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“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” ― Lawrence Clark Powell

The Pathway to Sustainability is Lit with LED

Posted on 12/18/2018 by in energy efficiency LED LED ligting LCR Southern California LED LED incentives

Alden Hathaway, Sterling Planet's Senior Vice President discusses how LED lighting plays an integral role in Energy Efficient design.

           The breakthrough technology of Light Emitting Diode (LED) light ….  is transforming the opportunities in lighting and causing positive ripples all the way through the energy economy ….”

Earlier this year I was honored to participate on a panel called “Shedding Light: Innovation and Adoption in the Dynamic World of Lighting”, sponsored by Sustain Orange County. This group of companies is committed to the cause of energy and environmental sustainability. The first question one might ask is, What does electric light have to do with Environmental Sustainability?

When an organization wants to put together a comprehensive energy-efficiency program, or deploy a solar-based electrification program for the developing world, or create a recipe for achieving zero energy buildings, they discover that the first logical place to look is lighting. This is because, when it comes to basic energy consumption, lighting represents the major portion of energy use. That is, lighting is the most universal function for using electrical energy. Everyone uses it. Therefore, an energy-efficiency program will find its largest target audience through lighting first. 

But there is another important reason to start with lighting. That is because your choice of lighting impacts just about all the other energy improvement activities. This must be the first thing considered if the overall goal is to achieve complete energy neutrality – “zero energy”. 

The popular energy-efficiency program, run by the Federal Government, “Energy Star Buildings”, first looked at lighting, and, therefore, originally launched a lighting efficiency program called “Green Lights”. Under the  “Energy Star Buildings” staged approach, the first stage originally was lighting. This was because lighting produces heat and, counteracting that extra heat accounts for as much as 40% the size of air conditioning equipment used to cool the building. In other words, without the extra heat (caused by traditional lighting), you could have a much smaller air conditioning unit do the same job. 

The primary goal of Energy Star Buildings was to reduce energy consumption across the whole building, including Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). Therefore, since lighting could impact the size of the HVAC needed, it only made sense to reduce the lighting first and downsize the HVAC units, thus, making the HVAC system payback much faster. 

In the early 1990’s, the electronic lighting ballast made it possible to reduce those lighting loads by 50% or more. The resulting ripple effect throughout each building helped make Energy Star the “gold standard” for energy-efficiency. 

Similarly, the main goal of solar electrification programs in the developing world[1] is to provide lighting to poor countries in the most healthy, cost-efficient way. Using electric light to replace kerosene lanterns eliminated caustic fumes. Original solar powered lighting systems relied on electric incandescent lamps, but such systems were inefficient and costly to use.

We then found a better way, using LED light bulbs. Switching from incandescent lamps allowed lighting power requirements to be reduced by 90 - 95%. Suddenly, the cost of providing light from solar power was dramatically reduced since the amount of solar power required was reduced. 

Just as you probably want to make your own city – business – or residential buildings more energy efficient, you should look to the best lighting solution first. Using the best and most efficient lighting technology - LED Lamps – will bring other cost-saving spin-off benefits to you.   

And now, for the first time ever, virtually 95+% of all lighting applications can be upgraded to LED without even changing the fixture or the ballast. This means that the entire stock of buildings can be upgraded to LED by simply changing a light bulb.  

And, with LED lighting efficiencies approaching 200 lumens per watt, this means that even the most energy-efficient-lit buildings can now achieve upwards of a 50% reduction in lighting energy and lighting-related heat load over what they were just ten years ago. 


The good news about the lighting industry today is that lighting is undergoing another great transformation, similar to the transformations due to the introduction of the incandescent lamp in the 1880’s, the fluorescent lamp in the 1930’s, or the electronic ballast in the 1980’s. The breakthrough of Light Emitting Diode (LED) light sources over the last five years or so is transforming the opportunities in lighting and causing ripples all the way down to the possibilities of zero energy buildings and environmental sustainability. 

“The good news about the lighting industry today is that there is …  great transformation, similar to the transformations caused by the introduction of the incandescent lamp in the 1880’s, the fluorescent lamp in the 1930’s, or the electronic ballast in the 1980’s."

With 50% lighting load rippling through the building, again reducing HVAC loads and making it even more attractive to consider solar, zero energy buildings are suddenly possible and economical. This is why the pathway to sustainability starts with LED. 


“How many facility engineers does it take to move a building toward sustainability? One, but first he’s got to be willing to change that light bulb.”  


Sterling Planet and Sterling Analytics are dedicated to helping companies on their way to energy-efficiency and overall environmental sustainability.


[1] Solar Light for Africa

For additional information, please contact Alden Hathaway 678-534-5827 to learn how to get started.


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