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Applications & Solutions : Going Above and Beyond in Assessing LED Compatibility


Going Above and Beyond in Assessing LED Compatibility

Is it “buyer beware” when it comes to choosing the right LED-compatible control? Not when it’s been tested to meet Intermatic’s standards.

LED street lights


Are you still weighing the costs and benefits of upgrading your lighting system to LED? The cost of LED fixtures has dropped dramatically in recent years, making the positive return on investment hard to argue with. What's more, LEDs are known for their energy efficiency and long life, which in turn gives maintenance crews more time to spend on priority projects, rather than replacing lamps.


According to a recent report, the increasing need for low electricity consumption across the globe is spurring significant growth in the LED market. Several countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, and China have banned the use of inefficient incandescent bulbs and are promoting the adoption of LED lights. The U.S. Department of Energy predicted that in the United States alone, widespread use of LED light bulbs could save about 348 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity by 2027 (compared to no LED use). This is the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants (1000 megawatts each), and a total savings of more than $30 billion at today's electricity prices.  


Is it “buyer beware” when it comes to choosing the right LED-compatible control? 


As LED technology began to emerge, it was discovered that LED lights function differently than other types of luminaires and should be paired with controls that are designed specifically to handle the inrush current that LED drivers require on start-up. High inrush currents can cause damage to controls in a number of ways: Significant electrical sparks can occur during switching, causing pitting and wear on the relay’s contact surface; the current can weld relay contacts and other switching devices.  


Intermatic pioneered a comprehensive testing approach at the company’s laboratory, located within its Spring Grove, Illinois headquarters, to help assure electrical contractors, distributors, and specifying engineers that their controls would match LED lighting loads over the life of the their lamps. 


Since there was no single industry standard for testing controls used for LED lighting, Intermatic took the best information from NEMA 410 and UL standards, and combined it into a testing scenario for their products that could show true performance with electronic ballasts for LED. Based on these standards, they simulated actual field performance for the life of LED lamps under repeatable test case scenarios. Products were tested at full load to 5, 10, and 15k ON/OFF cycles with NEMA 410 inrush load characteristics. The company’s testing certifies that Intermatic’s entire line of controls is not only LED-compatible, but that it mirrors the life expectancy of electronic ballast-operated LED fixtures. 


As a result, contractors and distributors can consult with Intermatic sales and technical support teams to get performance metrics on the company’s portfolio of products with LED lamp applications. It is especially helpful when a contractor mistakenly suspects that a switch has failed because it’s defective or there has been a power surge. 


In one instance, a contractor in Detroit, Michigan, was puzzled when traditional photocontrols were failing on many of the new LED fixtures installed on a large exterior lighting project. The failures did not make sense since the lights were all wired on the same circuit. Meanwhile, a lighting designer in Panama was experiencing the exact same issue - traditional lighting controls specified for an interior LED lighting project were failing. Intermatic applied their testing methodology knowledge and concluded that inrush current issues were to blame in both instances. 


As LED lighting technology evolves, more efficient electronic ballast designs have appeared, many of which employ circuits that limit inrush current transients, while allowing for higher energy efficiencies. However, there is still broad variability in electronic ballast designs, resulting in a wide range of inrush current characteristics. New electronic ballasts produce inrush currents at turn-on that can cause premature relay contact failures. Although these are typically short events, these inrush currents can climb as high as 100 times the nominal operating levels! 


Intermatic remains committed to researching and testing the effects of high inrush current on controls. Extensive research continues to be conducted at the company’s lab on the importance of matching the extended lifespan of LED fixtures to a more complex control.  


Since there's still no universal standard for testing lighting controls that are paired with LED fixtures, it is important to choose a product from a manufacturer you can trust. A well-designed LED control should not only work, it should work throughout the life of the lighting application to ensure both the cost-savings and maintenance-free benefits of the technology are realized. 


At Intermatic, we're so confident in their testing procedures and designs that select products, like twist lock Photocontrols, have a 10- to 20-year design life and a 6- to 12-year product warranty; Self-Adaptive In-Wall Occupancy Sensors and Heavy-Duty Programmable Timers feature a 5-year warranty; and ET Advanced Astronomic Time Switches are backed with a 3-year warranty.


To learn more protecting your LED lighting controls from damage, read our in-depth white paper about technical solutions to minimize high inrush current events.

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