London’s National Gallery has recently been fitted with LED based lighting in the picture galleries. This iconic building had to be very careful when deciding on the particular LED units that they were going to install, taking into account a number of factors to ensure the safety of the paintings, including the quality of the light, energy efficiency, the reliability of the units themselves, and guarantees of continuing supply, maintenance and support.
The Gallery’s Scientific Department tested several units and considered the results of assessments carried out by the National Portrait Gallery. The trials showed that each of the 90 watt tungsten spotlights can be replaced with 14 watt LED spotlights, which results in a considerable energy saving.
Superior Aesthetic Qualities of LED Lighting
The gallery were well aware of the energy saving advantages of LED lighting, but the tests carried out also produced encouraging results with regard to the aesthetic qualities of LED lights. The Directors, curators and conservators were all in agreement that the effect of the LED lighting was much better than that of the existing tungsten lighting system.
According to the National Gallery’s website, improvements were noticed in three principle aspects, each of which relates to the interaction of the LED units with natural light:
Soft, Diffused Light
When used with a spot lens, the long-throw distance produces a soft, diffuse light that does not over-emphasise the surface of paintings.
Coolness of LEDs Similar to Filtered Natural Light
The relative ‘coolness’ of the light corresponds more closely with filtered natural light. Curators have remarked that the light produces a notable increase in the sense of space in many paintings and that some darker features are more legible at a given lux level. Another positive factor for the curators is that the light does not cause gilded frames to be over-prominent.
Superior Controls for LED Lighting
Perhaps the most significant advantage of LED lighting concerns control. LEDs can be dimmed without any noticeable drop in the quality of light, so they can be used to gradually augment natural light as required. By contrast, tungsten lighting becomes increasingly warmer when dimmed, so within the earlier lighting system they were designed to simply switch on and off according to need, which proved startling to visitors.
Annual Energy Saving Figures
The lamp life of LEDs is significantly longer than many other sources and estimated to be around 50,000 hours, giving some 25 times greater life expectancy. The installation of the LED lighting has achieved substantial annual savings of £53,600 and saved 765,000 Kwh of electricity. The annual maintenance savings are over £36,000 with a saving of 417tn in CO2.
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