LED lighting is fundamentally different from conventional light sources such as incandescent, fluorescent, and gas-discharge lamps. An LED uses no mercury, no lead, no gas or filament, it has no fragile glass bulb, and it has no failure-prone moving parts. LED sources are super green! They do not contain mercury (as do CFLs) or lead (as do incandescent lamps). LED lighting is more efficient, durable, versatile and longer lasting than incandescent lighting. … In a well-designed product; LEDs are basically cool to the touch and emit visible light as specific colors.
Within the PAR range, experiments have shown that certain wavelengths promote plants to grow vegetation and/or flower, and some wavelengths may also hinder growth in some species of plants. Scientific experiments demonstrated that red and blue light wavelengths are especially important. So, until Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura invented the blue Light Emitting Diode (LED)—for which they were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics—we simply could not make horticultural lighting with LEDs alone. And, we continue to learn: for example, we now have research showing the physiological importance of light throughout the spectrum (including some wavelengths outside of the PAR region).
When shopping for LED grow lights, the wavelengths emitted are critical. An LED light sold for a shop light or lamp (for human lighting) was designed to work well for human vision, not to emphasize the blues and reds that we know plants need or necessarily include the whole PAR spectrum.
Watts tell us how much energy input a light requires. When most all lighting was incandescent bulbs, then Watts were a useful measure because the electricity input was directly related to the total light intensity output, which is measured in lumens.
However, the light output of an LED light is not simply a function of Watt input. Instead, it is determined by the quality of its components and overall design, including the particular LED chip used, chip density, optics used, heat sink, and the driver. In fact, LEDs become less efficient as wattage increases because increased temperatures in the electronic circuit board containing the LEDs (the backplane) cause significant decrease in LED efficiency. In other words, an LED driven at 3 Watts emits about three times less light than the same LED driven at 1 Watt!
Lumens are a unit of measure describing the total quantity of light from the visible spectrum that is emitted from a source of light (in all directions). But what matters most isn’t how much light a grow light can emit—it’s important to know how much light will actually reach your plants. Illuminance is the measure of the quantity of light that reaches a surface and is defined as lumens per meter squared or lux. However, lux is a human eye measurement and not recommended for plant applications–though there are conversion factors that can be used to convert it to micromoles (and other light units).
Key is the difference between how humans sense light intensity (measured in lumens) and the way plants absorb and use light. This difference is why we really have to measure the light output from grow lights with different types of meters than those used to measure the light output from lights intended for humans. PAR photon irradiance (often abbreviated as just PAR) is the measurement that gives us the most useful information for comparing grow lights. The recommended units of measurement for PAR, µmol m-2s-1.
So, if an LED grow light describes output only in terms of lumens, know that you’re only getting some of the information that is useful for choosing a grow light.
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