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White Tunable LEDs

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White tunable LEDs seem to be the new flavor of the month. Manufacturers are releasing a slate of new products with some already out and others coming out soon. More than a few claim health related benefits or features. How do you navigate the marketing mumbo-jumbo? As with any lighting technology, there are many ways to evaluate the impact on your project. Consider working with your supplier, or your local NWTAN lighting specialist, to figure out the best application for you. Following here is additional information about this niche technology and suitable applications, as well as links to more information to help you assess the technology’s potential impact.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) funded a study, prepared by Pacific NW National Laboratories (PNNL), to find out what products were on the market and how efficient they were. Released in 2015, the study is entitled Photometric Testing of White-Tunable LED Luminaires. According to Naomi Miller, designer and senior scientist, PNNL, the study found that white tunable LED luminaires are hard to characterize. “They’re all very different, with different numbers of LEDs that contribute to the color. They dim in different ways and some have easier interfaces than others. Several were pretty efficient while others weren’t worth considering,” she said.

What are white tunable LEDs?

White tunable products can be adjusted over a range of correlated color temperatures (CCTs) and some can be dimmed at a constant CCT. They only produce white light but it can range from warm white to cool white. White tunable products require at least two LED primaries but often have more to allow for a more precise or wider range of colors.

The DOE website includes an easy-to-watch video featuring Miller describing all three types of tunable LEDs and their appropriate applications.

What types of applications are best for white tunable LEDs?

According to DOE, white tuning may be desirable for a range of reasons, from aesthetic to medical. Some applications include environments where the human experience is important such as retail, museums, or classrooms.

DOE also suggests that, “light plays a key role in setting and regulating the body’s biological clock. Both the intensity and the spectral content of light can be used to stimulate or suppress the secretion of melatonin and other hormones that in turn affect our mood, alertness, and health. Although the exact mechanisms and effects are not yet fully understood, this may ultimately be an important consideration for industrial and medical spaces as well as senior- living facilities, prisons, dormitories, and facilities where occupants have little access to daylight.”

What are potential issues of using white tunable LEDs?

Again, DOE says, “Wiring of white-tunable luminaires and controls may be more complex than required for fixed-color LED luminaires. At this point in time, the efficacy of white-tuning LED systems, while higher than full-color tuning systems, is still lower than that of fixed white LEDs.”

What about health benefits?

The DOE study notes in their study summary, “…color-tunable products may offer non-energy benefits, such as the ability to shift spectrum to support human circadian cycles, affect mood and alertness, or provide a visually dynamic environment.”

While some manufacturers may tout the health benefits of white tunable LEDs, the technology is still in its infancy and studies are underway to examine the impact of light on specific medical outcomes.

If the technology is needed for purely aesthetic reasons, trade allies should follow their standard practice to determine if the product meets the customer’s needs and will produce the results required by the project. If medical or health claims are in the mix, trade allies should connect with a lighting designer who understands what the customer wants and knows what products are on the market. They can help do the proper research to see if the product can deliver the results promised by the manufacturer.

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