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A case for credentials: with utilities eager to reward energy-saving measures, the author argues for new credentials above and beyond the LC. The result could put dollars in your pocket.

Lighting credentials are an important part of the professional education puzzle. But their value cuts deeper than you may think. Of course, education for education's sake is a noble and worthwhile pursuit. Indeed, best practices in lighting and engineering often have their roots in the expertise professionals gain through education and certification. However, there is another factor that helps make the case for credentials: In a world where energy efficiency now reigns supreme, incentives from utilities are increasingly available not just to the owners funding these projects, but to the certified lighting and electrical engineering professionals who design them.


Today, the most prominent credential in the lighting industry is arguably the LC. What does it mean to say that you're an LC? Quoting from the website: "The LC credential is a minimum multidisciplinary qualification distinguishing practitioners in the specialized field of illumination. It is open to individuals who practice within the field of lighting who have met the qualifications of education, experience and knowledge demonstrated by examination.

The LC credential is supplemental to and does not replace legally required professional certifications and licenses such as architecture, engineering, and contracting. Because the LC credential is a minimum qualification, it does not recognize expertise. Also, LC is not a specific qualification in highly specialized practices such as lighting design, survey and auditing or lighting product manufacturing."

While there's nothing wrong with the LC designation, passing a Four-hour multiple-choice exam does not make someone a competent lighting practitioner. Today, we have a need for something beyond a "minimum qualification." A credential indicating that someone is truly a competent lighting practitioner can be referenced by electric utilities, which can in turn provide financial incentives for energy-efficiency projects.

Unfortunately, there is a huge disparity among rebate applicants in terms of lighting education, experience and expertise. Currently, the vast majority of rebates paid out by utilities go for low-hanging fruit (changing T12 to T8 lamps, replacing magnetic ballasts with electronic ballasts, etc.). Most of the projects submitted for rebates do not address questions of target light levels and more complex lighting issues. Granted, in some cases the procedure used by a utility to vet a "custom" rebate application (for overall load reduction) is more complex and time-intensive than for a One-to-One component replacement rebate. Having said that, programs are starting to emerge that incentivize much more substantial reductions in energy use. Some also reference either existing credentials or new ones. For example:

* Efficiency Vermont's RELIGHT program. This Two-year-old program was established to incentivize lighting practitioners for comprehensive retrofit projects. Before the program's inception, Efficiency Vermont sampled prior rebate applications submitted by highly skilled lighting practitioners and found that these projects netted 40 percent greater energy savings than the typical rebate application for lighting retrofits. Since its launch, the RELIGHT program has exceeded expectations by delivering 56 percent greater energy savings compared to typical lighting retrofits. In order to qualify for a rebate through this program, the lighting specifier must be either an LC or a Vermont-licensed P.E. (

* California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP). This isa 50-hour course to certify California journeymen electricians. The course was initiated by Southern California Edison (SCE), in conjunction with industry and academic partners (NECA/ IBEW, California Community Colleges, etc.). It has been supported by every major California utility (including SCE, Pacific Gas & Electric, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, San Diego Gas & Electric and others). To date, over 1,000 electricians have successfully completed the course. Based on that critical mass, utilities soon will be offering incentives for projects where installing electricians have been certified by the CALCTP course (

Both the Vermont and California programs are highly commendable. Clearly, enormous effort went into establishing these offerings that incentivize (or will lead to incentivize) either specifi ers or installers. However, it's doubtful that other utility or governmental agencies will use the LC credential to vet a potential applicant for substantially greater fi nancial incentives. In California, for example, investor-owned utilities must provide "work papers" that show substantial research supporting their request for any individual incentive measure. Would a widespread survey of lighting projects specifi ed by LCs show signifi cantly better energy savings as compared to the typical lighting project as specifi ed by whomever? Would some of these projects achieve reductions of up to 75 percent, as evidenced by many recent research and assessment projects? As NCQLP states on its website, "LC is not a specific qualification in highly specialized practices such as lighting design, survey and auditing."


So here's where we stand: Utilities are desperate to incentivize measures that provide substantially greater energy savings than simple component replacements. Members of the lighting industry are clamoring to find educational offerings that will help them develop the expertise necessary to specify such projects. What's missing is an overarching structure to address the educational needs of the lighting profession--not only for matriculating students in design and engineering schools, but also for those who are already employed.

What would such a structure look like? Picture a pyramid with three levels--basic, intermediate and advanced.

Basic lighting education. At the base of the pyramid, allied design professionals and even contractors need some knowledge of lighting fundamentals. Even the general public needs a basic level of lighting education. California's experience with CFLs offers an example of why basic education is important.

What are some of the barriers that have prevented greater penetration of CFLs into the mass market? Color and warm-up time are two of the biggest, followed closely by a fear of the mercury content and dimming issues. This is where education has made a difference, despite the fact that the penetration rate in sockets for screw-base CFLs in California is only about 20 percent. Attendees of lighting classes at the Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco (run by Pacific Gas & Electric) have been pleasantly shocked to find out that there's a wide range of color choices in fluorescent lamps. They've also been surprised to learn about amalgam, and how that adds only a few minutes of warm-up time at initial start-up of a CFL. Most have also been amazed how little mercury is in the typical CFL. Lastly, once attendees understand the physical limitations imposed on an integrally ballasted screw-base CFL, it's easy for them to understand why it's been so difficult for manufacturers to produce dimming versions of these lamps.

For the past three decades, increase in per capita electrical consumption in California has been--hold onto your hats--Zero! Why? Because many years ago, some extremely forward-thinking individuals in the CPUC realized that they needed to mandate methods for changing public awareness and behavior. Besides paying out huge sums of money through rebate programs, investor-owned utilities have also had a CPUC mandate to provide energy-efficiency education through "training centers." Such facilities exist in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tulare and San Diego. Even other West Coast utilities not governed by the California Public Utilities Commission (for example, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Seattle City Lights) have established similar facilities in an effort to reduce energy demand.

Every single electric utility throughout the country could provide this first layer of the lighting education pyramid, just as many West Coast utilities already do. It's a win-win situation. It's fantastic and extremely low-cost PR for utilities, and it provides at least a basic level of lighting knowledge to design professionals and even the general public. Funding the design and construction of an energy center is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to a utility's transmission and distribution (and/or generation) costs. What would students at such training sessions be able to show for their attendance? As Steve Stannard, the resident lighting expert at SCE's Energy Efficiency Center, likes to say: "A certificate, suitable for framing." That's fine. Utilities do not need nor want to pay out higher incentives to just anyone walking in off the street to attend a One-day class. In point of fact, some allied design professionals (including AIA members and LCs) can often get continuing education credits for attending such classes.

Intermediate lighting education and credentials. As evidenced by the constant volume of students attending lighting classes at West Coast energy centers, many seem to want an intermediate level of lighting knowledge--the next level up in the pyramid. Quite a few of these students attend most of the lighting classes offered in a given quarter or semester. Some actually repeat the same classes from semester to semester. These may include engineers, electrical contractors, "energy experts," architects and interior designers. These days, many people are changing careers and see the lighting retrofit market as a viable path for energy efficiency and as a good career move. They know that there are great opportunities for those who have more than just a fundamental knowledge of lighting. They also realize that a higher degree of knowledge and expertise can help to differentiate them from others in the market.

There is virtually a flood of people in California who call themselves "energy experts." Yet judging from attendees at energy center training classes over the past few years, most are in fact not experts at all. Many are virtual neophytes. In most cases, this disparity in knowledge and skill level cannot be attributed to a lack of desire. Most of these attendees on the West Coast are clamoring for a structured, sustained course of study that doesn't really exist (with the exception of SCE's recently established 12-session Lighting Academy). However, even in San Francisco and Los Angeles, two of the country's biggest lighting design markets, no long-term academic course of study exists for those who want lighting knowledge that goes far beyond the fundamental level. And even students who complete all 12 sessions of SCE's Lighting Academy still only end up with a "certificate, suitable for framing."

Do all of these people aspire to become the next IES Illumination Award or GE Edison Award winner? No. Does that make the work they are doing any less important? No. Should they have to struggle to find a structured, sustained course of study that will help them significantly improve the quality of their lighting solutions, even for relatively "mundane" projects? No.

Various entities have tried to fill the void. Many manufacturers have educational offerings (either in person classes and/or on-line content) that do a good job in this regard. Various organizations also provide effective lighting training to their members and others. Examples include online courses offered by the National Association of Independent Lighting Distributors as well as the Lighting Controls Association. However, as good as many of these offerings are, most do not fit into any prescribed structured course of study--except as established by their own creators or administrators.

Even the LC may not be the optimum credential for leveraging the various utility incentives and demonstrating more than minimum competency as a lighting design practitioner. By NCQLP's own admission, "LC is not a specific qualification in highly specialized practices such as lighting design, survey and auditing." Aren't lighting design, surveying and auditing the exact skills that are involved when someone does an energy-efficiency project? There's nothing inherently wrong with the LC credential. We simply need a credential that does in fact indicate qualification in lighting design, surveying and auditing. This could be an alternate or a higher-level credential--either administered by NCQLP or another organization. Or maybe it's time to put the question of licensure on the table. After all, isn't that the ultimate credential for demonstrating competency in one's profession?

Advanced lighting education and credentials. Some people aspire to become full-fledged "lighting designers." Many dream that one day they will design award-winning lighting schemes for high-visibility projects. These are folks who want to be at the pinnacle of the aforementioned pyramid. However, as Ed Bartholomew mentioned in his Education column in the March issue of LD+A, only 12 dedicated courses of study exist in academic institutions in the entire world.

The energy-efficiency training centers discussed earlier are not, in fact, academic institutions. These facilities do not generally offer extended courses of study for lighting, nor for other disciplines related to energy use (daylighting, HVAC, renewables, etc.). Many major manufacturers throughout the U.S. and internationally offer excellent lighting education programs at outstanding training facilities. Of course, those courses and facilities are usually funded as a vehicle to support sales (not that there's anything wrong with that), and they're not the extended courses of study desired by those seeking advanced knowledge and skills.

Jim Nuckolls had it right 25 years ago. By establishing the first Master of Lighting program in history at Parsons The New School for Design, he set the bar for lighting design education. The country (or perhaps even the entire world) needs many more such advanced level programs. These master's or other advanced level programs should be available in every region and district of the IES. Currently, they are only available in a select few. In the Bay Area of California, for example, no such programs exist, despite the proliferation of more general energy efficiency education. As a result, there is palpable frustration on the part of many students at the utility training centers.

What type of credential would be appropriate for someone who has attained this advanced level of knowledge and skill? Ironically, it may not matter. Lighting designers are not typically selected to work on high-visibility projects based on the strength or number of their credentials. They are usually selected based on the strength of their skills and talents, and their demonstrated ability to find unique solutions to complex lighting problems. After all, does a world-renowned architect select a lighting designer for a museum, or a restaurant, or a concert hall simply because that lighting designer is an LC? Likewise that architect or owner probable wouldn't select their designer based on another advanced degree.


A summit meeting should be convened, at the latest, at LIGHTFAIR in May 2012. Both providers as well as consumers of lighting education should be present. That way, directed discussions can take place to match the industry needs with appropriate curricula, credentials and delivery methods. Attendees at this summit should include representatives of academic lighting education programs; electric utilities; lighting organizations (IES, IALD, PLDA, etc.); allied professional organizations (NECA, IBEW, BOMA, etc.); manufacturers; distributors; and any other industry or government partners who might benefit from a more structured, sustainable, long-term plan for lighting education.

Let's start building the pyramid.



Steven Mesh, LC, Member IES (1993), has been a lighting designer and educator for the past 31 years. Most recently, he was the senior lighting program coordinator at the Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco. Before moving to San Francisco, Mr. Mesh was the Northeast Regional Vice President for IES and he also serves on the Energy Management Committee of the IES.
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Title Annotation:NEW CREDENTIALS
Author:Mesh, Steven
Publication:LD+A Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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