LED lighting is beginning to offer more to consumers than energy efficiency. A new type of technology is becoming more readily available, the white-tunable LED. This technology is proving to have significant benefits beyond going green and may improve the human experience in schools, hospitals, retail stores, living rooms and more.
What are White-tunable LEDs?
White-tunable LEDs can change the correlated color temperature (CCT) or simply put, the color of the light produced. Offering a range of warm (yellowish) to cool (bluish) white light, white-tunable LEDs allow a user to alter the light output based on his or her desired mood or scheme for a room. Unlike standard LED bulbs, white-tunables do not require a permanent CCT. Rather, the CCT shifts based on the color the user wants the bulb to produce at a given time.
Applications of White-tunable LEDs
Studies show different types of lighting can affect mood, behavior and alertness. As a result, the ability to shift the temperature of a light source depending on the purpose of a room at various times could make a big difference. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy said white-tunable LEDs have the potential to provide the following benefits:
- Relax or energize classroom students
- Make people feel warmer or cooler depending on the outside temperature
- Balance the human circadian rhythm (24-hour biological clock) to enhance mood, health and alertness at the proper times of day
- Treat certain medical conditions, like sleep disorders
- Improve the feel of a room after it has been redesigned
- Make a home or apartment more appealing for prospective tenants
The potential for white-tunable LEDs to assist with balancing the circadian rhythm could be important for senior-living facilities, dormitories, prisons, medical spaces, industrial spaces and high-density housing.
New York-based SDA Lighting company explained how warmer tones tend to calm people down and cooler tones help people stay alert. For example, a school could warm up the lights after recess to help the students relax but provide cooler light at other times of the day to help them focus. A retail store may be able to use white-tunable LEDs to light various products differently, so one display case provides warm light to enhance the look of leather goods while another could provide cool light to highlight jewelry.
How Viable are White-tunable LEDs? The DOE Isn’t Sure
In August 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy released a study evaluating the white-tunable LED luminaire. The study’s primary goal was to assess how much testing these products needed, and the secondary goal was to evaluate the performance of white-tunable LEDs intended for architectural lighting as opposed to entertainment lighting. The study found that color-tunable LED luminaires currently do not come close to matching the “efficacy” (light output per input watt) of fixed-color products but do provide additional benefits such as those listed above.
The study also reported that there are challenges associated with the creation of these products and that each of the various approaches to manufacturing them could cause some sort of issue for a user. The DOE determined because the products perform differently at different tuning ranges, they must be tested at five to seven color points to truly determine their performance strength. Increased testing requirements result in a higher purchase price to the end user, driving tunable white technology outside the budget of many projects at this time.
White-tunable LEDS are still very new, and the DOE concluded they still have a lot of room for growth. Currently, it is unclear whether the marketplace will accept them because they do not meet the minimum ENERGY STAR criterion for efficacy. At this juncture, the main appeal of white-tunable LEDs relates to their numerous benefits outside of energy efficiency. However, the DOE said they could become more energy efficient in the future as the product continues to be refined. There are also other types of color-tunable LEDs: dim-to-warm and full-color-tunable, both of which have experience-enhancing applications in settings like restaurants and theaters.
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