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Solid State Lighting (SSL) technology has come a long way in dimming performance, and the range of dimmable LED lights are all shining examples of how seamlessly they can replace traditional lighting in any home or business.
A growing number of dimmable LED lighting systems are designed to work with incandescent dimmers. Also known as leading edge or TRIAC dimmers, these are the types most commonly used in retail, home, and hospitality settings. They work using a process called Forward Phase Control.
Most buildings in the USA operate on AC power, which means the electricity moves in an Alternating Current (AC) – i.e., in a waveform rather than in a straight line like Direct Current (DC) power. Each positive and negative phase of this alternating current represents a powering on state. One positive and one negative phase make up one cycle.
A current controller called a TRIAC inside an incandescent dimmer disrupts the forward part of the phase –the halves leading towards the highest or the lowest point. This delays the “power on” process, diminishing the overall power of the cycle – and ultimately expressing itself as a dimmed light.
Other dimming methods include:
Magnetic Low Voltage: Another example of Forward Phase Control, these incur drastic electrical spikes. This necessitates sturdier electronics inside the dimmers, making them heavier and less efficient.
Electronic Low Voltage: These dimmers use Reverse Phase Control (disrupting the second half of each phase) for an effect similar to incandescent dimming. These tend to be cheaper, more finicky and noisy.
Pulse Width Modulation (PWM / 0-10V): A voltage controller determines the light output on a directly proportional scale of 0 (off) to 10 volts (full brightness). This method is used with older fluorescent light fixtures and LED fluorescent replacement tubes, troffers, and linear lighting.
While new, energy-saving lighting solutions are made for all these legacy dimming systems, incandescent dimmers represent the standard. And with the high performance they have demonstrated working in symphony with SSL technology; their continued reign will drive even more production for compatible LED lights.