Technology - The Quest for Dimmable LEDs

Technology - The Quest for Dimmable LEDs
The Quest for
Dimmable LEDs
By Amanda Beebe
compared to incandescent sources.
Finally, be cautioned that remote
mounting of the driver could result
in potential voltage drops, power
losses or noise susceptibility on the
DC wiring that must be properly
accounted for.
Dimming range. The dimming
Widespread adoption of LEDs
LED bulbs have Edison base
range of an LED lamp or fixture
requires reliable high-performance
sockets and are meant to replace
can vary greatly from one device
dimming. But controlling LEDs is not
standard incandescent or screw-in
to another. Some may dim to a
as simple as controlling an incan-
CFL bulbs. The bases of these bulbs
minimum level of only 50 percent,
descent light. There are a number of
have integral drivers that determine
while a different product may dim
factors to consider to ensure that an
if they are dimmable, and if so, what
to 1 percent. You need to select the
installation of dimmed LED fixtures
the dimming performance is.
dimming range of your fixture or
or lamps performs to your expectations and those of your customers.
lamp that will be suitable for your
application. A product that dims
Before you commit to invest-
have an external driver. Some fix-
to 20 percent measured light (45
ing in dimming LEDs, you must
ture manufacturers offer different
percent perceived) wouldn’t make
understand the requirements for
driver options on the same fixture
sense in a media room, but may be
optimum performance. Many LED
to support different control technol-
the energy-saving solution neces-
luminaire manufacturers are new
ogies or applications (such as dim-
sary for an office (Table 1).
to the lighting industry and are not
mable vs. non-dimmable or dim-
familiar with the multitude of con-
mable via a 0-10V signal or DALI).
Dimming performance. Exper-​
ience with incandescent dimming
trol types and the corresponding
There are two different types of
means customers expect smooth and
product design requirements that
drivers. LED drivers may be con-
continuous performance. A change
accompany them. This has resulted
stant voltage types (usually 10V, 12V
in the dimmer position should be
in “dimmable” products that do not
and 24V) or constant current types
reflected by an equal change in light
work as claimed, that never turn off
(350mA, 700mA and 1A). These two
level. There should be no abrupt
completely or that flicker.
types of drivers are not interchange-
change in light level as the light
These are major problems that
able, and it is the design of the LED
source is being dimmed. Additionally,
need to be addressed so that
array that determines which driver is
there should be no points of flicker in
consumers do not associate all
appropriate. Some drivers are man-
the dimming range.
LEDs with poor performance and
ufactured to operate specific LED
Other undesired behavior can
become averse to using them. High-
devices or arrays, while others can
occur when dimming an LED driver.
performing LED products do exist,
operate most commonly available
A properly designed driver should
but you need to ask the right ques-
LEDs. The long-life benefits of LEDs
not have any of the following prob-
tions to make sure you have chosen
would be reduced if the driver was
one of those products appropriately.
not designed for an equally long life.
• Pop-on: The level the light is at
One of the most important LED
when it is turned off is the level
driver features to examine is the
it should return to when it is
Let’s consider each of these factors in detail.
LED fixtures can vary from cove
lights to downlights and usually
LED lamps vs. LED fixtures. LED
quality of the DC output voltage
luminaires come in two distinct
of the driver. That’s because the
• Drop-out: There should be no
types: an LED bulb (also called an
instantaneous response of LEDs to
drop-out, so the light should
LEDi or retrofit lamp) and LED fix-
changing current makes them high-
only turn off when the switch is
ly susceptible to flicker, especially
turned off. This can be achieved
turned back on.
Table 1
because of the 25-W to 40-W minimum load that most incandescent
dimmers require to operate correctly
under all conditions. When using
incandescent bulbs, the minimum
load requirement is easily met with
usually only a single bulb. However,
with LEDs, four or more loads may
be needed on a dimmer in order to
meet the required minimum load.
Another common problem with
LED system operation involves
overloading the driver. LED drivers are rated for a maximum load
(in volts, amps, and/or watts) that
must not be exceeded. Similarly,
some LED drivers may not perform
well if too little load is put on them.
Control types. Control technology is a term that refers to the signal and wiring between the control
on the wall and the fixture or lamp.
LED retrofit lamps generally only
use forward or reverse phase control methods. LED fixtures may use
any method, and it is independent
of the driver type.
The compatibility of a dimmer
with a particular LED fixture begins
by utilizing the low-end trim set-
simple as looking at a 600-W dimmer
with making sure they both use
tings available on many wallbox
and dividing 600 by the 10-W LED
the same control method. These
and system level dimmers to
lamp to determine that 60 lamps
control technologies are used in
ensure that the lights remain on
can be used on a circuit. While the
stand-alone applications and con-
at their lowest light level at the
LED lamp may only draw 10 watts
trol systems as well as in wired and
bottom of the dimmer’s travel.
continuously, it may have a start-up
wireless lighting control systems.
• Dead-travel: Adjusting the con-
inrush current or repetitive current
Controls that use phase control to
trol without a corresponding
during every half-cycle that makes it
control a lamp may also use a wire-
change in light level is undesir-
appear much worse. Neglecting this
less technology to communicate
transient current can put significant
between loads or within an entire
stress on the dimmer and can cause
home lighting control system.
• Audible Noise
Selecting the number of fixtures
premature product failure or unde-
or lamps per dimmer. The number of
sired system performance (such as
lamps able to be installed on a single
excessive noise).
The only way to know for sure if
dimmer may seem like an easy ques-
A minimum number of fixtures
a particular LED lamp or fixture will
tion to answer. However, it is not as
may be required to operate a dimmer
work with a particular dimmer is
eye on
to test it. Whether that testing is a
mock-up or testing by the manufac-
By Eunice Noell-Waggoner
and Robert J. Dupuy
the boomers
inrush current of an LED product
is so you must find out from the
focus of a two-day meeting convened in Washington, D.C., in September 2010,
manufacturer or limit the number
which we attended. “The Workshop on Improving Building Design for Low
of lamps you are using to avoid
Vision Persons” was organized by the U.S. General Services Administration
overloading the dimmer.
and the National Institute of Building Sciences. “Low vision” is defined as
turer, it is necessary to determine if
negative behavior, such as flicker,
pop-on, dead travel, etc. will occur.
Keep in mind that you will not be
able to visually determine what the
Many manufacturers (both LED
s design and development professionals juggle the increasing regulations caused by our society’s conviction to decrease energy use,
we are challenged to find ways to meet the growing number of
requirements and, at the same time, the needs of low-vision users.
The special needs of older people and young people with low vision were the
“chronic visual impairments that cause functional limitations or disability.”
luminaire manufacturers and con-
The goal of the workshop was to begin the process of having low vision
trol manufacturers) conduct com-
included in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural
patibility testing of their products.
Barriers Act (ABA) to allow
It is up to you to determine if that
equal access for the 38 million
Americans age 40 and older
“good dimming” will meet your
with vision problems. But don’t
customer’s needs.
hold your breath—this will not
happen over night. There is
Amanda Beebe is the LED
much work that needs to be
and ballast product man-
done before low vision is part of
ager at Lutron Electronics
the ADA and the ABA.
Co., Inc, based in Coopersburg, PA.
Currently, the ABA requires
She also leads Lutron’s education-
federal buildings or all buildings
al efforts through the LED Control
built, remodeled or leased with
Center of Excellence.
federal funds to accommodate
Some controls are
simple and others
beyond complex.
This also applies to
the environments that
serve the low-vision
and elderly segments
of the population
the needs of workers to do their job. However, it does not require that they be able
to find their way to their office, the restroom or the cafeteria. The ADA does address
the needs of people who are blind, but not the partially sighted.
This workshop brought together participants from the fields of medicine (specialists in ophthalmology and low vision), architecture, engineering, interior design,
lighting design, professional associations, government, academia, advocacy,
research and development, and federal agencies, including the Access Board (the
gatekeeper of the ADA).
The low-vision workshop came about through the efforts of the GSA’s Vijay
Gupta, who knows first-hand the problems that he and others with low vision
experience. It is encouraging to have members of ASHRAE concerned about
Back Issues
ar e n ow o n li n e
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people with low vision and the problems they experience when lighting levels
are adjusted downward to comply with energy restrictions.
Having low vision included as a qualifying disability in the ADA regulations
will be a real game-changer, but until that happens, we need to develop strate-
LD+A January 2011
Letter to a young
lighting designer
New lighting
Trip theON
light THEMoon
over Dubai
gies to provide adequate light levels and a visual environment
that meets the needs of people with low vision without exceeding the energy code.
Sometimes it seems to be a daunting task to comply with
all the building and energy codes that are required to build or
remodel. Add to that list the growing requirements to implement lighting controls as part of the design process. As the
The magazine of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America
nation grapples with how to save energy, controls have floated
to the top of the pile of solutions. Some controls are simple and
others beyond complex. This also applies to the environments
that serve the low-vision and elderly segments of the popula-
Coming in
tion. Let’s take a quick look at what all of this means.
In simple terms, it means finding some way of turning off
lights that are not needed or dimming lights when sufficient
daylight is present. An example would be night lighting in a
senior community or an office building. Do all the corridor
lights have to be on at full output all night or when no one
is in the space? In these areas, controls can indeed make the
greatest impact. In multiple-lamp luminaires it is fairly easy to
control lamps independently either by automatic dimming or
step dimming. Even downlights can have multi-step control
with one lamp on and one off or automatic dimming. The main
thrust of controls should be to save energy while still providing
adequate lighting. It is clear that control regulations will con-
tinue to grow to the point where they are the norm.
To provide for the needs of low-vision people, it is best to
understand how controls work and where they are best suited.
It is also clear that there may need to be some exemptions for
areas frequently visited by those with aging eyes, such as park-
2010 IES
ing garages. We urge you to view lighting controls as a creative
ur award-winning publication is bolstered
opportunity and find ways to meet the requirement and the
by new content and enhanced graphics,
needs of users at the same time.
which reinforce the industry leadership
of LD+A and the IES. Both long-time readers and
those new to the IES will benefit from a revamped
Eunice Noell-Waggoner, LC, is president of the Center of
Design for an Aging Society, a not-for-profit organization
dedicated to raisingFebruary
of age-related issues and
design that is visually appealing as well as informa-
the role of the built environment
in maximizing the abilities of
tive. The redesign also offers lighting manufactur-
older people. She serves on the IES Lighting for Aging and Partially
ers an opportunity to be seen in what is sure to be
a more closely read issue. To inquire about adver-
Sighted Committee.
Robert Dupuy, LC, IALD, is associate principal/lighting
studio team leader for Interface Engineering.
tising, contact your local LD+A representative on
the Ad Index page of this issue.
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