Court Construction & Maintenance Guide: LED on the Leading Edge
As the technology comes down in price, expect more facilities to take advantage of this eco-friendly alternative.
Benjamin Franklin tied a key to a kite string. Thomas Edison used Franklin’s discovery to power the first light bulb. Alexander Graham Bell made a phone. But turning on the lights on the tennis court by using a smartphone? It’s a sure bet the three of them never saw that coming.
Light Emitting Diode, or LED, fixtures continue to make inroads into the tennis industry. Although they haven’t exactly steamrolled over fluorescent and metal halide systems, they’re definitely gaining attention, and market share. (Some hard evidence: LED lighting has been installed at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, home of the US Open.)
The arc of acceptance for LED is fueled by the fact that the technology is offered by more vendors, creating an increasingly competitive marketplace. The days are gone when LED was suitable only to venues offering national-level competition with televised events (the University of Phoenix Stadium where the Super Bowl was played last year was one example). But driving its popularity, beyond simple affordability, is an array of advantages — some unexpected.
“One of the most practical reasons for installing LED lighting isn’t what you might think of,” says Frank Collins, regional president the Marlborough, Mass.-based Energy Efficiency & Sustainability (EES) Consulting. “It’s maintenance.”
Simply put, LED systems last longer than others, something that comes in handy in cases where relamping fixtures is an investment of time, money and equipment.
If you’re talking about a club with indoor tennis courts, you’re talking about a very high ceiling,” says Collins. “What we see a lot is places where lights, whether they’re metal halide, fluorescent and so on, are burning out. And it’s really hard to get up there to fix it. You can’t just use a regular ladder; you’re pretty much going to have to rent a scissor lift, and that gets expensive. So it’s inconvenient and as a result, we’re seeing clubs where a quarter to a third of the lights are burned out and nobody wants to fix them.”
LED systems, Collins says, have a minimum of 50,000 hours in an average life cycle before the lighting starts to fail or degrade.
To put that into perspective, “Your average sports center keeps the lights on for maybe 12 hours a day, six to seven days per week. That comes out to about 3,500 hours per year. It will take an LED system at least 12 to 12-1/2 years before you start having to think about them failing.”
“The greatest advantage of LED is the reduction of power consumption, which translates to reduced costs for the facility,” says tennis facility design expert David LaSota of DW LaSota Engineering of Patton, Pa. “We need to be cognizant, however, that most LED lighting systems do not have the same efficacy as traditional metal halide lighting. You can’t just swap out fixtures on a one-to-one basis and still expect the same light levels.” Efficacy is a measure of the relative amount of power required to give off a certain amount of illumination.
LaSota continues: “The issue we need to address as an industry is to develop an objective way to compare LED to other lighting systems in determining acceptable levels of illumination for each system. Many will say that while a metal halide system may produce an average maintained horizontal illumination of 75 foot-candles, an LED system with lower average maintained horizontal illumination levels will be acceptable because the LED lighting is a whiter light and is therefore perceived to be brighter. But in strictly an apples-to-apples comparison, the metal halide light readings will demonstrate that the metal halide is producing more light.”
Many states, though, are hopping on board with LED’s energy savings, offering rebates for those who install LED systems to help offset the higher costs on the front end. (One website listing incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the U.S. is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at dsireusa.org.)
“Energy efficiency is a major adoption issue,” says Collins. “That’s what’s driving the adoption conversation now.”
According to Mike Lorenz, president of Eaton’s Ephesus Lighting of Syracuse, N.Y., LED systems are advantageous for another reason: They’re easy to direct, and have meticulous accuracy at illuminating only the court surface. “Tennis as a whole, particularly when you’re talking about outdoor facilities, is really concerned about spillover light,” he says. “You can minimize that with LED lighting.”
“Some manufacturers do a great job in shielding the lighting from not only trespass, but glare,” LaSota adds. “Keep in mind that since LED light is ‘whiter’ than other forms of light, it can create significant glare that can be distracting to players and annoying to the neighborhood.”
Using Existing Light Poles
Lorenz says the lighting market keeps evolving to meet the needs of buyers. To save money, existing light poles can be retrofitted to use LED heads and fixtures.
LED systems initially gained attention for their high-end installations, something that Lorenz says is both a selling point and a drawback. The fact that LED appeared in venues where the sports action was likely to be televised meant extra visibility; unfortunately, it also made owners leery of installing them at more mainstream facilities (tennis clubs, municipal courts and high school tennis centers, for example).
And, says Lorenz, the question always came up: Is this lighting system too sophisticated for us? Do we actually need something like this? But as LED systems began coming down in price, there was a tipping point.
“The cost is getting very competitive with other forms of lighting,” Collins says. “It used to be that LED lights were maybe three times as expensive as everything else, but now they might be 30 to 40 percent more — and if you have a state rebate program, it will help you pay for the conversion. The payback from conversion from fluorescent to LED is about two years, maybe a little less; it’s averaging 1.8 to 2.5 years. But the longer your hours of operation, the quicker you’re going to see payback. LED can reduce electricity usage in your sports lighting by 50 to 65 percent.”
And that will appeal to prospective owners who want convenience, eco-friendliness and savings.
“I think we have this very cool technology that we can now make available to high schools and municipalities,” says Lorenz, “and more importantly, they can justify it based on a number of factors. I think those communities that are more progressive will look into the different factors with these systems.”
The fact that connected buildings are currently allowing clubs who have the technology to control lighting, as well as other building systems, including HVAC and security, remotely (and even via smartphone) is the next driving force in the market, according to Collins.
“With the growth of the LED lighting industry, we are seeing more and more LED lights being offered to tennis facilities as tennis lighting fixtures,” LaSota says. “This is good and bad. Good because we all know that more options for lighting generally means better pricing and less costs to implement. Bad because some of the new players in the field may not understand the game of tennis and therefore, manufacture a fixture that cannot withstand the direct impact of a tennis ball, or produce insufficient lighting or excessive glare.”
And as more companies have entered the marketplace, the choice of systems has become more fraught with problems. It’s not unusual for club managers, coaches and others to receive unsolicited e-mails, often from companies in China, advertising the availability of inexpensive LED fixtures.
For that reason, says Collins, facility owners who are looking into changing their lighting system, whether to LED or any other form, should check their vendor with the DesignLights Consortium (DLC), at designlights.org. DLC has set technical requirements for lighting products, and makes its findings available free of charge.
Just as it did with flat-screen televisions and smartphones, the technology of LED lighting will continue to come down in price as the marketplace evolves. As it does, say both Collins and Lorenz, more facility owners will take advantage of it.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.
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