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One Sailor Beefs About Lights, Navy Responds with New High Efficiency LED Technology

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Congressman Ron Paul seems to have a weird thing for old light bulbs, but you’ll find no such sentimentality in the U.S. Navy. Following up on a Sailor’s complaint about the noisy hum from out-of-date berth lights in submarines, the Office of Naval Research has been working on a new high tech LED lighting system that is estimated to use about 50 percent less power to produce the same amount of light.

The U.S. Navy and Innovation

Actually, it’s a bit unfair to characterize the Navy’s lighting issue as a complaint. It came up through the Navy’s new TechSolutions program, which encourages Sailors and Marines to identify areas in which new technology could improve effectiveness, and get those ideas in front of a rapid-response tech squad. The goal is to develop a solution within twelve months. In this case, what started out as a relatively modest berth light upgrade has turned into a full blown demo project that could find its way across the whole fleet.

Fluorescent Lights and the U.S. Navy

If there were no other alternatives available, the noise problem could be solved simply by upgrading to new compact fluorescent fixtures. They have a lot going  for them, compared to those humming, flickering, irritating old fixtures some of us endured in high school. The new ones are quiet, they don’t flicker, they last a long time, and they use less energy. However, the TechSolutions team wasn’t satisfied with a simple solution. Instead, they looked into new LED technology.

LEDs and the U.S. Navy

LEDs (light emitting diodes) save more energy and they are more compact, both of which are key issues for ships with long deployments. LEDs shrink the logistics of loading and storing spare bulbs, and of saving spent bulbs until they can be disposed on land. The challenge was to design LED fixtures that could pass the Navy’s strict standards for durability and electromagnetic interference. Where the old 10-watt berth lights were described as “a legendary maintenance headache,” the new LEDs are expected to last about ten years maintenance-free, and put out the same amount of light with only five watts compared to ten for the old fixtures.

From the Navy to Your Front Door

TechSolutions is working on the new system with a company called Energy Focus, which already has a track record in developing new LED systems for the Navy. LEDs are also starting to make their way into airports and other large facilities as energy-saving retrofits. Though they are still a bit pricey the economics are starting to work out for household LEDs, too. As for all those leaders in Congress who are outraged over the loss of their old light bulbs, I think I’d rather take the Navy’s lead on this one – or is showing a little support for our troops just a little too much to ask?

Image: Fluorescent light fixture by bredgur on

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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 Spoutible.


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