As the University of Minnesota continues working to reduce its environmental impact, officials are investigating retrofitting parking structures with new, energy efficient lights.
The University is currently using high pressure sodium lighting in its 14 garages and ramps on the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, but officials from Parking and Transportation Services and energy management are looking at a number of more efficient replacements.
According to PTS statistics, the annual electric charges for each ramp ranges from $60,000 to $85,000, but the total cost also includes ventilation, elevators and other systems in addition to lighting.
Jim Green, assistant director for energy management , said a few energy efficient compact fluorescent lights have already been installed as a test in the Fourth Street Ramp and energy management is working to expand the pilot program.
Energy efficient lighting is “a big issue right now,” PTS spokeswoman Jacqueline Brudlos said, and compact fluorescent lights consume as much as 50 percent less energy than the current lights.
Brudlos said when considering lighting options, it’s important to find a “balance between the cost of the fixtures and the efficiency.”
To help further improve energy efficiency, PTS is experimenting with turning the lights in parking ramps down during the day when they aren’t as needed, Brudlos said.
The departments are also considering installing linear fluorescent lights, which last longer than the compact fluorescent light bulbs but would be more difficult and expensive to install.
“It’s a tradeoff between the initial installation cost and the long term maintenance cost,” Green said.
Numerous proposals from different vendors have been submitted to replace the lights in parking ramps and garages, Green said. Energy management will install and test out a few of each type of light to see which fits best for the University, he said.
Energy management is planning to expand the amount of compact fluorescent lights installed in the Fourth Street Ramp in a few weeks, he said, which will help the University move closer to picking a light to install across campus.
“In parking, every day that we delay we’re using more energy then we need to,” he said.
If progress is made on the lighting issue, Brudlos said energy efficient lighting could be installed at all the parking structures within the year.
Marketing and entrepreneurship senior Mark Schiller is also getting involved with the efforts to bring energy efficient lighting to campus parking ramps through researching the costs and effectiveness of different bulbs.
Schiller said he became interested in replacing parking lights through a business competition and he has taken his findings to Green in hopes of getting new lights installed as quickly as possible.
“We’re burning money,” he said. “By not doing this we’re paying unnecessarily high energy bills.”
Schiller said the numbers he’s gathered show linear fluorescent lights are the best option for the University.
Although compact fluorescent lights are slightly more energy efficient and would produce a higher savings for the University, Schiller said linear fluorescent lights last twice as long, making them the better investment, according to his statistics which were complied with the help of a local lighting company that sells linear fluorescent bulbs, but not compact ones.
Financing options available through Xcel Energy are available to help the University pay for the retrofitting, Schiller said, and if the University were to take a loan, they would end up saving $35,000 per year after the two-year payback period.
“We have to do what we can today,” he said. “Replacing inefficient lights and energy conservation are two solutions we don’t have to wait for tomorrow to do.”
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