Faced with the challenges of conserving energy, simplifying maintenance, and lowering expenses, this is a dynamic time for electrical contractors to provide out-of-the-box lighting solutions for their customers. The key is identifying and understanding what factors are driving these clients to make the investment in a new building or replace the lighting system in an existing building. According to the IBEW of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the following trends have taken hold in the commercial and industrial lighting arena.

Cutting costs — By incorporating new lighting technology into buildings that use less energy, many companies have found a way to lower operating costs while also producing more light output.

Ease of installation and maintenance — As company operating costs become more magnified, the desire for greater ease in installation and maintenance with lighting has increased. With newer electronic ballast technology, fixture enhancements, and lighting control systems, companies have more control and simplified maintenance solutions at their disposal. Today's lighting control systems provide an easy way for customers to access or manage the lighting lumen or footcandle levels, including systems you can access via a Web browser.

Conserving energy — Sustainable buildings and building green is a top trend in any form of construction today. Reducing the amount of electrical energy consumed by a building is one of many ways to build or support green-type solutions. With the newest electrical technology, more light output is achieved while less wattage is consumed, reducing total electrical energy demand.

Improving aesthetics — Architects are now incorporating lighting fixtures in their designs that are more aesthetically appealing to the eye, and the fixtures themselves come in more styles, shapes, and colors than ever before. Lighting fixtures today are being used to set the design and status of a room, rather than simply providing light. Not only are the fixtures more attractive, but they also provide more light output without extra wattage.

The commercial sector

Think back to lighting solutions in a commercial building about 15 years ago, and you would most likely find fluorescent T12 lamps with magnetic ballasts as well as minimal lighting control, including very few switches and mainly circuit breakers to control the light fixtures. Daylight harvesting and scheduling of occupancy to accommodate personnel was not a high priority in the past — lights were just left on.

Fortunately, lamp technology has advanced dramatically over the past several years. T12 lamps that used 40 watts have been replaced by T8 and T5 lamps that use as little as 25 watts. Current industry publications have stated that as early as 2010 T12-type lamps will no longer be manufactured, encouraging companies and large users to incorporate the more efficient lamps available. Not only do the T8 and T5 lamps have a reduced amount of mercury, but they also provide the same light output as the T12 with less wattage. Improved color rendition and lamp design have also increased lighting output footcandle levels.

In addition to improved lamp technology, more efficient lighting systems have stepped to the forefront. Light-emitting diode (LED), decorative low-voltage lighting, and sophisticated lighting control systems are becoming more of a standard offering in the design/build market. Although LEDs have been around since the 1960s, today they have unique features that are exploited through clever designs, because of their directional output. LED lights are often chosen to be installed over fluorescents and incandescent bulbs because they don't flicker and are more rugged/damage-resistant.

Track lighting is commonly used in retail spaces and restaurants because of its versatility and adaptability. It allows for a lighting scheme that is custom to the design needs and environment of the room. Track lighting can provide both general lighting and task illumination for an entire room, using MR11, MR16, and PAR low-voltage 24V or 12V lamps.

Magnetic ballasts are being replaced with electronic ballast technology and have become one of the main ways to conserve energy and therefore cost savings on energy bills. On most typical retrofits, electronic ballasts consume 75% less power and produce 25% more energy compared to magnetic ballasts. Electronic ballasts also add cost savings by increasing lamp efficiency and extending lamp life. The ballasts can be connected to various control devices, such as sensors, timers, and dimmers, to further save energy and reduce operating costs.

Lighting control systems allow companies to manage the lighting load so that energy is only used when needed. The technology has evolved since the days of only having breakers and switches to control fixtures, allowing large amounts of energy and top dollars to be conserved through the control system alone. Four of the most common control systems requested today include: motion switches, bi-level switches, light harvesting, and lighting control panels.

  • The industrial sector

    Motion switches — Motion switches are commonly installed in areas of a building that are not frequently used. For example, the basement of a building, storage room, or hallway that is rarely used would have the lights dimmed or turned off. However, once someone enters the area, a motion sensor automatically turns the lights on to full light output instantly, conserving light and energy when the rooms are not in use.

  • Bi-level switches — Bi-level switches are commonly used in rooms with windows. When sunlight fills a room, sensors automatically shut off selected lamps in the fixtures as the sunlight provides the desired light output. This technology allows the natural light to take over and conserve energy and dollars.

  • Light harvesting — With light harvesting, a photocell detects the sunlight streaming in through the windows and shuts off the entire fixture, rather than just a lamp or two in the fixture, as with bi-level switches.

  • Control panels — New control panels use computer-based monitoring to coordinate, organize, and control the lighting equipment in a building. The system not only provides automatic scheduling of the lighting system, but it can also be used to control heating and cooling equipment, alarms, and monitoring of energy use, temperature, equipment start times, and more.

Today, the lighting needs in the industrial arena are no longer exclusively a high-intensity discharge (HID) solution. The trends in this sector are similar to those in the commercial market segment. Electrical contractors are meeting these demands by installing fluorescent high-bay, multi-lamp fixtures, metal-halide lamps with an electronic ballast, and high-pressure sodium-type fixtures — and tying it all together with advanced lighting control systems.

Road blocks

Pulse-start HID lamps produce good color rendition and are similar to a fluorescent solution. HID lamps are now quite efficient, producing about 100 lumens per watt when measured for photopic lighting conditions.

White light production technology has improved as the demand increases. In the past, when powering up lighting circuits, a time delay existed with these lamps before reaching full output light levels. With advancements in electronic ballast technology, the full light output has drastically improved from the past. The efficiency of white light has improved as well. White light production has gone from a 400 watt to a 320 watt pulse start, which provides a more efficient and effective start and reduction in voltage used to start the light.

The bottom line

HID-type lighting is still a popular request because of its many benefits, including new technology that allows HID-type lighting to be dimmable to work with scheduling, daylight harvesting, plant maintenance, motion control, and bi-level control.

Fluorescent fixtures are now being manufactured to hold six to eight lamps for high-bay-type applications using T8 and or T5 HO (high-output) lamps. This type of luminaire offers high levels of light with overall reduced energy consumption and instant on/off conditions. For these reasons, the multiple-lamp fluorescent fixtures that are commonly seen in office buildings are now being installed far more than the typical HID fixture in industrial buildings.

Sometimes, it's difficult to convince a customer it's time for a change. Two main factors typically hold companies back from installing new lighting technology. The first deals with cost — as system retrofits can be quite expensive. Although the time needed to see the results on a company's bottom line might take longer than desired, it's your job to convince the client it will likely spend far less in the long-term due to energy bill savings and lower maintenance costs.

Beyond cost, a second factor causing companies not to move forward with the most innovative technology is that new technology is constantly introduced into the market. Some companies are anxious about installing the newest system and then a year later a new piece of technology replaces what was just installed. Your message to those naysayers should be the energy savings they'll reap now will be more favorable than what is presently installed as a system — not to mention electric utility rebate programs can help reduce their initial investment.

The rewards of installing new lighting technology in the commercial and industrial sectors include more white light — providing employees and customers with more comfortable and welcoming atmospheres — and lower energy bills.

Safety is also a focus for commercial and industrial companies, as many businesses are implementing guidelines that define higher light levels in work areas. The newer technology can provide this level of output with less cost due to more energy-efficient designs.

As electrical technology evolves in the commercial and industrial lighting industries, electrical contractors are able to provide cost savings, ease of maintenance, and warmer white light with more light output — all while conserving energy.

Schmitt serves as senior vice president, electrical special projects, for Egan Co. in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He's also a member of the IBEW.