LED Lighting Applications: Are Ballasts Still the Best Option?


Linear LED lighting instruments are rapidly changing the way lighting applications are designed. LED tubes found early success despite high initial costs by being ballast compatible, which means they are suitable for drop-in replacement in the countless traditional linear instruments in industrial and commercial buildings, and schools.
Plug-and-play LED tubes saved money and labor in the short run, but as LED technology evolves, businesses should evaluate how ballast-compatible lighting instruments stack up against rip-and-replace options.

Why Ballasts Are Still Popular

LED drivers waste less power than fluorescent ballasts, but plug-and-play simplicity gave early adopters a chance to evaluate the operational cost and lighting quality of LED without investing in retrofit labor and equipment. Now that costs are down and there has been ample time to experiment, it’s a fair question to ask why LED lighting should be tied to aging, less efficient ballasts.
The answer is cost containment. As LED lighting came onto the market, some customers were willing to swallow the premium (sometimes 1000 percent or more) to purchase an LED tube over a conventional lighting option, but ripping and replacing ballasts with LED drivers four times as expensive as a ballast was too much to ask. Users accepted the failure rates of old-style ballasts to minimize the overall cost of LED lighting, because replacement ballasts remained comparatively inexpensive and plentiful.

Are LEDs Safe?

Just two years ago, a recall of 700,000 linear tubes over an electrical arcing risk that could melt the tubes threatened to color perception of the technology. (Compounding the perception problem, some recall replacements were then, themselves, recalled.)
Many of the recall hazards revolve around arcing that can be traced back to ballast voltage. Aluminum heat sinks in early designs also contributed to electrical arcing risk. Some heat sinks are eliminated through a redesign of the tube itself. In some tubes, non-conductive thermoplastic heat sinks are being deployed. Switching back to glass also reduces the need for conductive heat sinks, and improvements have made glass tubes more shatter-resistant than users may remember.

LEDs Offer Flexibility and Choice

The fast-changing world of LED lighting is growing in many directions, making the buying decision more than a binary choice. Users can now consider new colors and instrument locations thanks to an ever-wider range of choices for output and sizing in the LED market. For operators looking to take more control over light quality and cost, smart instruments that can be managed remotely without additional hardware at the fixture level are now ready to go. In more conventional settings, consider transitioning away from ballasts to LED drivers or direct-wire instruments, which take support hardware out of the equation entirely.
New designs offer hybrid and universal operation, supporting ballast, driver and direct wire connections. These multi-functional instruments can be placed in a ballast-driven instrument, then directly wired when the ballast fails. That’s a handy asset for industrial lighting and commercial lighting settings where maintenance can be deferred. Contractors and distributors benefit from greater simplicity, and are able to offer a single product to suit a variety of practical settings.

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