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Shedding Light on LEED

May 1, 2006
Distributors that know how lighting controls contribute to LEED certification are an asset to any LEED project.

“Going green” is not merely a timeworn cliché when it comes to today's commercial building projects. It's a way of life for architects, lighting designers, specifying engineers and electrical contractors that have embraced the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C.

On the surface, it may not seem like an electrical distributor can have much impact on a LEED project. But take the time to look a little deeper — distributors that understand certification requirements and ensure they supply only systems that keep their contractor partners in compliance, will be a tremendous asset on any LEED project.

LEED is a system for designing, constructing, operating and certifying “green” buildings, or those that significantly reduce, and even eliminate, the negative impact of buildings on the environment and occupants. One key component of LEED for new buildings is whole-building lighting control, which can increase energy efficiency, diminish harmful environmental impact and reduce operating costs. Technological advances in recent years, including systems that allow for Web-enabled lighting control, can play a major role in not only meeting the requirements for automatic control but also exceeding them. Those same benefits can be applied to existing buildings.

So where do electrical distributors fit into the LEED equation? Those that combine a keen understanding of the latest advances in lighting control with a solid background in LEED certification will make themselves an asset not only to their customers but also the entire building project. An electrical distributor cultivating that reputation will increase its chances of being invited to the next project, translating to increased sales.

LEED Basics

The benefits of green building design are many. Such facilities enhance occupant comfort, decrease the impact on natural resource consumption, reduce operating costs and minimize strain on local infrastructures, including electrical utilities. LEED takes those benefits a step further by defining the green concept and preventing claims of fabulous energy savings that are exaggerated or simply untrue.

Several certification programs are available, including those for new constructions (known as LEED-NC) and existing buildings (LEED-EB). In each program, certification is achieved by meeting various prerequisites and accruing supplemental credit points in several areas, including:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality
  • Innovation and design process

For example, one of the prerequisites of the LEED-NC energy and atmosphere component is meeting both the mandatory provisions and prescriptive/performance requirements of ASHRAE 90.1-2004. This standard requires automatic lighting control for all nonresidential buildings more than 5,000 square feet, including usage of time schedules or occupancy sensors.

As an extension of that prerequisite, credit points can be accumulated toward certification by increasing energy efficiency from the baseline established by ASHRAE 90.1-2004. For example, a new construction project that proves itself to be 10.5 percent more energy efficient than the baseline standard earns a single credit point; one that is 42 percent more efficient earns 10 points, the most that can be accrued for optimized energy performance.

Credit points add up to certification levels for all LEED programs. For LEED-NC, those levels are:
Base certification: 26-32 points
Silver: 33-38 points
Gold: 39-51 points
Platinum: 52-69 points

For LEED-EB, the certification levels are:
Base certification: 32-39 points
Silver: 40-47 points
Gold: 48-63 points
Platinum: 64-plus points

Keep in mind that lighting control is only one component of the entire certification process; indeed, everything from water-use reduction to maximized use of daylighting (which affects a building's lighting use) are covered in both LEED-NC and LEED-EB. But automatic lighting control is an area that electrical distributors can have a particularly profound impact not only because of their product knowledge but also their ability to make recommendations to customers, furnish guidance and fulfill orders seamlessly.

Following is a primer on lighting control-related prerequisites and credit points that can be earned for both LEED-NC and LEED-EB certification, along with information on technological advances that can help meet those needs.

LEED-NC and Lighting Control

A building can be a big place, with multiple floors and lots of rooms and open areas on each floor. Whole-building lighting control systems were originally developed because of the significant energy and cost savings that could be gained by relying on the system to turn off the lights when occupants forgot. As alluded to previously, one prerequisite of the Energy and Atmosphere component of LEED-NC requires meeting both the mandatory and prescriptive requirements of ASHRAE 90.1-2004.

Web-enabled lighting control systems have begun to gain prominence because of the convenience they offer. Systems are currently available that allow building owners and managers to make changes to any area within the system via a standard Web browser on a common desktop PC or laptop, instead of a dedicated workstation running proprietary software. That means a building owner or manager can check system status at any time from virtually anywhere, even at home before going to bed or on the weekends.

Such systems typically also include reporting features that document performance and can also automatically alert the building owner or manager via e-mail if there is a problem or maintenance is required. For example, some Web-enabled lighting control products feature on-time counters that track the number of hours a lighting system burns and then automatically notify the owner or manager when a group relamping project should be scheduled. Notification is made via an e-mail sent to a computer, cell phone or pager.

But the most effective use of a Web-enabled lighting control system may be the ability to allow building owners and managers to set parameters that maximize the efficiency of the system in order to gain those critical credit points beyond the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 baseline. For example, creating a stepped dimming schedule may be more efficient than scheduling an area to simply turn off at a set time. That credit point could make up for another lost point in a nonlighting area.

Web-enabled systems can also help gain a credit point for light-pollution reduction under the sustainable sites component. There, nonemergency interior lighting must be automatically turned off during nonbusiness periods, with manual override capability for those hours. The latter can be executed via a Web-enabled system's ability to control lighting from a remote location.

LEED-EB and Lighting Control

Energy efficiency takes on arguably more importance in LEED-EB because environmental considerations present in new construction — such as site selection or choice of building materials — are moot. It's not going to be feasible to dig a tank under an existing building to hold rainwater, for instance. Although there are a few notable differences between LEED-EB and LEED-NC — for example, ASHRAE 90.1-2004 is not a prerequisite for minimum energy performance for LEED-EB, but achieving an EPA Energy Star rating of at least 60 is — there are plenty of commonalities.

Like LEED-NC, a credit can be gained under the energy and atmosphere component by developing a means for measuring a new building's energy use over time. This is where a keen understanding of suppliers and their products will benefit distributors, and ultimately, their customers.

Additionally, a credit for occupant controllability of lighting can be gained in both programs, utilizing ambient and task lighting that can be altered based on occupant preferences. LEED-EB requires control that covers at least 50 percent of building occupants; that number jumps to at least 90 percent for LEED-NC. Expect individual controls to become more common, which may include keypads, touch screens and remote controls, all allowing custom tailoring of light levels to suit individual occupant preferences.

LEED is not a fad, and it's not going away. As an architecture-driven program, it's incumbent on that community to construct more energy-efficient buildings. That said, there is a chain reaction that proceeds from the architect to the distributor in order to gain certification. If weakness exists in that chain, there is the potential that a project could fail to achieve the architect's desired LEED status.

Scott Jordan is Powerlink marketing manager, Square D/Schneider Electric, Palatine, Ill. The company's line of Powerlink control panels and Clipsal lighting controls are designed to control lighting in LEED-certified buildings.

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