A new dawn in efficient lighting

Lighting has played a central role in energy efficiency programs for decades. Often dubbed low-hanging fruit, lighting has presented savings opportunities for nearly every customer and has offered efficiency programs the ability to obtain a magnitude of energy savings unmatched by any other single technology. In Vermont, after years of successful efficient fluorescent lighting promotion, the capture of available lighting savings may seem nearly complete. This high level of fluorescent adoption, however, comes at a time of tremendous advancement for light emitting diode (LED) technology. By some estimates, as much as half of Vermont’s lighting savings on the commercial side are yet to be realized, due to the savings potential of LEDs, when combined with the use of lighting controls and design. The obstacles that once stood in the way of widespread LED adoption are rapidly disappearing, and we can look forward to a new era of unprecedented lighting savings.

Key Insights

  • LED technology is advancing rapidly, and it is already more cost-effective than fluorescent lighting for some applications
  • As much as half of Vermont’s potential energy savings from commercial lighting upgrades have not yet been realized
  • LED technology already accounts for a majority of lighting savings in Vermont’s commercial and industrial sector–by 2018, the share of savings due to LEDs will be more than 80%
  • Lighting design and controls can maximize the energy saving potential and overall lighting performance of LEDs

The Flourescent Era

When Efficiency Vermont was formed, in 1999, T8 fluorescent fixtures and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were heavily promoted to customers as efficient alternatives to older T12 fluorescent and/or incandescent lighting. The reasons were obvious: Most customers had opportunities for lighting upgrades; the resulting energy savings were cost effective; and–in most cases–the new technologies offered significant improvements in light quality. Due to incremental improvements to fluorescent technology over the years, today’s high performance T8 (HPT8) and CFL products offer superior performance and energy efficiency.

Despite these improvements, fluorescent technology has a limited future in Vermont as a source of new energy demand reductions. The technology is already near its energy efficiency peak and most customers have already upgraded to some form of efficient fluorescent lighting. Within Vermont, 83% of all commercial fluorescent equipment is now an efficient technology (T8, HPT8, or T5) and 92% of homes statewide use some CFLs.

Enter LEDs

Historically, lighting has accounted for approximately 70% of energy saved through Efficiency Vermont’s programs. As recently as 2009, LEDs represented a mere 1% of that total. In just the last three years, however, the LED contribution to overall Efficiency Vermont savings grew dramatically to nearly 25%. Within the commercial and industrial sector, LEDs now account for 55% of savings across all lighting technologies.

There are many reasons for the current trend toward rapid adoption of LEDs. First, they can match the light output, distribution, and color that customers demand while offering incredibly long lifetimes. Additionally, LEDs do not present many of the challenges that dogged earlier efficient lighting technology, such as mercury content, flickering, and limited dimming range. Most notably, LEDs deliver up to 80% energy savings, depending on the technology that is replaced.

To date, Efficiency Vermont has promoted LEDs predominately for commercial exterior and select directional interior uses. In such commercial settings, where operating hours for lighting are much longer than in homes, the advantages of LEDs make them financially feasible, despite their higher upfront cost. Additionally, LEDs are better suited than fluorescents for exterior and many interior settings because they can be directionally controlled (to create a spotlight) and perform well in cold temperatures. These applications offer a significant opportunity for energy savings; however, the much larger opportunity of commercial interior general lighting remains mostly untouched.

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