Lighting Upgrades: LEDs to the Rescue

  January 29, 2014

The University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis is poised for major changes. As with many other institutional and commercial facilities, the university is looking high and low for new technology applications that will help hold down costs related to building operations and maintenance. A sizable part of the attention being paid to savings relates to retrofits of existing buildings involving LED lighting.

"Essentially, we were trying to find low-hanging fruit where we could really kick off our energy savings on campus with respect to lighting," says Alicia Phillips, an engineer and senior energy auditor with the university's facilities management department. Over the last few years, a series of LED retrofits in campus buildings — including parking garages, stairwells, food-service areas and classrooms — has provided a laboratory for Phillips and the department to test various lamps, ballasts and control systems to find the most effective combination for a range of applications.

"We typically will retrofit anything that's five years or less for the return on investment, and we also always take advantage of energy rebates from our energy company. I think it's probably two years before it's a no-brainer to sweep across campus," Phillips says. The most recent targets of the university's search for greater energy efficiency are campus parking structures and lots.

"Our parking facilities are, for the most part, unoccupied, and the lights are on 24/7," Phillips says. "We thought that would offer a good opportunity to take advantage of LED technology and incorporate into that lighting controls."

The previous lighting system featuring 150-watt high-pressure sodium lamps had not presented problems but instead simply represented an opportunity, she says, adding, "We just wanted to not have the lights on all the time. We did a survey and found that our parking facilities are only occupied about 3-5 percent of the time, so it's a huge opportunity to either turn the lights off or lower the light level when they’re unoccupied. High-pressure sodium is not a source that can be turned on and off based on occupancy."


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