time, LED ellipsoidals should, in theory, pay for themselves in the amount of money saved on energy, maintenance, and HVAC costs generally consumed using a comparable system of SCR dimmers and halogen fixtures.
Here’s the possible negative outcome. Robert Juliat finishes the profile, and it looks fantastic. It can beat any ERS in a shoot-out onstage. Some designers even prefer the way it looks, but it never catches on because it gets buried. Instead of attempting to develop a superior product, other manufacturers ignore it, pumping out SCR racks. The industry looks past the LED because it’s easier to stick with the status quo.
There is the very real possibility that the LED ERS could go the way of the General Motors EV1 electric car in the 1990s. Like it or not, the EV1 virtually disappeared from the market, the most likely reason being that the oil and auto industries essentially buried it since it had the potential to eat away at oil profits. I’m not saying this will happen to the LED ellipsoidal or that any company out there is actually trying to do this, but it’s possible, and it is our responsibility as professionals in the field to ensure that the LED ERS doesn’t get overlooked.
We need to demand progress and greener products so that engineers design them and manufacturers make them. If we sit idly by and let the companies make all of the decisions, they will do whatever they feel is in their best interest. We are lucky to work in an industry that is small enough to have manufacturers really listen to designers and specifiers. Your feedback—our collective feedback—really does matter to the companies whose products we use on an everyday basis. It’s important that we take the lead now to ensure the future of our industry. Let others look to the entertainment industry as a model for green initiatives, positive change, and progress. This new decade will certainly bring innovation to our industry. Our job is to ensure our expectations of responsible progress are the driving force of those innovations.
Larry Zoll is a freelance lighting and marketing professional specializing in theatrical lighting, themed environments, and control systems. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.