Energy Efficiency | May 26, 2017

LED Lighting Retrofits in Schools

A key strategy for university energy efficiency is unarguably LED lighting. LED lighting retrofits make a significant impact on energy intensity, usage, and efficiency in facilities at colleges and universities. This type of efficiency project is within reach for many college campuses due to typical payback periods and annual efficiency gains. 

Facts about energy efficiency and universities

College and university campuses are among the most energy-intensive property types in the world. EnergyStar’s 2016 report, U.S. Energy Use Intensity by Property Type, calculates college/university Site EUI (Energy Use Intensity) to be 130.7 (kBtu/ft2 ). This figure represents a mixture of primary energy consumed (raw fuel, like natural gas) and a secondary energy source (converted product, such as electricity).

Colleges and universities are among the sectors that received the highest EUI marks as measured by kBtu (others include restaurants/bars, hospitals, convenience stores, and supermarkets). The intensity of their energy use has spurred colleges and universities to retrofit older buildings and equipment, promote existing sustainability projects and new initiatives, and improve their overall impact on the environment.

While multiple efficiency improvement options are available to you, LED lighting with controls is typically one of the most cost effective and quickest solutions for lowering energy usage and energy cost on campus.

LED lighting has improved dramatically in both quality and price over the last several years, and when combined with utility incentives, can deliver strong ROI.

LED lighting retrofits: challenges for colleges

The implementation of a LED retrofit can take a variety of forms, depending on both the scale of the project and the distinct challenges that each site presents. Additionally, you may face certain energy challenges as an educational institution beyond what a typical commercial or industrial facility has to handle.

Energy dense and diverse campuses typically require a variety of lighting options, and because buildings are used at all hours (versus a standard 9am to 5pm occupancy of a corporate office building, for example), college or university facilities should always consider adding tiers of smart lighting controls as well. 

Finally, a comprehensive LED lighting upgrade at a university campus must be designed with consideration for different aesthetic, light level, light quality, and color temperature requirements that would be applicable for diverse building types.

Top locations on college campuses for energy efficiency

  • Dorms

  • Classrooms

  • Laboratories

  • Food service facilities

  • Stadiums and athletic complexes

  • Office buildings

  • Mechanical space

While it may seem daunting, all of these challenges can be met with an appropriately designed, comprehensive LED lighting/controls retrofit.

Dorm Room Lighting

Of all locations on campus, college dorm lighting is important to tackle with attention to when your students are on or off campus. 

Learn more about 3 ways to tackle university efficiency projects here »

LED lighting with controls is a game changer on campus

Over the last 10 years, there has been a movement at educational institutions to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Many institutions - likely including your own - have implemented sustainability programs and are actively working towards more efficient facilities, greener facility management and a gentler environmental impact.

A large part of this effort has been implementation of iterations of fluorescent lighting, as the technology became more efficient.


The arrival of high quality LED lighting and control systems at reasonable price points changes this dynamic. A well-designed LED lighting/control upgrade will last 10 to 15 years and will result in a step change reduction of energy use (as much as 50% to 75%) over the existing fluorescent lighting. Because of this dramatic difference, it is very unlikely that any future lighting innovation will provide sufficient savings to warrant the cost of implementation. LED lighting has a long life (warranties of 5 to 10 years) and virtually eliminates maintenance.

LED lighting readily lends itself to control. There is no warm up period required like there is with High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting such as metal halide, so LED lighting in sports venues and other high ceiling space can be controlled off and will instantly come on with sensed occupancy.

LED lighting incorporated with mesh network controls and sensors can also be “grouped” to provide efficient, granular control.

  • An example of this would be a cubicle space where the lighting was group controlled. When a person entered the space, the lighting would activate to a preset low level “background” light level. When the person arrived at their cubicle and stayed for three seconds, the light above them would ramp up to the preset occupancy light level while the other lights in the space would remain at the background light level. The light fixtures are also typically provided with photocell control to take advantage of “light harvesting” from natural light.

LED lighting retrofit example

Here's how this university laboratory space lowered operational costs and is saving a significant amount of energy annually through a LED lighting upgrade:

Laboratory facility lowers annual energy costs by $50,000+

A 65,000 square foot research laboratory building, situated on another Boston area college campus and consisting of a combination of office and lab space, had efficient fluorescent lighting that operated 24/7. Even though the facility was primarily utilized from 7am to 7pm, Monday through Friday, because some researchers came in at odd hours, the lighting was kept on around the clock.

The space was retrofitted with LED fixtures that feature onboard occupancy, photocell sensors and intelligent lighting control that allowed for the setting of occupied light level and background light level. The controls also allowed for setting the time period that background light level would remain on with no occupancy sensed until it was shut off. They also allowed for the designation of egress fixtures that remained on 24/7 for code compliance.

The installed project cost was $166,600. The project qualified for a utility incentive of $63,000 and saved over 486,000 kWh a year. This resulted in a total annual energy savings of $58,200, providing a simple payback of 1.8 years for the project.

Reduce energy, save money

While energy use in Higher Education institutions is among the highest in the world, the good news is that there are cost-effective solutions such as LED lighting with controls that are available.

From large-scale campus retrofits to targeting smaller locations where energy is being wasted, college and university campuses can seize the opportunity to install LEDs with controls and realize immediate energy reduction and financial gains.

Read the original version of this article at Facility Executive »