Driven by drivers: What cultivators need to know about this key component of LED light fixtures

Driven by drivers: What cultivators need to know about this key component of LED light fixtures

When cultivators see a recall of LED light fixtures, or fixtures suddenly disappearing from the market, chances are it is because of a faulty driver.

Drivers are one of the most important parts of an LED light fixture, but they can also be one of the most sensitive. Chances are, when an LED light fixture fails, it is because of the driver. And when a driver fails, chances are it was caused by some kind of heat damage.

So, what do you know about drivers? Drivers are high-tech parts in your LED grow lights that regulate the amount of power or voltage flowing into the LEDS on the light fixture. If your light fixture fails, the first thing you need to check is your driver. 

remote driver

Drivers are a box of electronic components, usually installed on the back of a light fixture, in a metal box or integrated within the fixture itself. Some grow light manufacturers, like SpecGrade LED, are now developing remote driver solutions for cultivators.  

SpecGrade LED uses Inventronics drivers, but there are other manufacturers used by other LED light companies. 

Drivers manage the amount of voltage the LEDs in your grow lights receive. Generally, the longer a LED light stays on, the hotter it gets. Higher temperatures can cause the voltage to drop which, in turn, causes the LEDs to draw more current. This cycle is called Thermal Runaway. Drivers prevent thermal runaway by compensating for the voltage changes and delivering a constant current to the LEDs.

Drivers are essentially the “brains” of your light. Want to dim your lights? The driver controls that function, often combined with a dimmer when that function isn’t integrated into the fixture. All the ways to control your light fixture run through the driver and every LED light fixture has to have one – even home LED light fixtures and LED bulbs in your house. 

In home fixtures, drivers are quite small, even tiny, but in LED grow lights, they are much larger because of the amount of power flowing through them.

HLD driver

Even though LED lights operate cooler than conventional bulbs, they still generate heat and when they do, the driver heats up as the LEDs heat up, making heat sink technology critical to maintaining the life of both the LEDs and the driver. This is also why most manufacturers only offer a 5-year warranty on their grow lights.

For the most part, it is not possible for cultivators to replace their own burned-out drivers because of how they are integrated or attached to the grow light. Think of it this way: You would not take your smart phone apart and attempt to repair it, right? It’s a highly specialized and technical piece of equipment. Of course, that also leads to downtime and loss of growing square footage while you wait for a return authorization and then for the fixture to be repaired and returned or for a new one shipped.

But with SpecGrade LED, we offer modular grow light fixtures, meaning since we know our fixtures will almost inevitably outlast the drivers, we engineer our lights to be modular – so cultivators can swap out drivers or LED boards and not have to replace the whole light fixture. 

Remote drivers have the added benefit of being able to hang separately from the fixture which can increase the airflow around them and reduce heat they are subjected to, leading to a longer anticipated lifespan. Depending on your layout, remote drivers can also make controlling your grow lights easier by clustering them. In greenhouses, remote drivers can also help with reducing shadowing. 

10W driver

Not all of our lights have remote drivers like the new Verta-6F and Linea series. The driver can be disconnected from the fixture and then easily swapped out (once it has cooled off), usually without losing a lot of growing time. 

The Key Takeaway

For cultivators in their growing operations for the long haul, having remote drivers is the way to go. It’s best to invest in a fully modular grow lights system so you can upgrade or swap out drivers as needed – or wanted. Drivers are the weakest link in your grow light system so modularity is the way to go to end that risk.