How LED Lighting in Schools Improves More Than the Bottom Line

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LED lighting in schools can do which of the following?

A. Save up to 70 percent on energy costs
B. Last several times longer with little or no maintenance
C. Provide more uniform, pleasing illumination 
D. Enhance brand appeal
E. Improve student performance 
F. All of the above

If you answered “All of the above,” go to the head of the class.

Institutions of higher learning are being buffeted by the 21st century’s four horsemen – shrinking budgets, higher costs, increasing competition and digital disruption. Schools and universities must increasingly compete for students, donors, resources and brand status. Not surprisingly, educators are looking high and low for strategies that cut costs, enhance services and improve student learning – all at once. Not many initiatives can do all that. But LED lighting is delivering high marks across the board, and as the technology improves, the benefits just keep getting better.

LED Lighting Brings Excellent Energy Savings

The first argument for upgrading to LED lighting in educational facilities is its astounding energy frugality. Lighting typically accounts for as much as 30 to 40 percent of a school’s total energy costs, the second largest operational expense for school districts after teachers’ salaries. LED lighting can cut those energy costs by more than half – in some cases up to 70 percent. They last several times longer and require little, if any, maintenance. Most LED upgrades offer a payback period of one to two years, especially when subsidized by the numerous utility rebates available nationwide.

Every dollar saved by LED lighting is a dollar available for initiatives that can directly impact student performance. This is more than a lofty ideal: schools are ranked – and often financially penalized or rewarded – depending on academic performance and graduation rates.

Lighting the Way to Higher Marks

Now there’s growing evidence that LED lighting itself may improve academic performance.

Consider the findings of a 2016 study in Korea that involved two classrooms of 54 fourth-grade students taking math tests. One classroom was equipped with standard fluorescent lighting and served as a control group. The other classroom had LED lights that could be adjusted to vary the color temperature between a relaxed, “warm” white and a “cool” bluish white that mimics natural daylight. The result? Students were more alert and scored significantly higher on tests in the classroom with the cooler, daylight-like lighting.

Other studies have shown the proper LED lighting can improve cognitive skills, lower error rates and boost productivity. Many of these studies have been in the healthcare field, where intensive research into lighting has led to evidence-based best practices now being widely used to improve staff performance and patient healing. For example, hospitals use LED lighting with high color temperatures to keep staff alert and to support patient mood, well-being and healing. Dimming the lights in patient areas at night and tuning the lights to warmer color temperatures signals staff, family and patients alike that it’s “quiet time.” Studies have conclusively shown that this helps patients rest and sleep better.

Seeing the Savings From Lighting Controls

Similarly, some schools are equipping classroom lighting controls with presets that match illumination to specific activities and times of day, offering tunable color temperature that teachers can adjust to encourage alert activity or quiet calm as needed.  Even simple dimming – currently available in less than 2 percent of classrooms – can make a big difference. Dimming saves money, too. Many LED light fixtures automatically respond to ambient light levels for daylight harvesting to further cut energy costs.

Better lighting can even improve the learning experience of students who aren’t in the classroom. Online education is now a primary educational pathway and source of revenue for schools and universities. But much of that digital content is produced or recorded under standard classroom lighting that tends to cause an annoying flicker on video recordings, CCTV and digital presentations – and flicker tends to worsen when those lights are dimmed. Thanks to recent advances in LED technology, you now have options for flicker-free LED lighting that can be dimmed and color-tuned across a full range of illumination without visible banding or interference.

The Department of Energy describes the next-generation integrated classroom lighting system as a highly energy efficient, fully dimmable tunable white lighting system, noting that classroom lighting should be flexible and easy to use to accommodate different teaching methods and how students of all ages learn.

The Future of Smart Lighting

How about lighting that can make the entire school building smarter? Today’s advanced LED lighting fixtures are delivered with embedded sensors, intelligence and networking capabilities to create “smart buildings.” This enables benefits such as real-time space utilization across classrooms, lecture halls, auditoriums and other shared areas.

Finally, LED lighting can enhance the “brand appeal” of a school or university in myriad ways. Color-tunable LED lighting provides students and staff alike with more uniform, pleasing illumination and improved visibility, while better-lit grounds, pathways and parking areas enhance safety and security. Many LED lights offer excellent color rendering for improved visual recognition, especially important in labs and technology shops. LEDs are also safer and more durable than conventional lighting and offer environmental and sustainability benefits highly valued by students and local communities.

LED: A Smarter Choice

From directly enhancing student performance to helping create better performing schools and universities, LED lighting has become one of the smartest choices for education no matter how you look at it.

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely Cree's. They do not necessarily represent WESCO’s views.

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