Lighting for Commercial and Industrial Settings

By Jonathan Susser | March 22, 2017

Lighting is essential to creating a safe and comfortable environment in commercial and industrial buildings. It also, however, contributes substantially to energy usage and can exceed 20% of total consumption. Investing in energy efficient lighting and other lighting improvements, therefore, is a way for facilities to cut energy costs.

In addition to reducing energy bills, enhanced lighting can lead to several other benefits:

  • Enhanced productivity and safety thanks to better visual acuity
  • Reduced maintenance costs and workplace disruption due to longer light life spans
  • Lowered emissions

When we conduct energy assessments, our engineers take a customer-focused approach to provide the most appropriate lighting suggestions. Before offering any recommendations, we know it is important to understand a facility’s financial situation, its existing lighting system and how that system is being operated. In other words, what is already in place and what can the customer handle for a return on investment? We go through each fixture to examine potential opportunities and help work through any available incentives or rebates.

Once we have this information, we can plan next steps. In general, lighting recommendations fall into two categories: lighting technology upgrades and operational efficiency changes. However, because every facility is different, it is worth keeping in mind that no one-size-fits-all solution exists.

Lighting Technology Upgrades

For the past several decades, the most common lighting fixtures in commercial and industrial settings have been fluorescent and high intensity discharge (HID) lights. (Incandescent lamps, though popular in residential settings, are not as prevalent in industrial or commercial ones.)

Fluorescent lighting can be found in low-bay areas, such as offices, labs, restrooms or hallways, as well as high-bay areas, which include production spaces and warehouses, with fixtures often mounted high above the floor, anywhere from 15 to 30 feet, or higher. These lights are beneficial because of their versatility, efficacy (the amount of light output per watt of energy consumed) and life span.

Fluorescent lights are a linear light source, and lamps primarily come in a few forms: T12, T8 and, to a lesser degree, T5. The “T” represents the tubular shape of the lamp used in the fixture, while the number refers to the lamp’s diameter in eighths of an inch. So, a T12 fluorescent lamp has a diameter of twelve-eighths, or one-and-a-half inches, a T8 has a diameter of eight-eighths, or one inch, and a T5 has a diameter of five-eighths.

T12 lamps have been around the longest of the three but have mostly been supplanted by T8s and T5s, which require less energy because of their design and electronic ballasts. T8 lamps are highly versatile: Combined with low-power electronic ballasts, they can be used in many low-bay applications, and combined with high-power electronic ballasts, they work well in high-bay applications. T5 lamps function best in high-bay applications, though they can be used in low-bay applications as well (typically in indirect fixtures because of their intensity).

HID fixtures, such as metal halide, are more common in high-bay areas. Like fluorescent light sources, HIDs also have good efficacy, are widely available and have relatively long lives. They are considered point source fixtures and use a single lamp with high wattage and lumens (brightness). However, more recently, metal halide fixtures have been replaced with T8 and T5 fixtures because of the latter’s better efficacy and increased acceptance in high-bay applications.

Over the last few years, light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures have arrived as a more cost-effective and energy efficient lighting source for both low- and high-bay applications. LEDs are beneficial because they are even more efficient (can use over 50% less energy) and longer lasting than other forms of lighting, which leads to energy savings and reduced operating costs. Additionally, LEDs maintain these features without sacrificing light quality or bulb design.

LEDs come in a variety of forms to replace or retrofit existing fixtures. For example, manufacturers make LED lamp tubes that can take the place of fluorescent lamps, as well as LED strips and other retrofit configurations that can be inserted into existing fixtures. Fixture manufacturers also offer numerous new replacement LED fixtures for various lighting applications.

Despite their advantages, LED fixtures are still costly (particularly for high-bay applications), and it can be time consuming to remove and replace old fixtures. Therefore, upgrading to LED fixtures is not always the best solution, especially if a customer is looking for a quicker payback. Instead, retrofitting existing fixtures with LED light sources can be a smart intermediate step. As an example, if a facility is using T8 fluorescent bulbs, upgrading to LEDs may not be worth the investment, but transitioning to T8 hybrid tubes — which are LED tubes that can work with T8 ballasts — could produce savings at a lower cost. Hybrid tubes may directly replace fluorescent lamps with the electronic ballast still in place, and when the ballast fails, it can be removed from the circuit and the hybrid LED tubes reinstalled.

Another issue we look for is whether the installed lighting technology matches its environment. For example, if an HID lamp is used in a low-bay area, it may be worth investigating whether switching to a different light source would be beneficial.

Operational Efficiency Changes

In addition to upgrading lighting technology through replacements and retrofits, we also assess ways to incorporate operational improvements. These improvements, such as changes to how lighting is used, reduce light waste and can produce substantial benefits at low cost.

One issue to examine is whether lighting is being used solely when it is needed. In some cases, fixtures are left on 24/7, even when production or business is not running. Shutting off lights when not in use is a simple and easy way to save energy costs. Additionally, timers and occupancy sensors can automatically manage light so it is on at appropriate times. Many newer LEDs come with this feature and will turn on and off when people enter and leave rooms or the vicinity of the fixture.

While our energy assessments are the primary way we support lighting improvements in industrial and commercial settings, we also provide customers with outreach and education. We offer a variety of lighting trainings that present detailed information about the types of lighting technology available, the amount of savings that can be realized and other potential advantages associated with lighting implementations.

With these considerations in mind, it pays to invest in lighting. There is no perfect solution, and what will work best for one facility may differ from what will work for the next. A number of factors determine which direction will be appropriate, and therefore it is vital that we understand each facility’s needs. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve lighting efficiency, and we’re here to help!