Challenges and solutions
Despite the LEDs getting more and more efficient, big LED screens still consume a lot of power, and dealing with that and other power related issues isn’t trivial. Not everything is quite what it seems.
How much power do I need?
Manufacturers of LED screens typically state a maximum power consumption figure per panel or square meter as well as average power consumption, again per panel or square meter. Should you ‘play safe’ and assume the max power needed or is the average figure a better starting point? Well that depends on your application and how adventurous you want to be!
First of all, keep in mind that both numbers are based on the screen running at full brightness. That is a very rare case. Most indoor screens are run at less than half brightness, sometimes even much lower than that. Secondly, the max power consumption assumes all three colors at full brightness – in other words, a white image. Again, typically a very rare situation. But – you need to look at each application and project based on the use case, in some cases, LED screens are run at near full intensity (outdoor shows in daytime for example) and if there is a lot of white content (images), the power consumption will be quite high, potentially near max consumption.
But generally speaking, a fairly safe assumption is to use the average power consumption as guide for how many panels you can drive from a single supply socket. So let’s say your LED screen panels each draw 200W on average.
Your power distribution uses 16A circuit breakers, so the max capacity is 16A x 230V = 3680W. So capacity per channel is 3680 / 200 = 18.4 panels, or?
No, not quite – now we get to the challenges with inrush- and leakage currents!
LED screen panels use lightweight and highly efficient switch-mode power supplies. Clever technology that comes with two drawbacks; they pull A LOT of current during a fraction of second when they are plugged in. Also, their design generates harmless but significant ‘background’ earth leakage current. These two issues is what really puts the limit on how many LED screen panels you can put on any given channel (and circuit breaker) in your power distribution.
The inrush currents is what forces you to turn on the circuit breaker several times before it stays in the ‘on’ position. Not good for the LED panel and not good for the circuit breaker.
Long cables tend to reduce this problem as the cable introduces a bit of resistance that limits the peak inrush current. The leakage current generated is a trickier problem. It’s highly recommended and in most case mandatory to have 30mA ‘earth leakage’ protection on supplies of 32A or less.
However, an LED panel can easily generate as much as 2-3 mA of harmless background leakage and the “30mA” earth leakage breaker is allowed to cut the power already as 15mA!
Let’s assume 15mA and 3mA per panel – that’s max 5 panels per circuit breaker.
So as you can see, it is not the power consumption that limits the number of panels per circuit breaker, it is the inrush and leakage currents that sets the limits.
So, don’t be surprised if you end up needing more power distribution channels than what a calculation based on power consumption indicates.
If you’re fortunate enough to use a StageSmarts power distribution system, you will have a lot less issues with this. Our circuit breakers and earth leakage protection is far more tolerant against these inherent challenges.
Written by Mats Karlsson; CEO at Stage Smarts AB