Do lighting controls save on electricity? Absolutely.
“There’s just so much you can do with lighting controls today, and it seems with more control, there’s even more electricity savings,” said Stuart Berjansky, technical director for DesignLights Consortium (DLC). “We found that giving people more access to control over lighting, in some cases through remote means, yields even greater reductions in energy use.”
DLC, a nonprofit, works with utilities, manufacturers, lighting designers, building owners and government entities to create criteria for lighting performance in keeping with the latest technologies.
The average reduction in electrical use for lighting after installing networked lighting controls is 49%, according to a September 2020 report by DLC and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.
Savings vary per commercial setting, of course, and it’s important to note that networked lighting controls yield optimum savings and benefits beyond standalone controls, Berjansky said. At the low end of the energy-savings spectrum for networked lighting controls, lighting-related energy use plummets 28% for buildings where people assemble for entertainment or public activities and 40% for manufacturing facilities, according to DLC. Office settings with networked lighting controls have the potential to cut lighting-related energy use by as much as 64%.
“Various industry studies have shown that, in a typical office setting, you’ll see a savings of 30% just by changing a standard on-off switch to an occupancy sensor, which can switch lights off altogether when no one is around,” Berjansky said.
“Without utilizing the intelligent capacities that come with networked lighting controls, you can hope these adjustments work for everyone, but maybe for one person it’s too much. People sometimes put electrical tape over the daylight sensors, but then the lights will be consistently brighter in a larger area. When that happens, that’s not making use of the technology,” he said.
Commercial/institutional efficiency strategies
To take full advantage of networked lighting control technologies, Berjansky recommends these strategies:
- Vacancy sensors for personal spaces that enable manual on and automatic off
- Occupancy sensors for dimming and switching off lights in corridors and conference rooms when they’re not in use
- Daylight harvesting, which allows for automatically adjusting lighting in areas near windows and skylights
His recommendations keep with the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which regulates energy-efficient building design. New measures expand mandatory use of lighting controls, such as occupancy sensors in corridors, warehouse aisles and open offices, and require dimmers to be set at 50% brightness or below when areas are not in use, according to the Lighting Controls Association. The new code also requires daylight harvesting in window areas.
Codes change every three years, and the pace of adoption varies widely across the country. Many states are still working with 2018 or earlier IECC measures. Other states also follow ASHRAE 90.1–1999 as a national energy standard.
Beyond the office setting, warehouses offer the greatest energy saving potential, according to DLC, because significant portions remain dormant for much of the day. Occupancy sensors, which flick nearby lights on only when forklifts and people are present, can save as much as 68%. That’s important to know, because warehouses were the most common commercial building in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While there was some tapering back on construction and even closures during the pandemic, warehouse numbers are expected to grow in response to the popularity of e-commerce.
Lighting controls can also create mood, control color or supplement security. They can even facilitate equipment use and keep hospital patients secure.
“Many hospitals track the location of equipment, including beds (and diagnostic equipment), using lighting controls technology,” Berjansky said.
For keeping patients secure, occupancy sensors, security cameras and door locks can also tie into wireless technology that reads signals emitted by chips embedded in tags.
What does it take to convince businesses, government leaders and others operating in nonresidential settings to install new lighting controls and achieve significant energy reductions as well as many other benefits?
“The technology is there, but it’s a matter of application,” Berjansky said, who has worked in the lighting industry for more than 20 years. “It’s that technology costs so much and people just don’t want to pay.”
To address this problem, utility companies all over the United States have been working to develop energy-efficiency programs; such programs help customers defray costs of installations for new lighting as well as controls and other energy-saving devices.
“Most of the time, their customer incentives take the form of a check,” Berjansky said.
Utility companies also work with DLC to develop new energy-efficient lighting and lighting control programs, and they recruit advocates to let their customers know about installation incentives and rebates.
“To expand their reach, many utilities have enlisted lighting installers and electrical contractors in trade ally programs,” Berjansky said.
Electrical contractors that become trade or program allies often help walk utility customers through the rebate application process.
“This is extremely important when you think about how energy use has grown,” Berjansky said. “With all the EVs coming online, utilities don’t want to be building new power plants. They’re having to figure out how to reduce demand.”
About 76 private U.S. utilities specify DLC lighting products and controls and offer significant rebates to qualifying customers.
One of these is Ameren Illinois, Collinsville, Ill. The electric and gas delivery company serves about three-quarters of the state and has enlisted several ECs throughout its territory to serve as program allies.
“We’re heavily invested in the success of our customers,” said Nicholas Crowder, energy efficiency business program advisor for Ameren Illinois. “Offering incentives for energy-saving equipment like new lighting and lighting controls helps us to better serve our customers. It also allows the industry to address the ever-growing demand for electricity and avoid building additional distribution infrastructure. This helps support customer affordability.”
Among Ameren Illinois’ 565 active program allies is A&I Electrical Inc. of Steeleville, Ill. The family-owned business specializes in lighting controls and has partnered with Ameren as a program ally since 2018. In recent years, A&I Electrical has completed about 30–40 retrofits and new construction projects involving lighting controls.
“With Ameren [Illinois], we’re generally helping the bigger customers who consume more electricity,” said Steven Tanner, A&I Electrical’s vice president.
Tanner also encourages lighting control installations for customers served by smaller utilities and co-ops, which don’t always offer incentives.
“Even without rebates, the cost savings with controls and new equipment makes the installations worthwhile,” Tanner said. “An installation quickly pays for itself.”
Tanner has helped school districts, warehouses and manufacturing plants.
“You spell out what you plan to do, and Ameren Illinois gives you a system to help you mill through the paperwork and select the products. They basically have cookie-cutter incentives that apply to their customers’ kilowatt savings ranges,” Tanner said.
A member of the Illinois Energy Efficiency Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG), Ameren Illinois works with others in updating the Illinois State Technical Reference Manual, which provides a consistent basis for kilowatt and natural gas therm savings through participation in Illinois efficiency programs.
“Ameren also suggests this or that type of light for a certain category,” Tanner said. “It has to be DLC-listed or other quality equipment that’s installed, because they’re looking out for their customers.”
The rebate money comes from a line-item charge on Ameren Illinois utility bills that’s tied to the energy-efficiency program legislated and approved by the state.
“We want all customers to participate as much as they can to reduce their energy usage,” Crowder said.
As a program ally, Tanner said he’s not an aggressive salesperson, but he is enamored with the notion of how lighting and other controls curb energy use.
“When I truly feel it’s going to be helpful, I put it out there and let the customer decide,” he said.
From his track record, the strategy works.
Like A&I, Springfield, Ill.-based Anderson Electric Inc. is an active Ameren Illinois program ally. Rodney Frey Jr., branch manager for Anderson’s Springfield office, said of the rebate, “It does help sell a project. If I’m upgrading a system and telling a customer about a cost incentive, that means they’re going to get 20% back in a rebate. There’s value in that.”
Also, Frey said, Ameren Illinois insists only high-quality products be installed.
“Ameren has done its due diligence as far as finding DLC and Energy Star products,” Frey said. “They set the standard for us helping customers achieve maximum energy savings for the long run. It’s much better for the end-user.”
There’s a growing number of indoor horticulture operations, known as controlled environment agriculture (CEA) that can qualify for energy-efficiency incentives. CEAs have been cropping up in response to a growing desire to grow locally to avoid transportation and supply issues and the demand for medical and adult-use cannabis.
DLC continues to expand its qualified products list for lighting products for CEAs. At least two dozen utility companies in North America already specify the use of DLC products for CEA operators participating in energy-efficiency programs.