Skyrocketing energy costs mandate learning new technologies and products:

The energy crisis and resulting legislation have forced changes in lamps, ballasts and optics as well as in project design; energy-use limits are increasingly restrictive with each update to standards from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and state codes, said Mark Lien, accredited professional manager of Cooper Lighting’s The Source, Peachtree City, Ga.

“Skyrocketing oil, coal, gas and uranium prices generated rate hikes up to 72 percent kilowatt-hours. These increases accelerate the return on investment and provide a significant opportunity for consumers to buy premium, energy-efficient appliances,” Lien said. 

According to the Department of Energy, lighting consumes the most electricity of any appliance. “On the average, 40 percent of commercial electric bills are lighting, with HVAC and motors combined making up the next 40 percent. Since 80 percent of the lighting systems in the U.S. were installed before 1986, electrical contractors have a tremendous opportunity to use new technologies to reduce lighting costs,” Lien said.

“Thirty-five to 45 percent of a typical commercial building’s electric bill is lighting. As with previous energy crises, if local utility companies ramp up rebate programs, new construction and retrofit markets will be able to absorb the additional capital costs of the new technologies and reduce pay back on investment to an amount that makes sense for owners,” said Phil Petersen, executive vice president of Dynalectric, San Diego.

The effect of rising energy costs will be proportional to the magnitude of the increase, Petersen said. “If energy costs increase substantially, the change to our projects will be significant. These changes will involve not only new technologies but also overall building operating costs such as climate control, building envelopes types and the square footage per occupant.”

Residential lighting

Jeffrey Dross, product manager for Kichler Lighting, attended the Integrated Building and Construction Solutions conference in Washington, D.C., which focused on achieving a zero-energy home. The building industry, using incremental advances and cooperative efforts, is moving toward a home with 70 percent energy savings by 2020.

“This will be achieved with advances in insulation, windows, gap closure, HVAC and appliance efficiency plus various component changes. With those changes and currently available lighting technologies, in 2020, lighting will be the largest consumer of electricity in the home, moving from today’s approximate [of] seven percent to a whopping 45 percent,” Dross said.

Lighting will be in the spotlight, Dross said. “The industry will have a huge target on its collective back. We must prepare for a future where energy-efficient lighting becomes the standard, not the exception. Future homes will take advantage of every type of lighting: incandescent, fluorescent and solid state. Each will have a place and can co-exist in one harmonious home.”

Electrical contractors (ECs) must become familiar with available technology and products. As ECs help builders and homeowners decide what to install, understanding the total cost of lighting fixtures will be crucial. Energy costs will continue to rise.

“The momentary reductions we see are a blip in overall rise. An inefficient light source installed today will cost consumers many times more in the future, perhaps reducing home value,” Dross said.

Commercial/retail applications

In commercial applications, building operation costs also will skyrocket unless more efficient lighting is included or retrofitted. Many companies now produce energy-efficient lighting fixtures.

“The EC who knows them has discussed the product with the manufacturers’ representatives and who can convey the benefits to the consumer will be of far greater value than competitors who push the inefficient, costly version they have installed for years,” Dross said.

Cooper’s Lien said retail energy codes are changing the types of fixtures used in high-end stores. “For dramatic displays, incandescent sources like PAR and MR16 lamps typically are used. These lamps generally will not meet energy standards—thus will not be acceptable because incandescent sources use about four times the wattage of newer lamps.

“For retail applications, use small, controllable lamps to produce bright, well-defined pools of light creating dramatic effects on mannequins and displays and establishing focal points in the space,” Lien said.

Many new, efficient, small metal halide track and downlight products are available. T4 lamps are small and come in 20-, 39- and 70-watt versions that each can replace several fixtures with equivalent incandescent wattage. The energy savings offset the higher initial fixture cost.

In addition, the lighting market hopes white LEDs will gain efficiencies to replace incandescent sources, Lien said.

“LED technology has issues: ... inconsistent color, lower life than customers expect and thermal management concerns. Many researchers and manufacturers are addressing the problems. For specific applications, LEDs can be a great solution, but for general white light, the industry is working to catch up with the existing small metal halide and fluorescent technology.”

Petersen of Dynalectric said LED technology is rapidly improving and will become more prominent in lighting projects. “Control systems also appear to be ready to grow in leaps and bounds. With the green building movement and evolving energy-market concerns, lighting control systems will play a key role in providing proper lighting levels due to occupancy, natural daylighting and scheduled load shedding. Providing the correct amount of light only when needed will be critical to reduce energy costs.”

However, according to Randy Storch, president, Convia, the future of lighting is programmable technology. It is no wonder that what took the computer and telecommunications industries by storm is now making its way into lighting. In November, Convia, a Herman Miller Co., released a modular infrastructure for commercial buildings that delivers plug-and-play power virtually anywhere in an exposed-ceiling building. Using infrared technology and a remote control wand, this programmable electrical and data infrastructure will enable ECs to reconfigure a space and install a lighting fixture or other device and associate them to any switch in moments.

Using programmable technology will also contribute the following:

  • Reduced overall energy consumption and qualification of buildings for energy tax credits by improving the economics of installing and managing energy-efficient systems
  • Eliminated substantial landfill waste created when modifying a space using traditional electrical frameworks
  • LEED points for innovation and efficiency
  • Lowered material costs over a building’s life cycle

This type of technology is modular and organized along a ceiling plane, making it much easier for electricians to install and reconfigure. This will free up electrical contractors’ time for additional work and more complex jobs, thus helping to improve their overall revenue. Because this system allows the electrical infrastructure to easily accommodate change, tenants will be able to reconfigure their space more often, which will mean more business for ECs.

Energy code and RF solutions

Jana Alvino, market program manager, Leviton Integrated Networks and Controls, Littleneck, N.Y., said California contractors are mandated to install specific lighting complying with Title 24. In time, other states likely will follow suit.

Leviton’s new construction and retrofit products give ECs flexible options to sell new technologies and increase installation profit by offering homeowners more choices and involving them in product selection. Besides wanting to control lights easily and conveniently, homeowners want decorative lighting controls that blend with home interior colors.

 “Contractors can sell dimmers and occupancy sensors instead of standard switches and market the energy-efficient benefits of higher-margin products,” Alvino said. “Contractors have become tech-savvy and learned to install and program automated lighting controls in addition to simply wiring standard devices.”

“We are expanding the latest Vizia Collection of lighting controls with enhanced wireless technology to offer a competitively priced lighting control network,” said Grant Sullivan, product marketing manager at Leviton Manufacturing Home Automation Products, Bothel, Wash.

Leviton’s Z-Wave lighting control standard is affordable for mainstream jobs, enabling the lighting system to become a foundation for a well-distributed control network, Sullivan said.

“A ... wireless lighting system can coexist in an environment and interoperate with other devices including satellite radio, garage door openers, vehicles, security systems, HVAC and other common consumer systems. ... Installation is the same as in replacement techniques. Actual command and control functionality is accomplished through a straight-forward programming method, enhancing the contractor/consumer relationship. ECs will be perceived as trained and knowledgeable professionals.”

Retrofits reap rewards

Retrofits of standard metal halide interior fixtures in manufacturing, warehouses and big-box stores are one of the fastest growing markets, with projects showing the fastest return on investment being done first, Lien said.

“Fluorescent high-bays offer instant-on, occupancy sensing, multilevel switching options and savings up to 50 percent compared with standard metal halide product. Bottom line: Reasonably priced, energy-efficient lighting fixtures have strong demand.”

John Rankin, national product manager for Graybar, agrees retrofits are the best opportunity.

“Electrical contractors can save end-users big dollars by reducing energy consumption with new, energy-efficient lighting systems. Plus the government offers up to a 60 cent per-square-foot tax deduction for building owners who reduce consumption and meet the EPAct 2005 guidelines.”

Seize the opportunities

Education is the key to staying ahead of the competition, and many manufacturer-based educational facilities can help, Lien said.

“To differentiate yourself, learn about energy-saving options in lamps, fixtures and ballasts and become an expert in lighting controls. The demand for new types of daylighting, dimming and occupancy controls—as well as system controls that can relay information back to a central location when lamps and ballasts fail—is increasing and will continue to expand into commercial, industrial and residential applications. Controls save money quickly, but few in the lighting industry understand the technology and options. Talk to manufacturers about the programs they offer to identify opportunities and build additional business.”

“Contractors are seeing an increase in design/assist/build jobs as well as an ever-expanding breadth and depth of lighting products,” said David Moeller, Graybar national market manager—construction. “LEED-certified ‘green’ buildings are certainly more complex. We all look for long-term, profitable and productive relationships, and in this context, ECs have more risk/reward in the lighting segment today. These changes will drive contractors to become more specialized, either through hiring and training or by increasing working relationships with distributors. Graybar and its suppliers offer more training than ever to develop our teams and their ability to provide exceptional product selections, designs and project management.”

“Savvy electrical contractors make their clients aware of the options new technologies provide,” Petersen said. “The majority of Dynalectric’s work in San Diego is design/build. Keeping abreast of evolving lighting technologies helps us provide cost models for our clients that facilitate right decisions early in the project, thus weighing the capital costs spent up front verses the quality and life-cycle costs the client will experience when the building is complete.”                EC

WOODS writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached via e-mail at patwoods123@hotmail.com.