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Leveraging Lighting Controls for Efficiency, Convenience, and Cost Savings: A Look at Lighting Controls in Higher Education

Navigant Research

By Krystal Maxwell
Senior Research Analyst
Navigant Research

LED lighting growth has been spurred by the technology’s superior energy savings, higher efficacy, longer lifetimes, improved controllability, and declining prices compared with legacy lighting technologies. The proliferation of LED adoption has provided a pathway for lighting controls in commercial buildings. Compared to legacy lighting products such as incandescent, fluorescent, or HID lighting, LEDs provide substantial energy savings on their own; coupled with lighting controls, LEDs can provide additional energy savings. Beyond the additional energy savings provided by lighting controls, a connected or networked lighting system provides data and insights that can alter the way buildings operate for cost savings, operational efficiency, and enhancements to the occupant experience.

Addressing Perceived Barriers of Lighting Controls

While the various benefits of lighting controls might seem compelling enough for a lighting controls upgrade, there are still a number of perceived barriers that can deter broad adoption of lighting controls. Within higher education, one consistent factor is staff and budget shortages that result in strains on staffing to meet operational and maintenance (O&M) needs. New building systems can provide the additional burden of training and specialized expertise, adding challenges to already lean teams.

Navigant Research administered a joint-developed survey on wireless lighting controls in higher education with Audacy Wireless Lighting Control, a division of IDEAL INDUSTIRES INC. to electrical engineers, facility managers, facility executives, lighting designers, and mechanical engineers. Given the potential staffing restraints, it is of little surprise that O&M is perceived as the biggest barrier to wireless lighting control technologies, both in terms limited staffing and an aging workforce, and the budget shortages related to filling these positions. Despite this perceived barrier, respondents to the survey highlighted many clear benefits of lighting controls, which resulted in an overall positive perception and need. Respondents translated this challenge into a requirement for technical support for lighting controls. The following chart shows the importance of characteristics for energy efficiency upgrade projects, with technical support ranking as the most important consideration. As lighting incumbents, lighting control manufacturers, building automation companies, and startups offer lighting controls to the market, this consideration must be a priority in their solution offerings.

Importance of Characteristics for Energy Efficiency Upgrade Projects (n=104)

Importance of Characteristics for Energy Efficiency Upgrade Projects
Source: Navigant Research

The Occupant Experience

Depending on the building type and decision makers involved, the motivating factors for an energy efficient upgrade can vary. Within higher education, there is a focus on creating an optimal experience through lighting controls for all stakeholders by focusing on efficiency, convenience and usability, and cost savings. The increased focus on the occupant experience is a growing trend in commercial building and lighting markets, and is not just limited to the education vertical. However, it is more difficult to quantify an occupant’s productivity and well-being than to quantify energy savings, and thus is generally not the primary justification for a lighting controls retrofit. While examining the improved energy efficiency and cost savings as the primary motivator helps a facility owner or manager justify the initial investment cost of lighting controls, the impact of the occupant experience is substantial.  

Real estate investment management company JLL's 3-30-300 rule depicts the monetary value that can be associated with improved occupant productivity and comfort compared with real estate and utility costs. The idea is that the cost of real estate is typically an order of magnitude greater than the cost of energy, and the cost of payroll is typically an order magnitude greater than the cost of real estate. The 3-30-300 rule can be thought of as utilities costing on average $3/ft2, rent costing on average $30/ft2, and payroll costing on average $300/ft2. While these numbers are not set in stone, they help put an organization’s occupancy cost distribution into perspective. This rule helps organizations see how cutting costs across these three areas can affect overall spending. For example, if a company can cut costs across each category by 10%, it will save $0.30 in utility costs, $3 in rent, and $30 in payroll per square foot. When viewing buildings costs in this manner, prioritizing occupant’s health and productivity can become more important and more easily justified from a financial perspective for a company. Companies are starting to see the reality of savings associated with increased employee retention and productivity, which will help drive adoption of lighting controls not just in higher education, but across the commercial building industry.

Lighting Controls in Higher Education

Colleges and universities understand the energy efficiency benefits of lighting controls. With the increased focus on the occupant experience due to benefits to the students, faculty, and staff—such as improved comfort, health and productivity—lighting control projects in higher education facilities are starting to gain momentum. Lighting control deployments at colleges and universities range from partial building upgrades to full campus retrofits. For the University of California Los Angeles Athletics department, adding lighting controls from Audacy Wireless Lighting Controls allowed them to see a 35% reduction in lighting energy costs, increase control of lighting, lower maintenance costs, and allow for customization for the faculty, coaches, and students. The Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) in the UAE focused on creating a smart and adaptive learning ecosystem on campus through the use of a smart lighting system from Signify, formerly Philips Lighting. The system provided HBMSU with personalization for the building occupants, energy savings, and data insights about room occupancy and usage statistics. 

To better understand perceptions of lighting controls in higher education, benefits to the stakeholders on campus, and motivations for decision makers, register for Navigant Research’s webinar on lighting controls in higher education on March 26, 2019 at 2:00 p.m. EDT. Join Navigant Research’s Krystal Maxwell and Casey Talon, Nolan Bello, business unit manager of Audacy Wireless Lighting Controls, a Division of IDEAL INDUSTRIES, INC., and Zuhair Mased, director of energy, engineering & sustainability at University of California, Merced, for an informative and in-depth discussion of these topics. 

Krystal Maxwell is a senior research analyst with Navigant Research. She currently focuses on market analysis for the lighting sector in commercial and residential buildings, including emerging markets for lighting technologies, connected and smart lighting, Internet of Things for lighting, and lighting controls. Previously, Maxwell was Navigant Research’s client service lead, facilitating communications and customer service with the group’s global client base.

Lindsay Funicello-Paul's picture

Thank Lindsay for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 26, 2019 1:12 am GMT

This is an interesting read-- any insights into whether there are widespread or planned educational pushes to close the gap, whether from manufacturers, advocates, or otherwise?

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