Cheap LED Panels: Do They Really Save Money?

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Over recent years the LED lighting market has seen a flood of ever cheaper products. Manufacturers have achieved this through economies of scale, by reducing specification and sometimes cutting corners on quality. But are these cheaper products really cheaper?

LED Panel Light

LED Panel Lights with a high lumen output per watt offer long term savings.

Consider two panel lights both producing 3600lm. One has LEDs using yesterday’s technology giving a luminaire light output of 80 lm/W and consuming 45W, the other with LEDs giving a luminaire light output of 120 lm/W at 30W. It is possible that the price of the 80 lm/W panel might be ten or even twenty per cent cheaper from the wholesaler, but to give the same light output it will be using 50% more power. Depending on run times, this increased electricity consumption will sooner or later more than outweigh the product cost savings, so looking at the whole cost of ownership, it isn’t really cheaper!

Furthermore, many cheaper LED slim panels are built with plastic frames rather than aluminium to keep the costs down. The LEDs are mounted in the frame and shine across the panel where the light is diffused downwards into the room. An aluminium frame not only provides strength but also provides excellent heat sinking for the LEDs, which ensures they do not overheat and therefore achieve their long life expectancy. Cheaper plastic frames do not provide the same level of heat sinking for the LEDs, so are more prone to higher heat and failure resulting in a reduced life expectancy. Increased maintenance and even replacement costs can also more than outstrip any cost savings on the “cheaper” panels.

The material used to diffuse the light into the room in LED panels needs to remain translucent and colourless over many years. A quality panel will use PC (polycarbonate), but manufacturing costs can be cut by using a cheaper PS (plastic) material diffuser. However, plastic will tend to discolour, turning yellow over time resulting in a premature reduced light output thus increased maintenance and replacement costs.

The LED panels are powered by a driver. Here the quality of the electronic components used can have a significant effect on the cost, but also the life expectancy. When brand new, a panel produced by reducing build quality in the ways described will appear perfectly acceptable, the LEDs will still be working, the plastic diffuser won’t have discoloured and the driver should be functioning correctly. However, over time, LEDs may start to fail due to the poor heat sinking, the diffuser may turn yellow causing the light output to become yellow, and the life expectancy on the lower quality driver is reduced whilst consuming up to 50% more power. All these factors result in higher electricity running costs, higher maintenance costs and shorter product life expectancy which goes against the whole reason for using LED lighting in the first place. If the cheaper panel results in increased electricity consumption and increased maintenance or replacement costs, is it really the cheaper option?