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Environmental Issues

Illuminating LED

July 01, 2011
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As the economy surges and wanes, it often feels as if the carwash market is in a constant state of flux. Yet even in the choppy waves of this economy, smart carwash owners and operators are moving “full speed ahead” and searching for ways to streamline costs and lower overhead by maximizing efficiencies.

From recycling to water conservation to LED lighting, there are a number of ways to drive carwash efficiency that also have the added bonus of being green. Using these emerging technologies to create an uber-efficient carwash makes great business sense, and owners can rest even easier knowing that these technologies make good global sense as well.

Let there be LED

Scott Ready, president of LSI Industries Inc., said that LED lighting is “really the most fundamental change in the whole lighting industry that we’ve seen, you know, frankly, since Edison invented the light bulb.” For 100 years, every bulb available to consumers was an evolution of the Edison-based product. White LED technology, which has been on the lighting market for about three years, is a drastically different product than anything that existed prior.

LED is unique in that it is not only a green product, but it is an environmentally-friendly light source that actually outperforms traditional technology. One way LED is an improvement over traditional lighting is that it is more efficient. With LED, more illumination will be created for every watt of energy that is put into the system. Ready said that traditional bulbs required a tremendous amount of energy just to produce the same level of lighting that LED offers.

Traditional bulbs were inefficient because they often wasted energy generating heat. “When you’re looking at the energy wavelength that comes off after you put a certain number of watts of energy into (an older bulb), you’ve got a small percentage of light and a larger percentage of heat,” Ready explained. This is not the case with LED. “We don’t generate the same percentage of non-usable wavelength energy that we do in all those other light sources.”

Upkeep is another area where LED lighting outperforms traditional lighting — especially in the carwash environment. Ready said LED light sources reduce regular maintenance because they last five to 10 times longer than traditional lighting. Also, LED lighting can be purchased as sealed units, so moisture is less of a concern. “We’re building sealed optics units so that the LEDs themselves, the circuit board that houses that LED, all of that stays within a sealed, protected environment behind a tempered glass lense,” Ready explained.

Finally, LED doesn’t contain all the harmful, environmentally-unfriendly components that traditional bulbs house. Ready said LED “puts a light source into the light fixture that is environmentally friendly, doesn’t have lead, doesn’t have mercury, doesn’t have things that are difficult to return to the environment safely.”

Brass tacks

While it is great that LED is a high-performance green technology, how can this new lighting source help the bottom line of a carwash? Justin Alford, owner of a new Benny’s Car Wash location in Gonzales, LA, recently installed all LED lighting in the wash. He said LED will be an asset to the carwash in three ways:

  • Upkeep;
  • Light quality; and
  • Efficiency.

In his previous locations, Alford experienced rust and water problems using traditional fixtures, with their screws and hinges often rusting. In addition, he said the carwashes constantly had to replace fixture ballasts and light bulbs. With the new LED lighting, Alford said he doesn’t plan on any light system upkeep for at least five years. Upkeep may not be needed for longer than five years due to the fact that the lighting installed in the new wash is first generation technology.

Alford was also impressed with the light quality offered by LED, and he said the light from LED fixtures was “not twinkly” like traditional lighting. LED was used to light the carwash tunnel, detail and vacuum area canopies and the parking lot at the wash. “Our places look great and feel safe for our customers at night,” he said.

Finally, the efficiency of LED also appealed to Alford. He said he is looking to trim electrical cost per car down as much as possible. Today, operating a carwash is all about figuring out operating efficiencies, and he is trying to push all of the electrical savings that LED offers down to the bottom line.

Typical energy savings could be anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent “depending on how many fixtures you’re replacing and what kind of fixtures you had there before,” Ready said. “The products that we’re building today, we’re designing for and trying to generate for that customer a three year or less payback.” This three year return on investment would be funded by savings in energy and maintenance.

Tunnel challenge

One environment that offers the greatest challenges for a light fixture is the inside of a carwash. Ready said this is typically because of the corrosive materials that are used in a carwash tunnel. “You do have to be very careful…where you position the light fixtures and how to really protect them,” he said. “It’s a tough environment, and it’s one that’s not without risk for any kind of light fixture, whether it’s LED or anything else.”

Ready said LSI cautions carwash owners to be as careful as possible about the location of the lights in a tunnel environment because they should not be in the stream of corrosive materials. These corrosive materials attack the paint, metal and seals used in a light fixture. Here, the sealed design of LED gives them an advantage. “The way we seal the LSI product, we don’t use rubber gaskets anymore, we don’t use the kind of things that might deteriorate over time the way we did in the old fixtures,” Ready explained. With older fixtures, the product also had to allow users to open the product up and service it on a regular basis. This is not a concern with the sealed LED fixtures.

Other improvements

Another area where LED is an improvement over traditional lighting is in control, both from an output and directional standpoint. The performance of LED allows owners to manage the performance of the lighting using software. Much like with a laptop computer, software can be built to control a function, and this type of control can be achieved with LED lighting.

“You’re getting away from the mechanical switching that we typically use with the old light sources, moving into an electronic control system,” Ready said. “So with that control system, you have the ability to make that light do what you want it to do.”

One example is LED products that feature integral photo cells. As soon as the light fixture senses that daylight has arrived, it can shut itself off. Ready said this is not that much different than what was available before, but now it’s all done as part of a light fixture. Previously, a mechanical device was attached to a fixture that sensed the sun and transmitted an electrical current to a switch in the light fixture that would shut it off.

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