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LED lighting earns its keep

Published:  07 February, 2014

The oil & gas industry demands the latest technology, as long as it’s already been proven for fifteen years. Current LED technology is the result of constant evolution over many years and now comes with ATEX/IECEx certification, so it should have all the pedigree it needs for upstream applications. David Jones* explains that it is certainly able to earn its keep much more impressively than other lighting technologies.

Now being readily accepted in industrial, commercial, transportation and public infrastructure applications, LED lighting technology is beginning to change the way that oil & gas and other hazardous industries are illuminating their operations.

Unlike its demands of other technologies like IT, the lighting needs of the oil & gas industry have not changed much over the years. In essence they are looking for high quality, long lasting, reliable and safe lighting that will meet or exceed their minimum lighting requirements. What has changed is the ability of LED technology to exceed each of these requirements - its constant improvement in performance, maintenance savings, energy efficiency and longevity, which together translate to overall total cost of ownership savings. These are several factors driving the conversion to LED technology – but with an estimated five million lights needing replaced in oil & gas applications worldwide, there’s still a long way to go.

Long life and reduced maintenance

The never-ending challenge for illumination in onshore and offshore production applications is the constant shock and vibration which causes lamps to fail prematurely. In most cases the maintenance associated with traditional technologies like fluorescent lighting is the driving force to convert to LED lighting, especially in hazardous areas where permitting, scaffolding, production down-time and supervision have significant costs.

Due to the high vibration or extreme ambient temperature common to these applications, most traditional lighting technologies have a high failure rate and will not reach their rated lifetime. Many users that have installed HID or fluorescent lighting will claim that the lamps may only last a few months due to these extreme settings, whereas ATEX/IECEx certified LED lighting is guaranteed for five years, L70-rated for 100,000 hours of performance and suffers no end-of-life failure. The performance of LED lighting actually improves at low temperatures that would adversely affect HID or fluorescents – that and their long lifespan of sealed LED fittings can mean a huge reduction in the maintenance burden.

Certainly energy and maintenance cost savings are associated with all types of industrial environments, not just oil and gas, but the actual maintenance savings in upstream environments can be drastically higher. Many rig and refinery type facilities claim costs of more than £1,000 to change a light out when considering all of the specialised personnel, rope access, permitting and everything else that can be involved.

Better resource deployment, safer workplace

When a 400 Watt HID light fitting can typically be replaced with an LED fitting around 175 Watts the energy savings are massive for large oil & gas applications that convert to LED lighting. In addition, the energy savings also directly correlate with CO2 emission reductions as well as providing the flexibility to add more lighting on a circuit to improve light levels. This is particularly true for well drillers as endorsed by Mike Dillard, manager of Northeast Operations at Horizontal Well Drillers:

“Switching out from fluorescents to the Dialight LEDs on the derrick saved us about 60 % in our energy costs immediately and freed up capacity to power other activities more critical to the operation.”

For some users, the improved safety aspects of LED lighting are the most important characteristics. Compared to the orange-glow of traditional high pressure sodium light fittings typically installed in many hazardous environments, LED lighting provides a much needed improvement in quality of light. It enables workers to read labels and identify wiring colours at night without requiring a flashlight and the T-rating improvement means that LED customers now have the ability to install high quality ‘white’ light to mimic fluorescent or metal halide colour quality.

With LED fittings’ instant-on functionality, there is no safety risk from a re-strike delay after a brown-out. They also contain no hazardous substances and therefore do not involve wearing of hazmat gear in the event of disposal.

Who’s moving to LED?

Where government regulations and environmental initiatives may have an impact is on the ban of certain incandescent and fluorescent lamp types. There are areas of the world looking to mandate a ban of any fitting containing mercury, which would leave mercury-free LED technology as the only option. To date the U.S. oil & gas industry has seemed to install LED lighting at a more rapid pace than other areas around the world, although Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia are quickly catching up.

In general, the industrial/hazardous market is still less than one percent converted to LED technology. This may be in part due to the fact that there are a lot of lights to change in current applications. Take one refinery, for example, where the facility has over 20,000 HID lights installed and on an MRO basis, it will take years to convert. In the new build market, those projects may take years to materialize and many have already specified traditional lighting. This means LED lighting manufacturers have to work extra hard at this stage to convert those specs to LEDs.

In the rig world, there are more linear-style LED lights installed than area, task or floodlighting types, though there are still requirements for those. It really depends on the mounting height of the equipment used in the application, the target area of illumination and the amount of light required to illuminate a space. While there are also some specialized applications that may require solar technology, the majority of the installations to date in the upstream world are not paired with solar.

Right now the upstream and downstream markets alike have seemed to latch on to the technology quickly with the majority of the installations being at the refining and rig applications, both on and offshore. Since many capital projects are specified years in advance, many of the installations to date have been completed on an MRO basis, although that is bound to change. The undoubted benefits of LED technology will soon be better understood and the drawing boards of new projects will start to populate with low maintenance, high performance LED lighting that will begin to earn its keep from the moment it’s installed.

*David Jones is commercial VP EMEA, Dialight Europe Ltd

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