How to get the most out of an industrial lighting retrofit

Lighting retrofits, like one shown here in progress at Starline Windows, almost always provide higher end quality light for much reduced electricity bills.

When industrial companies think about energy efficiency, they tend to focus on pumps, compressed air systems or other process equipment.

But with fast changes in technology and rebates from BC Hydro, retrofits to industrial lighting systems can also produce significant savings on power bills with a good payback – even if your current lighting isn't that old. Plus, you'll almost always see a significant improvement in lighting quality – which can reduce errors and improve employee morale.

To get you thinking about how your lighting might benefit from an upgrade, here are some ideas from Phil Thebault of Nedco, a registered member of the Power Smart Alliance. Thebault has been working in industrial lighting – specializing in retrofits – for 20 years, and has been involved with Power Smart since its earliest days.

1. Turn it off when you don't need it

Traditional industrial spaces were often designed as big boxes with full-ceiling lighting installed before processes were planned and equipment added.  You may be lighting areas full-time that you don't actually use more than a few hours a day, such as storage areas, or specialty work stations.

These areas can be retrofitted with sensors or timers, so the lights will go out when no one needs them. You save on electricity – and the lights last longer too.

2. Match light level to tasks

Areas where workers must focus on detail need more light than general walkways, storage, or transport zones. Knowing where you need more, and where you can do with less, can ensure maximum worker comfort and save money.

Look around your facility and consider whether you have "one size fits all" lighting – and whether that means wasted electricity. "For example, you don't need 50 footcandles to pick up a big item with a forklift; you only need 20-25," says Thebault. In most work areas, however, 50-60 footcandles are needed.

3. Place fixtures appropriately

When lighting is installed before production equipment, you can wind up with serious efficiency gaps. "If you see fixtures blocked by storage racks or machinery, it's always an opportunity for savings," says Thebault.

Meanwhile, relying on too few, very bright lights can cause shadows – and a gloomy, low-energy feeling. Know that lighting fixtures are designed with different degrees of focus – some cast light widely, and some can be used to narrow in on a task.

"When your ceilings are higher, you need a fixture that will drive the light down to the floor where you need it," says Thebault. Good lighting design means you use your light – and electricity – to maximum advantage with minimum cost.

Phil Thebault of Nedco.

4. Recognize the value of quality light

"I can give you a graphic example of this," says Thebault with a chuckle. "In my own company's building, a few years after we moved in, we retrofitted from T12 [fluorescent] to T8s.

"Our office is just over 100 feet long. We were halfway through the retrofit, and I was standing outside my office door talking to someone. Our general manager was standing outside his office door across the room.

"We looked at him and we said, 'He's sick! There's something wrong with him.' He looked all green and white. Then we realized that our side of the room had been retrofitted, and where he was standing it wasn't. He looked so bad under the old lighting, we could really see the difference.

"We said, 'Isn't this amazing, we're saving power and people don't look sick anymore.'"

If your processes require attention to colour, fine detail, or the ability to easily spot errors, good quality light – light that's bright enough and renders colour appropriately – can provide value far beyond the electricity it saves.

5. Involve employees

"In a factory environment, if your employees don't like it, they don't want to do it," says Thebault. "If a production line goes down or runs slower because things aren't right, you can eat up your savings so fast. And if employees are unhappy, they work slower – again, you lose."

Thebault says consulting employees about a lighting design, getting input and involving them in testing is important. It pays to let them know the value of the lighting retrofit – that the company will save money while helping shrink its energy footprint.

6. Bring your payback down with incentives

Power Smart project incentives can cover up to 75 per cent of your upgrade costs. For lighting upgrades, that often cuts payback times from 5-7 years to an acceptable 1-3 years. And then you save, month over month, on your bills.

Look into Power Smart support for lighting design studies too.

7. It may be inefficient, even if it's not old

"When I started, we did retrofits where we replaced mercury lamps with metal halide, and that was a big improvement," says Thebault. "Now we're going back and replacing the metal halide.

"I'm currently working on a job I already retrofitted 16 years ago, with T8s and reflectors. Now, we're installing better T8s, better ballasts, and adding sensors. There's an incredible rapid pace of change right now in lighting."

That means your "newer lighting" may offer more room for improvement than you think. "The beauty is that you can deliver savings, but you can also deliver much improved lighting in a lot of the cases," says Thebault.

"There's a huge word everyone uses all the time: sustainability," says Thebault, who drives a hybrid car and uses compact fluorescent lamps (and some LEDs) throughout his own home. "For me, aside from the savings, I want to breathe clean air. This is all part of the same thing.

"In B.C. we use hydro power, but there are still a lot of ways that energy savings provides a better, cleaner environment. And for me, that's what it's about, along with the satisfaction I get from seeing a beautifully lit space."

Lighting retrofit image courtesy of Starline Windows.