Taking Energy-Efficient Lighting Upgrades to the Next Level: Q&A with ABM

by | Dec 4, 2017

lighting upgrades retrofits ABM

Rodney Williams (left) and Ryan O’Hara (right). Credit: ABM

New York City-based facility management provider ABM has more than 130,000 employees in over 350 offices across the country and around the world. Their revenue is approximately $5.1 billion, and their teams work on custom solutions for properties of various sizes, including schools.

Currently ABM is heading up retrofits and upgrades for Connellsville Area School District buildings in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. The company says its custom Energy Performance Contracting Program should save the school district more than $26.4 million in energy and operating costs over 15 years. Part of the project involves district-wide replacements of fluorescent lighting fixtures with new, energy-efficient LED lighting.

Recently we caught up with ABM’s Electrical and Lighting Solutions project developer Rodney Williams and senior project development manager Ryan O’Hara. They work primarily on projects for public K-12 school districts that were developed by ABM’s ESCO division. We asked what’s new in their industry as well as what they see as the future of lighting.

From a retrofit perspective, what is the lighting industry like today compared with just a few years ago?

Ryan O’Hara: We saw the TLEDs, linear LED tubes, really take off. In the last two years there were LED startups popping up and a lot of them have gone away. The good ones rose to the top. We’ve also seen pricing come down significantly in the last two years: close to a 30% price reduction on LED products.

Rodney Williams: A major difference between the CFL and the LED transfer is the life of the product. There’s also no more hazmat onsite when you have a damaged fixture or a broken lamp. And the recycling is just easier.

O’Hara: Another shift is maintenance. I’d say 75% of our business four years ago was lighting maintenance. Today, 75% of our business is projects like LED upgrades.

How does the cost of lighting factor into these projects?

O’Hara: We’re looking for solutions that essentially fund themselves. The client is financing the cost of the project. You hear “cash-flow” a lot. It depends on the finance term — most are 15 years. So what we’re tasked with on a project that has a 15-year finance term is providing solutions that pay for themselves in less than 10 years. That leaves room for the ESCO to implement other non-lighting ECMs funded with lighting savings.

Williams: For a lighting nerd, there’s more meat on that bone than just the amount of money in the payback. There are huge benefits: uniformity throughout the district, the lower number of hours spent on servicing, areas that won’t be down as a result of outages, having even lighting across all the classrooms, the ability to maintain inboard and outboard switching.

In some areas, we’ve installed dimming fixtures in the parking lot. After a certain amount of time with no movement, the fixtures dim to 60%, saving energy and reducing light pollution. When there is motion, the lighting raises to 100%, which not only increases visibility for the person traveling through, but also works from a security standpoint.

What are the main challenges with lighting retrofits?

O’Hara: One big challenge is the public perception of LEDs. It’s slowly being corrected, but a lot of end users were under the impression that LEDs last forever. That’s not the case. Manufacturers have had to make adjustments on how they determine the rated life of LED products. The LED diodes don’t fail. It’s the other components. And they degrade over time. When LEDs first came out, manufacturers were saying 100,000 hours on everything. A lot of LED products are rated for 50,000 hours now.

Another challenge was all the inferior product flooding the market. End users who got attracted to the low prices learned the hard way that this stuff wasn’t lasting. The growth was so rapid. We were calling it the Wild West of Lighting when LEDs first came out. Thankfully it’s starting to calm down.

Williams: One of the challenges is electricians who assume, because they have screwed in a light bulb here and there, that they are lighting experts. Many places we go into are severely overlit. There’s not really any way to solve it other than to do photometrics and reorganize the fixtures, or have someone reorganize the whole setup. Sometimes it’s better to have more light sources than brighter lights.

From what you’re seeing in the industry as a whole, what does the future of lighting look like?

Williams: It’s not really a field that I’m directly involved in, but one of the things I’m most excited about is sport and arena lighting. If you look at the new stadiums, they are able to evenly light an arena at any time of day. They’re able to set the mood based on the energy, the pace, the pulse. For so long, the difficulty with these products has been heat. Diodes open up an incredible world of what lighting can do.

O’Hara: What I’m excited about for the types of projects we work on is color-tunable lighting. They’re coming out with fixtures that will mimic the colors our bodies are used to for natural sunlight with the circadian cycle. The products are really expensive, but I see that getting better in the future.

Williams: A lot of the teachers have actually brought in lamps with 2700K color rather than using overhead lights. It would be a benefit if they were able to adjust the lighting to the mood and the task at hand.

O’Hara: That’s the thing about being a teacher, when your kids come back from lunch and they’re all rowdy, you could hit a button and turn the color temperature down.

Williams: Our teacher used to turn the lights off!

What’s next?

Williams: The best part of what I do is seeing how people respond to what looks like a new place when they come in. The more we are successful in programs like Connellsville and the school districts we’ve been working in, the more the real end-users — teachers, students, people in security, custodians — are seeing benefits.

We are accepting submissions for the 2018 Energy Manager Today Product and Project Awards. The final deadline is December 15, 2017. Learn more here.

Stay Informed

Get E+E Leader Articles delivered via Newsletter right to your inbox!

Share This