LED Projects Must Be Carefully Planned

LED_savingsExperts peg the changeover to LEDs as perhaps the most dramatic way to improve energy efficiency. It is the “killer app.”

It therefore is no surprise that projects are announced on an almost daily basis. There extravagant claims about energy and cost savings, better quality light and longer operational life of the LEDs generally are true. These projects, however, are not the same and offer different levels of energy savings. Great care must be taken in optimizing each project.

George Crawford, the Principal of Green Partners in New York City is posting a feature at The New York Real Estate Journal on the amount of money that a retrofit can save. A key is to call in experts, he told Energy Manager Today. “In general, it is best for a building manager to work with a consultant who can source rebates and as well is familiar with the latest advances in the LED product,” Crawford wrote. “There are funding programs that have just been announced by utilities, but there often are requirements that a participating contractor needs to be in the loop for a building to receive funding. A building needs to work [with] a participating contractor or work with the marketing partner to make it work.”

Crawford’s article distinguishes between the savings likely with different types of projects. A changeover from incandescent to LED lighting can create a payback period of less than a year. A fluorescent to LED tube project offers a payback period of about two years. A changeover from fluorescents to LED tubes and fixtures could provide a payback of about three years. Rebates and other types of incentives can shrink each of these time periods.

It’s a win/win, since improvements in the quality of the lighting goes hand-in-hand with the lower costs. Crawford told Energy Manager Today. “The first thing is to identify the correct product, because it’s going to be with them for a long time,” Crawford told Energy Manager Today. “There are a couple of issues to this. The first is the color. They come in a broad range of colors, from a very blue light that is appropriate for parking lots to a medium blue that is appropriate for an office  and warmer range that are in a residential context.”


Last month, The Retrofits Companies posted a case study of a high intensity discharge (HID) to LED change out that it performed for an unnamed company. It’s worth visiting the site to see the dramatic differences in the before and after photographs of the facility’s parking lot. The client, according to The Retrofit Companies, will save 70 percent in energy usage and utility cost and receive almost $13,000 in utility rebates.

Deploying LEDs is a bit of a no-brainer – which is why they are so common. It is vital that they be done carefully, however, to squeeze every dollar and watt out of the project. Moving to LEDs is far more complex than screwing in a new light bulb or changing out an appliance. In July, Big Ass Solutions Director of Sales Mike Robinson posted a detailed commentary at Energy Manager Today on industrial facilities lighting upgrades. The piece provides insight into the process. The most important single point is that while an LED upgrade isn’t forever, it’s pretty close. That’s why extra care is warranted:

A LED retrofit is a long-term investment. Typical high-quality fixtures are rated for 150,000 hours, or 17 years of round-the-clock use. A retrofit, done well, should last for well more than a decade, and its cost benefit is partially calculated on the fact that LEDs require little to no maintenance. That’s why the quality of your site visit, layout recommendation, installation and customer service plan are more significant than they would be for metal halides or fluorescent fixtures, which require maintenance every two to three years. To maximize your project’s return on investment, calculate the cost of ownership over time, rather than just the up-front cost of fixtures and installation.

The Grid wiki is a great source for retrofit and change out information. For instance, it offers a detailed analysis of how to determine the payback period for a commercial lighting retrofit. It’s a six step process, and can be used to check against vendor claims. Keep in mind, however, that it is not an easy process. “Many of the products are going to pay for themselves anyway,” Crawford said. “It’s economical regardless of what you do. You can get funding that speeds up the process. In most cases you have to work through a marketing partner or some type of consultant. They have to have someone has an entity that has a relationship with utility so they can access the funding. It can be complex process with many requirements that must be met. If they are not met or there is one missed item, the funding opportunity is cancelled. It is very specific in terms of inspection, the right forms have to be submitted — it’s a very, very v detailed. If haven’t done it it’s overwhelming to say the least. But there are consult available and in most cases the cost of product is what pays their fee.

The upside of changing to LEDs is obvious. It is important to see beyond that to understand that careful planning is necessary to optimize such a move.

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One thought on “LED Projects Must Be Carefully Planned

  1. I agree with the headline. One aspect of LED retrofits that is often ignored is Harmonic Distortion. I visited a hotel in NJ last year whose electric bill had risen by 5% after installing 4000 LED bulbs in guest rooms. Yes they went for cheaper LEDs with a THD of 30% per bulb. The issue is the LED driver. Manufacturers don’t test quantities of bulbs together to measure cumulative THD cause by the driver.

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