Are Linear LED Tubes Cost Effective Compared to Fluorescent?

suspended ceiling fluorescent lights and troffers

While LED A lamps and directional PAR options gain market share, one area that still lags is linear T8 LEDs. At the recent Lightfair International trade show in Las Vegas, lamp manufacturers all had LED T8’s prominently on display. But nearby were often latest generation fluorescent T8 lamp/ballast combinations that exceeded 50,000 hours with outstanding energy efficiency. Faced with that competition, LED T8s are a tough sell.

This fact is reinforced by a US Department of Energy report released last month which details life-cycle cost simulations for two-lamp troffers (a huge installed base in the U.S) using LED lamps plus driver compared to standard and high efficiency fluorescent lamp/ballast combinations.

The first finding was that only a third of the LED lamps tested achieved the same lumen output as the linear fluorescent baseline. This poor showing will likely improve as the technology gets better with each generation of LED linear products, but it is a reminder that lumen equivalency continues to be an issue when comparing LED with existing light sources.

The DOE report focused on the LED linear lamps with light output equal to fluorescent. The comparison included equipment cost per two lamp troffer, required labor, product lifetimes, annual hours of use and electricity rate. Both T8 and T12 fluorescent standard and high efficiency lamp/ballast combinations were tested against LED lamp/driver options.

The basic conclusion of this study: “In general, while their initial cost premium remains high, linear LED lamps are more likely to be cost-effective when electric utility rates are higher than average ($0.18/kWh or $0.24/kWh), if hours of lamp operation are long, and if the installation time of the LED retrofit is shorter.”

Read the complete DOE report.

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Dave Burtner

Dave has been active in the lighting industry since 1994. Formerly a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and certified by the National Council On Qualifications for Lighting Professionals, Dave now writes blog posts, lighting tips and provides lighting product assistance for the Topbulb website.