Beyond the Laboratory Bench—Adaptive Lighting Strategies for the Rest of the Building

Kelly Cunningham, California Lighting Technology Center, UC Davis

According to the Labs21 Best Practice Guide, "Efficient Electric Lighting in Laboratories," lighting intensity in laboratories is nearly twice that of a typical office space. A lighting audit conducted at UC Davis found that laboratory lighting consumes more than 13 percent of all the electricity used for lighting on the campus. Some of this energy usage can be trimmed by implementing adaptive lighting controls in laboratory areas, but greater savings can be gained with a comprehensive approach that implements building-wide adaptive lighting, particularly in infrequently occupied secondary spaces, such as corridors and stairwells. In fact, the same UC Davis audit found that these spaces consume 12 percent more energy for lighting than laboratories. In areas where occupancy is intermittent, yet minimum light levels must be maintained for safety and security, and to comply with building codes, adaptive lighting provides an excellent solution. With wired or wireless occupancy controls installed, luminaires stay in low-power mode (operating at around 30 to 50 percent of full power) when spaces are vacant. They then brighten to full power when occupants are detected.

Incorporating building-wide adaptive lighting controls maximizes energy savings, and this comprehensive approach can make installation more cost effective, resulting in shortened payback periods and increased long-term cost savings. Adaptive corridor lighting in Bainer Hall on the UC Davis campus delivered an average energy savings of 73 percent, with payback periods ranging from four-and-a-half to eight years. While impressive, the results are not surprising, considering that secondary spaces, including corridors and stairwells, are typically fully illuminated despite a low occupancy rate.

Bi-level (low/high) lighting installations in parking garages and lots consistently yield average energy savings of 40 to 60 percent, and several CLTC case studies have demonstrated even higher energy savings. End-user and security force feedback on adaptive lighting installations is also largely positive, for both interior and exterior lighting applications.

Get Involved

I2SL formed a dedicated Laboratory Lighting and Lighting Controls Working Group at the Labs21 2010 Annual Conference. Lutron Electronics Co. and the working group's other professional members are exploring ways to integrate laboratory design, lighting, and furniture manufacturing, as well as strategies to improve occupant comfort and safety through lighting technologies and controls. Contact I2SL to participate in the group's next meeting.


Kelly Cunningham is the outreach director at the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC). Her responsibilities include providing information about CLTC and energy-efficient lighting technologies to the lighting industry, project partners, and the public through online and printed publications, tours, events, and reporting. Ms. Cunningham feels passionately about working for organizations that promote sustainable behavior change and encourage consumers at all levels to use less, and think more about how they use energy. She graduated from North Carolina State University in 2008 with a Master's Degree in design. Previously, Ms. Cunningham held positions in various aspects of brand management, advertising, and design.