Luminous efficacy is a measure of how well a light source produces visible light. It is the ratio of luminous flux to power, measured in lumens per watt in the International System of Units (SI). Depending on context, the power can be either the radiant flux of the source’s output, or it can be the total power (electric power, chemical energy, or others) consumed by the source. Which sense of the term is intended must usually be inferred from the context, and is sometimes unclear. The former sense is sometimes called luminous efficacy of radiation, and the latter luminous efficacy of a light source or overall luminous efficacy.
Not all wavelengths of light are equally visible, or equally effective at stimulating human vision, due to the spectral sensitivity of the human eye; radiation in the infrared and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum is useless for illumination. The luminous efficacy of a source is the product of how well it converts energy to electromagnetic radiation, and how well the emitted radiation is detected by the human eye.
Luminous efficacy can be normalized by the maximum possible luminous efficacy to a dimensionless quantity called luminous efficiency. The distinction between efficacy and efficiency is not always carefully maintained in published sources, so it is not uncommon to see “efficiencies” expressed in lumens per watt, or “efficacies” expressed as a percentage.
Wavelengths of light outside of the visible spectrum are not useful for illumination because they cannot be seen by the human eye. Furthermore, the eye responds more to some wavelengths of light than others, even within the visible spectrum. This response of the eye is represented by the luminosity function. This is a standardized function which represents the response of a “typical” eye under bright conditions (photopic vision). One can also define a similar curve for dim conditions (scotopic vision). When neither is specified, photopic conditions are generally assumed.
Luminous efficacy of radiation measures the fraction of electromagnetic power which is useful for lighting. It is obtained by dividing the luminous flux by the radiant flux. Light with wavelengths outside the visible spectrum reduces luminous efficacy, because it contributes to the radiant flux while the luminous flux of such light is zero. Wavelengths near the peak of the eye’s response contribute more strongly than those near the edges.
Photopic luminous efficacy of radiation has a maximum possible value of 683.002 lm/W, for the case of monochromatic light at a wavelength of 555 nm (green). Scotopic luminous efficacy of radiation reaches a maximum of 1700 lm/W for monochromatic light at a wavelength of 507 nm.