In February 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the nearly $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The funds, about half of which have already been distributed, are allocated into three broad categories: tax benefits ($288 billion), entitlements ($224 billion), and contracts, grants, and loans ($275 billion). The last category is the most familiar component of the legislation, with road and facility construction and maintenance providing a visible reminder of the steps the federal government has taken in its attempt to mitigate the damage from the 2008 financial collapse.

The awarding of contracts and grants has opened a flood of new projects to move forward. The Department of Defense (DOD) alone received an allocation of $7.4 billion in stimulus funds, which DOD has stated will be used to preserve and create American jobs, care for service members and their families and improve the energy efficiency of DOD facilities.

The initial plan for the specific use of these funds assigned $4.26 billion to Facilities Sustainment, Restoration, and Modernization in order to upgrade thousands of DOD buildings, including energy-related improvements and upgrades to military medical facilities. More than $2 billion will go to new military construction, including more than $1 billion for hospitals. Investments in the improvement of the energy efficiency of existing facilities will receive $120 million.

Within each of these categories, a well-designed lighting control system represents one of the most effective strategies for delivering immediate, verifiable, and dramatic decreases in energy use. The following are just a few examples of lighting strategies that can be implemented to reduce energy consumption at any facility.

Install Wireless Occupancy Sensors
Some facility managers are reluctant to consider using occupancy sensors because first-generation sensors were unreliable and limited in capability. However, modern sensors can work in a wide variety of applications, feature reliable sensing technology, and have configurable timeouts and modes that allow them to be tailored to the specific needs of the space. Additionally, energy savings derived from having lights on only when a space is occupied can be significant. The latest sensor solutions use radio frequency technology that eliminates the need to change or install additional wiring, allowing these sensor solutions to be installed in minutes at a lower cost.

Put Lights on Timers
You may remember the loud, cumbersome, twist-to-turn-on timers that were used to automatically turn off lights and fans after a predetermined interval. For applications where timer functionality is preferred to sensors, modern, user-friendly, tap-on timers are now available.

Fully Utilize Timeclock Capabilities
Most lighting control systems have the capability to turn lights on and off automatically according to the time of day. Significant savings can be realized by taking a fresh look at timeclock programming and confirming that it is best supporting the building’s needs. You can create a schedule for each day of the week that defines what time lights turn on (and to what light level) and turn off. Systems with astronomic timeclocks control lights relative to sunrise and sunset rather than a specific time of day, so the timeclock actions automatically adjust to seasonal changes. A combination of an astronomic event and a fixed-time event is particularly useful for exterior spaces or public areas with many windows. For example, entrance lights can be programmed to turn on 15-min before sunset and turn off at midnight.

Adjust Maximum Light Output
Most buildings have fixtures with dimmable light sources capable of providing more light output than is truly needed by the occupants. Many lighting systems have a “high-end trim” feature, which enables the user to limit the maximum light level to a value of less than 100 percent. This change will typically allow users to lock in savings around 20 percent. Changes should be made at the same time as any timeclock adjustments.

Reduce Lighting Usage with Load Shed
If a building has a more sophisticated system that offers a load shed feature, you may be able to get rebates or lower rates from an electricity supplier. The load shed feature allows users to reduce power consumption at the request of the utility; configuration of the load shed feature or training on how to use it is not time consuming and can result in substantial savings.

Evaluate System Programming Regularly
Offices and people move around as needs change, and with new occupants come new requirements for light levels. To avoid unhappy employees and customers, it is a good idea to routinely check all parameters of the lighting system to ensure alignment with the building’s current use.

Upgrade or Replace an Out-of-Date System
An updated system brings advanced control features and energy-saving capabilities to an older building. In most cases, a system can be upgraded to modern technology without significant facility rewiring or major disruption to everyday business. A state-of-the-art system can include all of the features and strategies explained within this article.

Control All Incandescent Bulbs with Dimmers
In many conference rooms and eating areas, incandescent light sources are still in use because of their excellent light quality. Controlling those lights with dimmers will save energy and extend the life of the light bulbs. For example, setting the light level to 75 percent will reduce energy consumption by 20 percent and will make the bulb last four times longer. The savings on bulb maintenance more than pays for the dimmer, so the energy saved is a bonus. The dimmer will also improve the ambiance in the room by allowing the occupants to select the preferred light level.

Maximize Use of Daylight
If considering a new system, look at the opportunity to utilize natural light to the greatest extent possible. Daylight sensors allow a lighting system to automatically reduce artificial light output when natural light is available. Smooth lighting transitions go unnoticed by occupants while yielding substantial savings.

Automate Shade Movements
Controllable shading systems can further exploit natural light without exposing occupants to unwanted glare. Systems that control the movement of shades in conjunction with artificial lighting provide consistent lighting throughout the day. Energy savings is captured by using natural light as well as reducing HVAC costs because the shades also keep out excess heat and cold. Solar-adaptive shading systems improve the aesthetics of the space by providing a view of the outdoors at times when the sunlight is not overpowering.

Monitor and Display Lighting Energy Usage
Systems that record energy consumption give users the ability to fine-tune lighting usage to maximize savings. When real-time energy savings data are available from the system, that information can be displayed publicly to reinforce a company’s commitment to conservation. This can motivate employees and visitors to modify their actions to further improve those savings.

Used in combination, these strategies can reduce lighting energy consumption by 60 percent or more while creating a more comfortable and productive space.


Andy Wakefield is Director of Government Business Development, Lutron Electronics; 610-533-4693 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..