Managing Lighting Costs: Five Often Ignored Tips for Further Energy Savings

Operational processes, regulation compliance, productivity, occupant comfort, sustainability efforts, and architectural aesthetics – the list of commercial facility manger needs is long and difficult to balance. In your role, whether it’s a sustainability officer, energy manager or other – have you considered lighting and associated controls when weighing these concerns? Accounting for up to 35 percent of a commercial building’s total electrical energy load, lighting systems can have a large impact on a facility’s bottom line.

Implementing an efficient lighting strategy is essential to continued savings, but many busy managers often overlook some of the simple measures that can have a meaningful impact on meeting your energy sustainability objectives. To help guide facility mangers through this process, consider the following checklist of steps, from assessment and planning, to execution and evaluation.

Check the Settings on Your Occupancy Sensors

Most occupancy sensors include an adjustable setting that controls the time delay period between the last motion sensed and the actual power-off time. Sensors are often shipped with default time delays of 15 – 30 minutes. Installers may also set the sensor to the maximum time delay, thinking that by doing so, the lights will switch on and off less often. In most applications, 30 minutes is unnecessary. Facility managers should consider moving the setting back to 5 or 10 minutes, to save energy.  The National Electrical Manufactures Association (NEMA) has published an excellent paper that outlines some additional savings possibilities:

Consider Replacing Your Existing Sensors with Newer Devices

The technology in today’s sensors not only provide better occupant detection, but offer many features for further energy savings. For instance, newer models incorporate light level sensing that will keep the lights off if there is sufficient ambient daylight in the space. Natural daylight is free, take advantage it. Additionally, some occupancy sensor manufactures provide devices with a ‘pass-through’ mode that keeps the lights off, if an occupant is simply passing through the space.

Review Your Time Schedules

Further energy savings in facilities that depend on schedule-based control systems (computer systems that operate lights according to a programmed schedule) are often easily found by simply reviewing the current program schedule and comparing it to actual occupant needs. Often these systems are commissioned before the building is occupied and remain unchanged even after the tenant has moved into the space, thus the programmed default schedule may not be aligned to actual lighting needs/requirements. Too often the schedule is programmed to keep the lights on far too long, or even worse, 24/7. In either case, significant savings can often be realized with only a few minor tweaks to the schedule.

What about Those Emergency Lights?

I’m not talking about those “bug eyes” hanging on the wall, but rather the fluorescent fixtures that stay on 24/7 just in case an emergency occurs and lights need to remain on for egress purposes. The illumination provided by these lights is required by code. However, the National Electrical Code now allows these lights to be turned off during normal non-operating periods, provided they switch on during an emergency. By installing UL-listed Automatic Load Control Relays (ALCRs), you can significantly reduce the energy consumed by these fixtures.  Another benefit is the ability to replace the lamps less often, since they operate less.

Implement a Measurement Strategy

It’s hard to build the case for future investments in energy efficiency or showcase your results if you’re not verifying your energy conservation measure. This is important when seeking LEED or other sustainability certifications or for those generally interested in assessing the efficiency and/or cost of their lighting systems. By tracking and evaluating the performance of a piece of equipment, system, or entire facility, you’ll get higher visibility into detailed energy usage data. This in turn can be used to identify opportunities for increased efficiency and enable better decision making regarding maintenance, upgrades or replacements.

When ensuring a facility runs smoothly, efficient and cost-effective lighting strategies can often go overlooked by building managers. But as a consumer of over one-third of a typical commercial building’s electrical energy resources, lighting should not be ignored. The above checklist of steps to consider when evaluating current technologies and planning for the future can help facility managers ensure their lighting is not only running at peak performance, but saving them energy and reducing costs year over year.

Interested in learning more? Check out the following video:

Scott Jordan is business development manager for Schneider Electric — Eco Systems Business.

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