With national emphasis on energy reduction in the commercial sector, the use of lighting-control technology represents a key means of enhancing building efficiency. At the same time, the evolving field of lighting controls has become increasingly complicated. Some electrical contractors struggle to keep up with the proper application and installation of this rapidly changing technology.

Responding to this gap more than five years ago, lighting efficiency stakeholders—including utilities, manufacturers, engineers and academics in California—promoted and developed the nonprofit, volunteer-driven California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP), a statewide initiative intended to use education and training to increase the proper installation and effective use of lighting controls in commercial buildings and industrial facilities. While it is currently most applicable for California, it’s a training model other states could adapt and implement. A few other states already have.


The group followed this up a few years ago by rolling out its CALCTP Acceptance Testing Program to ensure an even greater level of understanding and expertise among contractors, electricians and quality-control technicians when it comes to building projects involving lighting controls.


According to Mike Goodwin, project manager for renewable energy and special systems at M.B. Herzog Electric Inc., Paramount, Calif., the dual programs have been extremely effective in elevating these projects’ level of lighting-control expertise, energy-efficiency performance and return on investment. 


Thanks to the training, Goodwin said, “We feel more confident in our people and can bid lighting-control jobs more effectively. We use CALCTP-certified wiremen for our jobs because they have the expertise and are able to do the work right the first time.”


I recently sat down with Bernie Kotlier, executive director of energy solutions for the California Labor Management Cooperation Committee (LMCC) and a founding member and co-chairman of CALCTP, and James Benya, a professional engineer and lighting designer and principal at Benya Burnett Consultancy, to discuss the original mission and status of CALCTP, its new acceptance-testing curriculum, and how these cutting-edge education and training programs are turning out a new generation of contractors who are more well-versed in the field of lighting controls than ever before.


Why was CALCTP launched?

Kotlier: The achievement of sustainable energy efficiency involves the use of new and emerging technologies, so contractors need to be experts in applying them. Of all of the opportunities to save energy in a building, lighting represents one of the largest energy users in buildings of all types, double that of air conditioning. 


Within lighting, the installation and maintenance of advanced lighting controls represents a huge opportunity. LEDs are already very energy-efficient, so techniques to shut them off and dim them down—such as through occupancy sensing, daylight harvesting and other approaches—are now the biggest opportunities for energy savings. But, back in 2008, California utilities told us that their incentive programs were not working as well as they could because lighting controls were not always performing optimally or being installed properly by contractors.


Working on behalf of California electrical contractors and electricians, our LMCC board of trustees in California agreed that we needed to help contractors be more successful in applying and installing sustainable energy-efficiency measures, such as lighting controls, and that training, networking and building examples of these were all part of that process. That’s why we joined other CALCTP stakeholders to train and certify eligible contractors and electricians.


Benya: Lighting controls are being invented and introduced to the market at an increasing rate, such that we probably have at least two dozen different system architectures in place now, each with their own peculiarities and most sharing an overall lack of standardization. At the same time, LED lighting has its own unique properties. Controlling LEDs is different than controlling legacy light sources, and this only makes the process more complex. As a result, most contractors and electricians are often not well-versed in how to install and commission today’s lighting-controls systems.


It’s unfair to expect contractors and electricians to keep up without specialized training, but we do. Without such training, innate wiring problems can result in major project delays and cause for liquidated damages and penalties, which the contractor may be required to shoulder. Or worse, the building’s lighting controls won’t work at all, wasting enormous amounts of energy and all of the money invested in the lighting control system. Today, the more sophisticated contractors have engineers on staff with controls expertise and well-trained and experienced field personnel, but not all contractors have this or are required to. Training was the obvious solution to address those deficiencies and help standardize the market’s understanding and use of lighting controls.


How does CALCTP work, and what are the results?

Kotlier: CALCTP is a comprehensive, robust, demanding and very successful statewide and industry-wide program that’s been backed by the U.S. Department of Labor as well as manufacturers, utilities (including Southern California Edison, PG&E and San Diego Gas & Electric), state agencies, and California universities as well as contractors and electricians. The program for electricians involves 65 hours of training, 40 of which includes hands-on practice with training boards in a lab, and the cost of the lab equipment is roughly $3,000–4,000 per electrician. Since it was launched in 2010–2011, 2,500 electricians in California are CALCTP trained and certified, and another 200 contractors, including top and middle-level managers, have received technical education.


CALCTP training is offered at utility training centers, community colleges and joint apprenticeship and training committee sites (JATCs). There are currently 21 apprentice training centers throughout California, two of which are zero- net-energy-certified facilities, which serve as showcases and examples of what contractors and electricians who are experts in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy can produce. In addition to enabling contractors and electricians to become experts in this technology, the CALCTP and zero-net-energy programs also send the message that these channel members are the go-to experts in lighting controls and other sustainable-energy technologies in the marketplace.


Benya: The training is substantial and hands-on and picks up where the average electrician or contractor’s training and knowledge probably left off. On several of my recent projects employing state-of-the-art controls, I’ve witnessed first-hand the positive difference that CALCTP training makes.


Tell us about the CALCTP Acceptance Testing Program

Kotlier: In 2013, the California Energy Commission (CEC) determined that state-certified acceptance testing of lighting controls projects should be part of the energy section of the Title 24 building code, which is reviewed and updated every three years. The version implemented on July 1, 2014, included state-certified acceptance testing by trained and certified testers, and the CALCTP was designated as the first certified body of acceptance testers. Since launching this program within the last two years based on a curriculum developed by the California Lighting Technology Center at U.C. Davis, CALCTP now has over 1,000 CALCTP state-certified acceptance testers.


The state has a formal acceptance-testing quality-assurance program for lighting-control installations by electricians and contractors, which is important in light of the fact that there are more controls mandated under Title 24 than ever before. Based on feedback we’ve received, those who have used CALCTP-­certified electricians and contractors and acceptance testers have been very pleased with their installations and have experienced very few callbacks or problems.


Benya: I fully appreciate the difference between traditional electrical work and the improvement that a CALCTP-trained contractor and electrician bring. But, without laws requiring trained electricians, the one way we can assure that controls work as designed is through the use of lighting-controls acceptance testing. A Certified Lighting Controls Acceptance Testing Technician is well-trained and state-certified. This ensures testing according to plan and code and a building can’t get a certificate of occupancy until that occurs. The process requires that final step to ensure that everything is working properly. If the lighting controls don’t work, the building’s entire energy picture won’t perform, so it’s in everyone’s best interests for this job to be done right.


Do you feel these programs are working effectively?

Kotlier: Years back, many electricians and contractors believed that they knew how to wire and install lighting controls and didn’t think they needed training. We made it easy for them to get training, and, once they got involved and began applying their knowledge in the field, they became believers and supporters.


Benya: It’s true. To this day, many contractors and electricians think that they can figure out the controls as they go. Very few see the need to invest in training on their own, while in the meantime, the lighting controls market was moving fast, which was leading to calamity and installations that were incorrectly done. The only antidote to this is knowledge and formalized training that’s structured and enforced. While contractors and electricians can get training through manufacturers and other providers as well, CALCTP is among the best lighting-controls-training programs because it’s updated for a fast-moving market and the information is offered in an organized way that the average electrician can follow.


What does the future hold for these programs?

Kotlier: CALCTP was developed for California, but this training has expanded to other states under the National Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (NALCTP), where it’s monitored by third-party administrator ICF International, based in Washington, D.C. NALCTP provides free licenses to use the NALCTP curriculum to responsible groups who want to use them and who can cover the average $30,000–35,000 cost to administer the program on a per-state basis.


NALCTP is currently established in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Washington and will soon be expanding into Canada. Looking ahead, we’ve also recognized the importance of training architects, lighting designers, engineers and building operators on lighting controls and are currently developing two new curriculums: one for specifiers and one for building operators. CALCTP believes that, ultimately, unless you train everyone in the chain, lighting-control systems will be more subject to failure or less-than-desired performance.


Benya: I was part of the core team that started work on a specifier training and certification program aimed mostly at controls, and everyone in the process must do his/her job correctly and in the right sequence. I think it goes beyond contractors, electricians, architects and engineers. While the IES, NEMA, and the Lighting Controls Association and their members have done a good job of education and at least some level of standardization, I think we have a long way to go. What worries me is the trend towards the Internet of Things and the belief among electronics companies that lighting controls are a new growth market. Without standards, we’ll end up with a nation full of buildings whose lights only run under Android 5 or Apple iOS 8—all wired differently. I don’t know how as an industry we’ll educate specifiers, contractors, commissioning agents and acceptance-testing technicians fast enough if we don’t slow down enough to set standards that are sufficiently universal for everyone to learn.


What message would you like to share with ECs?

Kotlier: The most important thing that I communicate to channel members is that, over the last 20–30 years, there’s been an ever-increasing demand for energy efficiency, and the industry has responded by creating more and more sophisticated, complex and networked technology to save energy than ever before. If we want these advanced systems to work, the people who install and maintain them must have equally sophisticated expertise, but the level of training hasn’t kept pace with the complexity and evolution of the technology. The CALCTP installation and acceptance testing initiatives are focused on eliminating that gap and bringing today’s understanding and application of lighting controls among contractors and electricians to the same level of sophistication as the technology itself.


Benya: Acceptance testing is the final checkpoint on the road to controls success. I support CALCTP and NALCTP and am professionally grateful for their vision and leadership. Now we need to look at the rest of the industry’s lack of certification and mandatory education and demand an equal level of professionalism, preferably supported by the state.


For more information on CALCTP, NALCTP or the acceptance- testing curriculum, visit www.calctp.org or www.nalctp.org.