Any facility operator contemplating an energy efficient lighting project will justifiably ask questions concerning the project’s viability.   From projected demand reduction to energy cost savings and payback, plus everything in between, the operator seeks to mitigate risk, maximize returns and improve the overall lighting environment for associates and customers.

It all starts with a good audit -The single most important element to ensure that a lighting project is properly planned and executed is the facility audit. The landscape is littered with unsuccessful re-lighting projects whose roots can be traced to a poor audit.

Why Audit?

A properly executed audit not only insures accuracy in projecting demand reduction, it serves as the critical foundation for all subsequent financial analysis associated with return on investment. When equipped with an accurate audit, the engineering team can optimize a design specific to that facility. Professional, engineering-grade audits also offer a complete road map for installation, insuring proper quantities of materials, manpower and the resulting time to complete the project. Changes to any of these elements due to a less than stellar auditing effort will produce project delays and cost overruns which ultimately impact the financial analysis. Audits are a pre-requisite for all facility types – manufacturing, warehouses and distribution centers, office buildings, retail establishments and institutional facilities like schools and hospitals. Each of these environments carry unique requirements and lighting variables that only an engineering grade audit will reveal.

Preparation

Auditors are made, not born. A properly trained lighting practitioner will be steeped in knowledge of the latest lighting and control technologies, will have served as a “shadow” to a senior auditor, will have been involved in prior audit and mapping exercises and will have received detailed instruction on the steps associated with a proven auditing process. The auditor’s ability to work with the engineering team post audit is a critical skill set. In my experience, a minimum of ten prior engagements as a shadow touching all elements of the audit process would be required.

Pre-audit activities are extensive. Information gathering with the client includes a detailed assessment of project objectives, including facility usage nuances and the overall quality of lighting desired. On site personnel may be resistant, or simply busy, perhaps uninformed about the project, the process and the projected outcomes. It is essential that the auditor acts as ombudsman, serving as both project advocate and recorder of any complaints or issues raised by on site personnel. As a representative of the lighting services company, the auditor needs to dress and act in a professional manner, cognizant of his environment, any safety issues and the overall culture unique to every facility.

Using a form comprised of standard questions is the most effective way to interview facility personnel on site. The survey tool seeks to understand the environment and all criteria which may affect the type of lighting to be proposed. Items such as; hours of use for the site and the lighting, areas with too much light, areas needing more light, areas with lots of dirt, areas with wash down, hazardous locations, areas with high or low heat temperatures should all be covered by a standard pre-audit survey tool.

Other questions will affect the implementation and labor installation costs for the project. These items are time of day to work in the various locations, a place to receive and store materials, methods in place to dispose and recycle the old lighting system and other refuse, equipment on-hand that may be required to access the lighting.

Pre-audit activities serve as the foundation to the audit process and insure the project is being planned to meet all goals of the client. In addition to the completed survey tool, if you can’t answer the following questions, pre-audit activities are incomplete:

  1. Does the facility require improved quality of lighting?
  2. Are there corporate lighting standards to follow?
  3. Are the corporate lighting standards up to date with current industry standards?
  4. Is there a realistic set of payback criteria?
  5. Is there a realistic budget allocated with a confirmed approval process?

The Audit ProcessBest Practices

Many companies think the key to a successful lighting audit is an accurate fixture count.  While this is important, a quality audit begins with a comprehensive review of all appicable lighting standards and an auditor trained to insure the proposed design delivers the proper light levels for the space, including dimming or turning lights off when space is unoccupied or daylight is present.  Today, in many of our projects, more than half of the projected energy savings is derived from advanced lighting control solutions.

A step-by-step auditing process, proven, confirmed and replicable, is outlined below:

  1. Audit ToolI always smile to myself when I see the guy auditing with a yellow legal pad. Whether using a digital audit entry tool (which we use) or paper, the use of a standardized form is best. A good tool will have pre-defined fields for entry of pertinent information, insuring nothing is overlooked. A standardized tool will require the entry of location name, an ID of the luminaire type, the existing quantity and ID of existing controls. You should also be able to enter information on the existing conditions such as height and spacing of observed luminaries. This data can later be used in lighting design software to create models of proposed systems which ensure lighting quality goals are met. You will also need to be able to make notations on special conditions such as damaged luminaires, broken/yellowed lenses, mounting type, wiring descriptions, and any obstructions/hazards that an installation team would encounter during construction.
  2. Map– Using a floor map is the best way to be able to ensure you can later build the project as it was designed. Many lighting services companies only log a summary of information in order to deliver a project proposal. In order to ensure a successful project, you also need to have a clean and accurate visualization of all locations included in the proposed scope of work in order to meet expectations. A map which labels each specific location included in the scope of the work can subsequently cross reference that label to all information gathered on the audit tool. The payout of mapping comes in the installation process, enabling on-time, on-budget, on-spec execution of the project in strict accordance with the written scope of work.
  3. Photos- Taking high quality digital photos of the conditions and the luminaire types is the quickest and most accurate way to capture important elements which can be referenced during the proposal process. A good camera can also help you zoom in on name plates of high bay luminaires for important wattage and voltage information.
  4. List of tools needed
    1. Distance Measuring tools- laser and/or rolling wheels are a great help
    2. Light Meter to measure existing illuminance and uniformity levels
    3. Telescoping Inspection mirror to see into coves or other hard to reach areas
    4. Simple hand-tools to access fixture details including nameplates for the wattage, voltage, and base types (only qualified electricians should access any areas with electrical components).
    5. Staying safe focused and hydrated is important during long audits. Carry water and snack bar.
    6. A satchel or multi-pocketed vest for tools, a comfortable pair of shoes and hat if outdoors.
    7. Credentials – If the facility requires you to display a badge or visitor pass make sure it is clearly visible to everyone to ensure the employees that you are supposed to be there.
  5. List of intangibles needed to perform a great audit
    1. Training to understand the process and importance of the steps. No shortcuts!
    2. Organization skills in order to follow a proven process and record information accurately
    3. Discipline is required in order to maintain a steady pace and not fall behind in the audit.
    4. Schedule and Plan-determine when it is time to take a break or end your audit for the day. Noticing when your fatigue may be causing mistakes is an important perception.
    5. Polite persistence is needed to gain access to many locked rooms. – In many instances you will be knocking on closed doors. It is important to be polite to those you may be interrupting and persistent in obtaining the audit data.
    6. Personality and determination – You will usually be working around others and will need to interact, however too much conversation will slow you down. It is amazing how the very simple short phrase “just counting lights” can turn you invisible to 90% of those who usually want an explanation of what you are doing in their building.
    7. Persistence- Site contacts as escorts may rush you through the audit process since it could be interrupting their normal work. If you get the sense that he/she is frustrated with your thoroughness, always explain it as “the process”. Dialogue such as “I know it looks like all the fixtures are the same, however we must check and document everything including lighting panels in order to propose proper solutions.
  6. Trust but verify – Site contacts can be a wealth of information but their lighting knowledge is usually limited beyond general maintenance. Therefore, an auditor must take all information received as theory and confirm that information during the site walk. Typical misinformation:
    1. “All the light fixtures are the same.” Closely examine all fixtures to be sure. They are almost never uniform and, if installing a kit, this will become an issue
    2. “All lighting is 120 volt.” You need to verify the voltage at the nameplates or panels to be positive
    3. “We always turn off all lights at this site.” Check at night and better yet, use data loggers or metering to verify as actual usage makes a big difference when proposing sensors for savings
    4. All the lights are working and without any issues. Older systems and outdoor usually have issues and you want to ensure you document any pre-existing issues that may need attention during the install.

Summary

Accurate audits enable the engineering team to have the necessary raw data for examining potential lighting scenarios. Using advanced modeling software different options can be configured and alternative proposals can be generated which address project objectives, cost scenarios and potential return on investment.   Fifteen years ago the landscape was still dominated by old lighting technologies and 80% of the projects undertaken were simple lamp and ballast replacements. These projects were considered “low hanging fruit” as costs were mitigated and sufficient energy savings materialized to produce acceptable ROIs. Today, 80% of the projects involve re-design elements including advanced controls, substantial lighting upgrades and system/technology enhancements. While costs are higher for these more comprehensive projects, the energy savings opportunities are substantially higher. Many payback periods fall into the 2 to 4 year range, however, the application of utility and governmental incentives can dramatically reduce the payback time frame.

Working together, the auditor and the engineering team can fully explore all lighting options, including the demand reduction requirements needed to qualify for available incentives.

With the average price for a KWH of electricity hitting a July 2020 record of 13.7 cents (BLS), electricity prices are up about 5.5 percent from a year ago. Energy efficient lighting projects are here to stay.   A proven and verifiable process for conducting the audit will insure the success of these projects and contribute to a brighter future for all who follow.

 

Clint Gonzales is Director of Operations for Eco Engineering Inc., the largest independent energy efficient lighting services firm in the US. He has personally audited over 900 buildings in a 30 year career covering retail stores, distribution centers, production facilities, office buildings and university facilities. Comments and dialogue are invited at cgonzales@ecoengineering.com.

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