Learn about LED Aquarium Lighting Systems and if they right for your aquarium.


  LED Aquarium Lighting Systems
LED Lighting Systems are quickly becoming the preferred choice of aquarium lighting for both freshwater and marine aquarium hobbyists. Long bulb life, low heat output, shimmer effect, sleek designs and overall power savings make LED systems hard to beat.

  Aquarium Lighting
The past few decades have brought about an enormous amount of innovation in aquarium lighting systems for the home aquarium hobbyist. It was not that long ago when many hobbyists used "shop light" fixtures with basic 40 watt per tube fluorescent bulbs for their aquarium lighting. Advanced hobbyists would employ expensive metal halide solutions that required both a large up front cost and expensive on-going bulb replacement ever 9 to 12 months. Over time fluorescent aquarium fixtures based on power compact or t5 bulbs became the norm for the average hobbyist, with metal halides dominating the marine reef and other high-end aquarium setups. However, the entire aquarium lighting landscape is rapidly changing with the introduction of LED based lighting systems that combine brilliant lighting options with affordability and efficiency.
  LED (Light-emitting diode)
A LED or light-emitting diode is a solid state semiconductor lighting source. LEDs produce light through the use of a light-emitting diode that when switched on allows electrons to recombine with electron holes within the device, which release energy in the form of photons. Basically, LEDs are just tiny light bulbs that fit easily into an electrical circuit. However, unlike ordinary incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, they don't have a filament or gas that will burn out, and they don't get especially hot. They are illuminated solely by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material, and they last just as long as a standard transistor. The lifespan of an LED surpasses the short life of an incandescent or fluorescent bulbs by thousands of hours. LEDs have many advantages over incandescent lighting, fluorescent lighting and even metal halide lighting sources including lower energy consumption, longer bulb lifetime, improved robustness and resistance to shock, smaller size, faster switching, and greater durability and reliability. LEDs powerful enough for aquarium lighting are relatively new to the hobby; however, new LED lighting systems are quickly becoming available to the mainstream aquarium hobbyist.

  Overview of LED Lighting Systems
LED Lighting Systems are capable of providing an intense amount of light in any desired kelvin temperature, while using less electricity and producing less heat than either modern fluorescent or metal halide systems. Since LEDs do not produce a lot of heat, they can be cooled through the use of heat sinks instead of bulking and noisy fans. This allows LED Lighting Systems to be exceptionally small and quiet, which means LED enclosures are often extremely thin and light. As LEDs are very small and light, they can be configured into a large variety of fixture configurations including; leg mounted on top of the aquarium, suspended pendant from above, flexible rope enclosures and even sealed underwater fixtures that allow for truly unique lighting placement. LED lights also create the shimmering lighting effect of sunlight dancing underwater as the light passes through the rippling water at the surface of the aquarium, similar to natural sunlight or metal halide lighting.
LED Aquarium Lighting Systems are quickly changing the way aquarium hobbyists illuminate their aquariums and grow plant and coral livestock. LED Aquarium Lighting Systems can be implemented in a wide variety of form factors including: strip, pendant, rope, retro-fit and completely custom configurations. The compact size and limited heat output of these systems allows hobbyists to utilize LED lighting in places and ways that they could never have done with metal halide or fluorescent lighting. LED lighting systems also reduce or eliminate all together the need for expensive equipment like water chillers and moving track systems designed to combat the excessive heat output of Metal Halide Lighting.
There are currently LED Lighting Systems from a variety of major aquarium lighting vendors that cover all aspects of the aquarium hobby from planted freshwater aquariums to coral reefs. Reef aquarium hobbyists now have a true replacement for high wattage (250 to 400 watt) Metal Halide bulbs. 400 watt metal halide lights can now be replaced with 60 watts of LED lighting without any adverse effects on corals or plants. LED Aquarium Lighting eliminates the yearly expense and hassle of replacing expensive bulbs and eliminates fading colors in corals, clams and inverts caused by bulbs that slowly lose their lighting intensity. In addition, hobbyists are able to save a significant amount of money on their electric bill through lower wattage consumption from their lighting system and less usage of cooling devices like chillers, fans and air conditioning.

Lighting intensity can be affected by other factors other than distance. Turbidity of the water can significantly reduce the actual amount of light that penetrates the surface and reaches the animals. In tanks where activated carbon is used and is changed regularly light penetration into the aquarium can be maximized. Cleaning or removing glass or acrylic lenses from the light hood will also help. The intensity of light above the surface of a reef can be as high as 130,000 lux. The actual amount of intensity that penetrates the surface of the water can be about 70,000, with maybe only 15,000 lux actually reaching the 10-15 meter mark. The water surface also reflects some of the light back, reducing the amount that penetrates the water and reaches the corals.
Light intensity at the source is measured in watts. The higher the watts, the more intense the light, and the more energy required to produce the light. A 100-watt bulb, for example, will give off more light than a 40-watt bulb, and will cost more to use. A watt is actually related to a lux in that one lux is equal to 1.46 milliwatts (0.00146 watts) of energy of one specific frequency (555 nm) hitting a surface area of one square meter. However, since bulbs used in aquarium lighting systems emit light of many frequencies (not just 555nm), no exact formula can be used when determining the number of lux produced by a bulb of a specific wattage.

Benefits of LED Lighting Systems:
  Lower power consumption than fluorescent or metal halide systems
  Long bulb life of upwards of 10 years
  Lighting intensity is consistent over the life of the bulb
  Light produces highly desirable shimmering effect in the water
  Very little heat creation
  Extremely slim and light enclosures
  Versatile configurations including underwater applications
  Low operational costs
  Lighting output and coloration is highly configurable

Pros/Cons of LED Lighting vs. Fluorescent Lighting Pros
  Pro - LED lighting systems use less electricity
  Pro - LED lighting systems produce less heat
  Pro - LED lighting systems have a lower total cost over the life of the unit
  Pro - LED lighting systems utilize smaller and lighter enclosures
  Pro - LED lighting systems are made from solid state components, making them more resilient

  Con - LED lighting systems are currently more expensive at initial purchase
  Con - LED lighting systems are fairly new, thus designs are being frequently improved upon

Pros/Cons of LED Lighting vs. Metal Halide Lighting Pros
  Pro - LED lighting systems use much less electricity
  Pro - LED lighting systems produce much less heat
  Pro - LED lighting systems have a much lower total cost over the life of the unit
  Pro - LED lighting systems utilize smaller and lighter enclosures
  Pro - LED lighting systems do not require remote ballasts
  Pro - LED lighting systems do not require the use of a chiller
  Pro - LED lighting systems are made from solid state components, making them more resilient

  Con - LED lighting systems may not provide the output of a high output Metal Halide bulb
  Con - LED lighting systems are fairly new, thus designs are being frequently improved upon


As of early 2016, LED Aquarium Lighting Systems have become widely available within the hobby, and are evolving very rapidly in both design and capability all while lower in price. Manufacturers are coming out with new fixture configurations and higher output designs with such frequency that it can be difficult to keep up. Over the next few years LED Aquarium Lighting Systems should continue to increase in features and continue to come down in price as they are produced on a large scale. Higher output designs intended for large aquariums will become more numerous and more affordable. Current LED Aquarium Lighting Systems are also now being fitted with high end capabilities like programmable timers, computer control capability and dynamic lighting modes. The future of aquarium lighting looks very bright!

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