Eased path to lighting upgrades in California- Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, Demand Management, Energy Efficiency  -  June 14, 2017 - By Thomas Wray

Commercial building owners: Take advantage of an eased path to lighting upgrades in California

In recent years, many building owners and sustainability managers with properties in California have discovered that fiscally sound and environmentally friendly lighting projects can become derailed by the very energy codes and standards designed for their implementation. Government overreach, out of date standards, and complex rebate compliance requirements have stopped great projects before they even got off the ground. Fortunately, on at least one front, progress is being made that makes many lighting projects more viable.

In the 2016 update of the Title 24 energy code, the California Energy Commission, or CEC, has included a new provision that simplifies and reduces the fiscal impact of one of the more expensive requirements for lighting retrofits. While the new code is more stringent for new construction, retrofit projects can be exempt from some of the costly requirements of the previous code. For example, office lighting projects that achieve a minimum 50% power reduction no longer require the use of advanced dimming controls that can add complexity and cost to the project.

In short, if the right type of highhigh-efficiency lighting equipment is installed for an office lighting retrofit project, that project's requirements for dimming controls can be eliminated. This is good news for many building owners and sustainability managers who could not previously justify a code-compliant lighting retrofit.

Code changes not only help reduce immediate budgetary pressure, but speed simple payback and can reduce ROI by 50% or more for a typical office building. Energy retrofit projects are now less expensive, faster, and easier. And, with these changes, more are being completed -- helping the state lower its energy consumption and meet its net zero energy initiative.

What is Title 24?

Title 24, loosely referred to as the California Energy Code, is the state's regulatory code of energy efficiency standards for residential and nonresidential (commercial) buildings. It was created by the California Building Standards Commission in 1978, and is updated by the CEC on a three-year cycle. Widely regarded as the nation's first true energy code for buildings, Title 24 has served as an influential archetype to guide energy policies and codes throughout the country for nearly 40 years.

In 2013, the CEC made sweeping changes to the code to better meet the state's aggressive energy goals. The 2013 update included a new set of energy efficiency standards designed to decrease energy consumption in existing buildings. And for the first-time, lighting retrofit projects were added to the code, which had previously addressed only new construction and tenant improvement projects.

However, for lighting retrofit projects, the new codes turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help for the state. Lighting retrofit projects had to meet most of the requirements of new construction projects, which meant higher design, engineering, and equipment costs. Expensive dimming controls became mandatory in many cases, resulting in higher project costs and extended payback periods. These added costs made many projects financially non-viable and created a de-incentive for building owners to participate.

Working cooperatively with input from building owner and industry groups, the CEC has revised the requirements for the 2016 update, focusing on moving toward the aggressive net zero energy goals for the state (all new residential buildings in California must be zero net energy by 2020 and all commercial buildings by 2030).

What are the advantages of advanced lighting controls?

While the new Title 24 update reduces the requirement for advanced controls in lighting retrofit projects, it doesn't mean that lighting controls are somehow a thing of the past. Lighting controls are commonly included with retrofit projects, have many advantages, and are still recommended by industry professionals who design retrofit projects.

Advanced lighting controls eliminate reliance on people to turn lights on and off while maximizing energy savings through dimming strategies, daylighting control, and personal control strategies. Some systems even allow users to adjust the brightness of the lighting in their office with an application on their desktop computer or mobile phone, just as they would adjust the brightness on their computer screen. Advanced controls minimize lighting energy expense while providing increased flexibility and enhancing employee comfort and productivity.

Why should you always work with an expert?

Understanding Title 24 requirements can be complex and time consuming. To ensure compliance, it is always best to work with a certified lighting and energy retrofit professional. Only these providers have the proficiency and expertise required to deal with Title 24 (or other) standards, as well as maximize the value of an energy retrofit project. As an expert in lighting and energy retrofits, the right partner will have the experience and people to assess needs and goals, customize a plan that provides the most energy savings for the least amount of cost and disruption, and be able to provide energy saving guarantees.

Thomas WrayThomas Wray, CLMC, is a senior sales representative at ABM Industries and has more than three decades in the lighting and electrical industry, 18 of them at ABM. He has worked with Utilities across the nation, and designed and implemented PG&E’s unique California High Performance Lighting Program. His recent projects include LED fixture upgrades and advanced lighting controls at 3 million square feet of Federal Buildings, large LED streetlighting projects, and a complete lighting upgrade to a US Embassy. Thomas is a formerly licensed California electrical contractor and holds CLMC, CLEP and CALCTP certifications, and he is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Arts in communications. For more information, go to www.abm.com.

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