Friday, January 30, 2009

LED Lighting Lowers Operating Costs with an Eco-Friendly Solution

The cost of energy, energy security, and global warming have become primary topics driving the national agenda. While businesses attempt to curb their energy costs and limit their contributions to GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions, they have to accomplish these goals while remaining profitable enterprises. Business owners are now challenged to implement sustainable initiatives that also lower their operating costs.

Lighting's role in solving these challenges is significant. According to the Energy Information Association a department of the DOE, lighting accounts for 18% of all energy and 25% of all electricity consumed. U.S. buildings consume almost 40% of all energy produced, and lighting accounts for as much as 25% to 40% of the energy consumption in the commercial building sector. Since most electricity is generated from coal, lighting accounts for a large portion of current GHG emissions. The 2007 McKinsey Report states that converting commercial fluorescent lighting to LED offers 110 megatons of GHG abatement potential by 2030. For every ton of GHG abatement achieved with LED lighting there is a potential savings of $87 by 2030. In comparison, car hybridization offers only 90 megatons of abatement potential, and will cost $100 to $140 per ton. Improving lighting efficiency is one of the easiest ways for businesses to lower their energy costs, save money, and help the environment.

Of almost equal cost and perhaps greater "pain" than the energy bill, is the constant maintenance all traditional lighting requires. Depending on usage, LED lighting systems last over 5 times as long as fluorescent. Unlike residential installations where changing a light bulb is relatively easy, the cost of changing a bulb in many commercial building is substantial. Maintenance costs can soar into the $1000's for lamps in hard to reach places that require lifts and multi-person teams. Savings and productivity improvements from reduced maintenance have a positive impact on operating costs and profits.

The best way to save energy in any lighting system is to turn lights off. Motion and light level sensors can provide 50% to 75% additional reduction in energy consumption. Although energy savings from motion sensing can be realized with numerous lighting technologies, fluorescent bulb lifetime is reduced 25% to 50% under the constant on/off cycling. What good is saving energy if motion sensing drives maintenance costs up? Fortunately, LED lighting lifetimes are increased with motion and light level sensing. LEDs and be cycled on/off indefinitely without adverse affects. Additionally, LEDs can be dimmed, over the widest of ranges, and unlike fluorescent get more efficient as they get dimmer. Dimming and improved efficiency are great benefits for daylight harvesting (utilizing natural light during peak hours of sunlight while turning unnecessary interior lights off) applications.

A new and growing cost associated with fluorescent lighting is the legislated need to recycle bulbs. All fluorescent bulbs contain mercury which is a deadly neurotoxin. Even small amounts can have adverse effects and the EPA recommends immediate and thorough actions when a fluorescent bulb is broken. California has legislated that bulbs containing mercury must be disposed in a separate waste stream. The $1 to $2 cost of recycling fluorescent bulbs hurts profits and exposes personnel to serious health risks. With over 510 million fluorescent bulbs entering the US waste stream every year the potential recycling cost to American businesses is a staggering $1 Billion dollars. LED light fixtures contain no mercury and eliminate the costs and hazards associated with recycling.