LED’s Vs. HPL’s

A closer look at cost over fixture lifetime

While consulting with clients, I often find myself in situations where I feel the need to explain what the actual cost factors are regarding LED’s. For the purposes of this article I am targeting those individuals who are currently contemplating the purchase of new equipment for a specific venue, although some of the factors I will discuss would also apply to those who are considering purchase for rental applications as well.

We have all heard that LED’s are supposed to be the next new frontier in lighting and you certainly would have a hard time arguing that point, especially given the flood of new lighting fixtures in the entertainment and architectural markets lately. The truth is, LED’s are here to stay and the technology behind them is improving so rapidly that it leaves little room for doubt about the matter.

The first issue that usually comes up is the initial cost involved. If you were to purchase a new LED wash light for a theatre instead of a conventional halogen light, the cost comparison would certainly seem unfavorable, at first. Your new LED light might cost (and I’m using very round numbers here), $1700.00 which is considerably more than a brand new halogen light would cost to purchase at an average of $200.00. But you need to consider some other factors as well.


The average life span of a typical HPL lamp is 300 hours and the average cost of a new lamp is about $18. Think about how many times you will likely need to change that lamp over the lifetime of that fixture. Conversely, the average rated life span of an LED source is 50,000+ hours. (I say 50,000+ because that is the point in time when most LED’s become 50-70% as bright as the once were, which is commonly accepted as a usable lifespan, not when they actually stop working.) In order for you to run a conventional light for that same 50,000 hours it would cost you $2,988.00 in lamps. The cost for the LED would be $0.00 since there is no lamp to change. Now, if you take into account the cost of paying someone to change that lamp every time it goes out (that’s 166 work calls for the HPL and 0 for the LED) the cost skyrockets. Lastly, consider that the LED also has no down time spent waiting for the lamp to be changed.

Power Consumption

There is a major difference in the amount of power consumed by our two different light sources. The HPL is most commonly a 575 watt source, while the LED engine has a maximum average consumption of 100 watts. It is also worth noting that most of the time the LED will NOT be consuming full power, since full power is only required when the fixture is generating pure white light and less power is needed to generate colored light. However, for the purposes of comparison I will assume that full power is being used. Using our examples from above, assuming the same 50,000 hour lifespan and the US national average kilowatt hour cost of $0.0935 for commercial power, the HPL lamp would cost you $2,673.75 to operate and the LED would cost $465.00. Add to this the often overlooked cost of cooling a building, which can be substantially affected by the heat generated from using conventional lighting equipment. LED’s produce far less heat, even at full power than conventional fixtures do.

The fixture with the HPL lamp only offers you a single color per fixture (excepting those of you who use color scrollers, of course) which means not only do you have to replace that color frequently (and pay someone to actually do it) but you often need several lights to get all of the different colors you require. On the other hand, a single LED fixture is capable of reproducing a huge portion of the color spectrum inherently, without the need for lighting gels. This feature means that a single LED light can replace many conventional lights, thus adding to its overall cost saving benefits. The detail to remember in this area (which I will discuss in detail in my next article) is that your LED lights will require that you have a lighting controller and system infrastructure that is capable of utilizing the technology. For some this can increase the overall investment required. That being said, any upgrades made would certainly be wise investments in the long-run.
Not including the cost savings associated with the versatility of an LED or the cost of changing lamps (both will vary for each application), that brings the grand total for the HPL to $5661.75 over its life while the LED’s lifetime total is $2,465.00. So by paying the extra cost up front, you actually saved $3,196.75 per fixture. That LED is not so expensive now, is it?

©2012 Jay Woods. This article is subject to copyright by the author and may not be used, in whole or in part in any format without permission. Facts stated in this article are based on research from various sources and are intended as a guideline, not a rule. Consult with a trained professional who can advise you on your specific needs.