Efficiency of Automation

by Katie Lee

The cost-saving opportunity for retail facilities: LED automation.

By Claudia McCrackin

Energy efficiency, sustainability, green and renewable energy  — these are all common terms that can be heard by anyone within earshot of a daily news channel. Energy costs remain one of the major concerns of building operators. The retail industry alone racks up enormous energy costs, currently over $21 billion per year,1 because of the long hours required for building operation. In fact, lighting accounts for 35% of retail building energy use, second only to HVAC.2 The high energy usage costs and lack of energy efficiency from outdated lighting solutions — including fluorescents, halogen and metal halide lamps — are driving stores to replace their existing technologies and upgrade to LED and lighting automation solutions.

Upgrading from antiquated technologies to LED automation

Halogen lighting has been the top choice in retail lighting applications for years because of its excellent color rendering index (CRI) and focused light distribution; however, its short lamp life, poor energy efficiency and safety concerns about high operating temperatures have retailers looking at other alternatives. As a result, some retailers are looking toward the latest LED alternatives which offer a comparable CRI and light distribution as well as a longer life span. In parallel to the safety concerns over the high operating temperatures, halogen lamps also increase costs associated with cooling as they require cooling systems to work harder, especially in warm climates.

When efficiency increases, savings increase — which is why retailers should be mindful of the cost-saving opportunity provided by high-efficiency technologies. Stores of all sizes have the ability to save through the introduction of LED retrofits, and chain retailers with multiple stores stand to gain even more savings by replacing the large quantity of outdated lighting technologies throughout their facilities. LED lighting solutions provide significantly higher efficiency when compared to existing solutions like fluorescent and halogen lighting — by providing 60% to 85% more efficiency, respectively.

Retail offers a large opportunity for energy efficiency

The U.S. Department of Energy revealed a large gap in potential energy savings, estimating that 75% of buildings built before 1980 have not undergone lighting upgrades. While many of the technologies used in these buildings are obsolete, LED manufacturers have created lighting alternatives for almost every lighting application to help bring these facilities into the next generation of lighting automation. With service life up to 100,000 hours, energy savings of 50% to 80% percent or more, and the fact that LED lamp costs have dropped more than 85% since 2008,3 upgrading to LED lighting is a no-brainer.

hibbettIt’s becoming increasingly common that stores with antiquated lighting technologies are upgrading to enhance energy efficiency, cost savings and overall shopping experience. One such example is Hibbett Sports, Inc., operating more than 1,000 retail sporting goods stores in 33 states, predominantly in the South, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, who needed to find a solution to reduce lighting energy use throughout its retail store locations. The company whose large presence created an immense opportunity for energy and cost savings chose to replace existing fluorescent lighting through an LED retrofit project using high-efficiency T8 LED tubes.

The company selected one of its retail stores in Florida to be the pilot for the retrofit project. Upon project completion, the store experienced improved energy efficiency by 67% in that store alone, revealing the gargantuan opportunity for energy cost savings in their stores throughout the nation. With LED lighting lasting three times longer than conventional lighting, Hibbett Sports will experience significant long term operational and maintenance cost savings, while enhancing the shopping experience for its customers by achieving greater light output and visual acuity.

Durability & longevity make the savings last longer

While energy efficiency remains one of the primary benefits to LED technologies, the durability of LED tube construction and long lifespan further adds to replacement and operational maintenance cost savings. The average 4-foot fluorescent tube has about a 20,000-hour lamp life compared to LED’s 50,000- to 70,000-hour lifespan, resulting in savings of at least three replacement fluorescent tubes for every LED tube.

Another factor to consider is savings on ballast replacement, required for all fluorescent lamps. Ballasts last about 20,000 hours as well and cost about $30 each. Although one has the option of purchasing ballast-ready LED tubes, using single-end-power tubes (which do not require ballasts) saves over $60 in ballast replacement costs for every LED tube.

Upgrading to LED tubes avoids obvious maintenance costs with replacing ballasts as well. Ballast replacements are usually done by an electrician, which can cost about $45 for each replacement.  For every LED tube upgrade, at least $90 in labor costs are avoided. This savings is multiplied when retrofitting an entire chain of stores.

In addition to these savings from the lighting technology, physical construction of these advanced LED technologies complements the longevity of LED lighting output. LED lighting design does not utilize glass in order to provide a durable and reliable solution throughout the technology’s life. Simultaneously, to match the longevity of light itself, many LEDs come with a 10-year warranty providing the added comfort that their new technologies will provide the expected results for at least a decade, if not longer. For those establishments that are conscientious about sustainable practices, LEDs are often constructed with 100% recyclable materials as they do not contain mercury like their fluorescent counterparts.

Automation leads to the next generation of lighting technology

Automation is prevalent in all types of technologies and has made its way into the lighting community, ensuring more responsible use of energy. Lighting automation, such as dimming, timers, occupancy sensors and photo-sensors, reduce wasteful energy usage when it’s not needed and can add another 15% to 20% savings on lighting costs.

Retail locations, in particular, can benefit from these types of controls since lights are required to remain illuminated for at least 16 hours per day, and even 24 hours per day at some locations. Occupancy sensors will turn lights off when no movement is detected or will turn on when someone enters an area, increasing energy savings in areas used infrequently such as restrooms, break rooms, storage areas or back rooms. Another automation option is daylighting, which involves using windows and skylights to bring in natural light into the facility. With photo-sensors, lights can either dim down or turn off completely when enough natural light is in the facility.

Creating a natural lighting environment

The latest research shows sunlight and darkness impact behavioral and physiological health. Circadian rhythm is altered more by poor access to natural light, and subjected to constant levels of conventional artificial lighting.  Given that people now spend up to 90% of our time indoors, LED’s “full spectrum lighting” potential has a significant opportunity to provide improved lighting conditions, particularly through controlled frequency levels, intensity/output and color to support photo entrainment and proper alignment with circadian rhythms.

LED technologies incorporate multiple aspects to closely replicate natural light. For example, LEDs provide high efficacy, the measurement of the amount of light output versus wattage versus energy used, which equates to the greatest efficiency and light output.  Compared to the customary performance standard of lumens-per-watt (lm/W), most LEDs are five to seven times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and 30% to 40% more efficient than standard fluorescents, exceeding 160 lm/W. 

Additionally, correlated color temperature (CCT), which measures the light’s color appearance, is important to creating lighting technology that closely replicates natural light. Studies have shown that LEDs ranging from 6,000K to 8,000K have the best biological impact on consumers but are unappealing to customers color wise, while 3,500 (neutral) to 5,500 (cool) were found through studies to be the most pleasing to the eye. In conjunction with CCT, proper color rendering (CRI) must be considered to ensure proper lighting color for customers. LED products which offer a CRI of 80 or higher, on a scale of 1 to 100, are recommended for the most pleasant shopping experience. LEDs are able to easily achieve these CRI values, outpacing their fluorescent counterparts which typically offer only 52 to 75 CRI.

Cost savings, increased energy efficiency, and improved health are three primary benefits offered by LED lighting, but overall, the advancements in technologies make it a winning solution for retailers looking to make little changes for bigger savings.


1 Energy Star. Energy Star Building Upgrade Manual: Retail Stores. Chapter 13. (January 2008)

2 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory & PECI. Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide for Retail Buildings. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. (September 2011). Retrieved from http://www.pnnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-20814.pdf

3 http://www.ledsmagazine.com/articles/print/volume-10/issue-10/features/leds-ready-to-displace-halogen-in-mr16-lamps-magazine.html


— Claudia McCrackin is a marketing specialist at Revolution Lighting Technologies, Inc., a leader in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of LED lighting solutions focusing on the industrial, commercial and government markets in the United States, Canada and internationally.  

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