Save EU Stage Lighting

The following is quoted from the April 20, 2018 issue of ESTA Standards Watch.

There is a proposal to adopt an EU Energy Directorate Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019 that would effectively end stage lighting as we know it. Opposition to the plan has often been cast in the past as “Save Tungsten,” but the plan would effective eliminate almost all stage lighting technologies after 2020. Comments on the plan are due by May 7.

The plan imposes minimum efficacy requirements on sources and maximum stand-by power consumption limits in sources and luminaires. The minimum efficacy requirements certainly would have an impact on the use of incandescent lamps, which produce light with efficacies far below the proposed minimum; the plan would end their manufacturer or importation into the EU after 2020. However, additive color-mixing LED sources also cannot meet the proposed efficacy requirements. These sources produce light at the extreme red and blue ends of the spectrum, where, due to the relative insensitivity of the eyes to those colors, the lumens-per-watt produced is low. This low efficacy cannot be ameliorated by better light source technology; it is a function of the response of the human eye. Finally, the proposal mandates a maximum standby power consumption limit for sources and luminaires, and this is low enough that it cannot be met by virtually anything that has any electronic control circuitry or motors. If a product has a muffin fan and a DMX512 line terminating resistor, those two items alone will consume all the power that the proposal would allow.

There is an exemption in the plan for luminaires and sources that are used in image capture work (i.e., video), but none for live entertainment, although the same luminaires might be used in studios and on stage. One idea for fixing the plan and keeping theatres from starting to go dark after September 2020 would be to extend the exemption to those products and their light sources that are within the scope of EN IEC 60598-2-17, Luminaires. Particular requirements. Luminaires for stage lighting, television and film studios (outdoor and indoor). That would help keep people from attempting to skirt the energy-saving requirements by relabeling general-service lamps as “Professional Entertainment Lighting Equipment.”

EU Proposes Ban on Incandescent Lamps in Theatres

The Stage reported yesterday that “The European Union is considering banning tungsten halogen lamps in entertainment lighting, due to environmental concerns over their energy inefficiency.”  There are so many reasons this is hopelessly misguided.  Let me list a few.

First, the energy consumption of an entertainment venue is so low because the usage is so low, even for a Broadway or West End production with 500 lights.  These theatres run eight shows a week, and average two hours per performance. That’s 16 hours per week, which is only one day of a retail or office space.  So a theatre’s monthly hours of operation is equal to only four days of many other building types.

Second, the energy consumption is much lower than the connected load implies.  500 lights at 575W equals 287,500W.  However, there’s never a time at which every light is on, much less on at full.  A dark, dramatic scene may use only 5% of the total lighting equipment, and that won’t be a full brightness.  One rule of thumb is that the usage of theatrical lighting is about 50%, so the 287,500W of connected load comes to only 2,300 kWH per week.  That’s for huge shows. An off-off-Broadway theatre or community theatre with only 75 lights and five performances per week uses only 108 kWH per week.

Third, the impact on the entertainment industry, especially smaller and poorer companies, would be devastating.  Yes, there are retrofit kits for ETC Source4 lights.  However, all other brands of lekos, Fresnels, PARS, striplights, cyc lights, followspots, etc. don’t have retrofits.  Tens of thousands of perfectly good equipment would have to be scrapped, but with replacement lights costing thousands of dollars (or pounds) many companies would not be able to replace the lost lights resulting in theatres literally going dark.

Fourth, these theatres would need new power and data distribution.  Nearly all LED lights for the entertainment industry have on-board dimming and need to be connected to constant power, not dimmed power.  But, nearly all lighting circuits in theatres are connected to dimmers.  And, these LED lights need connections to the stage lighting control system, but this is an exponential growth in the number of data lines and the number of data parameters that need to be controlled.  So, not only would theatres need new lighting equipment, but they’d need new control systems as well.  Great for theatre consultants like Studio T+L, but ruinously expensive for theatre, opera, and music venues.

Fifth (I’m not done yet!) the quality of light and lighting will suffer.  The most obvious impact is flicker of lights when they are dimming which, despite the assurances of most manufacturers, is a real, pervasive problem.

Why am I so heated about this topic?  Because if it goes through in the UK some bright light of a state or federal legislature will think we should follow their lead.  Again, it would be ruinously expensive for many, many performing arts companies.  The entire lighting industry is converting to LEDs.  In architectural lighting there are very few reasons to decide against using LEDs, so most new installations are mostly LED.  The same is true in the entertainment industry.  However, there is an enormous base of existing equipment for which there are no retrofit options.  Rendering that equipment useless by removing replacement lamps from the market is outrageously heavy handed (and ham handed).  Let the industry organically continue its transition to LEDs, don’t force it.  The damage far outweighs the benefits.

Evaluating Water Damaged Equipment

Throughout the south there are schools, universities and professional theatres with electrical equipment that has been submerged in flood waters from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  They’re biggest question is, “What can I dry out and use, and what do I have to replace?”  NEMA (the National Electrical Manufacturers Association) has a guide for this (NEMA GD 1-2016 Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment) that you can download here.

Some larger pieces of equipment can be reconditioned, but that doesn’t mean simply drying them out.  It includes using appropriate cleaning agents, and the success of reconditioning depends on the “nature of the electrical function, the degree of flooding, the age of the equipment, and the length of time the equipment was exposed to water.”  The problem is that equipment submerged during a flood isn’t just wet, it’s now contaminated with whatever was in the water.

What does that mean for a theatre?  Here are some key items that should be replaced.

  • Fuses, switches, circuit breakers
  • Components containing semiconductors and transistors.  That means lighting and sound control consoles, dimmer rack control and power modules, and all LED fixtures.
  • Transformers.  If the transformer feeding your dimmer racks was submerged, it has to be replaced.
  • Outlets and switches
  • Wiring in conduit
  • Stage cables
  • Uninterruptible power supplies
  • Communications systems
  • Batteries

What might be successfully reconditioned?  Not much.

  • Conduit and tubing, if it can be completely dried out
  • Motors.  Consult the manufacturers of your stage and pit lifts.

Yes, it’s a lot.  But, it’s better to replace damaged equipment than to risk failure, or worse, of equipment with hidden damage.

Here’s the plug for Studio T+L:  Give us a call.  We can help you to determine what needs to be replaced, write a specification for the replacement equipment, bid the replacement, and check up on the contractors as they’re doing the work.  And, we’re nice!

LED Stage Light Reviews

We recently examined several LED stage lighting units for a high school black box theatre with a 20’ high grid. The school is determined to have an all LED system, but doesn’t have the budget for top-of-the-line equipment. Our goal was to find a set of lower priced units with reasonable performance. It turned out to be harder than we thought. Here are our reviews:

Altman Pegasus LED Fresnel. This 140W white light LED Fresnel is a winner. The optics are very good, the intensity is great, and the dimming (when controlled via DMX) is very smooth all the way out. This unit uses standard 7.5” accessories, so the school’s existing accessories will fit it. This is one of the more expensive unit we examined, but the performance makes this fixture worth it.

Chauvet Ovation E-910FC. This 270W profile has very high color rendering (due to the Red, Green, Blue, Amber, Lime color mixing) and great intensity.   The down side is that Chauvet’s optics are very poor. Whenever a shutter is used to shape the beam the multiple LEDs produce multiple shadows. This problem was evident for most of the second and third tier manufacturers. Although we didn’t test a template, we have to assume the same problem would occur, making this unit useless as a profile.

Elation Arena PAR Zoom. This 190W PAR has a motorized zoom, which simplifies making slight adjustments to the beam angle. The intensity was good, as was the dimming. The optics, however, were not. Each of the 19 LEDs has very good primary optics, but there is no secondary optic to homogenize the beam. This results in beam irregularities and produces multiple, clear shadows that would be unacceptable to an audience as close to the stage as they are in a black box theatre.

elektraLite 1018 PAR. This 216W PAR suffers from the same problem as the Elation PAR. There is no secondary optic, resulting in an unacceptable multiplicity of shadows.

ETC Source 4WRD Profile. This 155W white light LED profile is also a winner. The optics, intensity, and DMX dimming are all very good. This unit is $200-300 more than the other profiles we reviewed, but like the Altman Pegasus, its performance means that it can be used in the close quarters of black box theatres.

Osram Kreios Fresnel. This 80W white light LED unit has nice optics and an impressive zoom. The dim speed fading down to zero and up from zero is a little fast, but we think that can be managed by adjusting the dimming profile. Unfortunately, at only 80W this unit is too dim to be useful from a hanging height of 20’.

Osram Kreios Profile. Like the Osram Fresnel, this 100W white light LED unit also has nice optics and an impressive zoom. However, as with the Fresnel, it is better suited to smaller venues with lower hanging heights.

We plan on looking at other units, but our current thinking is that the school should have a base inventory of white light LED profiles (Source 4WRD) and Fresnels (Pegasus) that is supplemented with a small number of color changing profiles (ETC ColorSource).