Saving money on electricity at home is pretty easy — turn the lights off when you leave the room and you're guaranteed to cut your bill by a substantial amount. But the difficulty in controlling energy costs increases exponentially as the number of people responsible for turning off those lights increases. When you live by yourself, it's easy. The only person accountable to you is…you. But if you're married with kids, you could spend all of your free time following your kids around the house turning off the lights they leave on.

Now take that problem and multiply it by 100. No facilities manager for an office or plant that supports several hundred employees can possibly be expected to monitor every light in the building, especially with people coming and going at all times of the day. But with several states imposing power budget requirements and control specifications, letting people get away with leaving the lights on isn't an option. California, the nexus of penny-pinching energy laws, recently passed Title 24, which requires any commercial building larger than 5,000 sq ft to have provisions for automatically turning off lighting when specified spaces are unoccupied.

Laws like Title 24 come about for good reason. It's estimated that about half of the load in a retail or commercial facility can be attributed to lighting. According to a report by the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy, a better design that incorporates improved fixtures can reduce lighting demand in new buildings by 25% or more.

But a good design and fancy fixtures will only get you so far. As with almost every other problem that arises in our increasingly technology-based society, the answer to energy efficiency is automation. It wasn't long ago that the typical facility's lighting control system was a much more hands-on process. If you didn't turn it off manually, it was going to stay on. Modern lighting control systems take that responsibility away from the person in the room, though, and place it in the capable — if not always reliable — hands of an electronic device.

Fumbling in the dark to switch on the light when you enter a room is becoming as passé as changing the channel on a TV without a remote. Modern occupancy-based sensors will detect your presence and turn on the lights necessary to get you where you need to go. Leave the room for a pre-set amount of time and they'll figure out you're gone and turn off the lights. It's almost creepy.

For those who don't like the idea that their lights are watching them, time switches are also available for controlling entire branch lighting circuits. These schedule-based devices will activate lighting fixtures at pre-set time intervals, spreading automatic control to larger sections of the facility.

But it's not possible to do justice to the wonders of modern lighting control in just a few short paragraphs. Senior Editorial Consultant Joe Knisley, our resident expert on all things lighting, takes a closer look at the options available to today's facilities managers in this month's cover story on page 48. It's never been this easy to turn the lights on when they need to be on and keep them off when no one's around — even when you lived by yourself.