Did you notice something different about the ball that dropped in Times Square in New York City this New Year’s Eve? It was a little brighter, a little more colorful, and a little more exciting. Say “thanks” to LEDs: this year, the Times Square New Year’s ball went green.
The ball is actually a 12-foot wide geodesic sphere weighing about 11,875 pounds. It was covered in 32,256 LEDs broken out into 672 separate modules that were attached to the ball’s aluminum frame. Each module is made of 48 Philips (News - Alert) Luxeon Rebel LED lights: 12 red LEDs, 12 blue LEDs, 12 green LEDs, and 12 white LEDs for a total of 8,064 lights of each color.
These LEDs are particularly efficient, according to their maker: Philips reported that the lights use 11 watts of power while putting out 830 lumens.
“The Times Square ball is an icon for the world to see, but more important, it is a real-world example of how innovation can enhance our lives while creating a more sustainable community,” said Ed Crawford, CEO of Lamps, Lighting Electronics and Controls for Philips.
The Times Square ball isn’t the first New York City icon to go LED (also thanks to Philips). Earlier this year, the city’s grande dame of architecture, the 1,454-foot Empire State Building, got a makeover in LED as well. New Yorkers got to see what her new illuminations could do (other than save electricity) in late November, when the city unveiled the building’s new capabilities in a grand sound and light demonstration. The building’s new LED set-up can be programmed to light in synchronization with music, turning the old landmark into one of the world’s tallest art display.
The Empire State building’s Philips Color Kinetic lighting program allows “customized light capabilities from a palette of over 16 million colors in limitless combinations along with effects previously not possible such as ripples, cross-fades, sparkles, chasers, sweeps, strobes and bursts.
In addition to greater control and management of the lighting, the new computerized system will deliver "superior light and vibrancy levels in real-time, unlike the previous floodlights,” according to the press release that accompanied the system’s debut.
The Empire State building hasn't just received an LED makeover on the outside: it also went LED on the inside as part of the building’s $550 million energy efficiency retrofit. The 2.85 million-square-foot skyscraper recently gained LEED-Gold Certification for Existing Buildings rating, which means it’s now far more energy efficient than many of its much more youthful neighbors. (The building’s 42nd floor was rebuilt to the most rigorous standard, LEED Platinum for Commercial Interiors.) The retrofit refurbished the building’s 6,500 windows, modernized its 68 elevators and installed energy management systems on each floor. All in all, the building’s energy consumption has been reduced by 38 percent.
Another, even more emotive New York icon is soon to receive LED treatment. In mid-December, a barge carrying nine pieces of steel that will eventually comprise the spire of One World Trade Center (the “Freedom Tower” to replace the former World Trade Center buildings destroyed on September 11, 2001) arrived in New York harbor. Once the pieces of the 408-foot spire are installed in their final location atop the tower, the building will reach a symbolic 1,776 feet into the New York skyline, making it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
Such an important landmark requires a special lighting system, and the builders of One World Trade Center have turned to LEDs. (The entire building itself is built to LEED Gold standards, which will make it one of the most energy efficient buildings in New York City.) Omaha's Ballantyne Strong is designing and manufacturing the high-powered LED light system that will illuminate both the various levels of the spire as well as the rotating beacon at the very top of the spire. In addition, LED lights behind the panels will illuminate the base of the building at night. The result will be colorful, beautiful and very energy efficient.
LED lights will also be used heavily internally for more practical purposes, such as area and office lighting. Since illumination chews through about 35 percent of a skyscraper’s energy, reducing energy use by 90 percent makes a significant impact on a building’s carbon footprint (not to mention utility costs.)
After completion next year, One World Trade Center will be the most environmentally sustainable building of its size in the world. (Seven World Trade Center, which was completed and opened in 2006, was hailed as New York City’s first “green” office tower, but it will become simply a small sidekick to its giant neighbor next year.) In addition to an LED lighting system, it will feature cutting-edge green building elements such as waste steam recycling, rainwater collection, a central chiller plant that will use water from the Hudson River, green roof landscaping, recycled building materials, “green concrete” and 12 fuel cell stacks for power.
Not to be left behind, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has also gone LED thanks to Rockefeller Plaza’s owner, General Electric. The plaza’s famous tree will once again be lit exclusively with LEDs (2007 marked the first year). 2012’s 80-foot Norway spruce tree featured more than 30,000 LEDs in a variety of colors and strung on five miles of wire. The tree was topped by a 550-pound crystal Swarovski star lit with 700 multicolored LED lights.
By switching to eco-friendly lighting, Rockefeller Center decreased the tree’s daily energy consumption from 3,510 kWh per day to 1,297 kWh per day. Not only has the energy use been decreased, it now comes from a renewable source: GE installed 363 roof-mounted solar panels atop 45 Rockefeller Plaza, and these panels generate electricity to power the tree. (The panels are used to generate electricity during the rest of the year, as well, creating a 70-kilowatt DC generation station that is tied to the Rockefeller Center grid through New York-area utility ConEdison.)
New York, of course, isn’t the only city covering icons with LEDs. For the sixth year in a row, the 35-foot National Christmas Tree in Washington was illuminated with approximately 50,000 sets of programmed, color-changing LED lights and starburst ornaments courtesy of GE, which has been lighting the national Christmas tree for 50 years. Despite this impressive light show, the tree uses only 2,000 watts. The LED tree lights are 80 percent more energy-efficient than the traditional incandescent bulbs used prior to 2007, saving 100kWh per day and about $340 in total during the holiday season.
When LED lights first hit the consumer market in a large way about 10 years ago, they were prohibitively expensive and the technology was somewhat limited. Since then, however, prices have come down, technology has advanced and market penetration is way up. LED lighting uses far less electricity than standard light bulbs – about three to 13 watts for a light output equivalent to a 75 to 100 watt incandescent bulb representing an 80 to 90 percent savings in electricity.
As parts of New York City damaged by devastating Hurricane Sandy in October begin to rebuild, it’s likely that many of the homes, businesses and municipal infrastructure elements to be reconstructed will receive LED treatment, particularly thanks to both state programs and the federal Residential Energy Conservation Subsidy Exclusion that will allow citizens and businesses owners to take advantage of rewards for “going green" with lighting and other building elements.
LED manufacturers are truly in the catbird seat right now. Not only are their products energy-efficient and affordable, their use on a commercial scale is often subsidized by local, state and federal energy credits. The LED industry generated $2.66 billion in 2012, which was a 23.5 percent increase over the previous year, according to LEDinside, and growth is expected to continue. It’s also good news for the U.S., which has achieved dominance in LED lighting system manufacturing that traditional rivals such as China have been unable to match. This makes it quite literally a “bright spot” in the U.S. economy.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman