Retailers can 'paint with light' while cutting energy costs

Supplementing energy-efficient lighting with strategically-placed incandescent lamps can help cut costs dramatically without sacrificing light quality in retail applications.

Nina Winham

Whether your retail operation is large or small, chances are you can save money with a lighting retrofit aimed at improving your energy efficiency. The trick is to know what technology is available, and make choices that work best for your products, customers, employees and physical space.

To help you get started, here are five things to consider when improving the display lighting in your stores:

Energy efficiency

Hands down, old-fashioned incandescent lamps (bulbs) don’t cut it anymore if you want to save money. Not only do energy-efficient technologies such as compact fluorescents , tube fluorescents,  LEDs, and ceramic metal halide lamps draw a lot less power, but they also last far longer.

“How much electricity you save depends on the specific changes you make – but a 30% reduction in the electricity you use for lighting is a safe estimate when shifting away from incandescents,” says Cristian Suvagau, a senior engineer with Power Smart. “And your maintenance costs drop too: CFLs last about four times longer than incandescents, and fluorescent tubes last about 10 times longer.

"If you have a store that uses thousands of incandescents, you have someone walking around with a bucket of lamps around the clock. If you put in fluorescents, they can spend their time on better things.”

B.C. businesses know to rely on Power Smart's Product Incentive Program to help them find the right product and discover rebates when doing lighting retrofits. Try this online calculator  to see what your retail operation might save.

Colour rendering

Some energy-efficient technology doesn’t yet match the performance of incandescents in showing off colours to full effect. Incandescent bulbs have a “CRI” – colour rendering index – of 100, closely matching the way colours are perceived under daylight. In comparison, the CRIs of energy-efficient technologies vary from 60 to 90.

“To save energy and show off colours, you can mix and match lamps,” says Suvagau. “On track lighting, for example, you can interlace some spots with fluorescent – which for cooler colours is fine, but for warmer colours, incandescents bring up the tones. So use incandescents wisely, use them in smaller quantities, use them exactly to create that punch, like a highlight. Paint with light – that’s the idea.”

If coloured lights are part of your retail display, Suvagau says a switch to LEDs is a great idea. “With LEDs, you can select a very narrow bandwidth of colour, whereas incandescent lights use gels [thin coloured film] to produce colour,” he says. “So you take 100% white light, add a [colour] gel, and wind up with 20% of the output. The LED produces just that 20% – so you have an 80% savings right there. On top of that, digitally-controlled colour changing LEDs can add stupendous effects to the displays.”


Some retailers keep their general sales lighting on at all times, but add motion-sensitive controls to switch off close-up display lighting when no customers are in that area. Using controls to provide dimming can cut your electricity bills – and has another benefit too.

“Incandescent light gives out a lot of heat, and UV (ultraviolet) light,” says Suvagau. “Intense light and heat can have adverse impacts on items such as fabrics and produce.

"Switching to fluorescents and using dimming controls are good ways to protect merchandise, such as preventing fabrics from fading. [In addition,] cutting the extra heat helps reduce the energy you need for space cooling too.”


An appropriate choice of fixtures (called luminaires) makes the most of the electricity you buy. For example, using flood lights in a large space would generate pools of light on the floor, casting shadows elsewhere.

Some products, such as jewellery, require close-up display lighting to give off the best effect. LEDs are great for close up display lighting. Making sure you have appropriate luminaires for your needs is part of showing off your space and products most invitingly – and using LEDs can save you energy.


Last, but perhaps most importantly, is to consider all the aspects of lighting outlined above as a fundamental part of your retail display. “There are all kinds of things you can do to improve your lighting and your energy efficiency,” says Suvagau.

But he says it’s worth investing in a good overall design. “Energy efficient lighting design has to go hand in hand with the design of the retail space. That’s the strategy to make the best of what the technology offers. If you remove the quality [of light] it’s going to come back to you; people will be dissatisfied with the results. So you have to use the best of each tool wisely.”

The good news about investing in a lighting upgrade is that it can pay for itself in a relatively short period of time – and then it keeps on saving, year over year. With the BC Hydro Power Smart Product Incentive Program, investing in a lighting display upgrade with energy-efficient technologies can save significantly on retail electricity costs, and earn your company a rebate too.