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LED Lighting
By: John Mitchell

 LED technology has advanced greatly in the past year. Many sanctuaries are now being lit almost entirely by LED fixtures. Once considered as "dressing," fixtures that could only change colors or light a background (again, in color), the white LED as a light source has become viable for live presentation, lighting the architecture of the building and even for filming video. 

Q:  My church is considering LED lighting as a way to save energy. We have been given an "eco-justice" mandate and are hoping to become more responsible stewards. Outside of replacement light bulbs, how might we use LED fixtures to do so?
A:  Whew! This is a more frequently asked question than you might imagine. First, congratulations on your move to being better stewards. With the economy being in turmoil, and energy costs bouncing all over the map, it's a great time to embrace the idea of green stewardship! 

LED fixtures can be used in a wide variety of ways to decrease costs and increase efficiency.  One way they can be used is to replace aging (or, in some cases, newly specified) metal halide fixtures on the exterior of a building. There is definitely some increased cost at the point of installation, but the return on investment can be made in as little as 18 months for most installations based on energy consumption, lamp replacement, and maintenance labor costs. 

In addition, you can use LED cove light fixtures in place of fluorescent or cold cathode. These typically will cost the same or less as cold cathode and again alleviate the expense of maintenance. Most LED fixtures are rated at a 50,000 hour lamp/fixture life.

In the last year, several manufacturers have developed LED downlights that are practical and viable replacements for incandescent or fluorescent downlights. Most of these fixtures can be dimmed using standard dimmers, while some require a DMX signal to dim. If you have an existing house or stage lighting system that uses DMX, these fixtures can be tied directly into the control system.

Q:  We have a variety of services (modern worship, traditional, and youth services). Is there a way that we can use an LED lighting system to accommodate all of these types of services?
We're glad you asked!  First, let's review the basic components of a stage lighting system:  control, dimming, and fixtures. The great part about using LED fixtures for stage lighting is that they do not require dimmers, but rather switched (on and off) power. That can be a huge cost savings, as well as a potentially enormous power savings. If you have an existing system that currently uses dimmers, you can still use the wiring and outlets by swapping out the dimmer module for a constant circuit module. 

The LED system will require more control cable to communicate. Each device can be set as its own unit to operate independent of the other units (this requires control cable from the console to the first device and then from device to device). 

The light output from LED fixtures has consistently improved over the past few years, and today, there are several options for fixtures to emulate par cans, fresnels, cyc lights, and even ellipsoidal reflector spotlights (commonly called Lekos). 

Like any lighting system, to accommodate more than one design requires a combination of color and white. The great part about an LED system is that the variety of fixtures in use today allows for deeper color mixing (some units are five colors, some seven colors) and a cleaner white from the same unit. This eliminates the need for duplicating fixtures in the design.  

The same lighting rig can be used for simple, white light on a traditional service; color and white for a modern service; and color for youth services. All of this is done through a control console or your control system.

That was a very long way of getting to the answer, which is that you can accomplish all of the looks you are seeking with one, multiple-use set of LED fixtures. 

Q:  It seems that LED technology changes every day. Should I wait to jump into the LED arena? Won't the next greatest thing be released tomorrow?
Like the computer industry, the LED industry does make pretty tremendous leaps in a short period of time (sometimes it really does seem to change every day). However, if we had all waited for Windows 7 to come out before we bought our first computers, it would be a very different world in which we live. 

Technology does change, and frequently, but if the technology you are using suits the purpose you need, then it is time and money well spent.

John Mitchell is the executive vice president of sales and business development at ELS, a provider of lighting and production solutions for events, film, television, architecture and entertainment, www.elslights.com.

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