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Why do we need LED lights? Roger Miller explains

We’re currently raising funds to invest in brand new LED lights for our theatre spaces, once again showing our commitment to sustainability and our goal of becoming Western Australia’s first carbon neutral theatre by 2020. Following our successful installation of solar panels in 2016, beginning to install LED lights is the next most effective way to reduce the environmental impact of our core business: making and presenting theatre.

LED lights will also allow designers and technicians to practise at the forefront of current technologies so they can build sustainable careers in the industry.

We realise you might be wondering, what’s so great about LED lights? We asked Roger Miller, Venue & Operations Manager at The Blue Room Theatre, to give us the lowdown.

People talk about how new LED lights save energy.  How much energy do they save?

LEDs save energy in several ways. When directly compared to the globes we use in conventional lights, LEDs use about a tenth of the power to produce the same amount of light.  For example, a 600w globe that we use in some lights has an efficiency of 23 lumens per watt, while the LEDs we plan to use will be reaching around 200 lumens per watt.

The level of energy saving is increased when a lighting designer wants to use deep or saturated colours. An incandescent lamp can only produce a broad spectrum of light so some of the spectrum has to be filtered out in order to change the colour (some of the deepest colours have less than 5% transmittance), and this means some energy goes to waste. Because LEDs use multiple sources for different colours, the areas of the spectrum that are not needed aren’t used and therefore don’t waste energy.

Are there any other benefits to using LED lights?

Some of the other savings include reducing the amount we spend on air conditioning because LEDs produce less heat. Lamp replacement costs will also be decreased because a traditional lamp has a life expectancy of 2000 hours, while the life expectancy of a LED is over 50,000 hours, so they need to be replaced much less often. We will also reduce the money we spend on equipment, as traditional lamps require a coloured gel to change colour whereas LEDs do not. To give you an idea of these costs, over a Summer Nights season we would expect to spend at least $300 on colour gels.

We will also reduce maintenance time because we don’t have to change lamps when they blow, and we will save time when rigging, as we don’t have to choose and cut/fit the gels when rigging. It will be possible to achieve lots of colour with less lights, as each LED can replace up to three conventional lights.

Are there any artistic implications?

When LEDs started to be introduced, some compromise had to be made because some of their functions were not as smooth as conventional lights. The filaments in conventional lights have some thermal inertia and modern dimmers have filtered outputs, which both make for a smooth dimming process. Early versions of LED technology had limited ability to make smooth level changes and have a consistent output. Modern versions have mostly overcome this, and have become so much more flexible that they are starting to shine a light on the limitations of traditional lighting technologies. An example of one of the limitations of traditional lighting is that colour is altered when the light is dimmed, whereas LEDs offer the option of dimming the light without altering the colour at all.

What about the tech interface?  Will it be different?  Will operators need different software, or will they have to use old software in different ways?

This is an interesting question. In the 1980s there was a shift in lighting control from analogue systems to digital, specifically to the multiplexed standard known as DMX. This standard  added flexibility to control systems that hadn’t existed before, so it is very much the case that contemporary DMX control systems enabled the development of LED technology. Our current lighting desks are designed to control conventional dimmed lighting, but are also capable of controlling multichannel lights such as LEDs. More sophisticated lighting desks add layers of control to separate functions and we would certainly look at that when it comes time to replace our current desks.

Can you use a combination of old and new lights?

Absolutely. Changing to LED lights involves a large upfront capital expense, so this upgrade will involve us upgrading the easiest and cheapest part of the lighting rig so that we get the most bang for our buck. These parts of the rig are what are most often used for deep or saturated colour, which is usually back and side lighting. Front lighting usually requires a more subtle and controlled approach that we can still do with conventional lights, but as the cost of LED fixtures comes down we will inevitably look to change more of the rig over to LEDs.

Are you going to dispose of all the old lights?  Do the globes/fixtures contain any toxic substances?  Can they be recycled?

At this point we are not disposing of any lights, we will just be using them less. Globes and fixtures don’t contain toxic substances but instead mostly consist of metals like steel and aluminium, glass, and plastic, all of which can be recycled.

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