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Why do LED lights need a driver?

LED lights need LED drivers to perform correctly and last long.

LEDs present many great benefits, including energy efficiency, increased lifespan, and environmental friendliness. The device requires a constant, uniform flow of electrical current at an exact voltage always. Without these conditions, the LED light will become too hot and start malfunctioning, resulting in a disappointing lighting experience.

Without LED drivers, can a LED light work?

The answer is NO.

For the LED light to maintain top performance, an LED driver is essential. But before delving into further details, identifying what a LED driver is and what it does is necessary.

LED driver definition, types, and applications

What is an LED Driver?

An LED driver is a programmable electronic device that supplies the right amount of power to the LED light. It acts as a protective buffer against power surges.

A LED driver is similar to ballast for fluorescent lamps or transformers in low voltage bulbs, regulating the current and voltage in and out of the device.

Why LED lights need a driver

LED lights need a driver to perform and function at their best. The LED is fragile and runs on low voltage, direct current (DC) electricity, but the power outlet generates high voltage with alternating current (AC). Based on this scenario, the LED driver’s main objective is to convert the high voltage AC into low voltage DC that the LED is designed to withstand.

Also, the LED driver is a constant current instrument with a forward voltage drop – the voltage supply must surpass the drop to enable the current to pass through it. By controlling the current, you control the intensity of the light.

If the current is too high or too low, the output of the LED lamp will become inconsistent. The high temperature thus accelerating the damage of the LED light. A LED driver moderates the varying needs of the LED circuit by delivering a consistent supply of power within the stipulated current range to the LED—the electrical characteristics of the LED change with temperature.

There are different types of LED drivers, but overall, they are classified into constant current (CC) drivers and constant voltage (CV) drivers.

Constant current driver (CC)

Constant current LED driver is built for a broad range of output voltages and a fixed output current (mA). A CC LED driver varies the voltage across an electric circuit, allowing the current to remain uniform throughout the LED system.

While higher currents make the LED glow brighter, it extracts more current than is considered safe if not regulated. When there is excessive current beyond the LED’s peak drive current, it is called Thermal Runaway. Thermal Runaway leads to unexpected burnouts due to overheating and reduces the lifespan of the LED.

A constant current driver is a right choice in driving high-power LEDs because it delivers consistent brightness throughout all in-series LEDs.

Constant voltage driver (CV)

A constant voltage LED driver is designed for a single direct current (DC) output voltage. A constant voltage LED driver converts the alternating current (VAC) current to a low direct current (VDC) voltage. The CV driver maintains a constant voltage regardless of the type of load delivered to it. Most constant voltages are rated 12VDC or 24VDC with a power supply of 120 to 277VAC – the kind of supply typically seen in homes.

What is the LED Driver doing?

The fluorescent ballast-like LED driver serves to safeguard LED light setups from abrupt power surges. It constantly regulates the flow of electricity to LED lights to ensure that its light quality, effectiveness, and longevity are intact.

What kind of LED light uses CC, and what use a CV?

CC use 

LED lights that use CC to include LED downlights, office lighting, retail lighting, residential LED lighting, entertainment lighting, and LED lighting. Generally, CC is designed for LED lights that require a fixed output current and a range of voltages. CCs usually list its specifications on the device, with one current output rating only and a range of voltages dependent on the wattage of the LED.

LED designers usually consider these drivers to be easier to handle in LED appliances because they guarantee consistent brightness. Having control of the current as against the voltage allows for more focused management of the power supplied to the LED. It also helps the manufacturer predict failure rates more precisely than when CV supplies are used.

In designing a fixture or working with high-power LEDs, CC drivers are the most preferred option because they prevent burnout (thermal runaway) by not going beyond the optimum current specified for the LED.

When the user’s application is for illumination purposes, the CC may be the preferred option as it allows for consistent control of the brightness and overall light quality. It can also adjust the application mechanism to ensure that the LED operates at its most efficient level. Using an LED at its best range does not usually demand heat sinking. At the same time, the metallic components in the lighting fixture are generally adequate to distribute the heat and keep the LEDs functioning at optimal conditions.

CV use

LED lights that use CV to include LEDs arranged in parallel, LED strips, LED light engines, moving signs, stage lighting, high bay, outdoor lighting.

Generally, CV drivers are used for LEDs that need a stable voltage. They have a current regulated by either ordinary resistors or a built-in CC driver embedded in the LED module.

So, if you ascertain that the LED is rated to receive a specified voltage, thenwerecommend constant voltage LED drivers, as they cheaper compared to constant current drivers.

A CV supply may be less expensive and easier to fabricate for signage that requires associated applications that rely on vibrant, alternating colors. In addition, any color-switching will have little impact on the performance of the light. Efficiency is not so critical in signage lighting, and extra heat sinking is more cost-effective when the application is a single installation against illumination transmitted throughout a layout.

Summary

Understanding what LED drivers are, their types, and why they are used hand-in-hand with LED lights is essential to help users make the best decisions for their lighting situation.

Driver designers recommend that a constant current LED driver or a regular voltage driver base on the LED light application type. Usually, CC LED drivers are used for illumination applications like office lighting, retail lighting, residential LED lighting, entertainment lighting. In contrast, CV LED drivers are great for signage, LED strips, LED light engines, moving signs, and associated applications.

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