By Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C, president, Metropolitan Valuation Services
A year and a half ago, looking at energy conservation trends in commercial buildings, we predicted LEDs (light-emitting diodes) were becoming a game changing energy source.
At that time, manufacturers had perfected production of true white light, concurrent with growing awareness of the long-term cost savings of LED lighting compared to both fluorescent and incandescent lighting.
LEDs use at least 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and last up to 50 times longer (two to five times longer than fluorescents). With LED’s longer life span (they don’t burn out, but instead dim over time), there are considerably fewer bulbs to change which lowers replacement and maintenance costs. And, because they release heat in specific directions, they also save on cooling costs.
Have LEDs made inroads in commercial usage? Without a doubt.
In one of the world’s largest relighting, Los Angeles, which has the second most streetlamps after New York, has installed over 140,000 LED streetlights and spent $57 million to retrofit 215,000 lights.
The Washington, DC Metro system is beginning a major energy-efficient LED project in March 2014, upgrading lighting in 25 parking garages.
Las Vegas, which installed 42,000 LED streetlights, is saving $2 million a year on energy and maintenance costs.
In New York City, Plan NYC includes replacement of all 250,000 streetlights with LEDs, predicting an 80% decrease in maintenance costs of $8 million a year and $6 million a year in energy savings. LEDs have already been installed in streetlights along key corridors, on FDR Drive, along Central Park’s pedestrian paths and on the “necklace” lights that adorn the cables of East River Bridges.
Other cities, which have or are moving in the direction of adopting solid-state lighting LED technology include San Francisco, San Antonio, Austin and Montreal.
Super Bowl XLIX was the first to be illuminated by LEDs. Brighter than the old lamps, only 312 units were needed to replace 780 metal halide lights originally installed in the University of Phoenix Stadium. The new lights use 75% less energy and are anticipated to last at least 20 years.
Electric lamps have been around since the 19th entury, but LEDs are leading a 21st century lighting revolution. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), during the past year, solid-state lighting has shown some very significant advances:
• For 2013, the installed base o LEDs in the U.S. has increased in all LED applications, more than doubling from 2012 to about 105 million units.
• Correspondingly, the annual energy cost savings from LEDs more than doubled in 2013 from the previous year, increasing to $1.8 billion. That is enough money to pay the annual lighting electricity bill for over 14 million U.S. homes.
Looking forward 10 years, the DOE found that by 2025, solid-state lighting technology offers the potential to save 217 terawatt-hours (TWh), or about one-third of current site electricity consumption used for lighting in the U.S. This projected savings corresponds to about 2.5 quadrillion British Thermal Units of primary energy generation, which is approximately equal to the projected electricity generation of wind power and twelve times that of solar power in 2025. At a price of $0.10/kilowatt-hour, this would correspond to an annual dollar savings of $21.7 billion.
Why then is not every commercial building in New York City converting to LED lighting when such a conversion creates huge reductions in energy usage and maintenance costs that translates into increased profits and property value?
The answer is, while long term benefits are undeniable and that market adoption is gaining significant momentum, the biggest obstacle is in the short-term, that being initial cost.
Forward-thinking property owners, facilities and building managers and even marketers who see the competitive advantage in LED lighting, may be able to envision the return on investment but must still be able to afford or finance hundreds of thousands of dollars in upfront costs. Significant, yes, but advanced energy-efficient lighting sources can save up to 50% in energy as well as reduce cooling and maintenance costs.
Incorporating LED lighting into new construction, retrofit or major renovation, should embrace a comprehensive design plan that addresses efficiency, aesthetics, safety, comfort, productivity, light levels appropriate to different building areas and tasks, controls and marketability. With costs of LEDs decreasing, a LED lighting retrofit can pay for itself in a few years.