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The Financial and Environmental Benefits of LED Lighting in Public Buildings

By Sean Fuller, Bluestone Energy Services

Lighting maintenance can be a costly and time consuming chore, especially in public buildings. The electrical maintenance required for lighting systems that daily receive harsh and continual use, sometimes 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year is overwhelming. The physical and financial effort needed to maintain public building lighting has, in the past, created pounding headaches and gaping holes in the budget.

LED lighting contributes to energy savings and sustainability by improving working conditions through deliberately directed light and lowering the energy needed to power lighting fixtures. LED lighting also dramatically lowers costs, an important asset for public building projects, by out-living previous solutions and lasting for many years beyond traditional lighting fixtures. In public building management, like any facility management or building upkeep, time is money, and because changing LED fixtures happens far less often than usual traditional lighting, public building management will spend less time on the ladder changing bulbs and more time devoted to other pressing needs.

The initial cost of an LED retrofit can frighten off the most dedicated user of green technology, but luckily, this cost pays itself back within five years of installation, if not sooner, for LED fixtures and bulbs can last for ten years, if not more. This impressive ROI means that a little initial planning for a greater initial cost results in future financial and sustainable benefits down the road. LED lighting is a positive addition for any facility, including public buildings.

There are two major benefits for installing LED lighting in any building, and particularly in a public building project. LED lighting produces measureable financial benefits and notable physical benefits. By evaluating LED lighting by its financial and physical impact, we see that the benefits are overwhelmingly apparent.

LED lighting should pay for itself when all savings have been calculated. This benefit can be especially crucial in public building projects that may be operating on a severely limited budget. While the initial cost is something to consider, the benefits of LED energy savings and the helpful maintenance savings due to a much longer time before failure or routine bulb change, make a higher installment cost well worth the effort. In addition to the rapid ROI, many state and local utilities offer significant rebates that can pay for up to half the cost of the installation in certain areas, which may very well include public buildings. There are online calculators to help discover a building’s predicted ROI for an LED installation, should an electrical contractor, engineer, or designer need numbers for a specific example.

For physical benefits, it must be noted that LED lighting is measured in lumens, which captures the delivered light to a surface. Traditional lighting, conversely, is measured in watts. Because LED lighting has more direct stream of light beaming from its fixtures and in many cases its particular optics can be adjusted to point more accurately at the target area, it more effectively fulfills lighting needs, whether it be over bathroom sinks, lining hallways, or illuminating particular alcoves in any building, public or otherwise. This better efficiency often means that for public buildings, manufacturing facilities, or larger retrofits, a one-to-one fixture replacement is often not necessary.

As with any project, it’s necessary to do your research before jumping right in. Public buildings are no different, and there are three components to LED lighting that should be considered before installing a whole retrofit: the lifecycle, temperature, and color of fixtures.

Because LED lighting can be dimmed without affecting the life of the fixtures, lights that are frequently switched on and off experience no negative consequences. This is especially useful in applications with sensors where the fixture can be shut off when the area is not in use. Lights can also be dimmed when outside light is measured to be maintaining light levels, therefore saving energy in the process. These features are often particularly helpful in public building lighting design. A well-designed fixture can also retain 90 percent of its initial output after 70,000 hours, which is nearly twice the life of “long-life” fluorescent sources. Fewer fixtures will be required over time, which means the longer lifecycle does not pose environmental problems, and, unlike traditional lighting choices, LEDs do not contain hazardous materials, further improving the green initiative in a building.

LED lighting can work in very chilly temperatures, in fact performing better when temperatures are low, but can also work in hot temperatures as well. Most LED fixtures possess the ability to work in temperatures ranging up to 135o F as well as applications well below freezing, making them flexible for use in many buildings’ environments. This ability of LEDs to function well in cold environments makes them ideal for freezer applications where traditional lighting solutions have needed special technologies added to continue to perform properly. Besides this temperature benefits, LEDs in this cooler environment can see extended life and increased savings versus other fixture technologies due to the fact that they can be cycled on and off  quickly, such as when occupancy sensors are installed, with no effect on the LEDs performance due to temperature.

LED lighting has the ability to natively produce a variety of colors that can suit a particular building’s needs, from directional use to ambiance. Because of this ability, LED lighting can generate specific colored light with fixtures that direct a majority of the light directly from the fixture to the space. This provides a distinct advantage over fluorescents where due to the nature of using lamps some of the light must first be reflected up and then back down to the space in question. This is why while both technologies can offer color temperatures to suit different facility needs, LED fixtures can use less energy for the same color at the same light levels.

LED lighting solutions contribute immense time and financial savings over the lifecycle of the fixtures. The best way to prove its worth is to view the impact of actual lighting initiatives.

A lighting retrofit reduced the energy lighting costs in a manufacturing facility by 40 percent, resulting in a savings of over $50,000 in annual lighting costs. The nature of the project meant that the company will achieve a two-year payback for all invested capital, meet new sustainability goals as a green building, improve working conditions for employees, cut significant energy costs, and continue to lead by example in corporate social responsibility, all due to an LED lighting retrofit.

Another company replaced previously existing metal halides with high efficiency T8 and LED technologies to significantly reduce their energy consumption. They ended up saving 952,858 kWh, over $80,000 in energy costs, and they achieved their ROI payback in under a year’s time. LED lighting solutions have become an increasingly attractive option for companies looking to upgrade their facility as part of a green energy initiative, because not only do these companies become more aware of lowering their energy use, but they also experience immense financial and crucial time savings as well.

Even public buildings can go green and maximize their financial and power efficiency. Buildings that do facilitate as much traffic as public buildings would greatly benefit from going green in as many areas as possible, including electrical retrofits with LED lighting. The use of LED lighting in public spaces will reduce the power consumed while also offering more flexibility on color and light levels, increased control depending on the uses needed, and can create better working conditions for employees, customers, and any individual who may wander through.

Sean Fuller, is the Vice President of Business Development and Marketing Bluestone Energy Services, an energy conservation engineering and project development services company. Additional information can be found at http://www.bluestoneenergy.com 

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