How Thermal Output is Measured in LED Lighting

How Thermal Output is Measured in LED Lighting

LED has been hailed as the best no heat option on the market. It is a popular choice for many reasons such as the higher lumen output to lower energy rates consumed, the overall quality of the illumination in appearance, and the impressive longevity of the lamps. While LED is hailed as a no heat solution, many people are still unclear on what that really means in a real-world sense. Do LEDs produce heat? Let's take a look at how thermal output is measured in LED lighting and a few ways to manage it effectively.

Do LEDs have a thermal output?

The answer to this question isn't a simple yes or no. For starters, when most people think of a thermal output, they are referring to the temperature of the lamp to the touch. It is true that LEDs are one of the few lamps you can touch with your hand even after hours of operation because there is no heat produced in terms of the actual lamps. With less efficient lamps, the majority of the energy is lost to heat production rather than the actual illumination whereas LED converts up to 98% of the energy consumed to illumination so there is practically no heat loss factor.

While LED lamps are cool to the touch, this doesn't mean they are entirely heatless. Since LED operates on a semiconductor chip, there is some heat loss inside the fixture. While this is estimated to be a considerable amount of heat loss compared to the energy used for illumination, it isn't always palpable heat so most people do not feel it and the lamps stay cool to the touch. This doesn't mean there isn't at least some heat in the fixture. In fact, an LED fixture may need thermal output management practices to ensure the fixture performs the right way for the expected life span of the fixture.

When looking at how thermal output is measured in LED lighting, it is better to look at it in terms of infrared radiation. Most LEDs do not produce infrared radiation. The only options with infrared radiation are specialty LEDs such as those used in greenhouse farming where this is a necessary component of a lighting solution. Even if a fixture doesn't have traditional infrared radiation production, there will still be heat due to the semiconductor chip.

Managing Thermal Output

When it comes to managing the thermal output of LEDs, there are three main options to combat the heat. If the heat isn't removed from the LED fixture, you run the risk of shortening the lifespan of both the lamps and the fixture, as well as reducing efficiency for higher utility costs than expected with LED fixtures. Here are the three ways to go about managing thermal output in LEDs:

  1. Create a heat path
    The first method is to create a heat path over the casing of the light where the junctions and contact pins are attached to the casing. While this is the easiest option, it is not the most effective course of action for long term cooling.

  2. Cool the conductor paths
    This method is where you cool the conductor paths on printed circuit boards to help eliminate the heat and move it away from the fixture. This is a good option that offers more long term viability, especially for fixtures that will receive a lot of use. This is done using a heat sink which is an add on item or may be part of the initial designs of the fixture. The heat sink pulls the heat away from the circuit board so the heat dissipates into the air rather than staying in the fixture itself.

  3. Cool the metal cladding
    The final option is to use the LED printed circuit board to cool the metal cladding on the LED fixture. This option also uses a heat sink component to pull heat out of the circuit board and into the air.

Now that you know a little bit more about the elements of heat from LEDs, as well as the best ways to manage that heat output, you can safeguard your LED fixtures to ensure a long-lasting life. LED is a great investment in any location because of the unique way LED cuts down on utility costs by way of maximum efficiency. With these tips on managing thermal output, make sure your fixtures last and perform the way they were intended for years to come.