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LED Opportunities In An RV

LEDs are the future of lighting! Within a few years, LEDs will become the primary artificial lighting source of the 21st century. LEDs will replace incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, and fluorescent tubes.

RVs are LED-Ready! RVs come equipped with the right kind of electrical system and the right kind of fixtures. LEDs that work in RVs are available right now. 

But I have found there is resistance amongst RVers to installing LEDs into their rigs. Why, I asked? It appears bad press and inuendos have created far too many mis-conceptions amongst RVers about LEDs. Let me set straight some of this mis-information.

What statements are simply Not True?

LEDs cost too much -- a man proudly showed me a 921 bulb he bought in a 10-pac for a dollar -- 10 cents per bulb -- at Quartzsite. I showed him a 921 from Sylvania for $1.50 and an LED lamp to replace the 921 bulb that cost $25. Which bulb is the most cost effective?

On the average, a properly installed LED light will last for 100,000 hours of continuous usage -- about 11 years. A "good" 921 bulb from Sylvannia is designed to last 1000 hours, so it takes 100 of the good 921s, or $150.00 worth of bulbs to equal an LED. When I plugged the man's "economy" bulb in, within 10 minutes it started to smoke. It turned black and went totally dark in less than an hour, so it would cost more than $10,000 to equal one LED at this great bargain rate.

LEDs can't produce enough light -- not true in practice. One LED semi-conductor junction only produces about 7 lumens, and you need over 100 lumens to match the light of an 1141 bulb. But with LEDs, you add more junctions to the circuit to meet the requirement. For example, LightBlasters put 27 LED junctions on its B15.RV3-V to produce 180 lumens of light, all shining in the direction the light is needed in a spotlamp.

Tell me how many lumens you want, and LightBlasters will configure an LED lamp that will exceed your requirement. But, if the junctions are not configured wisely, you have a problem with reliability.

White LEDs are too blue and stark -- no longer true. The newer generations of HyBright LEDs have solved the problem of excessive blue and stark versions of white. The latest generations of white LEDs reach a color-rendering index in the 90s. It does require good engineering to use them properly and good design to incorporate them in the kinds of lamps you need.

But if you purchase the previous generation product, you will still get the previous generation blue, stark white LEDs. Beware the plastic caps.

LED products are only produced in China -- it is true that the LED semiconductors are usually manufactured in China or some other part of the Far East. The US environmental laws make it difficult to compete on that process here. And China has created some products that they send to the USA for retail sale. Unfortunately, the quality of the retail products suffers.

The best LED products use Chinese LEDs that have been properly screened to meet USA quality standards and are then designed and built in the USA under strict USA quality control. The best LED products and Made in USA.

What statements show lack of understanding?

There is no reason I should change my lighting

Why should I use LEDs, electricity is free

LEDs don't last; I bought an LED flashlight and it quit on me
I would have to change the fixtures in my coach

What statements are True?

The light from LEDs doesn't look the same as light from my current lights
I can buy bulbs at the Arizona Market for 10 cents a piece
I bought Chinese LEDs at Quartzsite or over the Internet, but they keep failing
Camping World doesn't have any good LED products

what are your opportunities?

long term savings
better light, where you need it
backwards compatability
better lighting configurations -- linear, indirect, spread
get high quality, warranted lights from USA

What are LEDs?

Light Emitting Diodes - called LEDs for short - are solid state semi-conductor devices, like transistors, that glow with visible light when electricity is run through them in the right direction. Being diodes, electricity will not run through them in the opposite direction.


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Here are examples of LEDs used in RVs.

Special considerations

power requirements
power regulation
made in USA

The most efficient light fixtures of the 21st century will be made from Light Emitting Diodes, aka LEDs, small pieces of semiconductor that glow intensely when electricity runs through them in the right direction. LEDs are the light of the future.

LED is the acronym for Light Emitting Diode. This is a tiny "solid state" semiconductor device much like a transistor. An LED has the property that when an electrical current flows between its conducting plates, almost all of the power dissipated by the current flow over the voltage drop is converted into visible light.

As a diode, the device will not permit current to flow in the opposite direction, thus the electrical connections must be of the correct polarity for the LED to function. With special circuitry LEDs can operate with AC (alternating current), emitting light the half-the-time when the polarity is correct.

Typically, over 85% of the energy of the electrical current flowing through an LED lamp is converted into visible light. Very little of the energy is used to create heat. However, if a resistor must be used in series with the LED to reduce the DC voltage to match that required by the LED, the voltage drop across the resistor will create heat that must be dissipated.

The average lifetime of an LED that has been burned in (operated past the time when "infant mortalities" occur) is typically 100,000 hours of continuous operation. That amounts to over 11 years. Shocking an LED with over-voltage or with excess heat will lower the lifetime of the device.

Since the LED is a solid state device, if it is securely mounted, it is quite resistant to physical damage.

The color of the light created by an LED is determined by the chemical composition of the semiconducting material. The most common LEDs available today produce light that is ultraviolet (400nm: a wavelength of 400 nanometers), pink (420nm), blue (470nm), aqua (505 nanometers), green (525nm), yellow (590nm), red (605-660nm), and infrared (880-945nm). Prices of LEDs depend upon their color; for example, pink is more than twice as expensive as red.

Energy Distribution for a Blue LED

The spectrum of colored LEDs is very sharp. An LED resonates at a single optical wavelength, and produces one and only one color. As you can see in the figure above, there is no light energy produced in the other wavelengths. If you look at a red, green, or yellow LED through a blue filter (which blots out all light except blue), you will see no light coming through the filter.

What we recognize as white light is a "spread spectrum," energy in wavelengths ranging from ultraviolet to infrared. White light has a mix of all colors in it. LEDs that produce white light are hybrids: the light from an ultraviolet or blue LED shines through a special phosphorescent material that absorbs much of that light energy and re-emits it at a lower energy to produce a spread white spectrum. However, you will still see a peak of light energy at the wavelength of the exciting LED.

Energy Distribution for a White LED

Though the light from white LEDs appears bluish, it is suitable for much of the lighting in RVs. As improvements are made in the phosphorescent materials, white LEDs will become "warmer," meaning less of the excitation color will come through and more of the longer wavelength colors will be mixed in.

White LEDs are not recommended for use as vehicle brake and turn-signal lights. There is little energy in the spectrum between 600nm and 700nm, the colors that can be seen through the red lens covers. Use the native red-colored LEDs instead.

LEDs have been in use for over twenty years, and the technology has improved over that time. However, up to now the suitability of LEDs for interior RV lighting has been inadequate. Though the prices have been pushed low, the quality and applicability of the existing products has been marginal at best.

Recent advances in technology have changed that picture. LightBlasters uses the latest nexLED™ LED technology to design intense, high-performance devices for RV lighting applications. This new technology, coupled with strict attention to product quality and applicability, are key to providing the Prudent RVer with adequate LED lighting for their RV.

 Mark my words!   LEDs will be the primary artificial lighting source in the 21st century. LEDs will replace incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, and fluorescent tubes. LEDs are the future of lighting.

Why will we see this wholesale replacement?

Reasons LEDs = 21st Century Lighting First, Efficiency -- LEDs use a fraction of the power used by an incandescent, halogen, or fluorescent to produce the same amount of light.

Second, Heat -- LEDs run cool and don't waste energy heating the room or cabinets.

Third, Lifetime -- LEDs last 50 to 100 times longer than the bulbs and tubes used in 20th century lighting.

Fourth, Law -- by law, production of incandescent bulbs will no longer be legal in three years, and fluorescent tubes, including CFLs, are hazardous waste requiring special handling. By the process of elimination, that leaves wood fires and LEDs.

How efficient is "More Efficient?"  Compare the power to produce 100 lumens of light.

Efficiency of LEDsIncandescent -- a brand-new 1156 bulb running at 12.8 volts draws 2.1 amps, totalling 26.9 watts, to produce 402 lumens of light, or 6.6 watts for 100 lumens. Within 300 hours, this will rise to near 10 watts as the filament thins and wears out.

Halogen -- a new J12v10w halogen bulb running at 12.0 volts draws 0.833 amps, totalling 10.0 watts, to produce 175 lumens of light, or 5.8 watts for 100 lumens. By 1000 hours, you cannot get 100 lumens out of the bulb as it turns brown and grows old.

Fluorescent -- Thinlite's 612 with two F8T5 tubes is rated for 12 volts drawing 1.4 amps, totalling 16 watts, to produce 800 lumens of light, or 2.0 watts for 100 lumens. Light is constant until the tubes or ballast start flickering or burn out.

LEDs -- LightBlaster's zipLED LightSticks are rated for 12.5 volts drawing 0.07 amps, totalling 0.875 watts, to produce 60 lumens of light, or 1.46 watts for 100 lumens. Add LEDs as you need them.

How much power for lighting is lost into heat? Why?

Excess wattage from lighting becomes heat

The secret is how the light is produced. In the 1870s Thomas Edison found that if he ran an electrical current through a carbon hair in a vacuum bulb, he could heat the carbon so hot it would glow. They made improvements on the process and now use tungsten filaments and alternating current, but with all the improvements, incandescent bulbs still use 85% of the electrical power to heat the filament, and only 15% goes into producing light.

Halogen lights are a variation on the incandescent bulb where the tungsten is heated so hot it starts to boil off the filament and creates a brighter light when it falls back to rejoin the metal filament. This improves the efficiency, maybe by 20%, but it heats the quartz bulb to more than 1,000 degrees Farenheit on the outside. I promise you will have third degree burns if you touch it. Paper will flame if brought too close to the bulb. Your coach can burn down if the surrounding panels char too much.

Fluorescent tubes offered an alternative. By 1990 the efficiency of fluorescent tubes had improved to nearly 50% over incandescents, but noisy ballasts created havoc in closed environments and with sensitive electronics. Then they found the mercury used in the tubes was a serious environmental hazard, and more recently they found the UV light from fluorescents could be a factor with cataracts. The recent push on Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) increased efficiency to 70%, but LEDs still are the best, and all the other objections are still there.

LEDs create light at the molecular level. Less than 15% of the energy is lost to heat. LEDs are the lighting of choice. And by the way, if you don't live in the NorthWest Territories where you require extra heating, it will cost you three times as much electrical energy to remove the excess heat as it cost you to produce it by using inefficient lighting.

Does lifetime matter? How Long Will You Need Lighting?

LED costsIncandescent -- a 1156 bulb uses 26.9 watts, to produce 402 lumens of light. Its design life is 1200 hours. Typical bulb cost is $3.50. Over 11 years, lighting with 1156 bulbs will cost over $1,200, assuming you can get electricity for 11 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Halogen -- a J12v10w halogen bulb uses 10.0 watts to produce 175 lumens of light. Its design life is 2000 hours. Typical bulb cost is $4.00. In 11 years you will spend $950 for the lighting, and possibly another $2,800 on air-conditioning to clear the heat.

Fluorescent -- Thinlite's 612 with two F8T5 tubes uses 16 watts to produce 800 lumens of light. The fixture has a 7500 hour lifetime. Ballasts can be more expensive. Typical replacement cost is $10.00, except when the ballast burns out. Figure on $350 over 11 years.

LEDs -- a LightBlaster's zipLED LightSticks use 0.875 watts to produce 60 lumens of light. Its design life is 100,000 hours, or over eleven years of continuous lighting. Typical cost is $20 for 100 lumens. It will require power, but the total cost will be less than $200.

By the way, generated power in a motorcoach costs from $0.40 to $3 per kilowatt-hour.

What is this about being the Law?

The Federal Government passed a law in 2007 to phase out 40 to 100 watt general-service incandescents by 2012, and requiring that all light bulbs be 25% to 35% more efficient by 2014.

The reason for this law is the inefficiency of the incandescent type of bulbs for producing useful light. Though much of the push has been for the Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL), the real winner will be the LED. The problems with mercury wastes will continue to plague the CFL, and as the price of the LEDs drop and technology solves the problems of working in the 120 volt AC environment, the LEDs will become the standard lighting for the United States.

The good news is that technology for LED lighting technology is already here for RVs and Boats. The basic 12-volt DC based product set is in place, and it provides a good replacement for the incandescent, halogen, and fluorescent lighting found in most such environments. It does not require a new law to make LEDs in RVs work.

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