Lighting Upgrades

Remember when doing your bit for the environment just meant changing the lightbulbs in your house? We know now that more is needed if we are going to solve this climate change problem. Then again, we mustn’t forget the basics and this month I’ve been taking a look at the lighting at university.

Post-exam season I got involved in a bit of energy and carbon work. Between me and three other engineering students, the task was to survey the lighting in a selection of campus buildings. The quantity, type and size of current light fittings were under scrutiny, as upgrades were being considered.

I know it might not sound particularly interesting, but hear me out; the results may surprise you!

Out with the Old

Old fluorescent lighting is on the out. Those chunky tubes use a lot of power – the wattage of a typical 5 ft. T12 fluorescent lamp was 65W. The tubes were often doubled up for a total of 130W per fitting. Also, consider that many of them are in use 24 hours a day.

What we proposed was an upgrade to LED lighting and motion detection where appropriate. That 130W fluorescent fitting could be replaced with a 35W LED fitting – a significant saving. Plus, with motion detection, there is no need to rely on people turning off the lights when they are not needed, drastically reducing usage time.

LEDs brings advantages other than energy savings as well. There are numerous health and wellbeing benefits that come with good quality lighting. Take this from The Carbon Trust on workplace lighting:

By getting the lighting right, staff will be more comfortable in their working environment and they can become more productive. Of course, the converse is also true so energy-saving measures which compromise the quality of the lighting is short-sighted and unsustainable. -The Carbon Trust

The Results

In all my team surveyed six buildings. Based on the survey we estimated that the yearly energy use for those six buildings was about 900,000 kWh, which worked out at well over £100,000 a year. That’s quite a lot just for a few lights.

The upgrades we proposed reduced those numbers to 300,000 kWh and £36,000 – a reduction of about 67%. When you look at it in terms of carbon emissions, it’s almost 300 tonnes of CO2e emissions saved every year – and that’s just for six buildings!

Those numbers certainly surprised me. Plus, it’s a triple win when you consider the environmental benefits, cost savings, and improvements to working conditions for hundreds of university staff and students.

Of course, upgrading all this lighting would require a substantial investment, but consider the return on that investment is only about 5 or 6 years. For what is probably the quickest and easiest way to reduce the energy use of the university, I would say that’s a pretty good deal.


Visit The Carbon Trust if you need more information on energy efficient workplace lighting.

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Jack Nokes Written by:

Environmentalist and engineering student.