Industrial lighting best practices

Oct. 4, 2005
Perform an audit and weigh the merits of retrofits versus new systems.

Given the recent technological advancements manufacturers of lighting, lighting systems and electrical distribution equipment have made, now is the perfect time for plant and facility managers to examine how lamps, ballasts, fixtures and lighting layouts affect the bottom line.

Further motivation for looking at lighting upgrades sooner rather than later comes from a company’s stakeholders. Company operations are more closely watched than ever before, and everyone from production employees to shareholders to board chairmen are better informed about the value of efficient and responsible practices.

Some of the world’s best plants are answering this collective call for a leaner and more environmentally conscious operation by retrofitting or upgrading the lighting.

Expense item or investment?
A plant’s lighting choices offer a remarkable opportunity for reducing operating costs. The savings add up because the overall cost of illumination, not the cost of the lamp, is what counts:

  • Lamps represent as little as 4% of the overall life-cycle cost.
  • Maintenance and labor costs (installation) represent as little as 8% of the overall life-cycle cost.
  • Energy costs over the life of a lamp can represent as much as 88% of the overall cost of light.

Despite efforts to educate end users about these telling numbers, lighting manufacturers and electrical distributors continue to fight a decades-old battle to present energy-efficient, cost-saving alternatives to the cheapest lamp available.

When a plant maintenance and repair operation decides to consider these energy-efficient alternatives, its team members usually come away with the knowledge that a better product does much more than simply add cost up front. Such upgrades can net the plant significant operational efficiency -- a leap that bodes well for the bottom line. Plainly stated: better products are better for everyone.

Enjoy the audit
Completed lighting audits, thorough software-driven examinations of current lighting choices and new alternatives, provide plant management with a road map for cutting lighting waste. These audits are useful to plants considering lighting or other electrical products for new facilities, retrofits or total lighting redesign projects.

Lighting audit tools made available by leading manufacturers take into account the overall cost of light by comparing the operating costs of existing lighting with the investment costs, operating costs and paybacks of alternatives. Most financially aware plant executives welcome such audits, as few actions please C-level executives more than cutting costs.

Define needs
Any of several situational and functional triggers should initiate a lighting audit. Key questions to answer include the following.

Is the existing lighting design esthetically and functionally adequate? Consider whether the light is where it should be, and whether there are any dark, cave-like spaces. Conversely, lighting also can look “glary.” Ideally, walls and vertical surfaces are illuminated at a level that results in a bright, cheery atmosphere. Studies have shown that lighting affects employee morale.

Does the lighting fit the use of the space? The function of a space can change, but its fixture layout often remains the same. Think about how the space is being used now and anticipated uses in the foreseeable future. One of the simplest ways to reduce energy consumption is to direct light where it is needed and reduce it where it isn’t needed.

What’s the condition of the existing fixtures, sockets and lenses? Dated lighting components, rusty fixtures and yellowed lenses can’t deliver adequate light to the work area. They also detract from the overall look of the space.
One driver of lighting redesign and retrofit is reduced maintenance and costs.

Are lighting controls needed? Lighting controls can be installed during a simple retrofit, but that might not be the most economical approach. Usually, the addition of control zones introduces the need for new fixture placements and extensive wiring modifications. Complex control plans are usually best addressed with redesigned lighting.

Does current illumination provide recommended foot-candle values? Sometimes light levels are too high or too low for tasks being performed. At issue is whether it’s possible to get the correct light intensity with a lamp and ballast retrofit, or if that objective is only achievable with new fixtures.

What metrics determine your project’s success? Every plant engaged in a lighting retrofit or redesign has a unique set of reasons for doing so. Plants look with varying levels of interest at such metrics as payback period, return on investment and internal rate of return. Distributors are a great resource, not only for a discussion and ranking of chosen metrics, but also for measuring progress against expectations once the new lighting has been installed.

Use audit tools
Which comes first: the budget or the audit? As a rule, it’s most practical to establish a lighting budget after an audit reveals the cost and value of retrofit vs. redesign. It’s not uncommon, however, to devise some project goals -- to transition to best-in-class lighting solutions that optimize energy efficiency and light output while providing the lowest overall cost of light -- before budget requirements are fully known.

Major financial considerations for lighting projects include the material and installation labor, and the recurring costs of energy, MRO purchases and labor for continuing maintenance. Thanks in large part to the leading manufacturers that offer lighting audit software through distributors, your data is “crunchable” at the project front-end.

Everyone benefits from the availability of lighting audit software. This includes manufacturers selling to distributors, distributors selling to plants, and plant and facilities managers selling the long-term value of lighting projects to executive decision-makers. The product performance comparisons these audit tools produce is invaluable. No plant should make lighting purchase decisions without first conducting an audit.

Other valuable insights obtainable through distributors and manufacturers include details of current rebates and how local and state energy codes might affect a project.

Utilities usually offer rebates, often paid on a per-fixture basis once the project is fully installed, to encourage retrofitting to energy-efficient products. A big question about energy codes is whether a simple retrofit or a new lighting design would enable the plant to meet Lighting Power Density maximums (ASHRAE 90.1). The direction a plant goes depends on state law and whether the plant’s lighting is bad or just inadequate.

HID versus fluorescent
Plant lighting upgrades from dated technologies such as standard metal halide lamps and HID electromagnetic ballasts to contemporary technology are going in two distinct directions.

For some plants, the switch involves new HID technology such as pulse-start or ceramic metal halide lamps (250, 300, 320, 350 and 400 watts) and HID electronic ballasts. Other plants are moving to high-output, linear fluorescent T5 lamps, mainly 54-watt high-output with electronic ballasts.

Today’s newer HID lamp and ballast technologies are exceptionally efficient. When opting for an HID electronic ballast system instead of older technologies in retrofits, you can reach or exceed mean light levels with lower-wattage lamps. For example, you could replace MVR400/U lamps with 320-watt high-output metal halide lamps to save as much as 113 watts per fixture, attain 24% more mean light and extend re-lamping schedules.

HID electronic ballast systems do equally well in new installations. Pairing metal halide lamps with an HID electronic ballast system, instead of electromagnetic ballasts and standard metal halide lamps, requires about 34% fewer fixtures. The reduction is achieved using a recommended lamp-ballast combination that optimizes light levels. Other benefits include as much as 41% energy savings and 37% operating cost savings (depending on kW rate, relamping schedule and other factors), when compared with the performance of electromagnetic ballasts and standard metal halide lamps.

Plants choosing high-output linear fluorescent technologies as replacements for standard metal halide technologies will attain dramatic improvements in energy efficiency, color rendering and lumen maintenance. The latest linear fluorescent solutions also enable new levels of flexibility with more color choices and operation on occupancy or motion sensors.

For example, a GE plant in Mebane, North Carolina, invested $390,000 on a new high-bay fluorescent system. The standard 400-watt metal halide lamps and electromagnetic HID ballasts were replaced by T8 and T5 linear fluorescent lamps paired with electronic ballasts. About 65% of the new lighting scheme uses 4-ft. F32T8/SPX50/HL lamps. In some instances, where it makes sense in terms of light output and efficiency, the plant uses 5,000º Kelvin T5 lamps.

Plant officials expect to save as much as 1.8 million kWh of electricity, reduce CO[-]2[-] emissions by 2.2 million lb. and cut operating costs by about $132,000 per year. The payback period for the new system is forecast at 2.8 yrs.

Light up and save
Many senior executives and plant maintenance and operation managers are examining how the most energy-efficient HID and linear fluorescent lighting technologies can affect the bottom line. They’re discovering that:

  • More efficient lighting represents a sustainable operating cost reduction.
  • Energy-efficient lighting often delivers longer life than standard lighting, a factor that can reduce maintenance labor and costs.
  • Energy-efficient lighting can improve light quality, which can increase worker satisfaction and productivity.
  • Stakeholders will recognize the value of energy-saving initiatives.
  • Plants can leverage improved cash flow and operating profit tied to more efficient lighting and reinvest in the business.

For plants that are ready to invest in energy-efficient lighting, the first few steps are pretty easy. See what type of lighting is in place, determine which products and technologies are most appropriate for the space and conduct a lighting audit.

Roy Sierlaja is a senior product specialist at GE Lighting Institute, GE Consumer and Industrial in Cleveland, Ohio. Contact him at (800) 255-1200 and at

[Editor’s note: The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America posts a lighting power density calculator at

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