Lighting the Way for Energy Efficiency in Schools

David J. Alexander
Students in a school's hallway

Despite such challenges as limited resources, tight budgets and older infrastructure, schools continue to not only make energy efficiency a priority but a tangible aspect. According to the Alliance to Save Energy, 65 California PowerSave Schools were able to reduce school energy use by an average 12%, saving more than $549,000 in utility costs for the 2011 to 2012 academic year.


As 30% of the energy in school buildings is used inefficiently or unnecessarily,1 light-emitting diodes (LEDs) create opportunities for schools to improve lighting quality, save on energy costs, reduce maintenance demands and improve educational learning in the classroom.


Funding LED school lighting
LED educational lighting offers many benefits for schools that are challenged with tight budgets and limited resources. Educational facilities can utilize available incentives to decrease energy use and cut costs.


Through reduced energy usage, schools can allocate spend (normally budgeted for utility costs) to meet other facility demands or make value-added building investments. For example, with incentives from PG&E, Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, was able to use its energy-efficiency project savings toward a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) electric system.2


Schools can take advantage of financing options and saved energy costs through LED usage to offset upfront expenses for lighting retrofits or new installation. LED lighting uses 75% less energy and lasts up to five times longer3 than conventional lighting, such as high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. Additionally, government and utility resources can help educational facilities recover upfront school lighting costs in less than 10 years. For California's Clovis Unified School District, for example, a PG&E rebate of more than $105,000 helped meet a lighting project payback in approximately 1.2 years.4 Such factors are key to understand, considering that 17,000-plus K-12 school districts in the U.S. spend more than $6 billion annually on energy.5


Energy-efficiency financing can also encourage schools to invest in lighting systems that can improve safety for their students, administration, faculty and visitors. The Energy Efficiency Retrofit Loan program from PG&E (also known as On-Bill Financing) helps schools pay for energy-efficient retrofit projects with 0% interest loans repaid through their monthly PG&E bills. Schools may also be eligible for incentives through programs that encourage new building design and energy-efficient retrofits.


Lighting project savings
Schools can utilize numerous ways to meet their energy goals and achieve upfront return on investment (ROI). An LED assessment is one way that can help school decisions makers take the next step in their lighting applications to achieve savings. School facility managers can address such school lighting assessment questions as:


  • What types of lighting lamps or fixtures are used in most classrooms?
  • What are the most common areas of use in your school?
  • What is the cost to light a classroom for 1 hour?
  • What is the average amount of energy needed to light a standard K-12 educational facility?

Gymnasiums, stadiums, lecture halls and outdoor parking lots are great places to start with a lighting energy-efficiency project because the cost savings can be more easily attainable than in other environments. Schools can also take advantage of other benefits achievable through full-spectrum lighting, daylighting and many other lighting measures that can save school energy costs. A lighting contractor can be a valuable asset in helping schools better determine which areas can garner immediate results and savings.


Other measures schools can implement to take the next step in lighting energy efficiency include:


  • Upgrading luminaires.
  • Utilizing lighting controls.
  • Replacing conventional lighting lamps.
  • Incorporating energy-efficiency lessons into a school plan to encourage proactive student lighting behavior.
  • Using available tools, such as the ENERGY STAR Target Finder, to measure school energy consumption and calculate efficiency goals into annual budget costs.

Valuable programs and resources
Educational facilities today can use various resources, funding and programs to increase their lighting energy efficiency.


Through energy education classes from PG&E, schools can learn how lighting energy-efficiency projects can reduce their energy consumption and enable them to save on operational expense. Workshops also provide lighting education and are available to inform facilities of potential energy savings. In one such case, attendees at a recent workshop learned how to select lighting contractors and heard from schools that have successfully navigated the $500 million California Clean Energy Jobs Act for Schools.6


Lighting technicians can provide such services as energy audits, review current energy-efficiency plans and propose amendments to increase energy and cost savings. They can also review equipment specifications to guide schools to the lighting applications that best fit their different areas onsite. A lighting contractor can answer any questions a school has about the upfront costs for a commercial lighting retrofit. Additionally, they can define applicable incentives and financing from utilities and state governments.


Utility providers such as PG&E can work with schools early in the design process to identify available funding, provide program information and help a school maximize its overall energy-efficiency potential. For schools that look to address ongoing costs, PG&E's lighting maintenance program can also serve as a valuable resource.


Lighting project tips
As LED smart lighting projects pave the way in maximizing energy efficiency for many commercial buildings, educational facilities can take advantage of available tools and rebate programs to maintain energy consumption and reduce operational costs.


By downloading the "How to Get the Best Results from a Lighting or HVAC Project" eBook from PG&E, schools can learn how to save money on energy costs and receive rebates and incentives that can offset upfront project expenses.


Referenced in article:


  1. ENERGY STAR
  2. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  3. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  4. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  5. ENERGY STAR
  6. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
HVAC and lighting contractor