Shining a Light on LEDs: An Interview with Ross Fairbanks, COO, Fairbanks Energy Services

    February 22, 2017

    COO at Fairbanks Energy Services

    We recently sat down with Fairbanks Energy’s COO, Ross Fairbanks, to learn about LED lighting and his thoughts on the lighting retrofit industry. With a Bachelors in Science from Bucknell University, an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and over 10 years of field experience implementing efficiency solutions, Ross offers us valuable insight into the topic of LEDs.

    1. What are your thoughts on how effectively LED lighting is being implemented by businesses today? 

    LED Lighting is being implemented differently throughout the country depending on the utility incentive programs offered and the cost of electricity in each state. In New England for example, the cost of electricity is much higher than other regions on the map, and we have great utility programs that offer generous incentives on LED projects.  The resulting higher savings and decreased out of pocket cost squeezes the project payback from both sides, motivating more local businesses to become increasingly energy efficient.

    In other parts of the country where the cost of electricity is lower and utility programs are much less robust, businesses are slower to upgrade their lighting due to less attractive returns on their investment.

     2. What future trends do you see forming in the use of LEDs in commercial and industrial spaces?

    Many businesses are making the shift towards advanced lighting controls for new or existing fixtures, as well as integrated lighting controls that connect to their building automation system. Businesses are showing greater interest in this IoT-style data collection that takes real time information from the lighting system on their building occupancy and gives them new capabilities such as granular temperature setback on their HVAC, leading to additional savings.  The occupancy data can also allow companies to manage their building footprint  much better, especially as a greater percentage of employees telecommute.

    Another recent trend is LED lighting that mimics the human circadian rhythm. By adjusting the light level and color temperature wavelength of LED fixtures throughout certain periods of the day, “smart” fixtures can recreate the full range of natural daylight, boosting occupants’ alertness and productivity.  Hospitals and schools seem to be the early adopters of this technology, but I believe we will see this trend continue into the commercial space.

    In the retail space, we are seeing LED fixtures equipped with Bluetooth technology, allowing the fixtures to connect with a customer’s phone as they are shopping.  The fixtures can track your progress through the store, and communicate with you via a centralized controls system. For example, if a customer stops to look at several different choices of cereal in an aisle, a cereal manufacturer like General Mills could pay the retailer to have a coupon for their cereal pop up on the customer’s phone when they stop in front of a shelf containing their product.

    Retail stores have always been interested in lighting with a high color rendering index (CRI), which directly affects the product appearance and makes it look more vibrant and attractive to consumers, which influences their purchasing decisions. Combined with CRI, color temperature can also be customized for specific products to enhance their appeal.  For example, a cooler color temperature will make fish more appealing, while a warmer color with a high R9 value will make red meats appear fresher.  Lighting is increasingly helping businesses become more profitable.


    3. What advice would you give a facility manager who is beginning an LED retrofit in his or her facility?

    Don’t necessarily go for the lowest cost option, and try not to hold yourself to a certain payback threshold. Do your homework to the point where you can tell if a lighting salesperson is looking out for your best interest and suggesting solutions that actually alleviate your pain points, or if they are pushing a low up-front cost product or service that could actually end up costing you more over a 10 year lifecycle. This could be due to lower efficacies (lumens/watt) resulting in lower comparable savings, a lack of lighting controls, or simply an inferior product from a company that may not be around to provide warranty coverage.  

    I would highly recommend implementing lighting controls when performing a building-wide LED retrofit.  A controls implementation may not be financially attractive enough to implement on its own, but when combined with fixtures with integrated sensors it can sometimes make the ROI even more attractive, depending on the run hours and cost of electricity.


    4. LED lighting solutions have a unique set of benefits and challenges for managers considering a retrofit. Can you speak to the positive aspects and how the difficulties are being mitigated as the technology advances?

    The benefits found in LEDs are energy and maintenance savings (because they can last up to four times longer than fluorescent lighting), and they are easily controlled. LEDs lend themselves to lighting controls more than any other technology due to the fact that turning them on and off over and over again has very minimal effect on their operating life.  There are not many challenges that a manager should run into after a good LED lighting design is implemented, but the implementation itself can pose a challenge to those unacquainted with building-wide lighting retrofits.  Lighting is all in the details, and it takes a lot of up-front planning and preparation in order for a project to go smoothly.  Fortunately, with the addition of lighting controls, we can fine tune light levels throughout the building to solve a lot of issues.


    5. In what sectors do you see the highest adoption rates for LED lighting?

    Warehouses, manufacturing facilities, hospitals, 3-shift operations - really any space that operates long hours because they will have comparably higher electrical energy usage, and therefore can achieve the most savings.


    6. Beyond LEDs, what are the next steps a facility manager should take to heighten the impact of their building’s energy conservation efforts?

    Implementing LED lighting that ties in with the building’s HVAC is a great consideration for capturing additional savings.  It will also engage the building owner/occupant to take a hard look at their HVAC system, which we have found usually will have many cost effective efficiency opportunities, including better control of equipment and/or upgrading to higher efficiency equipment.  Facility managers should always start with an energy audit because they could have a great investment available in their current facility just waiting to be revealed.


    Ready to take the leap with LED  lighting for your business?  Click here Check out our most recent lighting projects





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