As LED lighting reaches its ascendancy, we can expect many utilities to stop offering rebates on LED A-lamps, but there are residential-lighting niches and market relationships that utilities value and will work to maintain. In the commercial sector, controls solutions remain a rich vein of opportunity for sustainability codes and demand reduction. As utilities redesign their incentive programs to accommodate these complex installations in the coming years, they may see a pull for quality lighting initiatives – entering the strange territory of non-energy benefits.

Residential retail incentives

There are two main drivers that kill a utility incentive program: 1. targeted codes and standards, and 2. quantifiable market saturation. Regardless of how EISA 2020 plays out, LED A-lamps have already hit such a market saturation point that it is no longer a good investment for utilities. Expect to see incentives for these particular products completely go away.

Because A-lamps have made up the bulk of unit volume and energy savings, expect residential utility programs to wane overall. But utilities strongly value the relationships and platforms that have been developed in the retail market channels, so many utilities plan to keep incentives in place for directional and decorative LED products. These will likely continue (albeit with potentially lower incentives) for the next 2–4 years.

Utilities are lowering their incentives for TLEDs.
Commercial incentives

Since their inception, commercial rebate programs have focused on the ubiquitous 4 ft fluorescent. Incentives over the past 5 years can be summarized as a $/kWh “sugar high” for TLEDs. Across the country, utilities are lowering their incentives for TLEDs; the average is maybe $2/tube. Expect to see more utilities lower TLED incentives and shift them to midstream (distributors and contractors) platforms.

Especially on the West Coast (i.e., California and the Pacific Northwest) and in the Northeast, commercial incentive programs are turning hard to support networked lighting controls (NLCs) and luminaire-level lighting controls (LLLCs), aided by the DesignLights Consortium’s evolving Networked Lighting Controls Qualified Products List. Expect to see more utilities offering incentives for NLC installations and LLLC-type products.

Utilities are making program implementation easier for NLC/LLLC products by offering generous prescriptive ($/fixture) incentives. Recognizing that these solutions are more time-consuming to design and install than simple plug-and-play retrofits, it is likely utilities will also increase resources dedicated to contractor training and market support.

As we see incentive programs drift from simple retrofits to more sophisticated measures like NLCs, we are also seeing a trend toward trying to put a value on non-energy benefits (NEBs). This encourages environmental quality improvements – such as daylighting and views or color tuning – to become part of the conversation; and they can be values added that the utility can bring. Many utility customers are pulling for NEBs that can affect everything from health to productivity and employee retention. So even though the benefit is not obvious or easily quantified, there may be value to the utility and its customer relationships to incentivize the deployment of these technologies.

John Arthur Wilson

About John Arthur Wilson

As stakeholder solutions manager for the Lighting Design Lab, John Arthur Wilson works on behalf of member utilities to proactively engage industry partners and enhance their customer experience. He has worked in utility energy efficiency for over a decade, including 6 years in lighting at the Bonneville Power Administration, developing industry partnerships to lead and support investment in emerging technologies and market research. He has served on numerous regional workgroups where he has helped to inform strategy and align utility approaches toward market transformation.
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