Squinting toward retirement: A boon for the lighting industry

Americans report in surveys that they are likely to retire later than expected as a result of this economic downturn that doesn’t seem to want to quit.  While that’s bad news for golf courses and Florida real estate, it helps one industry: energy efficient lighting.

We are squinting, rather than sprinting toward retirement these days. As part of the post-50 crowd, I very much appreciate good lighting in my work space, and I discovered that I am not alone in researching a recent report on lighting.

Why do we geezers need better lighting? A 60-year-old employee’s eyes receive only 40 percent as much light as a worker who is 30 to 40 years younger, according to a paper by Leviton. These older employees tend to dislike the one-size-fits-all lighting of most commercial buildings; in fact, find it stressful.

Lighting is best when tailored to the needs of the individual. This can be done by giving employees manual override of automated lighting, so that they can adjust brightness and color depending on what they are doing in their work station at any given moment. And of course that is one of the features touted by lighting control manufacturers – the ability of consumers to customize lighting preferences.

Why worry so much about worker comfort? Happy workers tend to stay in their jobs, and that saves employers money, says a white paper “Personal Control: Boosting Productivity, Energy Savings” by the Lighting Controls Association. New employees need about 13.5 months on the job to achieve maximum work performance. As a result, worker turnover costs a business about 1.2 to 2 times the salary allotted for the position. Research indicates that workplace design plays a significant role in employee satisfaction. And right now many people dislike the lighting, heat and acoustics of their workplace, even young folk.

Improving lighting doesn’t necessarily mean giving employees their own remotely control light bulbs – although it helps. The Light Right Consortium looked at six different lighting options in a typical office space in Albany, New York. Between 81 percent and 85 percent of employees said they were comfortable with a lighting design that provided direct/indirect lighting and wallwashing. By comparison, designs that provided light only from above received a ‘comfortable rating’ from only 69 to 71 percent of study participants. But the combination that the employees liked most included direct/indirect lighting, wallwashing and dimming controls that allowed workers to customize their lighting. This design won a ‘comfortable’ rating from 91 percent of employees.

Lighting is a booming industry.  The use of LED lighting, alone, is expected to grow by 30 percent in 2011 and become a $1 billion market by 2014, according to a study, “Enterprise LED Lighting Research Report,” by Groom Energy and Greentech Media. The study targets the market for commercial and industrial LED lighting. Similar growth is occurring in the lighting controls market. Pike Research sees global revenue for lighting controls rising from $1.3 billion to $2.6 billion by 2016.  Businesses, not households, are driving this growth.

Many factors account for the lighting industry’s enviable boom. But one, I think, is that it enjoys a feature most green energy products do not. Efficient and well-planned lighting provides immediate and concrete satisfaction. In contrast, I may really like the idea of my employer installing solar panels, but my senses won’t register a difference in the building’s electricity. In that regard, efficient lighting may be the “cell phone” of energy that the industry has sought for so many years – a product that can attract the mass market and turn conventional technology on its ear.

See Elisa Wood’s report “Energy Efficient Lighting Explained: A guide for business people wh...

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