This year brought sparse positive economic news, as soaring energy costs drove steep price increases and the mortgage meltdown stalled residential construction and later commercial construction with the credit crunch. For electrical contractors (ECs), however, the green movement translates into potentially lucrative opportunities thanks to continuing advancements in lighting technology and design.

One piece of good news was lighting fixture demand in the United States, which, according to Reuters, had been growing in excess of 3 percent and is expected to continue that annual pace through 2012, to $21.6 billion.

According to this forecast, growth through 2012 will be based on unit gains, not a series of price increases like those recorded during the 2004–2007 period, said Barry Weinbaum, CEO of Renaissance Lighting, Herndon, Va. For ECs across the country, the next three years could be looking slightly rosier.

A good portion of this anticipated growth will be in the outdoor lighting sector, where emphasis is being placed on green applications.

“Whether mandated or not, lighting’s future will be consumed by a much higher level of energy-consciousness, carbon-footprint reduction in the form of more lumens per watt, longer fixture life, reduced heat emissions and drastic reductions in maintenance,” Weinbaum said.

Technological trends

Over the next few years, we’ll see a wider variety of efficient outdoor lighting developed by major lighting companies. The raised efficacy demands placed on lighting by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will force many to evaluate their lighting.

“Continued deregulation of the power companies will raise electric rates even higher. The laws of supply and demand are going to change the status quo,” said Jeffrey Dross, product manager at Kichler Lighting, Cleveland.

Weinbaum said solid-state lighting has plenty of advanced technical attributes.

“It’s elegant, efficient and above all, what we call ‘eco-logical.’ There’s no mercury content, so disposal issues are negligible. Our solid-state lighting fixtures are producing more lumens, while consuming less energy than ever before. And depending on what method you use to measure total cost-of-ownership, solid-state fixtures increasingly land squarely in the win column due to their long life of 50,000 to 70,000 virtually maintenance-free hours, giving our environment another boost,” he said.

As energy costs continue to rise, so will the demand for energy-efficient outdoor lighting. Manufacturers have answered the call to action. Hundreds of exhibitors displayed mind-boggling light-emitting diode (LED) applications at Lightfair International this past May in New York. In the near future, lighting experts anticipate improvements, such as standardization in LED packaging and installation.

Many cities integrate LED technology in street, pathway and walkway lighting.

Most new and many rerofitted traffic signals already incorporate LEDs, and LED replacements for typical streetlights hit the market earlier this year and late last. But interest in decorative LED lighting should also grow.

“Many outdoor lighting specifiers are using clusters of the larger, higher powered LEDs for dramatic, outdoor lighting accents,” said David Moeller, national market manager—construction market at Graybar, St. Louis. “Clear white LEDs can illuminate between 30,000 and 40,000 hours. Colored LEDs last even longer.”

Often, it is worth investing additional money up front on energy-efficient outdoor lighting that emits more light, such as LEDs. This reduces the number of lighting fixtures and poles as well as the necessary wire and conduit. Fewer poles require less trenching. Also, it often makes sense to use the highest voltage circuit possible because that allows for more fixtures per circuit, reducing the gauge of wire or number of circuits needed.

Not all lighting sources are created equal, and not all applications can readily implement LED technology or other low-maintenance light sources, said a representative of Osram Sylvania, Danvers, Mass.

The application is an important factor for maintenance considerations because intended effects of retail lighting is very different from lighting for a sports venue.

Education available

While ECs recommend efficient lighting for new projects, they also should consider bringing these solutions to their existing customers. Frequently, these customers do not know about the newest lighting options.

Graybar, as well as many lighting manufacturers, provide tools and training to help contractors recognize these opportunities, calculate energy and cost savings, and finance the installation, which assists ECs in growing their business while helping their customers save money.

Graybar has enlisted lighting business development managers (LBDMs) across the country to educate facility owners and managers about the benefits of updating lighting systems. When LBDMs secure business, they also design new, efficient lighting systems and work with electrical contractors’ customers.

Because every situation is different, Graybar works closely with ECs to develop customized customer solutions. In general, ECs should consider local ordinances and seek opportunities to reduce costs and evaluate maintenance and environmental issues, such as light pollution or inefficient energy usage.

Prevent light pollution

Light trespass is a major concern in planning for outdoor lighting. Light pollution has become a nationwide issue, and customers are trying to minimize the light that spills into neighboring areas. ECs can choose products that restrict light to targeted locations.

To help maintain dark skies, Graybar’s Moeller suggests using infrared illumination and security cameras to monitor facilities. Graybar helps ECs evaluate the situation and will recommend solutions that meet their customers’ needs.

Energy waste is unacceptable, and we are learning ways to proactively prevent light pollution. The Osram Sylvania representative said fixtures play an integral role in maintaining dark skies, as do application and placement.

Avoid over-lighting

The Illuminating Engineering Society and the International Dark-Sky Association are finalizing a model lighting ordinance (MLO), promoting a more sensitive use of outdoor lighting related to locale. A byproduct of the ordinance will be more efficient light that is ecologically sensitive, more “neighborly” and less glaring.

Put this ordinance in the context of rising energy costs and an aging population with night-vision issues, and it immediately becomes valuable for multiple reasons.

“ECs need to consider not only the local laws and ordinances, but why they’re being enforced,” Dross said. “ECs will help design more effective outdoor lighting installations. The Dark-Sky MLO should be called the ‘Good Lighting’ MLO. Communities with little or no interest in dark skies will adopt the legislation simply because it mandates intelligent and well-thought-out lighting direction that also saves money.”

Beyond the MLO, state, local and national legislation covering lighting will be offered and implemented over the next few years.

“Electricity used by lighting is in the spotlight now and for the foreseeable future,” Dross said. “The EPA and the DOE want to reduce electricity used for lighting. That will occur through changes in daylighting techniques, light sources, increased use of fluorescent and LEDs along with improved lighting efficiency. It will be directed by financial incentives, legislative mandates and consumer demand. ECs need to pay close attention to these voices in coming years.”

Most lighting systems, both indoor and outdoor, can use an energy makeover, said the Osram Sylvania representative. A great deal of wasted energy from outdoor lighting comes from misapplication, fixture placement and fixture choice. There are several aspects of a lighting install that an EC or lighting designer must consider prior to choosing lamp type.

Much wasted light comes from ineffective fixture placement. Functionality and safety should be considered when selecting strategic locations. While outdoor lighting of a building and grounds may be aesthetic, in many cases it is not necessary.

One of the best ways to reduce outdoor lighting waste is by avoiding high-intensity discharge lighting products. Timing and photoelectric controls also can help improve efficiency by ensuring the lights only turn on when absolutely necessary.

“Consider the environmental consequences of wasted energy with unnecessary fixtures, and use CFL or LED lights wherever and whenever possible,” said Mark Lynders, divisional general manager of lighting fixtures at Westinghouse Lighting Corp., Philadelphia.

Over-lighting can threaten wildlife. Sea turtles use beaches as incubation areas and are summoned back to the ocean by high-frequency light, such as moonlight reflecting off the water. Nearby lighting using HID, fluorescent or LED light sources can attract these turtles and actually cause their deaths. According to the Osram Sylvania representative, sea turtles aren’t attracted to high-pressure sodium lamps, so when they are applied, the turtles won’t be confused.

Prevent vandalism

Nationwide, vandalism is a challenge to maintaining outdoor lighting, especially in commercial and industrial applications.

The new LED outdoor lighting fixtures have an integral light source, Dross said.

“Many of the components are protected in potting. Simply by nature of their design, these new lighting fixtures will be less vulnerable to criminal elements,” he said.

Lynders said motion-sensor lighting placed on top of buildings or out of reach prevents vandalism or tampering. Other options may include fixtures with a protective cage around lamps.

Placement is important. For facade lighting, for example, wall pack fixtures can replace ground or bollard fixtures.

Outside growth

While the stagnant economy may present challenges for finding new construction work, present and forthcoming energy mandates can provide retrofit opportunities in unexpected places.

Recently, I visited the third-largest amusement park in Europe, which opened in 1843. The massive complex, which draws 4.5 million visitors each year, reminded me of an earlier version of Disneyland. A promotional handout boasted of 40 restaurants, 25 rides, numerous entertainment venues—and 120,000 incandescent lamps.

Keep your eyes open for outdoor lighting retrofit opportunities in your area.

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