Simply Green News and Entertainment

New Driver Standards for LED Tube Lights: The External Driver LED Tube vs. the Internal Driver LED Tube


GREENandSAVE Staff
Posted on Sunday 9th September 2012
Q3 2012 Update: Some LED Tube Manufacturers offer LED tubes with internal drivers while others offer LED tube lights with external drivers, creating modular lighting systems. The different choices for property owners and managers as well as LED tube distributors has created some confusion in the marketplace to date. Recent failure reports of internal driver LED tubes has apparently tipped the scale and confirmed what leading engineering firms predicted in 2011. External drivers offer modularity and reduce the heat damage on the Light Emitting Diodes, which elevates the external system approach to the new standard for “linear” LED tube lights.

The LED Tube Replacement Process:

The incumbent fluorescent tubes rely on ballasts, so each fixture already has a space and cover for those ballasts. The LED tube manufacturers of external driver LED tube light systems have typically designed the drivers to fit in the same space previously used for the old fluorescent T8 or T12 ballasts. An LED tube replacement involves having an electrician or facility management team member open the fixture and remove or by-pass the ballast for either an internal or an external driver LED tube. The external driver LED tube replacement installation is very straight forward. Someone that has replaced ballasts for fluorescent tubes can just as easily exchange the ballast for one or more external driver LED tube lights.

Sales claims on LED Tube Light replacements:

LED Manufacturers and reseller advocates of the LED tube internal driver make the claims that it is quicker and easier to install an internal driver tube than an LED tube with an external driver. However, the claim has statistically proven to be false since the installers of either system have to “climb a ladder” to by-pass the existing fluorescent ballast for either an internal or external LED tube light replacement. Given that the installer needs to open the fixture and remove the cover plate for either retrofit, they can make the full retrofit to exchange the ballast for the modular external LED tube driver. Advocates of internal driver tubes also claim that it is easier to just switch out one when it fails with another tube. Defenders of the external driver system have pointed out that this sales approach “accepts defeat” and is riddled with irony in that it reflects that the internal driver tubes have a higher likelihood of pre-mature failure. The burden on the owner is in the shipping and warranty claim in addition to the added labor of getting back on the ladder to do the job twice.

Overall, since the LED driver is more vulnerable to failure than the Light Emitting Diodes “chips” the downside of the internal LED driver is that when it fails, the whole LED tube has to be discarded. By contrast, the advocates of the external driver speak to its modular advantages, because the LED driver can be replaced without discarding the significantly more expense LED tube with its hundreds of diodes. An analogy in the automotive industry: Think of the LED driver as the starter on a car. An owner would hate to have to throw away a whole car, just because the starter failed either before or after the warranty expired.

Leading Engineering firms advocate External Drivers:

Advanced thermal management is a critical engineering requirement for high performance LED tube lighting. The external driver, by its very nature of having a separate housing and feed wire, is typically more expensive than an internal driver. The adage, “You get what you pay for” is often the case with performance in engineering, and the cost of labor to replace fluorescent tubes with LED tubes is high enough for owners to look carefully at value over time. Given the heat generated by the drivers for LED tubes, engineers understand the modular advantage of an external driver. The external LED driver is outside of the tube, so it keeps the heat further way from the chips than an internal driver, which sits directly inside the tube behind the chips. As an engineering firm example, Lockheed Martin provides the engineering support services and oversight for the Con Edison utility incentive program for all of Metro New York City with its boroughs. Lockheed Martin’s highly respected engineering team included external drivers as part of the criteria to earn the coveted Con Edison Rebates on LED tube replacements. Overall, the LED tube external driver has become the new standard for modular LED tube lights.

Market Watch - Impact of the new LED tube standards:

The majority of LED tube manufacturers are in China, and they typically export internal driver LED tube lights. An American Manufacturer of external driver LED tubes, Independence LED (www.independenceLED.com) has seen sales traction since the shift toward external driver technology. “We have been pleased to see the positive feedback on our American made external driver LED tube lights from the engineering community here as well as in Europe and other international markets where we get the feedback from our LED Distributors and reseller network. This coming Wednesday, September 12th, one of our recent retrofit accounts, Davis and Warshow (www.dwny.com) is receiving a significant rebate check from Con Edison at an event to celebrate the energy savings.” Charlie Szoradi – Chairman and CEO of Independence LED Lighting, LLC

To learn more about the Davis and Warshow retrofit project see this article: Retrofit with 2 Miles of LED tubes

LED Saving Solutions