Being Green in Commercial Buildings

One way to keep costs lower in commercial spaces is always going to be through electricity use. Most buildings have general lighting controlled by only a few switches. However, it has been shown that if employees can individually control the amount of light in their office or space they will generally keep it dimmer and be more productive.

Lighting that lets people control how much light they use for their tasks, reduces building lighting costs. And, there is evidence it also makes for happier and more productive workplaces.  At least that’s what some studies done by lighting makers, and the makers of lighting controls conclude.

Granted, studies by companies that make lighting and lighting controls are potentially biased toward the use of those lights and controls. But in this case there are plenty of other references to balance them out. One, going back as far as 1998. And, this exhaustive article on the topic provides plenty of unbiased information sources. There is also in-depth information from this source about how personalized lighting control is healthier and helps people be more productive.

Amount of Electricity Used for Lighting

For building designers and those in the construction trades, the handwriting is on the wall. Lighting is demanding much more attention than simply estimating lumens and filling spaces with the right amount of fixtures to deliver that level of lighting. And, the attention couldn’t come at a better time.

Commercial building lighting costs average 17% of a building’s total electric use, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But that figure varies a lot just depending on the type of building it is. Surprisingly, electricity used for lighting is only slightly lower (13%) for a small building when compared to a very large building (18%).

commercial building lighting costs as percentage of all building electricity used

Data Source: 2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (Graphic by Duane Craig)

And, there is very little difference across regions in building lighting costs. For commercial buildings it averages between 16% and 18% of total building electricity use. It’s hard to imagine why anyone paying a commercial building electric bill wouldn’t want to cut those costs in half. And, that’s what some are claiming is possible when you put the control of lighting in the hands of the users (while also managing it when the users are not present).

Personal Lighting Lowers Building Lighting Costs

study commissioned by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (an alliance of more than 100 Northwest utilities and energy efficiency organizations working to accelerate the innovation and adoption of energy-efficient products, services and practices in the Northwestern U.S.) on the impact of lighting controls on workplace energy consumption, found that organizations can substantially reduce their utility bills and improve employee satisfaction and comfort by letting individuals adjust their own lighting.

NEEA, the New Buildings Institute, and Enlighted (a company that combines leading-edge sensor technology, big data analytics, and advanced controls to make building systems more effective), collaborated on a project at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

How They Did the Study

Enlighted installed controls for managing lighting and other environmental parameters in a 20,000 square foot office in Hutchinson’s Yale Building in Seattle.

Approximately 100 employees worked in the space. Analysts captured data on energy consumption every 15 minutes during both work and off-hours, and compared it to a baseline.

Here’s what they found.

  • Automated building controls with motion sensors, individual light fixture controls, data networking and other technology can save energy by delaying morning ramp-up of lighting and accelerate evening ramp-down of lights.
  • When given the opportunity to control the lighting around them, users prefer less light, creating more opportunities to save energy.
  • Employees were at their desks an average of four to six hours during an eight hour plus workday, creating an opportunity to save energy through automated controls.
  • Before lighting controls were installed, electricity consumption during the “janitor bump” (evening and night hours when maintenance crews work) was significant in both magnitude and duration. Lighting controls minimized this.

Enlighted’s system – which allows individuals to tailor lighting levels to their personal preferences and tasks – reduced overall lighting energy consumption by 59% and daytime peak watts associated with lighting by 46%.

Evidence of Other Benefits

The other benefits of personalized lighting control are improved well-being and more productivity. Royal Philips, a diversified health and well-being company, completed a study in 2013 showing people claimed;

  • sharper vision,
  • greater eye comfort,
  • better mood, and
  • greater satisfaction with their working environments.

In particular, older workers said they could see smaller details and noticed improved contrast, offsetting those types of vision problems associated with aging. The study’s authors concluded:

Because individual preferences vary widely, individual control is the only practical means to ensure that people have a good chance to obtain light that is best suited to them.

Take heed though. Personalized lighting is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the revolution in lighting up buildings. You can now install lighting that ties into the internet so people can simply use a smartphone app to adjust the lighting within their personal space. And, lighting is also becoming an on ramp to the internet when it is  equipped as a WiFi hotspot.