Bulk Purchase of LED Bulbs

Residents of Monhegan rely on diesel generators to produce electricity for their island. As a result, ratepayers there pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, at $0.70/kWh. Residents asked an Island Institute Fellow, Ben Algeo, to help them analyze and reduce their energy consumption. Ben followed the same process on Matinicus a few months later.

How It Works

Ben analyzed the energy use from electric lights on the island and then organized a bulk purchase of energy efficient LED bulbs. The LEDs, which consume a fraction of the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs, reduced energy usage for homeowners. Most LED bulbs are already marked down significantly through an Efficiency Maine program to $3-$5 at retail. Because the bulbs for Monhegan were purchased in bulk—and because the project was supplemented with funding from a grant—the LEDs were just $1 each. This saved Monhegan homeowners an average of $7 per bulb in annual electric costs (more if replacing incandescents, less for CFLs) on this simple, DIY energy upgrade.


Implementation Steps

  • Going house-by-house, count the number of existing bulbs to set an inventory of current electricity use.
  • With that baseline in hand, contact a wholesaler of light bulbs and ask for a bulk purchasing discount and options for specific bulbs. You will need to settle on a few wattage options in order to qualify for a bulk discount.
  • Hold an information session for interested homeowners. At the meeting, distribute catalogs and order forms (scroll down for samples from Matinicus and Peaks) so that homeowners can make bulb selections.
  • Collect the order forms and place the order.

Q & A with Ben Algeo, Former Diesel Island Fellow


Ben Algeo

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about LEDs? 
A: LED lighting is an emerging technology that’s much more efficient than older incandescents, so the opportunities for cost savings on electricity bills are huge. Because it’s an emerging technology the price is coming down rapidly. The color rendering is continuously getting better.

Q: How did this work get started? 
A: The idea for a group purchase came out of an exchange trip that a couple of islanders took before I was an Island Fellow. They visited Naushon Island near Cape Cod where a lot of work has been done over the past ten years or so to bring down diesel consumption. They started out swapping out the lighting with compact fluorescent, then larger appliances like refrigerators, then did a bunch of work to upgrade their grid and make it more efficient, and finally added renewable generation: solar. They brought down their diesel consumption by around 75% over ten years. The Maine islanders were looking for ways to replicate that on an island that’s not privately owned, because on Nashon they can just go into houses and switch things out. In a community, you can’t just go into people’s houses and rip out their light bulbs, so I surveyed appliances in houses, and found the common needs for energy efficiency improvements. One of the biggest needs was lighting.

Q: How did you go about it? 
A: We did a quick information session and explained the savings. Switching out one 60-watt bulb for an 11-watt replacement could save someone $30 a year. We gave people about two weeks to sign up, and got orders from 40 people (about half year-round residents and half seasonal).

Q: Is this replicable on other islands and in other rural communities? 
A: I think so. The bulk discount is appealing, and sharing shipping and disposal costs are a big deal. It’s not fun to get rid of things on an island, so it helps to have one person handle all that.


  • Color temperature. As bulbs improve this is becoming less pronounced, but some homeowners may prefer the warm color temperature of incandescent bulbs.
  • Aggregating payments. It is challenging to collect payments from multiple people. Some potential solutions include online payment services like Venmo or Square Cash, or simple cash and check collection.
  • Seasonality. It’s better to hold information sessions during peak seasons, when more ratepayers are present, but meetings may be more difficult to schedule because of other events during that season. One solution is to have more meetings at different times of day during the peak season.

Outcomes / Results 

Monhegan residents purchased 2,300 bulbs are projected to save $15,000 per year due to decreased electric demand. That savings results in large part from diesel fuel that is not needed to generate electricity. An additional benefit is that the load required for future generation (for example, a renewable system like solar) is diminished, meaning that system may be more affordable.



Additional Resources


Interior Storm Windows

While it makes sense to pay a contractor to complete weatherization work like air sealing (and take advantage of the rebate), sealing and insulating leaky windows for the winter can be easily completed with inexpensive materials and a few friends.

How It Works

With a few basic tools (think: electric drill, saw) you can build window inserts to keep your house warmer and save hundreds of dollars per year, for a fraction of the price of buying and installing brand new windows. Since it’s easiest and cheapest to buy materials like shrink-wrap and double-sided foam tape in bulk, and much faster with a group of people, a community-wide window-building day works very well. The Island Institute has hosted 20 workshops on 13 islands, and more are planned. Several island organizations have begun hosting their own building workshops.

Maren Granstrom

Building windows on Cliff Island

Implementation Steps

  1. Spread news in your community about the windows, their cost, potential savings, and benefits of working together.
  2. Collect measurements for all windows. You may wish to have a few people do this who are very accurate, or use a laser measure to make sure the windows fit in the end! Directions in step 5.
  3. Purchase materials. Information about sourcing materials available here:  Interior Storm Windows – Materials list and sourcing
  4. Host a community build day and invite all participants. You can expect to build 25 or 30 windows in four hours with a group of 8-10 volunteers.
  5. Follow these instructions for building windows:  Interior Storm Window Directions
  6. Pop windows into place, and enjoy the heat!
  7. Next spring, find a space where they can be stored horizontally (to prevent warping) and won’t be punctured over the summer. They can last many years if taken care of.

Q&A with Island Institute Energy Team

Harry, at left, helps prep plastic film

Q: How many windows can you build in a day?
A: That depends on the number of volunteers! but in general, approximately 30 windows can be constructed in a four hour span with a focused group of folks.

Q: Do they look weird or block the view out of your window?
A: “Weird” is in the eye of the beholder. The windows do have a double coat of plastic film that can make views appear slightly shimmery as you look through. The frames are constructed of pine boards free of knots, and do not detract from your view.

Q: Should I make inserts for all my windows? If not, which ones?
A: If your budget supports it, almost any window would be enhanced by an insert.  However, if this is outside your budget, then these criteria should guide your decision:

  • Window quality: do you have single pane glass windows? Do you have any windows that lack storm windows? These are likely your best choice for maximizing impact with an insert.
  • Comfort: do you have windows in your home that are predictably chilly? Perhaps a bathroom window, or the window above your kitchen sink or couch? Windows that you spend an above average amount of time near, should be your first priority.
  • If you were/will be a Weatherization Week participant: building professionals have the tools to tell which windows need help most. If you have been weatherized in the past, recall if your contractor pointed out particularly leaky windows during his or her audit with the infrared camera. If you have not yet had your home weatherized, but plan to join a future Week, make a point of asking the contractor which windows should be prioritized during your walk through.

Q: What are some common mistakes to avoid?
A: Because they are constructed of plastic coating, inserts are very vulnerable to scratching cats or small children (the plastic is very tempting to poke little fingers into). So, it is important to think about where your pets or small kids will be able to access as you choose which windows to build. Another mistake is skipping over the newer windows in your home as you choose which ones to construct. New windows can benefit from inserts more often than not - so windows should be selected with an eye to comfort and convenience. Remember to store your storm windows flat in a safe place (attics and dry basements work quite well). If they are stored upright or leaning, they will warp and may not fit next year!

Q: Any tips for success?

  • It’s helpful to have a chop saw to cut boards. They can be done by hand but it will take a really long time!
  • Buy extra wood in case you make mistakes and need to redo a piece (if not, make an extra window or two for a community building!)
  • Plan early. We usually put fliers out 6 weeks before deadline for measurements. Then allow 2 or three weeks to order and transport wood. It ought to be an 8-9 week process.
  • Make it clear to participants that it costs money-- but also that their money will be repaid by fuel savings in one winter.
  • For those who have a hard time paying, it’s a great investment for a fuel assistance fund or sustainable housing money.
  • It’s really important to get recipients of windows to show up and help build, both because it goes faster with more hands, and because it’s a good gateway to further weatherization and efficiency work.


  • Measuring windows accurately. Island Institute can loan a laser measure. Otherwise try to have one or two people do all the measuring to make sure they do a good job.
  • Attention to detail is necessary to cut wood accurately, stretch the plastic well, and place the tape. Sloppy work means windows that don’t fit or aren’t as effective.
  • The windows are difficult to store as they have to be flat and not punctured. Perhaps it would be possible to locate a community building for summer storage?


Interior storm windows usually save about 0.93 gallons of fuel oil per square foot every year. With heating oil at $3.00/gallon, and an average window size of 15 square feet, that’s more than $40/year for each window insert.

Additional Resources


Weatherization Weeks

Many Maine island homes are old, drafty, and hard to heat during cold winters. Reducing drafts, improving insulation and making other small changes can reduce heating bills by hundreds of dollars per year. However, paying for an energy auditor and contractor to make a multi-day trip to weatherize an island or remote coastal home is prohibitively expensive for most people.

The Island Institute has developed a “Weatherization Week” model to make weatherization of island homes easy and affordable. Community members on several Maine islands have adapted the Weatherization Week model and continue to weatherize homes every year without Island Institute coordinators.

How It Works

Weatherization Weeks enable six to ten island homes to receive a professional home energy assessment and basic insulation and air sealing work at a reduced cost over the course of a week. Homeowners pay between $200 and $400 for the home energy assessment and six man-hours of insulation and air sealing. While this work would normally cost a homeowner between $700 and $1,000, plus the cost of bringing a certified energy advisor to the island, Efficiency Maine covers $400 towards the cost of the work, and the Island Institute helps cover the cost of transportation and housing.


Implementation Steps

  • Coordinator recruits residents interested in conducting energy efficiency audits and weatherization work in their homes.
  • Once several clients are lined up, the coordinator arranges for an auditor and contractor to travel to the island and stay for several days, grouping all of the work into a short time frame—reducing the cost of travel to and from a remote location.
  • In Maine, Efficiency Maine covers $400 of the cost, and the Island Institute helps provide transportation and housing for the contractor, further reducing the expense to each homeowner.
  • Individual homeowners are responsible for paying the contractor for services rendered.

Q&A with Island Institute Energy Team

Q: What are the roadblocks to getting participants?
A: People generally think weatherizing their home is expensive, so Weatherization Weeks address that cost barrier by making it affordable to get the energy assessment and air sealing work done, and take that first step. An incremental approach works well on the islands because people get comfortable with making energy upgrades and often follow up by installing new heating systems or insulating their attic or basement. 

Q: What does the Island Institute contribute? What about communities doing this on their own? 
A: We usually cover the cost of transportation and lodging for the week, and any additional charges from the contractor to bring it down to mainland prices. That’s around $700-1000 for a week. It would be easy for a community to just use the incentives available from Efficiency Maine. Folks would have to pay a bit more, but it’s usually manageable. It might pay for itself in 1 1/2 or 2 heating seasons instead of one. If you were doing this in a mainland community in another state that doesn’t have this program, the homeowner would pay $800-1000 for energy assessment and air sealing. That would pay for itself in 2-4 years, which is still pretty good. 

Q: Why can’t you get on-island contractors to do the work?
A: We had looked into it pretty thoroughly, and did work with a guy on Vinalhaven back in 2012. What we found is that the contractors of the islands had enough work to keep them busy already. And the training necessary to become certified for Efficiency Maine is expensive and unless you were working across all of the islands, there isn’t a big enough market to justify making that investment. 

Q: What’s it like bringing mainland contractors to islands?
A: When you bring a contractor outside their regular area of service, that comes with logistical complexity. We’ve placed an increasing emphasis on trying to find them good accommodations and make sure they’re squared away with food, maps, and feel supported while they’re there.

Q: Should homeowners be there the whole time? 
A: We recommend that homeowners or renters be there for the whole appointment, 3-4 hours, so that the contractor has access to the basement and attic, but also because it’s an educational opportunity for the homeowner. Contractors can be a really good informational resource and spend time at the beginning and end of the appointment talking about what they see in the house and what they can get to or would recommend addressing after they leave. 

Q: What are mistakes you’ve learned from?
A: Having the logistical details all lined up well in advance, and making sure the island coordinator and contractor are on the same page has been challenging in the past, and is really important. It can be tricky or frustrating for the contractor when the coordinator or homeowner isn’t around that week. Recently, we’ve instituted a pretty strict cancellation policy. You submit a deposit and if you have to withdraw less than two weeks before the start of the Weatherization Week you lose your deposit. 

Q: What are you working to improve?
A: One thing we’re trying to do better is integrating the Weatherization Week model with other kinds of energy efficiency upgrades. We’re trying to provide the LED bulk purchase or group purchases of heat pumps. We want to show that it starts in one place, by participating in a Weatherization Week, installing interior storm windows, or installing LED bulbs, but that there are lots of opportunities to lower energy bills and make their home more efficient.

Q: How are Weatherization Weeks applicable for mainland communities?
A: Even if the same barriers of additional cost aren’t there, there is a sense that the community is doing this together, there is visibility that wouldn’t be there if it were just one-off jobs on their own. If you are a grassroots group or a municipal energy committee and you want to weatherize a lot of the homes if your town, having a central coordinator who can help do outreach and scheduling means that you can get a lot of work done over a short period of time with pretty high visibility. 


  • It’s helpful to do auditing and initial weatherization work during the same trip. Recommendations from an audit can easily be dismissed or forgotten if it’s challenging or expensive to bring a contractor back to complete the work.
  • However, trying to do a huge amount of weatherization work at once is too overwhelming and expensive. Experience has shown that low-cost, basic air sealing and insulating is a comfortable starting place. 30% of homeowners go on to complete further weatherization after observing results for a winter or two.

Outcomes / Results

Maine islanders save an average of $350 per year after receiving basic weatherization services. Between 2012 and 2015, the Island Institute coordinated the weatherization of 329 homes. 

Additional Resources

Bulk Purchase of Heat Pumps

Sam Saltonstall, a resident of Peaks Island in Casco Bay, Maine, had spent years trying to lower his own energy costs. #2 heating oil and propane are very costly on Peaks Island, making the winter heating season a financial hardship for many year-round residents.

How It Works

Sam organized a group of Peaks Island residents to purchase heat pumps in bulk. Heat pumps, which run on electricity—they function similarly to an air conditioner, but running in reverse—are cost-effective for communities with relatively affordable electric costs. Peaks is connected by a cable and serviced by a mainland utility, so its electricity rates are comparable to those on the mainland. At electricity prices above $0.35/kWh, heat pumps may no longer be cost effective. Contractors reduced the cost of the heat pump installation by $250, or about 7%, if eight or more homeowners signed up.


Implementation Steps

Sam led the effort, with the help of other members of the Peaks Island electric club. They held meetings, organized sign-ups, and issued a request for proposals (RFP) to contractors.

  • Hold an informational meeting to discuss the idea: the problem, the potential for heat pumps as a solution, and the economic advantage to purchasing in bulk.
  • Leave lots of time for questions. This is going to be new for most people.
  • Use a sign-up sheet so you can generate a list of potential customers at the very first meeting.
  • Email follow-up to generate additional sign-ups.
  • Issue an RFP (Here's an example:  to local contractors to generate bids.
  • Share proposals, let residents create groups to work with selected contractors and then get out of the way: once the contractor and homeowners have agreed, let each individual handle the payment and scheduling with the contractor. This cuts down on miscommunication and administrative time.

Q & A with Sam Saltonstall, Peaks Environmental Action Team


Q: How do heat pump installs differ from home to home?
A: One size does not fit all when it comes to heat pumps. There needs to be a lot of thinking involved in where they need to be installed. There might be electrical issues because you need a certain amount of circuitry available in your breaker panel. Where you site the heat pump and how long you need to run wires and how complicated that is can have an effect on the price. Prices tend to vary from the initial proposals from the contractors because there ends up being extra work that needs to be done.

Q: Did homeowners have any issues or hurdles to get over?
A: There were a few minor complaints about the way the heat pumps worked. One person got a lemon and the contractors had to come back several times to try and fix it before they just took it out and installed another one. One customer had a heat pump that wasn’t pitched the right way so condensation was dripping on the floor. Another had a very old house and the wall where it was installed started to buckle. So there’s a real learning curve on the part of the contractors – these units were not being installed until just a few years ago. And there’s also a learning curve when the contractors have to know all the ins and outs of working on an island. Like, forgetting to have the parts you need.

Q: Are there any concerns now that the heat pumps are installed?
A: Heat pumps will continue to get more efficient and continue to evolve, but right now the jury is out on how long they will last. If you ask a contractor for a conservative estimate of their lifespan, they might say 15 years but I think in the South where heat pumps have been used more for air conditioning, they can last longer, more like 20 to 25 years. So there’s concern that they’ll need to be replaced at some point, sooner rather than later.

Q: How do heat pump installs differ from home to home?
A: One size does not fit all when it comes to heat pumps. There needs to be a lot of thinking involved in where they need to be installed. There might be electrical issues because you need a certain amount of circuitry available in your breaker panel. Where you site the heat pump and how long you need to run wires and how complicated that is can have an effect on the price. Prices tend to vary from the initial proposals from the contractors because there ends up being extra work that needs to be done.

Outcomes / Results

At $0.16/kWh, heat pumps cost about $1,500 per year to operate. Homeowners may save 30–40% over their previous heating system.

At electricity prices above $0.35/kWh, heat pumps may no longer be cost effective.

Maine’s average installation cost is $3,500. The contractors on Peaks reduced the price of each heat pump installation by about $250 for groups of eight or more homeowners, in addition to a $500 rebate from Efficiency Maine.

Additional Resources


Fox Islands Wind

North Haven and Vinalhaven have been connected to the mainland via a submarine cable for decades, purchasing power from mainland utilities and distributing it through the Fox Islands Electric Co-op (FIEC). Despite being connected to the grid, distributing power and maintaining infrastructure on the island made electricity costs extremely high. Costs were also traditionally volatile, more than doubling in the peak usage months of the summer, when the islands’ populations swell dramatically.

In 2001, FIEC began exploring options for wind power on the islands, largely in order to stabilize and reduce energy prices but also to reduce carbon emissions. After several years of feasibility studies, the project began in earnest in 2008, breaking ground on a parcel of donated land on Vinalhaven.

In 2009, three 1.5 megawatt wind turbines on Vinalhaven began producing electricity.

How It Works

The three GE turbines produce as much electricity as the islands use over the course of a year, though peak production and peak use occur in opposite seasons. In the summer, FIEC buys all of the power produced by the turbines, plus some from the mainland. In the winter, when winds are strong and island demand is low, extra electricity produced by the turbines is sold back to mainland power distributors. They also sell Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), legal units that signify “green” power generation and may be sold independently of the actual electricity.

Implementation Steps

  • Determine the feasibility of a community-owned resource. The Fox Islands already had a co-op, which was able to buy and sell power from the grid. This made adding generation capacity much simpler than it would be for a community without an existing co-op.
  • Find a viable site. In addition to securing land to build turbines, access roads, and a sound buffer, the Fox Islands Electric Co-Op completed several studies to ensure that the winds blew hard enough to produce power. Additional studies measured noise, potential impact on wildlife, and visual disturbance for residents.
  • Test the economic model. Fox Islands Electric Co-Op assessed the economic viability of the Fox Islands Wind project, finding that the turbines would produce sufficient power to pay for the set cost of production and installation in a reasonable time frame.
  • Get community support—and get it early. The idea for Fox Islands Wind emerged from islanders, not from an outside corporation. Though the Island Institute and others were involved in moving the project forward, island stakeholders were kept informed during on-island meetings and information sessions. The project was put to a vote in July 2008: of 1400 members of FIEC, 383 voted in favor and 5 opposed.
  • Secure financing for the project. The total price tag for Fox Islands Wind was $14.5 million, largely financed by a tax equity investment from a Maine-based company and a loan from the Federal Rural Utility Service. A Harvard Business School professor, George Baker, headed the new Fox Islands Wind, LLC, formed to take advantage of federal tax credits for the project.

Q&A with Chip Farrington, General Manager of FIEC

Q: Did you have to curtail the turbine production in light of noise complaints?
A: The production was reduced from the get-go. When you do one of these projects you go to the DEP and put a theoretical plan together for a site permit and protocol approval, and after that you have to test them. Based on that, right from the start they were curtailed. The project went online in November 2009, and we implemented a curtailment in May 2010. Over the five years, they’ve generated about 5% less than what the feasibility study had predicted, and the feasibility study hadn’t predicted them being curtailed. So that’s really not too bad considering the circumstances. 

Q: What’s the price for consumers?
A: People say, “Well, if you said it was going to be 6 cents, how come the energy portion of my bill is 9 cents?” There’s a lot that happens once the coop get the power from the wind company, and a lot of those things have always been there with or without a wind farm. Central Maine Power charges us about a penny and a half to use the regional transmission lines to buy and sell from ISO New England. There are transactional fees … it filters through a whole bunch of calculations to come up with the final bill.

Q: What are some of the challenges?
A: There are challenges in a community or a small coop taking on the responsibility of constructing a wind project. We’re a relatively small entity with nine employees. A developer has trained people and large projects, with a staff on site to assist with operations. In our case, we have five linemen. Two of them have been trained at GE to operate the turbines, but they have all their other responsibilities too. Administratively, there were other responsibilities brought on. Selling RECs, keeping accounting records, insurance coverages, operational records, things like that. We have to keep sound data, download, log and report it. Everyone has adapted well, but it is a lot of additional work.

So far, the project has had one significant glitch in five years, with a bearing problem, and we had to bring the gear box down. The cost was covered by insurance, for an interruption coverage and costs warranty, but the turbines were down and there was a deductible on the insurance. But that’s the most significant thing that has happened, and that’s a very good track record. Going forward we hope for the same thing, and if we can keep the controversy at a minimum the ratepayers will benefit.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone who is interested? 
A: You want to have a solid base of community support. Don’t go too far forward until political opposition is resolved, or it will become a very costly issue. Don’t put up turbines and think that they’re going to operate on their own, that it’s easy, that the vendor is going to be there to help you all the time (although GE has been great). But you have to have administrative and operational infrastructure to operate the project, and that takes a large effort.


  • Noise. The noise issue was much greater than anticipated during preliminary studies. A group of residents could take issue with noise, view disruption, or other factors and create unexpected challenges if legal limits and studies aren’t rock solid.
  • Actual production. The turbines may not be able to produce as much as projected, due to testing and possible curtailment in the first months of operation. The Fox Islands Wind Turbines were curtailed in spring 2010 but only generate about 5% less than was estimated by the feasibility study.
  • Lack of administrative or technical experience. A wind project creates additional administrative and mechanical work, and a community-run project faces challenges that a commercial wind project may not. The nine employees of the Fox Islands Electric Co-op don’t have the same training as employees of a wind development company. Turbines don’t operate on their own, and the manufacturer may not always be available for assistance.  
  • Community support is critical. If there isn’t broad community support before the project begins, it’s likely to face serious hurdles along the way. It can be easy to see the negatives, but it’s important to see the positive sides of a wind project and weigh the pros and cons.


The turbines have had only one major mechanical issue in five years, but unexpected hurdles have, until recently, increased the price for FIEC customers. A small group of homeowners in the immediate area around the turbines brought legal action against FIEC, citing noise levels above regulation at certain times of the day and year. FIEC has spent over $1M in legal fees, and general manager Chip Farrington says that those fees added a few cents per kWh onto customers’ bills. In early 2015 the case was dismissed, and the rates have since decreased due to a good REC contract and the absence to legal fees.

The turbines produce roughly the same amount of power as the community uses over the course of the year. 60% is used by Vinalhaven and North Haven residents and 40% is sold to the mainland.

Additional Resources

Student-led LED Lighting Retrofit at the Islesboro Central School

High energy costs are a persistent issue across island and remote coastal communities, and addressing them presents multiple challenges. Finding funding and professionals willing to deliver energy services in these communities can be difficult. A crucial first step is bringing the community together in order to raise awareness of opportunities and increase demand for energy services. Islesboro is taking a unique and effective approach, laying a foundation of knowledge and enthusiasm using a community-based model focused on education and empowerment of residents of all ages. This particular example highlights how the strategy has succeeded with students from the Islesboro Central School, empowering a group of high schoolers to lead an energy saving project from start to finish, and beyond.

During the spring of 2016, students at the Islesboro Central School analyzed the energy use within their classroom using a tool called the eMonitor, which measures electricity use minute by minute and circuit by circuit throughout the building. Based on the results, the students estimated energy and dollar savings from updating the lighting, and then retrofitted the room with LED lighting using a grant from the Island Institute/Islesboro Energy Team.  They were then able to compare their estimates of savings using real time numbers from the eMonitor. Read a blog post about the project here. 

How It Works

This project was effective in creating energy savings beyond one classroom. Students wrapped up their project in spring 2016 by making a case to the school board that the entire lighting system should be retrofitted with efficient LEDs. Community members tend to listen when students create well-rounded, specific arguments advocating for change. The presentation was well received by the board, who requested that the students return the following year with a more complete proposal.

Implementation Steps

  1. Meet with students, pitch project idea and assemble an interested group - Who is doing this?
  2. Inventory lighting in one classroom – Is room too bright/too dim?
  3. Calculate savings based on estimated power consumption of LED lights
  4. Purchase, install LED lights
  5. Collect data on new lights and update savings in order to compare with pre-installation estimates
  6. Present results to school/community building administration and highlight potential savings for the rest of the building
  7. Share results – Make a presentation to the broader community and help other buildings implement similar projects

Key Factors

  • Student and school interest in reducing resource use
  • Strong mentorship from within the school, community, and supporting organizations (Island Institute staff in this case)
  • Grant funds to spark the project and incentivize school/municipal spending
  • Providing the project team with a chance to “show off” to the community with a presentation


  • Limited class time slowed progress and students had no capacity to meet after class. Having mentors who could guide the students through the project was crucial for making good use of this time.
  • Access to an eMonitor with a record of past electricity use in the space is a major benefit – but most schools don’t have eMonitors or other sophisticated energy monitoring tools. In the absence of such a tool, estimations will need to be done by hand without actual measurements.
  • The goal was to advocate that the school use part of its budget for continuing the lighting retrofit to the rest of the building. This can be difficult to accomplish, as schools and towns have longer term budgeting cycles and many are facing budget constraints making it difficult to approve funding for such projects on short notice. One option that could work well for school’s budgets would be to slowly switch out the lighting section by section over the next few years.

Q & A with Emily Lau, project team member

Q: Tell me a little about yourself and your project
A: I live on Islesboro, Maine, and I go to Islesboro Central School. We started an energy team last year after being inspired by the Island Institute to put in LED lightbulbs into the school. We've been working on getting the entire school switched to LED lightbulbs since last May

Q: How did this project get started? Who identified the need?
A: The project was started by the Island Institute by providing us with support funds and training and really getting our interest sparked. 

Q: What were some of the hardest parts?
A: One of the hardest parts was collecting data efficiently. Our team only met once a week for 45 minutes, and collecting consistent and useful data was sometimes difficult. It was also a little difficult to figure out how to use the tools for data collection, but once we got that down, it was fine. 

Q: What would make a lighting project like this easier next time?
A: The Island Institute was really helpful in getting us lightbulbs, which made it easier. If we had learned how to use the energy-testing tools and what they meant beforehand it may have been slightly more efficient, but it was a good learning process for us to go through, so that wouldn't really be necessary. 

Q: What is something you wish you had known before starting, or would have done differently?
A: If I could have somehow organized the eMonitor data collector before we started actually collecting data (separating one room from the others, and specifically its light usage), it would have been easier to show how much more efficient LED lightbulbs are. 

Q: What resources or similar projects have you learned from?
A: Since last year, we've definitely progressed in understanding the basics of energy-talk -- what kilowatt-hours are, what lux are, how to use the eMonitor, etc. -- and we're learning even more from the current project of replacing all the lightbulbs in the school. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to complete a similar project?
A: I would suggest making sure everything is very organized. We didn't have any trouble replacing the bulbs themselves, because we had specific bulbs that fit into the fixtures that already existed. Besides that, I'd say just go headlong into it, because it will all work out!

Q: What else do you want people to know?
A: The project was really awesome, and we're really grateful to the Island Institute for helping us get started on a path to energy efficiency, because it's very important to this world. 


Left: one day's energy use in the classroom with fluorescent bulbs. Right: LED bulbs. The scale is different, but note the drop in peak and overall use.

The outcomes of this project are numerous. In addition to saving energy in their classroom, the students felt empowered and received positive recognition from within the school and their community for moving this project forward.

Similar Projects

Monhegan school switched out their lights to LED with a grant from the Island Institute.