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The Philadelphia Inquirer | A natural path to curb lighting costs

A natural path to curb lighting costs

Diane Mastrull, October 2009 Download PDF

In the revenue-squeezed world of business, where the search for cost savings has left no paper clip unturned, you might say a lightbulb has gone on - and, consequently, many others are going off.
Corporate leaders are increasingly heeding the call of the '60s hit "Let the Sunshine In," using some high-tech innovation and creative open-air designs to ensure that natural light washes across the office landscape.

"It's a real critical component right now" in bolstering the corporate bottom line, said Donald Young, spokesman for the International Facility Management Association in Houston. "If you can reduce that part of the [operations] bill, that frees up capital to reinvest."

As expenses go, lighting is a hog.

The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that lighting accounts for 20 percent of commercial buildings' total energy consumption. Others have put it at 40 percent. If not addressed, those percentages are likely to climb even higher in Pennsylvania when state-imposed caps on utility rates expire next year.

More difficult to measure - but considered significant - is the psychological cost of not having enough natural light bathing a workplace.

Such green initiatives are even factoring into analysts' assessments of the overall soundness of companies. Their "triple bottom line" reviews consider financial results, community impact, and environmental footprint.

"Sustainability is a big, big thing," said Brian Barrett, facilities construction manager at SAP America Inc., a provider of business-management software. "It's becoming more and more a way of doing business."

At SAP's North American headquarters campus in Newtown Square, a recently completed 218,000-square-foot building is under consideration for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. The sun is lighting the way.

With open floor plans and work stations and a building that is 85 percent glass, "we're trying to get 75 percent of the daylight to 90 percent of the people," Barrett said. That has eliminated the need for double the amount of light fixtures that would have had to be installed in the new headquarters building, whose cost the company will not disclose.

So what about the other 25 percent of daylight SAP is not letting in?

That is Barry Kay's "daylight management" handiwork.

He is president of Kay & Sons Inc., of Norristown, which has evolved over its 87 years from making drapes to designing and installing automated light/shade systems that help companies achieve the tricky balance of using more natural light without broiling the workplace.

There is no sense in letting in so much sunlight that an office is heated to the point where savings from reduced use of artificial light are offset by higher air-conditioning costs, Kay said. Too much glare on computer screens also is counterproductive.

The computer-based systems that Kay & Sons sells have the ability to determine how much sunlight will be streaming in through the windows at any given time based, in part, on a company's position on the globe and the calendar. Sensors automatically dim or brighten lights and raise or lower shades depending on the amount of available natural light.

The price depends on many factors - including a building's size, its sun exposure, and the number of employees working in it. Kay said the one in place at his company headquarters - a historic 10,000-square-foot brick-and- timber knitting mill lined with single-pane windows and used by 36 employees - would cost between $75,000 and $100,000 if installed at a similarly sized and situated building.

The price depends on many factors - including a building's size, its sun exposure, and the number of employees working in it. Kay said the one in place at his company headquarters - a historic 10,000-square-foot brick-and- timber knitting mill lined with single-pane windows and used by 36 employees - would cost between $75,000 and $100,000 if installed at a similarly sized and situated building.

It is delivering lighting energy savings of 64 percent to 69 percent, Kay said. Typically, a system will pay for itself in three to six years, he said.

"So it's really a commitment not just to the environment," Kay said. "It's smart business."

At SAP, energy consumption in the new building is down at least 50 percent compared with the older headquarters, Barrett said. And with all the windows, he added, "it's beautiful to look out."

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