Higher Education And LED Lighting Retrofits

LED lighting retrofits make a significant impact on energy intensity, usage, and efficiency in facilities at colleges and universities.

By Ross Fairbanks

College and university campuses are among the most energy-intensive property types in the world. EnergyStar’s 2016 report, U.S. Energy Use Intensity by Property Type, calculates college/university Site EUI (Energy Use Intensity) to be 130.7 (kBtu/ft2 ). This figure represents a mixture of primary energy consumed (raw fuel, like natural gas) and a secondary energy source (converted product, such as electricity). Colleges/universities are among the sectors that received the highest EUI marks as measured by kBtu (others include restaurants/bars, hospitals, convenience stores, and supermarkets). The intensity of their energy use has spurred colleges and universities to retrofit older buildings and equipment, promote existing sustainability projects and new initiatives, and improve their overall impact on the environment.

While multiple efficiency improvement options are available to educational institutions, LED lighting with controls is typically one of the most cost effective and quickest solutions for lowering energy usage and energy cost. LED lighting has improved dramatically in both quality and price over the last several years.

LED Lighting Retrofit: The Challenges

The implementation of a LED retrofit can take a variety of forms, depending on both the scale of the project and the distinct challenges that each site presents. Additionally, educational institutions face certain energy challenges beyond what a typical commercial or industrial facility has to handle. Energy dense and diverse campuses typically require a variety of lighting options, and because buildings are used at all hours (versus a standard 9am to 5pm occupancy of a corporate office building, for example), college or university facilities can almost always benefit from smart controls as well. Finally, a comprehensive LED lighting upgrade at a university campus must be designed with consideration for different aesthetic, light level, light quality, and color temperature requirements that would be applicable for diverse building types, including:

  • Dorms
  • Classrooms
  • Laboratories
  • Food service facilities
  • Stadiums and athletic complexes
  • Office buildings
  • Mechanical space

While it may seem daunting, all of these challenges can be met with an appropriately designed, comprehensive LED lighting/controls retrofit.

LED Lighting With Controls: A Game Changer

Over the last 10 years, there has been a movement at educational institutions to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Many institutions have implemented sustainability programs and are actively working towards more efficient facilities, greener facility management, and a gentler environmental impact.A large part of this effort has been

A large part of this effort has been implementation of iterations of fluorescent lighting, as the technology became more efficient. The arrival of high quality LED lighting and control systems at reasonable price points changes this dynamic. A well-designed LED lighting/control upgrade will last 10 to 15 years and will result in a step change reduction of energy use (as much as 50% t0 75%) over the existing fluorescent lighting. Because of this dramatic difference, it is very unlikely that any future lighting innovation will provide sufficient savings to warrant the cost of implementation. LED lighting has a long life (warranties of 5 to 10 years) and virtually eliminates maintenance.

LED lighting readily lends itself to control. There is no warm up period required like there is with High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting such as metal halide, so LED lighting in sports venues and other high ceiling space can be controlled off and will instantly come on with sensed occupancy.

LED lighting incorporated with mesh network controls and sensors can also be “grouped” to provide efficient, granular control. An example of this would be a cubicle space where the lighting was group controlled. When a person entered the space, the lighting would activate to a preset low level “background” light level. When the person arrived at their cubicle and stayed for three seconds, the light above them would ramp up to the preset occupancy light level while the other lights in the space would remain at the background light level. The light fixtures are also typically provided with photocell control to take advantage of “light harvesting” from natural light.

LED Lighting Retrofits In Practice

To further illustrate the impact of LED lighting/controls, the following are examples of university lighting projects.

Machine Shop. Among the many buildings at a university in Boston is a 10,500 square foot Machine Shop. The facility (shown below “before and after”) is home to six expert machinists and produces equipment, machine parts, and other accessories required for research in physics, biology, chemistry, photonics, astronomy, and medicine. Additionally, part of the shop is a training center for students to learn the basic operation of the tools utilized in this type of work.

Engineers at our firm designed a lighting upgrade that replaced 32 250W metal halide high bay fixtures in the Machine Shop with an equivalent number of 44W LED high bay fixtures. The project qualified for a utility incentive of $7,175 and saves over 33,000 kWh a year. This is a total annual energy savings of $5,200, resulting in a simple payback of 1.4 years for the project.

In addition to energy and financial savings, upgrading the Machine Shop has other important benefits. Built in 1987, the lighting in the facility was outdated. Upgrading the infrastructure to LEDs not only resulted in the above savings, but also improved the lighting quality for the machinists and students who work with heavy equipment and need proper light to stay safe.

LED lighting
Machine shop at a university in Boston with metal halide high-bay fixtures on left (before) and with LED lighting installation (after). (Photos: Fairbanks Energy Services)

Laboratory Facility. A 65,000 square foot research laboratory building, situated on another Boston area college campus and consisting of a combination of office and lab space, had efficient fluorescent lighting that operated 24/7. Even though the facility was primarily utilized from 7am to 7pm, Monday through Friday, because some researchers came in at odd hours, the lighting was kept on around the clock.

The space was retrofitted with LED fixtures that feature onboard occupancy, photocell sensors and intelligent lighting control that allowed for the setting of occupied light level and background light level. The controls also allowed for setting the time period that background light level would remain on with no occupancy sensed until it was shut off. They also allowed for the designation of egress fixtures that remained on 24/7 for code compliance. The installed project cost was $166,600. The project qualified for a utility incentive of $63,000 and saved over 486,000 kWh a year. This resulted in a total annual energy savings of $58,200, providing a simple payback of 1.8 years for the project.

While energy use in Higher Education institutions is among the highest in the world, the good news is that there are cost-effective solutions such as LED lighting with controls that are available. From large-scale campus retrofits to targeting smaller locations where energy is being wasted, college and university campuses can seize the opportunity to install LEDs with controls and realize immediate energy reduction and financial gains.

Fairbanks, CEM is COO of Fairbanks Energy Services, a full-service design/build energy conservation firm based in Hingham, MA. The firm provides cost-effective retrofit solutions for its clients with a comprehensive approach and deep knowledge of federal, state and municipal incentive programs. This allows the firm to identify, develop and install solutions that maximize savings while minimizing capital outlay.