The Lighting Upgrade Market

Lighting represents a substantial portion of the annual energy use and expense of any commercial building despite building owner and occupant energy -conservation and efficiency efforts. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) data (, the percentage of annual electric energy use attributable to lighting in commercial facilities varies by occupancy from around 30 percent for food service buildings to more than 50 percent for educational buildings and around 45 percent for office buildings. Lighting upgrades still represent a viable market for the electrical contractor (EC) and can be the cornerstone of its energy services business. It’s up to you to inform your customers how lighting upgrades can reduce their expenses and benefit them in other ways.

Many ECs consider lighting upgrades to be a mature market that does not have a lot of future potential, except as a service that is complementary to major building system upgrades and the installation of distributed energy systems, such as fuel cells and photovoltaics (PV). The logic behind that point of view is that lighting upgrades represent the “low-hanging fruit” of the energy services market that have already been done, and now it is time to move on to other building systems. It is true that there has been a concerted effort to improve lighting system efficiency in the United States for decades, but if you think the lighting upgrade market is done, just look up in your customers’ buildings. You will see the future lighting upgrade market.

Lighting products, standards and recommended practices, energy codes, government regulations, and the drive for increasingly sustainable buildings have not stood still in recent years. What was state of the art in terms of lighting efficiency and quality a few years ago is now old technology. Today, advances in light sources, luminaires and controls are happening at a dizzying pace. The application of power electronics and digital technology to architectural lighting products is revolutionizing the lighting industry just like these technologies have forever changed the entertainment, automotive, home appliance, and other traditional industries and will change the landscape of the power industry in the not too distant future. The rate of change in the lighting industry today is more akin to the rate of innovation in building communications and control systems over the past decade, especially when compared to the incremental advances in established lighting technologies experienced in the past.

Who are your potential customers?
The electrical contractor’s existing customer base should be the starting point for marketing lighting upgrades. Any commercial building built or renovated more than just a few years ago stands to benefit. Many existing buildings have never had a lighting upgrade, and even if the building’s lighting has been upgraded in the past, it may be outdated now.

Your service technicians, who are in your customers’ facilities regularly, are your best source of potential lighting upgrade leads. In fact, your service technicians may be your best salespeople because they know your customers and typically have the customers’ trust and knowledge of their operations, energy usage and concerns.

To become crackerjack lighting upgrade marketers, your service technicians may need continuing education about lighting and control technology advances and how these commercially available technologies can benefit a customer’s business. This education may be available through courses at the local apprenticeship-training center; from lighting manufacturers, representatives, and distributors; and at industry meetings, seminars and conventions.

Speaking the customer’s language
Selling customers on lighting upgrades requires the EC’s personnel to understand the customers’ business and speak their language. To most customers, energy and lighting system performance is not part of their core business or everyday language. The promise of such things as “kilowatt-hour savings” or “visual comfort index” are very important metrics that can be used to convey how a lighting upgrade can affect the customer’s bottom line and occupant behavior. However, the meaning of these and other terms will probably be lost on the customer. To be successful in marketing lighting upgrades and energy services, the electrical contractor must translate key energy and lighting concepts into language the customer understands.

To many customers, if the lights come on in the morning, everything is fine, and there is no need for an upgrade. To sell a lighting upgrade, the EC must show the proposed improvements will not only produce real dollars-and-cents savings over the customer’s existing system, but it will result in a return on investment that is better and less risky than other competing core business investment alternatives.
This article is the result of a research project, “Energy Roadmap: Electrical Contractor’s Guide for Expanding Into the Emerging Energy Market,” sponsored by ELECTRI International, Inc. Thanks to EI for its support.

GLAVINICH is director of Architectural Engineering & Construction Programs and an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 and

About the Author

Thomas E. Glavinich

Freelance Writer
Thomas E. Glavinich was an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. His tenure as one of Electrical Contractor's most trusted and reliable source of industry research end...

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