LED Lighting Provides a Brighter Future

Although LED (light-emitting diode) lighting technology has advanced rapidly through the past decade, it has not become a practical alternative for general ambient lighting until this year. Universities are now using LED overhead lighting virtually anywhere, including gyms, lecture halls, classrooms, labs, student housing, and facility and administration offices.

The benefits of ambient LED lighting are extraordinary compared to incandescent and even compact florescent lights (CFLs). With a 50,000-hour lamp life (over twice that of CFLs), LED systems can easily last more than a decade before requiring replacement — greatly reducing maintenance costs associated with conventional systems. As the time and labor traditionally dedicated to servicing lamps and ballasts is significantly reduced, facility maintenance resources are freed up to focus on other tasks.

Additionally, LEDs are inherently more environmentally friendly than CFLs as they do not use mercury or other harmful chemicals. And because LED systems last much longer, there is less waste going to landfills. These environmental benefits contribute significantly to the sustainability goals for colleges and universities of all sizes.

Furthermore, because LEDs produce only a fraction of the heat generated by incandescent and CFLs, many campus buildings are able to reduce cooling loads, resulting in substantial savings in air-conditioning costs. The Department of Energy projects between 2010 and 2030 LED lighting can save 1,488 terawatt-hours — representing a $120B savings in energy at today’s prices.

Given the significant advantages of advanced technology, ambient LED lighting is quickly becoming the innovation of choice for universities nationwide — from intimate campuses like Babson College to sprawling institutions like San Diego State University — seeking long-term solutions for saving energy, reducing maintenance and operating costs, and minimizing their environmental impact.

Babson College: Classroom Upgrade
Babson College in Wellesley, MA, is recognized internationally as a leader in entrepreneurial management education. So it comes as no surprise that the school’s Office of Facilities Management and Planning routinely tests and evaluates new ways to improve efficiencies and quality of service.

The use of LED lighting for standard ambient illumination was one such consideration. “However,” as associate vice president Shelley Kaplan explained it, “we’ve looked at LED fixtures several times over the years and have never been satisfied with the color temperatures and fixture dimensions.”

But the introduction of high-quality volumetric LED lighting presented Kaplan’s team with a high-performance LED system worthy of trial.

“Every summer we renovate several older classrooms, literally gutting the spaces and updating them from floor to ceiling,” described C. J. Smith, capital projects manager. “In the summer of 2009, we focused on two 760-sq.-ft. classrooms in Babson Hall, and completely upgraded them with flooring, furnishings, and technology, including computer controls, DVD players, motorized shades, and LED lighting.”

Paul Chabot, co-founder and principal of Boston Light Source (representatives of the world’s leading lighting manufacturers), presented Kaplan and his team with new lighting fixtures.

“We were immediately pleased with the color temperature and controllability of the RTLED systems,” said Kaplan. “This was the first system we evaluated that had the ability to replace our T8 fluorescents and truly deliver on the promise of LEDs.”

The classrooms feature 24 LED fixtures that are almost identical in appearance and illumination to the traditional fluorescent lights. However, the LED lights boast a 50,000-hour-rated system life without having to change lamps or ballasts. The resulting reduction in labor required to check and change lamps is critically important to the institution’s mission.

Next on the agenda of the Office of Facilities Management and Planning are additional interior and exterior lighting applications that require particularly significant amounts of labor to maintain. Smith points to outdoor fixtures that are difficult to reach during winter months, as well as typical high-bay lighting situations that require both manpower and machinery to reach and replace lamps.

Though Kaplan and his team will require several years of measurement and analysis before determining the actual value of its new LED lighting, they are nonetheless optimistic and hopeful. “If LED lighting can deliver the levels of useful life anticipated — which could be as many as 10 to 15 years — the reduced demand for labor required to maintain the fixtures will in and of itself prove their value,” said Kaplan.

San Diego State University: Lecture Hall Development

San Diego State University is the oldest and largest higher education institution in the San Diego, CA, region. Founded in 1897, the University has grown to become a nationally ranked research university.

But growth has its price; in this case, the need for another lecture hall to accommodate the growing student population. The University decided to convert a 5,800-sq.-ft. gymnasium into a 215-person lecture hall. The project was initiated in early 2010 with a necessary completion date of July 1.

“With such a short timeline, we raced into action,” said architect Jeffrey Herr, Physical Plant Department, San Diego State University. “One of our top priorities was lighting, so I began conducting research with the goal of lighting the entire lecture hall with leading LED technology, including downlighting and ambient lighting.”

Herr had no apprehension leading San Diego State University into its first major LED lighting project. “LEDs are being used effectively in other industries and markets, and I was confident in the technology,” said Herr.

San Diego State University installed more than 80 RTLEDs for the general ambient lighting and 30 DOM8 LEDs for downlighting. To support the LED lighting, the University specified compatible lighting controls as part of the system.

“The difference or variation required in light levels during classes and presentations is always a concern for our instructional technology staff,” said Herr. “So dimmer controls were essential. However, we were a little uncertain if the lighting controls where going to work effectively with the LED lighting. After some assistance from [our vendors], we were able to ensure the controls performed effectively.”

Though his expectations were high for the LED lighting, Herr admits he was impressed the first time the lecture hall was lit with the new lighting system. “We honestly didn’t know what to expect. The first day we turned on the lights 100 percent, they were so bright it was astounding. We were all in awe.”

The University will begin calculating the energy, maintenance, and sustainability benefits of the LEDs immediately, though meaningful data will not be available for several months. Regardless, Herr sees LED lighting as a very long-term solution to energy, cost, and sustainability goals set by the University.

LEDs for Efficiency
These projects are notable examples where LED technology has been successfully applied to enhance the lighting quality of interior space — while meeting aggressive operational goals for energy efficiency, maintenance reduction, and sustainable design.

LED technology has clearly evolved beyond basic applications for signage, accent, and display lighting. In the projects discussed, LED systems are enabled by advanced optical designs and materials to deliver superior solutions in educational spaces that present challenging visual tasks, sustained over extended periods of time. LEDs have crossed a significant threshold — now becoming a viable alternative for general illumination of interior applications.

Dave Ranieri is the vice president and general manager of Lithonia Lighting Commercial Fluorescent/LED Business Unit and has more than 26 years of experience in the lighting industry. He can be reached at [email protected]