Having been in the energy-efficient lighting business for a number of years, I am always interested in seeing how improvements in the commercial lighting business eventually make their way into the aquarium industry.
Over the past years, we have gone from T12 lights (the “fat” fluorescent lamps) to T8 lights (the skinnier ones) to T5 lights (the current state-of-the-art fluorescent lights). The number after the T denotes the diameter of the lamp in eighths of an inch. The latest improvements in aquarium lighting becoming available are with LED (light-emitting diode) technology.
LEDs have been used for years for exit signs and traffic lights. LEDs have incredibly long life, at least 50,000 hours. The newest ones have managed to pack a tremendous amount of light into a small lamp, and they come in different colors and keep those colors for the life of the lamp. I’ve been testing and using different LED fixtures for aquariums for a little more than three years now. The fixtures I started with three years ago, which I still use, were large, heavy and expensive. I believe the 72-watt LED fixture retailed for about $800 or so back then. The latest LED fixture I just finished testing is the thinnest aquarium light I have ever used, it’s 12 watts and drives light to the bottom of a 29-gallon tank, weighs virtually nothing and retails for about $125.
The improvements in LED lighting for aquariums are continuing at a furious pace. In Europe, where the aquarium hobby is typically two years ahead of us here in the U.S., they have many different LED lighting systems available, some of which are in use for marine tanks with corals and other photosynthetic animals; these work for all but the most light-hungry corals, and for clams. Keep your eyes on this sector of the aquarium industry, as there will be great technical advances and great price decreases.