Lifetime Cost Case Analysis: Energy-Efficient, LED-based Commercial Signage

Lightmark_led_1 If you haven’t noticed, commercial enterprises use lots of neon in their signage.  I drove around the neighborhood and found a few gas stations and a Sonic Drive-in with neons wrapped around the structure.  You can tell because the neon lighting breaks at the nodes.  Well, LEDs, while still a nascent lighting technology, have the potential to become the future signage lighting behemoth, if building owners can catch on to their benefits.  To get to that point, however, the stars will need to align so that the key decision maker does a costing analysis incorporating the operational benefits, in addition to the sticker price (initial costs). 

LED Technology Benefits:
LEDs have energy savings of up to 80% over neon lighting.  In addition to the energy savings, LEDs differ in size and electronic control.  Point blank, with LEDs, there’s reduced maintenance, reduced energy consumption, better light quality output, safer + lower voltage requirements, and low temperature performance.  They last longer, too.  There’s no gap in the illumination like there is with the neon.  And with a technology like LightMark, the units are variable so you use just the right amount for the project. 

Lightmark_mcdonalds Lightscript_tsutayabig Arco_lightmark

Costing + Payback:
LEDs pay for themselves in about 2-3 years.  When a decision maker is comparing neons (or some other light source) and LEDs, it’s important to make sure that the comparison is apples-to-apples.  Use a "lifetime cost of ownership" analysis:  (1) initial purchase price + (2) initial installation costs + (3) lifetime energy usage + (4) lifetime maintenance charges.  I’d suggest two more external considerations, which aren’t factored into the lifetime cost of ownership.  First, consider the extent of liability (i.e., if neons tend to flame up at gas stations more than LEDs, there’s a tangible savings benefit [note - this may or may not be true]).  Second, consider the tax implications (i.e., state, local, or federal government offers tax credits/deductions for LED use, etc.). 

A few companies that have been incorporating this new technology include Arco, A&W, BP, McDonald’s, KalTire (Canada), Tsutaya (Japan), and Petro-Canada.  What it takes, however, is a paradigm shift from initial cost, or sticker price, to lifetime cost, and if owners aren’t making the change, the contractor should speak up and create value for the customer. 

Extra Links:
BP Case Study [TIR Systems]
LightMark + LightScript 
Energy-Efficient, LED-Based Signage [Grant Harlow - Buildings.com]


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