By Dan Rafter
The hallways, classrooms, labs, and auditoriums at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, are illuminated by countless lights. And that doesn’t even include the lights that shine over athletic fields, inside cafeterias, and in on-campus dormitories.
It makes sense, then, that the university would see potentially huge yearly savings by upgrading as many of these lights as possible to high-efficiency versions and by installing motion sensors that turn lights off when rooms, hallways, or stairwells are unoccupied.
That’s just what happened, according to Robert Smith, foreperson of the electrical shop at the university.
According to Smith, the university completed the first phase of a massive changeover to more efficient lighting as of August 2012. University officials expect to see a drop of anywhere from 18 to 23% in the amount of energy that its light systems consume each month.
At the same time, the new efficient lighting installed throughout the campus requires far less maintenance, freeing more workers to tackle different jobs around the university. This, too, represents significant economic savings for the university.
“We’re very happy with what we’ve seen so far,” says Smith. “The combination of energy cost savings and lower labor costs is pretty impressive. It was time to make some changes in our lighting. Making the move to a more energy efficient type of lighting made good economic sense.”
Smith and Sam Houston State University are far from alone. Schools, government bodies, and private companies are upgrading to energy-efficient lighting systems as a way to reduce their yearly utility bills.
This makes sense: the economy’s recovery continues to be a slow one. Because of this, budgets are strained both in the public and private sectors. Building owners and managers are looking for savings wherever they can find them.
And one big source of potential savings? More efficient lighting systems that consume less energy and demand less maintenance.
It’s a trend that lighting manufacturers and distributors are seeing across the country.
“Energy costs are constantly rising. They are outpacing inflation by quite a bit,” says Greg Davis, chief executive officer of Oak Ridge, TN-based Lumetric Lighting, a provider of high-output large-area lighting systems. “In times like we are having today, making your building more energy efficient pays off. It allows you to save money each and every month. In cities where they have peak demand charges, energy-efficient lighting can result in incredible savings.”
Larry Leetzow, president of Sarasota, FL-based Magnaray International, a manufacturer of lighting products, has seen firsthand the rising demand for energy-efficient lighting systems, among both governments and schools and in the private sector.
And this demand, he says, is hardly new.
“The goals of the people we work with don’t change much,” says Leetzow. “Our clients want high-quality lighting that saves them on energy costs and doesn’t cost a lot to operate. These are the three keys: high-quality, energy savings, and less maintenance. This is what people should want all the time, high-quality lighting that doesn’t cost a fortune.”
As an example of this type of lighting job, one that results in quality lighting and long-term energy savings, Leetzow points to the work that Magnaray International completed in July 2012 at the San Francisco Federal Building, an 18-story skyscraper located in San Francisco’s busy South of Market neighborhood.
The 575,000-square-foot building, completed in 2005, ranked as the first federal building to be certified under the US Green Building Council’s LEED criteria.
But the building did face a problem: Its nighttime security lighting was ineffective, doing a poor job of illuminating the street and alley outside the building. This made the building’s employees nervous when they had to work late nights. The building’s owners, then, wanted the ideal solution: lighting that was both powerful enough to provide more illumination of the building’s exterior and efficient enough so that replacing the building’s existing exterior lights would help reduce the building’s yearly utility costs.
At the same time, the building’s maintenance crews wanted stairwell lighting that was easier to maintain and had a longer lifespan.
Magnaray was able to accomplish both feats. First, the company tackled the building’s stairwells, which featured lighting systems that could be considered dangerous. The stairwells on both ends of the building were lit by standard open fluorescent fixtures that were connected to the bottom of each landing on all 18 of the facility’s floors.
This posed a significant problem: When workers had to replace the stairwell’s bulbs, they had to balance on a ladder located near the stairway’s rails. If these workers fell or if their ladders slipped, they could plummet as much as 18 stories to the ground, depending upon which floor they were working. To prevent such a tragedy, an additional worker often held the ladder in place while the original maintenance employee changed the light bulb. This was both a dangerous and highly inefficient system.
Magnaray solved the problem by installing a Magnaray floodlight, model W1PL36, over each exit door with a motion sensor on each fixture. Workers can now maintain the stairwell lights by climbing a ladder located away from the edge of the stairwells and instead securely set up next to landing doorways. This solves two problems: Changing a lightbulb no longer requires two maintenance workers, and there is far less chance that workers will suffer a life-threatening injury should they slip off their ladders.
At the same time, the stairwell fixtures now operate on motion sensors that are triggered either by someone climbing or descending the stairs or by landing doors opening. According to Magnaray estimates, the new fixtures should only operate 5% of the time that they were formerly in service. That will result in long-term energy savings.
To address the building’s exterior-lighting problems, Magnaray replaced the inefficient line of PAR lamps, mounted 25 feet in the air, that formerly stood outside the building. The company instead installed seven poles holding Magnaray’s W4PT5048 lighting array.
This represented a significant improvement. The PAR lamps were mounted so high, that they could not provide enough light to the building’s exterior. This presented safety problems for employees leaving the building in the evening. The darkness attracted drug dealers, prostitutes and other criminals.
|Photo: Energy Performance Lighting
Changing to efficient lighting is one of the surest ways to reduce energy costs.
The new Magnaray arrays, though, thanks to their T5 Twin lamps produce a low-glare 100% distribution pattern over the length of the building’s exterior alley and street. According to Leetzow, since Magnaray’s new lights were turned on, the number of people hanging outside the federal building after dark has dwindled to almost nil. The light is also bright enough so that security personnel can clearly see the street and alley outside the building through their security cameras, something that was a problem before the lighting project.
As the Magnaray example shows, the savings that building owners can receive through energy-efficient lighting can be dramatic.
Gersil Kay, president of Philadelphia-based Conservation Lighting International, says that building owners and company executives, though, sometimes struggle to determine exactly how much money they can save each year by installing more efficient lighting systems.
And that’s a problem for the industry: Lighting officials need to do a better job of explaining to building owners and company executives that the amount of savings can vary widely depending on the actual work that is done and the type of lights that workers install throughout a building.
Kay pointed to glass fiber optics—also known as GFO—as a type of lighting that consumes only one-fourth the amount of energy as do more conventional lighting products. At the same time, these lights require less regular maintenance than do standard lighting options.
Building owners who install GFO lighting, then, stand to save even more money when the savings from both energy consumption and maintenance are added together.
And adding those costs together is the key to determining the savings generated by higher-efficiency lighting, says Kay.
“The only way to decide on the wisest lighting upgrade is to estimate the total cost of design, installation, programming, maintenance, and operation for the first five years of service,” says Kay. “To look at just the initial cost of the equipment alone is penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
Davis, from Lumetric, says that he’s always surprised that more building owners don’t invest in energy-efficient lighting even when they are presented with the estimated savings that they can expect each year.
After all, changing to energy efficient lighting is one of the surest ways for companies and agencies to reduce their yearly operating costs, Davis says. This is especially important for cities that charge users higher rates during periods of peak demand, he says.
“During these peak-demand periods, if you have controls in place that will dim lights when they’re not being used, or shut them off completely when there are no people in an area, you can really boost the amount of money you are saving,” says Davis. “That makes sense to me. People are so focused today on building green, energy-efficient buildings. Well, if you are going to build an energy-efficient building, you need to start with the lighting systems.”
One way to do this is with lighting systems that boast smart controls that allow users to program when lights go on and off. Smart controls can also sense whether a room is occupied or unoccupied, and adjust lighting levels accordingly. Building owners can even program smart-control devices to dim lights during the times of day when energy costs are at their highest.
Lumetric offers its own smart-control system, the SmartPOD luminaire system. The system, which Davis says is a replacement for high intensity discharge lamps, can save building owners up to 80% in yearly energy costs. This is because the system relies on a combination of efficient high-bay luminaires and smart controls.
So not only is the system itself more efficient, with smart controls building owners can set the lights to turn on and off when needed. This can save significant dollars. There is no reason to light a room when no one is working in it, after all.
The SmartPOD isn’t the only lighting system tied into smart controls. Davis, though, says that a relatively small number of building owners or facility managers have actually installed these devices in their warehouses, industrial facilities, or other buildings.
Davis does think that this will change in the near future. A growing number of building owners are getting more comfortable with smart controls. Others are even considering moving to Internet-based systems that allow them to program exactly when lights should be on at full-power or half-power, and when they should be shut off completely.
Even before a majority of building owners make this jump, though, there are still plenty of opportunities for savings in the lighting arena, Davis says.
The key, though, is for manufacturers and distributors to sell a product that is not only efficient but one that produces high-quality lighting at the same time. Low utility bills without effective lighting is a sale that’s impossible to make, Davis says.
“We can never sacrifice light quality for energy savings,” says Davis. “We don’t put lights in the ceiling to save energy. We put lights in the ceiling so that we can see. There are ways to save lighting energy without sacrificing lighting quality.”
The Sales Job
Rodney Heller, lead designer and managing partner of Cottage Grove, WI-based Energy Performance Lighting, says that even with the cost savings that energy efficient lighting brings, it can still be difficult for manufacturers and distributors to sell their products to building owners and facility managers.
The problem? Owners sometimes fail, as Kay says, to estimate the true savings that they’ll receive from installing new lighting.
It’s a problem that’s especially acute in the private sector, Heller says.
“The thing that the private sector doesn’t do is look at all the savings they can receive from new, more efficient lighting. They look at the energy savings. Some even factor in the maintenance savings, which are also huge. But none of them look at human productivity when calculating the economic benefits of new lighting,” says Heller. “If your light is right and your employees are more comfortable and productive, does that count for anything? It should. But because building owners or business owners can’t put a hard number to it and throw it on a spreadsheet, it doesn’t get counted.”
That’s why Heller and others in the efficient-lighting business recommend that salespeople stress all the benefits that result from lighting that is both energy- efficient and high-quality.
Businesses need to understand that the right lighting, while it will reduce their yearly utility bills, will also result in employees who turn in more work during the day, Heller says.
Heller points to the five minutes a day that employees spend rubbing their eyes or walking away from their computer monitors because the overhead lighting in their office is either too bright or not bright enough.
“Translate that into productivity dollars, and you’ll find that you’re losing $700 to $800 a year in productivity with each of your employees,” says Heller. “If your new lighting project costs an average of $300 for every employee, you’ve paid for that project in half a year on these productivity increases alone. Unfortunately, there is no way to measure that accurately.”
The nation’s struggling economy has brought both good and bad news to the manufacturers and sellers of energy-efficient lighting.
Thanks to the weak economy, many businesses and governmental bodies are trying to reduce their operating costs. Energy-efficient lighting is an effective way to do this.
At the same time, the sluggish economy has made many companies and governments pull back their spending. These potential customers of energy efficient lighting are not yet comfortable enough to pay the upfront costs of lighting projects, even if these projects will result in solid yearly savings.
“Owners won’t spend a little money to make a lot more money in the long-run,” says Kay.
What would Kay like to see? She points to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then, Kay says, developers hired willing workers and relied on reasonably priced materials and equipment to create some of the country’s most iconic buildings, several of which—the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel—are still standing.
If developers put in the same kind of effort today, the country’s economy would receive a dramatic boost, Kay says. She points to the more than 30 million commercial and institutional buildings erected in the United States before 1940 that are still in use. If developers across the country would commit to equipping these buildings with upgraded, modern equipment, including new energy-efficient lighting, think of the jobs that would be created and the long-term savings that businesses and governmental bodies would enjoy from reduced energy bills.
And that doesn’t even factor in Heller’s human-productivity bonuses.
“Here is a huge, untapped market,” says Kay.
And Kay’s example only cites commercial buildings. Who knows how many residential buildings across the United States are still relying on outdated, inefficient lighting systems?
The good news for building owners, both in the private and public sector, is that lighting technology is constantly evolving. The manufacturers and distributors interviewed for this story say that new products are introduced on a regular basis that make it easier for government agencies and private companies to reduce their yearly lighting costs.
Kay says that it is important for company owners and government planners to consider all the technology available to them when considering ways to reduce their annual lighting costs.
The key, though, is for these officials to study their own buildings and facilities carefully, including the type of work that is performed in them, to make sure that they are using the right technology for their buildings. Just because a certain type of lighting technology—say, lighting systems powered by smart controls—works well for one warehouse building doesn’t mean it will work well for a building that manufactures a different product on a vastly different schedule.
“Only if all the energy-efficient technologies best suited for the particular application are known and used, can affordable, sustainable and acceptable lighting be created within the increasing regulations,” says Kay. “The more alternate lighting tools available, the better the results.”
That brings up the question of LED lighting. The US Department of Energy is a proponent of this kind of lighting. So far, though, LED lamps, which have received plenty of press, are not yet the answer for most business owners. LED lamps do have longer life spans, and they do consume less energy than do traditional fluorescent and incandescent lamps.
But LED lamps are also more expensive than are traditional lighting options. And these higher upfront costs have proven too much for most governmental bodies and private companies, so far.
“LEDs are still an evolving technology,” says Magnaray’s Leetzow. “They have not yet been perfected. I know that the Department of Energy wants LEDs, period. Unfortunately, there are still other sources of light that provide better lighting quality for lower upfront costs. These other sources also come with lower operating costs. The Department of Energy keeps hounding municipalities to use LED lights. But I think that the free market should dictate what lighting sources should be considered. And right now, the market says that most companies are exploring other efficient options.”
Heller says that LED lighting is becoming more viable for some users, thought not yet all. For instance, LED lighting with occupancy sensors are ideal for frozen spaces. LED lights thrive in cold environments, while heat, Heller says, is a natural enemy of LEDs. Refrigerated spaces, of course, eliminate that natural enemy.
“For office spaces and warehouses, though, LED lighting is still a little costly,” says Heller. “The cost benefit to going with LED is not there yet. It will be one day, but not yet.”
Heller, though, is seeing a new trend that is becoming popular in office spaces. Many building managers are installing just one lamp in their buildings’ standard 2-inch-by-4-inch ceiling fixtures. This lowers light levels in offices, but not in a negative way.
As Heller says, these offices were originally designed with paper-based tasks in mind. Today, most employees in these spaces work on computers. In such spaces, lower light levels make it easier to see computer screens.
“The screen pops,” says Heller. “You don’t want offices to be as dark as movie theaters, but you do want light levels lower than what you have when most of your employees are spending their days on paper-based tasks.”
This trend not only provides better lighting for office workers, it saves companies money on their yearly lighting bills. With just one lamp in a fixture, energy consumption is reduced.
At Sam Houston State University, Smith says that school officials are pleased with both the lower energy bills and the higher-quality lighting resulting from the campus’ energy efficient lighting installation.
During the first phase of the program, which concluded in the summer of 2012, workers replaced 4,700 light fixtures in the campus’ criminal justice building, 4,000 more in the university library and about 3,000 more in three other campus buildings. The school worked with Energy Performance Lighting on the project.
The Sam Houston State project is an important one because it proves the points made by Kay, Heller, and others: The total savings brought about by energy-efficient lighting are made up of a host of factors, not just lower energy consumption.
At Sam Houston State University, for example, the new efficient lighting also requires less maintenance. Smith says that three university employees would cover light maintenance, a job that they worked on for five days a week.
Today, though, with the new lighting systems, Smith only needs one worker to handle maintenance. The other two workers are still with the university. They just handle other maintenance tasks.
“We had great hopes and expectations for this lighting project,” says Smith. “It looks like they are being realized. We are all excited about the energy savings, of course. But I’m just as excited about having lights that don’t require so much maintenance. That gives our department much more flexibility. We can now use more of our people to their highest abilities.”
Author’s Bio: Dan Rafter is a technical writer and frequent contributor.