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LED Aquarium Lighting – Energy Efficient and Cost Effective

Ecoxotic Cannon LEDWhile LED lighting is still relatively new to aquariums, practical applications of new LED fixtures have shown the effectiveness of this technology for growing plants and corals. But what about cost? It’s common knowledge that LED’s use much less energy than metal halides or compact fluorescents, but did you ever consider their overall longevity and cost advantages they also offer? Well, let’s take a look at the numbers to see how popular lighting types stack up.

Consider this:

• LEDs last about 50,000 hours. Assuming you leave your fixture on for about 8 hours per day, the lights should last about 17 years, versus the approximate 2500 hour life span of a metal halide, which under the same conditions will last around 10 to 11 months. This means that you’ll go through roughly 20 metal halide bulbs as opposed to one LED light.
• LED Bulbs use considerably less wattage than any other type. It’s uncommon for an LED lamp or fixture to ever go above 50 Watts, while metal halides consume well over 200.
• In order to calculate how much each light costs to run, you have to figure out how many kilowatts per hour it uses:

Calculate (Amount of lights) x (Wattage per light) = (Total Watts) / 1000 = (Kilowatts)
(Kilowatts) x (Hours of usage) = Kilowatt hours
(Kilowatts per hour) x (cost) = Total cost to run that fixture

Let’s put some real numbers into this equation to get a better understanding. Since LED lamps last about 50,000 hours, we’ll assume that the Hours of usage equals 50,000 for every lamp, of course taking into consideration the amount of times you’ll need to replace the bulbs of non-LED fixtures.  According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics the average cost of a Kwh is $.126.

We’re going to calculate the usage of the Ecoxotic Cannon LED 12,000k Pendant, which consumes 50 W. We already know the total wattage used, so…

50 W / 1000 = .05 Kw

.05 Kw x 50,000 = 2500 kWh

2500 kWh x .126 = $315 to operate this fixture for 50,000 hours. When we add the cost of the light (548.99) to the equation, the total cost of using this fixtire for 50,000 hours is $863.99.

Let’s compare this to an average metal halide bulb. Hypothetically, let’s say we’re using a 250 W metal halide bulb, for 50,000 hours. As was shown above, it would take 20 metal halides to last about 50,000 hours, so we’ll keep that in mind too.

250 W / 1000 = .25 Kw

.25 Kw x 50,000 = 12,500 kWh

125,000 x .126 = $1575 to operate this fixture for 50,000 hours. Compared to the $315.00 for the LED, that’s quite a difference, and we haven’t even factored in replacement bulbs. A conservative estimate for a 250 W metal halide bulb is about $65. If you have to buy 20 metal halide bulbs over the same amount of time that the one LED endures, you’ll end up spending around $1300 or more, plus the $1575 to run the fixture, plus the initial $439.99 a pendant similar to the Ecoxotic pendant cannon would cost…a whopping grand total of $3314.99.

So the results are in:

To purchase and operate one LED Cannon Pendant for 50,000 hours, or 17 years, it will probably cost about $863.99.

To purchase and operate a metal halide fixture and purchase enough metal halide bulbs for 50,000 hours, or 17 years, it will probably cost about $3314.99.

Now, this is just an example, but it certainly does show the long-term savings LEDs have to offer.

Ushio Mogul Metal Halide BulbWhat about other lighting options? Compare the 36” to 48” 10,000K/460nm Marineland Reef Capable LED fixture, which only consumes 42 W, versus a standard 2-bulb T5 lighting fixture, which will be about 78 W, and should be replaced every 12 – 18 months, (that’s about 14 T5 bulbs for every 1 LED, BUT this is a 2 bulb fixture, so it will be 28 replacement bulbs).
For the LED: 42 W / 1000 = .042 kw x 50,000 kw/h = 2100 x .126 = $264.60 to operate for 17 years, plus the $299.99 cost of the lamp = $564.59 as the total cost for 17 years.
For the T5: 78 W / 1000 = .078 kW x 50,000 = 3900 kWh x .126 = $491.4 to operate for 17 years, plus the $120 for the lamp, along with 28 replacement bulbs ($18 apiece), which all totals out to $1115.40 as a total cost for 17 years.
That is not as severe a difference as metal halide bulbs, but it still shows the long-term savings. Here’s a chart outlining the costs of some of the most popular lighting types. The LED light represented in the chart is the same Marineland Reef Capable light as above. The metal halide, T5, and Compact Fluorescent are those comparable to that particular LED, so results may be slightly different as you look at different lamps. Here’s a breakdown:

Average Cost of Aquarium Lighting over 50,000 Hours

  LED Metal Halide T5 Compact Fluorescent
Initial Cost $299.99 $289.99 $119.99 $123.99
Cost of Energy Over 50,000 Hours $264.60 $945.00 $491.40 $604.80
Cost of Replacement Bulbs $0.00 $1199.80 $504.00 $439.80
Total Cost Over 50,000 Hours $564.29 $2434.79 $1115.39 $1168.59

Keep in mind that you’ll not only be saving money on your electric bill, but LED’s also create less heat, making water temperature and the need for cooling measures less of an issue. Fewer bulbs in the landfills too! I hope this gives you something to think about! LED Technology is on the scene and growing day by day. Please share your thoughts, questions and comments below.




  1. avatar

    We personally use fluorescent lamps on our aquariums.

    It can create symmetrical lighting along the aquarium.

  2. avatar

    Just a helpful side note; I am an engineer who works in new jersey and I actually design LED light fixtures. You said that the LED light last for 50,000 hrs, but when the manufacturer says 50,000 hrs, they don’t specify that that is at 100% intensity/brightness. They still work fine after that 50,000 hrs, just ever so slightly dimmer. It actually takes about another 50,000 hrs to bring it down to 70% of what it was originally.
    just FYI.
    TFP is great!

  3. avatar

    Thanks for doing these calculations – I’m looking at switching to LEDs and it’s good to have some solid numbers. There is one small typo in this article –
    (Kilowatts) x (Hours of usage) should equal kilowatt-hours (kWh), not kilowatts per hour (kW/h). Everything else looks good though.

  4. avatar

    Thanks for reading, Jacquie. We’ll address the error, let us know if you have any other questions.

  5. avatar

    I currently operate a reef tank with a couple fish. I use 2-LED fixtures that did not have Kelvin ratings. Is there a wattage to Kelvin conversion? Similar fixtures seem to be rated about 6,000 Kelvin.

  6. avatar

    Thank you for this interesting topic. We’ve known how cost-effective and how LEDs lasts when used as a normal house light. I was not aware that LEDs are now being used in aquariums, which does the same mechanics with normal house LED lights.

    I also like how the calculations were presented, it was clear and easy to follow. Now, anybody who wishes to compute how much energy are they consuming when using LEDs can have a brief idea how the numbers are rolling.

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