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Upgrades lower bills for office lighting

Mar. 19, 2013 - 12:15PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

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In 2012, the General Services Administration partnered with the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California to install cutting-edge energy-efficient lighting systems at five of its buildings.

The agency reduced electricity use for lighting by up to 63 percent when it retrofitted offices with workstation-specific lights that were scheduled to go dark at certain hours and were equipped with occupancy sensors but still allowed employees to control the lights themselves.

Increasingly, agencies are upgrading their lighting systems as they strive to reduce energy use, according to agencies and outside experts.

Andy Wakefield, director of government solutions at lighting manufacturer Lutron Electronics Company Inc., which supplies lighting systems to federal agencies, said energy-efficient lighting systems can cut lighting bills in half if done correctly.

Agencies already typically include advanced modern lighting systems for new buildings, Wakefield said. But they can do more to upgrade lighting in thousands of older buildings, he said.

Technologies are less expensive than they used to be, he said, such as daylight harvesting — in which window shades attached to sensors automatically allow the optimum amount of sunlight into a room — and infrared sensors that detect when rooms are occupied and control the lighting accordingly.

And advances in wireless technology allow agencies to install new lights and controls without having to cut holes in walls or deal with more expensive renovations, he said.

Wakefield said lighting controls help reduce the payback period for agencies that use alternative financing, such as energy savings performance contracts, to install energy-efficient retrofits.

Under an ESPC, the vendor pays the upfront costs of facility renovations and retrofits in exchange for payments from energy cost savings over time. The contractor guarantees the energy savings for the life of the contract, or has to pay the balance.

“Even in these uncertain budgetary times, I think you are going to see an accelerating use of lighting control systems,” Wakefield said.

Other facilities that have upgraded lighting systems include:

• The State Department’s headquarters, called the Harry S Truman Building. In 2010, State tested new dimmable energy-efficient lights and occupancy sensors in the building’s main corridor. The test showed drops of 70 percent in electricity use in those areas.

• NASA’s sustainability base at the Ames Research Center in California. The facility was completed in 2012 and uses sensors to measure sunlight and adjust building systems to use as much natural light as possible.

• The Energy Department’s Building 753 at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. Lab officials used occupancy sensors throughout the 9,000-square-foot building to sense when employees enter or exit a room and control the lighting accordingly. The retrofit contributed to a 35 percent drop in energy use, according to the laboratory.

• The GSA’s Hipolito Federal Building in San Antonio. GSA replaced the building’s lights with more energy-efficient ones, contributing to a 38 percent drop in electricity use.

American embassies around the world are also switching out old, inefficient lighting for newer ones, according to John Molesky, the coordinator for the League of Green Embassies, an organization of American embassies that work to promote environmental and energy-saving solutions.

He highlighted the American embassy in Helsinki, Finland, which has upgraded its lighting systems to include energy-efficient LED lights, occupancy sensors and wireless control technology.

“In recent projects, inefficient lighting was replaced with new high-performance fixtures — providing better quality light to workspaces while using up to 90 percent less energy,” he said.

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