Results of a recent survey of energy-efficient lighting professionals across the country in December by Hudson, Wis.-based Precision-Paragon (P2), an online source for lighting retrofit systems and information, reveals the demand for energy-efficient lighting is growing, despite the sluggishness of the recovery of the general U.S. economy and the severe downturn in the construction industry. More than two-thirds of survey respondents reported either meeting or exceeding their revenue expectations in 2011. In addition, although most respondents disclosed they don’t expect growth to occur until after the first quarter of 2012 — predicting the second and third quarters will be the most lucrative — they are confident this year will be even better than last year. More than 80% of survey respondents predict increased opportunities for growth, both in the industry as a whole and in their individual companies.
“We’re prepared for growth — our operations are set up so we can expand, if necessary, and we’ve added to our sales staff,” said Steve Kath, president of The Retrofit Companies, a St. Paul, Minn.-based lighting retrofit company, in a press release accompanying the survey results.
The industry’s growth is partially driven by the increase in rebate programs offered by electric utility companies, which offer incentives to owners who complete lighting retrofit projects on their facilities. These programs are particularly important in states with higher electric rates. “Some states, such as Minnesota, have lower utility rates than other parts of the country,” said Kath. “The lower rate lengthens the payback period, so the cost-savings from a retrofit project doesn’t look as impressive as it would in states with higher utility rates. The rebates really help make retrofits a more attractive option.”
Also behind the growing interest in lighting retrofits are improved efficiency standards for lighting technology from both the Department of Energy (DOE) and Congress. On July 1, 2010, manufacturers halted the production of the magnetic ballasts most commonly used for the operation of T12 lamps in commercial and industrial applications. Furthermore, nearly all 4-ft and most 8-ft T12 lamps the ballasts operate will be phased out of production starting July 14, 2012.
In addition to T12 technologies, regulations will cease production of the 32W, 4-ft T8 lamps, as well as nearly all standard halogen PAR38, PAR30, and PAR20 lamps. However, the most controversial phaseout has been the energy standards for incandescent lamps, set forth in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) (see SIDEBAR No. 1: The Truth About the Bulb “Ban” below).
Already, some of these technologies are no longer used in new lighting design. “T12 phaseout is irrelevant for architectural lighting designers,” says Glenn Heinmiller, chair of the energy committee for the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), Chicago, and principal at Cambridge, Mass.-based architectural lighting design firm Lam Partners. “They haven’t been specified by us for maybe 20 years. The incandescent reflector lamp (IRL) phaseout will just mean that only the high-efficacy versions of PAR20, PAR30, and PAR38 halogen reflector lamps will be available. These are more expensive, but we often specify these anyhow due to better energy performance.”
Since 2010, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, Va., has recorded a steady decline in the sale of T12 lamps, which previously were estimated at 30% of fluorescent 4-ft lamps sold every year. Yet, the National Lighting Bureau (NLB), the Silver Spring, Md.-based independent, not-for-profit, lighting information source, points out that there are still hundreds of millions of T12 fluorescent lamps installed in offices, classrooms, factories, and other facilities nationwide. “This is a technology that is essentially 75 years old,” says John P. Bachner, NLB’s executive director. “Nonetheless, people still have them installed.”
NLB estimates there are approximately 450 million T12 fluorescent lamps in place throughout the country and warns that those who wait to upgrade their systems may be too late to participate in incentive programs. “In essence, if you have T12 lighting, you’re going to have to change it,” says Bachner, who asserts that the upgrades shouldn’t prove too much of a burden to owners, considering there are viable alternatives. Bachner advises educating clients on retrofits and stresses the importance of making sure they understand the real cost of the lamp is more than the up-front price. Energy consumption and lamp life must be factored into the equation.
There are other benefits of alternative lighting, as well. According to NLB, lighting options can do far more than minimize energy waste and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions; they can create a visual environment that is ideally suited to achieve whatever it is that people rely on lighting to get done. More often than not, the bottom-line benefit involved can be far greater than that available from electric utility-cost savings alone. NLB promotes what it calls “High-Benefit Lighting,” which is lighting designed to improve the speed with which workers perform visual tasks, reduce the number of errors made, make accidents less frequent by virtue of better seeing conditions, enhance security, increase retail sales, etc. When taking these benefits into account, the payback period for an upgraded lighting-system design dramatically decreases.
According to Bachner, availability of alternatives does not pose a problem. Manufacturers are well ahead of the standards. “For years, manufacturers have been producing more efficient products and providing guidance on how to use them appropriately,” he says. “There’s so much worldwide competition at this point, they are constantly coming out with new light sources.”
For example, incandescent bulbs — in the form of halogen-filled incandescent lighting — that meet the new standards of efficiency have been available since 2009. Also, new generations of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which can emulate the color of incandescent, are available. “They’re very versatile and consume just a fraction of what incandescent lighting consumes,” says Bachner.
Nevertheless, linear fluorescent lighting remains the most widely installed technology. Eighty-four percent of the P2 survey respondents reported they will use linear fluorescent lighting in 2012. Fortunately, more efficient 4-ft T8 lamps and PAR lamps that meet the regulations are already available. “T12 lighting is pretty good, but T5 lighting is so much better and more efficient. So is T8, for that matter,” says Bachner.
In addition, the use of LED luminaires is growing. Respondents to the P2 survey estimate that 22% of the luminaires they install will be LED-based, up 9% from last year. Kath estimates The Retrofit Companies will install 10% more LED-based luminaires than it did last year. “We’re starting to install more LED-based fixtures for a number of reasons,” he says. “The technology is improving, costs are coming down, and a lot of electric utilities are beginning to offer more incentives for using LEDs.”
Despite its small rise in popularity, LED proponents still have to overcome consumers’ negative perception about the technology if they want to see its market share improve. “LED lighting means making a change in how we even think about lamps,” says Bachner, who argues that consumers are used to buying inexpensive lamps. “For years, you’d go out and get this light bulb that was inexpensive to buy but terribly expensive to own,” he says. “It would last six months, and then you’d have to replace it. With an LED light bulb, essentially what you’re buying is an appliance. This is an appliance that will provide light very inexpensively for 10 to 15 years.”
For this reason, says Bachner, the manufacturing base is switching from producing light bulbs and tubes separately from a fixture to manufacturing electronics. “For us old hands, seeing what’s going on is intriguing, to say the least,” he muses.
As with early CFL technology, the two big complaints about LED technology have been the high up-front cost and the “cool” light quality. In addition, because of their electronics and wiring, they are not as readily compatible to dimming and other control systems (see SIDEBAR No. 2: Controls Compatibility below). In residential applications, these problems would be less noticeable, but in commercial buildings with numerous LEDs and more electronics, the potential for noticeable instability or other problems increases.
However, some lighting designers are already specifying LED PAR lamps for specific applications. “They’ve become very viable and are where things are going for retail track lighting, where halogen PAR lamps are traditionally a workhorse,” says Heinmiller. “Halogen PAR lamps will still be needed but more for specialty applications where excellent dimming or color rendition are required.”
To help consumers wade through information regarding lamps, in 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program developed rules for labeling lamps that meet a set of standards for efficiency, starting time, life expectancy, color, and consistency of performance. However, a recent study by the energy and sustainability management firm Ecova commissioned by the Institute for Electric Efficiency (IEE), Washington, D.C., reveals that not all Energy Star-rated lamps are equal. “Energy Star is a great program, but it’s not the end all, be all,” says Adam Cooper, research manager for IEE. “There are differences in quality.”
The IEE study, “Best-In-Class LED Reflector Lamps Summary Report,” focused on LED reflector lamps, which are commonly used in fixtures in residential kitchens, as well as commercial applications such as hotels, art galleries, and restaurants. The study divided the qualified bulbs into three categories, representing the three most common sizes of LED reflector bulbs — PAR38, PAR30, and PAR20. To qualify for the study, the bulbs within each category had to be on the Energy Star Qualified Products List on or before Dec. 2, 2011; be available for purchase, either online or through a retail outlet; and produce light within the light range of 2,700K to 3,000K, or the “warmer” range.
The number of winning bulbs in each category is approximately proportionate to that category’s share of Energy Star-qualified LED reflector lamps. As a result, the IEE top 10 list contains five PAR38 lamps, four PAR30 lamps, and one PAR20 lamp. Over the next several months, as more lights come into the market, IEE expects to include 10 bulbs in each category.
For easy consumer access, the study was published by TopTen USA, a nonprofit that helps consumers find and purchase the most energy-efficient products on the market in categories such as refrigerators, televisions, and computers. The LED lamps mark the organization’s first entries in its new lighting category. To download the Institute for Electric Efficiency’s white paper summarizing the results, visit: www.edisonfoundation.net/iee/Documents/IEE_Ecova_LED.pdf.
However, the study will also be used by IEE in its recommendations to electric utility rebate programs. “We wanted to develop a set of recommendations to identify both energy-efficient and aesthetically pleasing bulbs so that we don’t have a repeat of the early days of the customer experience of CFLs, which wasn’t very positive,” says Cooper. “For electric utilities that got dinged pretty good from the first rollout of CFLs, there’s some caution on their part about putting a lot of dollars behind a new technology. This helps them sleep better at night, knowing there’s been some rigor put behind these recommendations. They can then feel more comfortable using a pre-screened list for their effort.”
In addition to providing guidance for electric utility rebate program administrators, the study was also made available to the regulators who approve the use of electric utility dollars, which are funded through rate payers to support energy-efficiency programs. “Regulators require a certain cost effectiveness test for these programs,” says Cooper. “In some cases, there are energy-efficiency resource standards that set goals and targets for electric utilities to realize energy savings through these efficiency programs.”
Therefore, efficiency was a major factor in considering the bulbs, but not the ultimate goal of the study. “Efficiency isn’t the end of the discussion, and the CEOs understood that,” says Cooper. “It’s not so much let’s get bulbs in there to get the highest delta watt margin against the new standard. We’re rebating products, we’re buying down the cost of products, and we want to be certain that there’s a good sense the consumer, our end-user who will be buying these bulbs at a lower cost with electric utility dollars, will be happy with their purchase.”
Furthermore, some electric utilities may offer starter kits that include the recommended LED lamp. “The bulbs are still rather expensive, but they are looking at putting these recommended bulbs into a starter kit,” says Cooper. “This recommendation effort helps guide utilities to put a really good bulb into the kit so that people will not be turned off by the technology change.” The electric utilities may also offer kits for households with low incomes. “This would be a good application for low-income outreach,” continues Cooper.
Therefore, according to Cooper, the results include only the LED lamps that work as well as their less-efficient incandescent counterparts. “The idea is that if you’re replacing an incandescent bulb with an LED, then you want the LED bulb to in some ways mimic the feel of the incandescent, but still deliver light at a higher efficiency, a higher lumens-per-watt measure,” he says. “Energy efficiency is only one parameter.”