National National Lighting Bureau Says Millions of U.S. Buildings Could Benefit From Lighting Upgrades

More than 2.2 million of the nation’s 2.7 million older (pre-1980) commercial buildings have been using the same lighting for the past three decades, according to the National Lighting Bureau (NLB), Silver Spring, Md., citing data published by the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Energy Information Administration (EIA). NLB estimates that three million or more commercial and other non-residential buildings are candidates for money- and energy-saving lighting system upgrades.

“The data are stunning,” says Mike Colotti, a member of the NLB’s Executive Committee. "While the data are a few years old, and the situation undoubtedly has improved since DOE collected them, the fact remains that at least two million commercial buildings — older and newer combined — are using outdated, outmoded lighting that is not nearly as efficient or effective as the lighting provided by contemporary fixtures, ballasts, lamps, and controls.”

NLB derived the data — the most recent available — from EIA’s "2003 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey." As defined by the EIA, commercial buildings comprise those where 50% or more of the floor space is used for non-residential, non-industrial, or non-agricultural purposes. Although the 4.7 million buildings considered include some that are not usually categorized as commercial (e.g., schools and correctional facilities), the data exclude the nation's estimated 214,000 enclosed malls and strip shopping centers, buildings that usually are considered commercial. Also excluded: thousands of factories and other industrial facilities where good seeing conditions are essential to high output, tight quality control, and worker safety.

EIA divided the buildings by age: those built before 1980 (2.73 million) and those built since (1.92 million). According to EIA data, only 455,000 (17%) of the older buildings reported lighting system upgrades since 1980. “In other words, at the time of the survey, 83% of our nation’s older commercial buildings were still using antiquated lighting technology,” Colotti says.

"We have no way of knowing how many of the almost two million newer buildings were using outdated lighting at the time of the survey, but other data suggest that a substantial majority of those buildings were constructed before 1990, at a time when designers and builders could not incorporate most of the great developments in high-quality, energy-efficient lighting that have been introduced in the last 10 to 15 years," says Susan Bloom, NLB vice chair. "In other words, of the almost 4.7 million buildings considered, close to 3 million — if not more — were candidates for lighting system upgrades in 2003.”

New EIA data, now being calculated, will reveal the situation in 2007. “But even if the results reveal unanticipated, dramatic progress, we’d still have more than one million — probably two million or more — commercial buildings that would benefit greatly from lighting system upgrades,” Colotti says. "This means that a huge market exists for the latest, most energy-efficient lighting products: fixtures, ballasts, lamps, and controls.”

Robert W. Colgan Jr., NLB chair, says he expects the pace of lighting system renovation to accelerate because of what he characterized as "carrots and sticks." The "sticks" include a federally mandated phase-out of older, inefficient technologies, like magnetically ballasted T12 fluorescent lighting, as well as rising energy costs that make energy waste that much more expensive. The "carrots" include federal tax incentives designed to encourage lighting system upgrades in commercial buildings, as well as a variety of state and utility-company incentive programs. "But the biggest incentive has to be the money owners and managers can save through lighting energy efficiency,” he says. "Just replacing outmoded T12 fluorescent lighting with T8 or T5 fluorescent lighting can cut the light bill by up to half. And because the new technology is far more easily controlled, occupancy sensors, daylight harvesting, and a variety of other energy- and dollar-saving control strategies can be applied, generating paybacks that can easily equate to 30% to 40% and higher annual returns on investment.”

"By relying on qualified lighting system designers, building owners and managers can also achieve High-Benefit Lighting,” Bloom says, referring to the NLB term used to describe lighting designed to provide the "seeing conditions" needed to optimize productivity, reduce work-related errors, promote increased retail sales, enhance safety and security, and elevate aesthetics and ambiance. "As substantial as the energy-dollar savings can be, the additional benefits provided by new, optimized lighting can be worth ten times as much and more," she says. "And right now, we evidently have some two million or more buildings that are ideal candidates for realizing those benefits, saving vast amounts of energy, while supporting environmental integrity and fiscal responsibility"

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