Energy Crisis Presents Energy-efficient Retrofit and New Installation Opportunities

The ongoing energy crisis in California has opened wide the doors of opportunity for electrical contractors—not only in that state, but all around the country—to sell energy-efficient retrofits and new installations. That is the general consensus of several lighting and lighting controls manufacturers with whom Electrical Contractor spoke recently. And just how, precisely, can contractors best seize the day? While suggestions run the gamut, vis-à-vis products, most manufacturers agree contractors should know their options to ready themselves to meet any challenge. One of the easiest ways to save substantial wattage in outdoor installations is to keep existing fixtures and ballasts and, where possible, just change the lamp type, said Steve Goldmacher, director, public affairs at Philips Lighting. “For example, replacing a 175-watt mercury vapor or metal halide lamp with a new 150-watt high-pressure sodium lamp that works in the existing ballast reduces wattage by more than 15 percent.” For indoor fluorescent lighting, he recommends replacing a four-lamp T12 magnetic ballast system using two ballasts with a one-ballast, three-lamp T8 electronic system. This replacement system yields higher lumen at lower system wattage and can save up to 43 percent of energy cost without requiring much labor. Tony Burns, manager, marketing programs at GE Lighting Systems, suggests using existing energy-saving products such as bi-level lighting systems for high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting that provides for brightly lit work spaces when occupied, but automatically revert to lower, energy-saving light levels when unoccupied. “The energy savings can be significant when considering that many commercial and industrial facilities are occupied as little as 25 percent of the time,” he said. For outdoor lighting, Burns recommends careful attention to lighting design, ensuring that outdoor light is aimed properly and not wasted into the sky. “When glare and light trespass are reduced (such as can be achieved with full cut-off fixtures), light goes where it is intended and fewer fixtures can be used to do the same job more efficiently,” he said. Henry Warner, vice president of public affairs, Ruud Lighting, said that you can get more light output from less wattage by using new pulse start metal halide in place of older, probe start metal halide or HPS. “Savings vary depending upon the wattage, but rule of thumb, you can achieve up to 25 percent in energy savings,” he said. Various manufacturers offer pulse-start lamp and ballast retrofit packages that can install in any manufacturer’s lighting fixtures, he said. “To be sure that the installation doesn’t sacrifice any light, verify that the light center of the lamp is about the same in the replacement as in the original lamp.” Robert Roller, executive vice president of marketing for Advanced Lighting Technologies, the parent company of Venture Lighting, suggests that contractors recommend to their retail customers replacement of the traditional incandescent PAR lamps and MR16 fixtures in the selling space with ceramic metal halide that yields the high color rendering often preferred by designers. Tom Benton, director of marketing and product development, HID division of Cooper Lighting, offers an inexpensive slam-dunk retrofit for commercial and industrial installations—replace existing incandescent exit signs, which typically run, 24x7, at 40 watts of incandescent or at 18 watts fluorescent, with light-emitting diode (LED) exit signs, which can run on as little as 2 watts. Benton also said, in areas where local utilities offer rebates for installing various types of energy-efficient lighting products, “contractors suggest that clients take advantage of the opportunity for added incentives, further accelerating the payback to the clients while offering incremental sales opportunities for themselves.” The national awareness of the energy crisis offers contractors a great opportunity to promote lighting control equipment, such as dimmers, products that have been around a while, but up until now not widely used, said Brian Dunbar, director of the wallbox business unit, Lutron Electronics. “Contractors prepared to discuss varied energy-efficient options can offer their expertise to clients as a value-added service that could make the difference in winning the contract.” RAB Lighting CEO Richard Barna concurred. “Without changing lamps or fixtures, it is often possible to effect dramatic savings simply by installing sensors in areas—such as copy rooms, cafeterias, and private offices—where lighting is needed only when there is motion. And typically, sensors that replace light switches are very easy to install.” “Controls have typically been perceived as options only for interior lighting, but there are also significant opportunities for energy savings using time-based controls in site lighting,” said Cheryl English, vice president, technical marketing services, Lithonia Lighting Group. For commercial exterior applications, in areas where concentrated dusk-to-dawn lighting is not essential, Barna sees the greatest savings occurring by scaling back very bright dusk-to-dawn lighting so that a minimal number of dusk-to-dawn fixtures remain lit and the rest operate on motion sensors. “If three of four fixtures in an installation are switched to sensor control, you are immediately saving 75 percent of the energy, without compromising on security, because if there is any motion, the lights go on.” Gino Dabbicco, director, commercial products division, corporate marketing, Leviton Manufacturing Co., suggests contractors use service calls as opportunities to upsell energy-efficient components. “Contractors need to educate property owners in understanding that these types of products help improve their bottom line.” Many manufacturers of energy-efficient lighting products offer training programs specifically targeted at electrical contractors or otherwise help contractors with sales pitches, presentations, technical information, and even energy audits to help “sell” customers. “Contractors are in the business of satisfying demand for the customer. To educate themselves in how to make the customer aware of the need, contractors should take advantage of the services that are offered,” Dabbicco said. The FELDMANS provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at or (914) 238-6272.

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