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DARPA HEDLight Program Saves Up to 87% with New Lights for U.S. Navy

U.S. Navey to junk old light bulbs for high-efficiency HEDLight systems.[social_buttons]

After a year-long demonstration project, the U.S. Navy is poised add its own contribution to reducing the military’s carbon bootprint – or carbon wake, as the case may be.  The Navy stands to gain up to 87% in savings for shipboard lighting, by switching from conventional light bulbs to high efficiency LED and HID systems developed through DARPA under the HEDLight (High Efficiency Distributed Lighting) program.  One recent retrofit has been accomplished by Ohio-based Energy Focus, Inc. Saving energy is just part of the picture: the quantum leap to HEDLight is also expected to yield significant gains in the Navy’s strategic efficiency.

DARPA’s HEDLight and U.S. Navy Supply Logistics

There’s a hidden benefit to high efficiency lighting.  Along with shaving some points off your electricity bill, they cut down on the irritating household chore of light bulb replacement.  When your house is a U.S. Navy ship at sea, replacing a light bulb is more than irritating.  Writer Jennifer Kho reports that during a typical aircraft carrier deployment, every one of up to 18,000 bulbs will blow out and have to be replaced.  The logistics of storing, replacing, and disposing thousands of light bulbs are complicated enough, and many of the fixtures are in locations that are difficult or even dangerous to reach – especially while contending with storms, naval maneuvers and exercises, and the possibility of an engagement.

HEDLight and Safety

DARPA’s stated goal for HEDlight is to increase survivability, deployability, and maintainability through a fundamental change in lighting design.  Instead of conventional lighting, which originates at the fixture, the light in a HEDLight system comes from a central source.  HEDLight uses optical fibers and acrylic rods to distribute the light to each point of use, using metal halide high intensity discharge (HID) and light emitting diode (LED) technology.  Aside from the logistical improvements and energy savings, HEDLight also improves safety on board the shop, reducing risks related to electric hazards, glass, and hazardous materials.

Energy Focus, Inc.

The Energy Focus installation involves replacing all of the high-bay lighting in a hangar deck on an Arleigh Burke class destroyer, using HEDLight fixtures and technology developed under DARPA.  Based on the demonstration project, the company estimates that LED globe fixtures are an impressive 87% more efficient than the conventional fixtures they replace.  Other HEDLight improvements yield more modest gains in efficiency but are still worthwhile considering the logistical and safety improvements.

HEDLight for Landlubbers

At first glance, Energy Focus might seem an unlikely match for a DARPA program.  Through its architectural lighting division Fiberstars, the company is best known for its startlingly modern commercial, pool, and spa installations, such as the New York-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  But when you consider the long-neglected design challenges of naval lighting, creativitiy and innovation are the way to go.  The lessons learned from designing HEDLight systems for the Navy’s massive ships have enormous potential for a nation packed with buildings that are still lit according to principles that were popular in gaslight days.  Cities from New York to Los Angeles, and Anchorage, are already replacing outdoor lighting with LED’s, so indoor lighting along HEDLight principles can’t be too far behind.  The final nail in the conventional light bulb coffin?  GE recently announced that it’s dropping plans to revitalize its incandescent light bulb technology, and is going full speed ahead on LEDs.

Image: ellie at

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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