The specification issue and the variability of new LED technologies has become so widespread that a number of third-party sources have stepped in to help potential buyers better compare and evaluate the options, most notably the U.S. Department of Energy. Distributors and reps operating in this market need a complete grasp of their manufacturers’ listings and ratings.

Image of new LED streetlights in Tarentum Borough, Pa.The DOE’s Municipal Solid-State Street Lighting Consortium (MSSLC) has set out to help cities avoid major disappointments. “SSL streetlights are still a relatively new development and have no long-term operating history. Therefore, substantial risk exists for making large-scale mistakes with products that are not up to the mark in terms of performance, or expected durability/lifetime in a real-world environment,” says the MSSLC’s website

MSSLC includes utilities and hundreds of municipalities that share information to help each other learn from new installations. It also publishes model specifications for roadway lighting. DOE’s Lighting Facts and CALiPER programs also help by evaluating, verifying and standardizing manufacturer claims about LED lighting, including roadway luminaires.

Another group, the DesignLights Consortium (DLC), maintains a list of qualified products that have been tested and evaluated. DLC’s Qualified Products List (QPL) has over 21,000 luminaires (all types, not just roadway and area lighting) for which representative fixtures from each product family have been independently tested. The QLP has become the standard reference for government and utility energy-efficiency programs, so for manufacturers, getting products certified and listed can be a make-or-break issue.

The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) develops the standards to which the luminaires are tested. Its LM-79 and LM-80 (essentially testing performance and useful life, respectively) are critical factors used by buyers to evaluate and compare products.

The shift thus far has come in cities that either have their own electric utilities or work with a small, local, friendly power company that can adapt their rate structure. Large, investor-owned utilities are another matter. Their rate structures, subject to a massive regulatory approval process, usually don’t provide incentives for them to upgrade to LED technology. But it’s just a matter of time before they get on board, and when they do, watch out.

“The linchpin is when utilities ultimately figure out how this is going to play out for them and they develop rate bundles that allow for the new technology,” says Posey of Acuity. “It’s already enormous with regard to the volume. It used to be what you were selling on an annual basis was pretty much replacements, some knockdowns. What we’re seeing now is complete relight of existing space, a complete change-out. That will quadruple when the utilities jump in.”

And don’t think you can wait for this market. That surge will happen quickly, and when it tapers off, the market will be full of products that not only don’t need to be replaced, but don’t even need to be touched for 15 years. After that surge, says Posey, “If the rated lives turn out to be what they say, replacement sales will be dramatically less than they are now.”