High-efficiency lighting sparks new market for electrical contractors:

High-efficiency lights are beginning to replace conventional incandescent, fluorescent and halide lamps in a variety of applications; as a result, many lighting manufacturers are focusing on expanding this presence within the lighting market.

Whether working on a new construction project or a renovation, energy-efficient design is one of the best opportunities available for cutting cost. In a typical commercial property, electrical contractors should take a look at the existing lighting design to ascertain if the long-term utility savings could offset the up-front investment required for a redesign or retrofit with energy-efficient lighting.

Obviously, assumed energy savings are key drivers for installing energy-efficient lighting systems. However, building owners are also concerned that some controls may compromise worker productivity. Occupancy sensors have changed their thinking to offer greater strategies for saving energy.

“There has been a big growth opportunity in the energy-efficiency division,” said Larry E. Smith, national sales manager for Cooper Lighting, Peachtree City, Ga., Energy Solutions Group. “From an energy standpoint, the fixtures now have a longer life, offer better lighting, better color and an all around better system for energy efficiency.”

With advances in technology, manufacturers are now able to produce better and cheaper energy-efficient products. The balance is slowly tipping as electric utilities continue to raise prices.

“Companies like us are now offering an array of products that provide a turnkey solution for the client, including design-type fixtures within the lighting system and can include a scope of work from beginning to end. The opportunity to save money has grown because of the increased cost in kilowatt hours as well as distribution problems with utility companies, and they continue to drive more opportunities.”

Building owners are now realizing that today’s energy-efficient technologies not only will maximize their investment but will reduce overall energy costs. Today’s installations include high-performance T8 (also known as Super T8) fluorescent lighting systems. These units offer up to 15 percent greater energy savings, better quality light and longer lamp life compared to the standard T8.

Industrial properties are using both T5 and T8 fluorescent fixtures to provide up to 45 percent savings over metal halide without any restrike issues. The overall general lighting benefits provide for reduced air conditioning and lamp replacement costs. Retail properties use metal-halide track lighting to realize a savings of more than 60 percent over standard halogen incandescent flood/spot lighting. Many retailers are also installing T8 fluorescent lights.

Government incentives
In January 2006, The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) went into effect, offering federal tax credits for purchasing energy-efficient appliances and products. Many of these tax credits will remain in effect through the end of this year.

The EPAct provides for a tax deduction for energy-efficient commercial buildings that reduce annual energy and power consumption by 50 percent compared to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 2001 standard. These tax deductions are driving up business for energy-efficient products.

“Our energy-efficient products have seen drastic increases,” Smith said. “There is more growth going forward with governmental tax deductions implemented by Congress and other utility companies. Energy is the number one driver into the future. Prices are not going to go down in the foreseeable future, and because of that, manufacturers like us are able to bring about better and more efficient products. During the 1990s, utility rates were lower, and there was not much drive for energy-efficient retrofits, but in this decade, it has been astronomical in terms of opportunities.”

The deduction equals the cost of energy-efficient property installed during construction, with a maximum deduction of $1.80 per square foot of the building. Additionally, a partial deduction of 60 cents per square foot would be provided for building subsystems.

New construction after Dec. 31, 2005, is eligible for a tax deduction of $1.80 per square foot, if annual energy and power costs of interior lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation and hot water systems are 50 percent or more below ASHRAE 90.1-2001. Interior lighting systems are eligible for up to $0.60 per square foot, depending on the reduction of consumption below the standard. Currently, the deductions only apply to buildings or systems placed in service in 2006 or 2007.

“More electrical contractors are increasing their bottom lines,” said Jason Sherrill, product manager for Cooper Wiring Devices, Peachtree City, Ga. “The demand from homeowners has increased as they remodel and look for differentiation in lighting packages, which sets the builder apart in the marketplace. The key features now are on security and energy conservation for both the commercial and residential owner. More and more people are looking into high-efficiency lighting with dimmers and motion sensors. It ties together into one complete package as these packages are able to offer cost savings in the long run.” It is important for contractors to create an environment that meets codes and standards while being aware of technological advances that reduce wattage without affecting lighting levels.

Occupancy sensors were made mandatory for new office construction larger than 5,000 square feet by the EPAct, which requires compliance with ASHRAE/IESNA 90.1.

“The electrical contractor, depending on the stage of the project, continues to be who the builder first calls even for low-voltage work,” Sherrill said. “There has been a big push for structured wiring as generations have grown up and as computers are more prevalent, these contractors are getting their foot in the door first.”

Renovation and building new
Some recently implemented building-efficiency programs offer both new construction and renovation/major retrofit projects with cash-back incentives for energy modeling, commissioning and high-efficiency equipment installations.

Every electrical contractor knows building renovations involve complete compliance with the current building code. The design team (architect, engineer or contractor) will be able to advise which scheme is best for the project. But generally speaking, if the renovations are somewhat modest and major lighting system changes are not in order, many older systems can be retrofitted to use less energy. Existing systems can be retrofitted if they are not being moved and your design team recommends retrofitting the fixtures in place.

Contractors should consider replacing a building’s entire lighting system if it is an antiquated system no longer suitable for a modern office environment. Modern spaces with computers generally should be updated to either parabolics or suspended indirect lighting systems. Obviously, entire systems should also be considered for replacement if the existing units are broken or damaged. In addition, systems mandate replacement if the cost of repair and new wiring exceeds the cost of removing the fixture.

On the other hand, if you are working with a relatively modern system that requires the retrofit of T8 lights and ballasts, you will be able to provide the updated energy-efficient system, especially if the property is an open commercial or industrial lighting system that can be easily retrofitted.

Entire building design approaches, however, focus on the interactions between building systems and components to optimize energy savings. When considering installations, be sure to take into account the building’s location and opportunities to integrate energy-saving design features.

Cost, however, has always been a barrier for lighting controls. When it comes to new construction, state energy codes mandate the implementation of sophisticated lighting design to achieve compliance. To improve energy efficiency, it is important to properly size systems to avoid prolonged periods of operation at partial capacity.

When dealing with the costs of an energy-efficient project, it is most important to note that most energy savings will pay for the cost of the new lighting system over a period of time.

Once the cost and hassle factors have been overcome, incentive programs for energy-efficient lighting technologies can be scrutinized. As a result, both the building owner and contractor can realize the market transformation procurement programs.

These approaches will increase market demand for energy-efficient lighting products and lower the product cost and market transformation. Many building owners opt to have a cost analysis performed so they may project anticipated paybacks over a specified period of time in an effort to determine which options offer the best savings potential.

While high energy prices are only getting higher, the increased growth of lighting technology has enabled electrical contractors to improve energy efficiency and capitalize on this unique niche.     EC

SPEED is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or kkspeed@aol.com.