Back visit Sort by topic

[ Buildings and Efficiency ]

Commercial Lighting

  • [ GWh Electricity Saved: ]

  • [ Jobs Impact:]

    • Low
    • Medium
    • High
  • [ Budget Impact:]

    • Low
    • Medium
    • High
  • [ Conventional Pollutants Reduced: ]

    503 tons
    415 tons
    .006 tons
    77 tons
  • [ Megatons of GHG Reduced: ]



Unlike American homes, commercial spaces—grocery stores, offices, factories, hospitals and parking lots—often leave their lights on day and night. Even though these settings account for only 2% of the light bulbs in the U.S., they account for 17% of lighting energy use.1 These kinds of spaces consumed 525,000 GWh of electricity on lighting alone in 2010.2 Recent technological advances could save the U.S. tens or hundreds of thousands of GWh annually from this sector alone.3


Commercial lighting uses more efficient technologies than its residential counterpart. But because these bulbs are used for so many hours each day,4 there are still opportunities for improvements to further reduce energy costs and energy usage. Among the most promising of these are solid-state lighting, lighting controls, and daylighting.

With solid-state lighting, generally light emitting diodes (LEDs), energy can be saved without sacrificing either quantity or quality of light. Potentially two times more efficient than fluorescent lighting, and 50% more efficient than many streetlights,5 LEDs are still developing and unfortunately too expensive for many businesses.6

Lighting controls automatically adjust to actual use and conditions, saving up to 38% of the lighting energy usage for a facility,7 often with relatively low upfront investment.8 With only 31% of commercial facilities using controls,9 the energy savings potential from retrofits is significant,10 but the payback period often discourages investment.11

While not an option for existing buildings, new construction can use daylighting—extensive use of skylights, windows, light pipes,12 and other building features that bring sunlight inside—to replace a significant amount of lighting needs. Use of daylighting can reduce total building energy consumption by up to 20%,13 and it also has proven effects on productivity and morale.14 Unfortunately, building codes do little to encourage the practice, instead leading to the cheapest construction costs rather than the most efficient operation.15


To encourage technology development, investment, and better building practices, several policies should be implemented.

Clear Regulatory Hurdles to Efficiency Bonds

Both solid-state lighting and lighting control adoption could benefit from commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans for retrofitting existing facilities. While roughly half the states have adopted commercial PACE enabling legislation,16 cohesive national legislation would ensure that this type of financing is available to all qualifying projects, estimated at nearly $200 billion.17 Because these bonds are issued by municipalities, there is little cost federally and states and localities retain control over impact.18

Set a National Standard for Efficient Commercial Lighting

DOE should adopt and implement national standards for efficient commercial lighting. Although there are many green building standards19 and certification programs for high-output LED lights,20 these often vary on a state-by-state or utility-by-utility level. A consistent federal standard would enable utilities to more easily administer rebate programs. These utility rebates encourage reductions from large energy users and help lighting manufacturers develop energy-saving products that will qualify for rebates21.

Adopt Building Standards and Improvement Program

Daylighting should be included in the building code improvement and standardization covered in the Commercial Building Materials Component.

Create R&D Prizes for Cost Reduction

Covered in the Residential Lighting Component, incentivized development of solid state lighting would bring down costs and improve efficacy, making the most efficient lighting an easier choice for the commercial sector.

  1. United States, Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “2010 U.S. Lighting Market Characterization,” Report, p.64, January 2012. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  2. Calculation based on the combined usage of commercial, industrial and outdoor lighting. Ibid, p. 34.
  3. Analysis based on upgrading all current traditional lighting to high efficacy LED lighting and full implementation of lighting controls. Ibid, p. 39.
  4. In commercial spaces, florescent bulbs average more than 11 hours of usage per day. Ibid, p. 46.
  5. “Climate Techbook: Residential and Commercial Emissions in the United States,” Fact Sheet, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  6. “2010 U.S. Lighting Market Characterization,” p. 57.
  7. Alison Williams, Barbara Atkinson, Karina Garbesi, Erik Page, and Francis Rubinstein, “Lighting Controls in Commercial Buildings,” Article, Leukos, Volume 8, No. 3, January, 2012, pp. 161-180. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  8. Michael Kanellos, “Payback for Lighting Controls: Less than Three Years,” Article, Greentechefficiency, May 11, 2010. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  9. “2010 U.S. Lighting Market Characterization,” p. 58.
  10. “Lighting Controls in Commercial Buildings,” p. 175.
  11. United States, Environmental Protection Agency, ENERGY STAR, “ENERGY STAR Building Manual: Lighting,” Report, Table 6.1, November, 2006. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  12. A light pipe is a device that transports and distributes natural light to indoor spaces.
  13. “Energy Savings from Daylighting: A Controlled Experiment,” Report, Energy Center of Wisconsin, May, 2005, p.1. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  14. “The Business Case for Green Building,” PowerPoint, U.S. Green Building Council, March 7, 2013, slide 11. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  15. United States, Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “A Literature Review of the Effects of Natural Light on Building Occupants,” Report, p. 38, July, 2002. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  16. Full list of states available at the PACENow website. See “List of PACE Programs,” PACENow. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:
  17. Katrina Managan and Kristina Klimovich, “Setting the PACE: Financing Commercial Retrofits,” Issue Brief, Institute for Building Efficiency, February 2013, p. 4. Accessed April 18, 2013. Available at:
  18. PACE financing allows municipalities to issue bonds to fund efficiency or renewables, recouping the costs through additional property taxes on the facility being upgraded.
  19. “LEED,” U.S. Green Building Council, Accessed August 28, 2012. Available at:
  20. “DesignLights Consortium,” Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, Accessed April 19, 2013. Available at:
  21. For a view of the fragmented nature of energy efficient lighting rebates for the commercial sector visit the DSIRE database website. See “Incentives/Policies for Renewables & Efficiency: Financial Incentives,” Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. Accessed April 17, 2013. Available at:§or=Commercial&technology=lighting&sh=1.