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University Goes Green with New Garage Bulbs

LED lights in Moran Center Parking Garage | Photo by Jim Cunningham Photography, Courtesy of OSRAM SYLVANIA

461 bulbs. 744,600 fewer kilowatts. An estimated $55,845 saved per year.

It may not seem like one light bulb can make an impact, but en masse, the difference is blinding. As LED lights become more affordable, their energy efficiency becomes more accessible.  Not only do LED lights use less energy and produce less heat, they are often brighter than their incandescent counterparts.

The University of St. Thomas Facilities Department recently underwent its largest energy-saving project to replace all the existing 175-watt metal halide bulbs in the Moran Center Parking Garage and Young Hall parking garage with 40-watt Sylvania PermaLED lights.

While the project cost $186,000 total, St. Thomas received a rebate from Reliant Energy for $84,000, because the University will use less energy from the power grid. Only a few projects are considered for a rebate each year.

New bulbs provide ROI

Curt Wissmiller, manager of contracted services and capital projects, said this was one of his favorite projects to complete because of the return on investment.

“Facilities staff members were changing 40-50 bulbs a month with the old lights,” he said. “They were expensive bulbs and it was labor intensive.” What previously took 40-80 hours a year to maintain will now take 5-10 minutes per month to scan for issues.

LED lights in Moran Center Parking Garage | Photo by Jim Cunningham Photography, Courtesy of OSRAM SYLVANIAWissmiller said the new bulbs are guaranteed for 5 years, but they should last for 10 years. There is an estimated energy savings of $55,845 per year. The University also paid to recycle the old bulbs. “We made sure they were responsibly recycled.”

The new lights in the garage are brighter, too, resulting in added security in the parking garages. 

“The great thing about LEDs is that they only lose 10 percent of light over a lifetime,” Wissmiller said. “Other bulbs can lose up to 50 percent of their light.”

Going green saves money, reduces pollution

LED lights in Moran Center Parking Garage | Photo by Jim Cunningham Photography, Courtesy of OSRAM SYLVANIAGiven the net outlay for the project, and the money that will be saved each month, UST expects to see a return on investment in a little over two years.

Cost is not the only savings though. The carbon emissions saved each year from using LED lights amounts to 1.5 million pounds of CO2, or the environmental equivalent of 136 cars off the road or 120,282 trees planted, according to Crawford Electrical Supply Co., the company that provided the proposal for the bulbs.

This is not UST’s first energy conservation project. Previously, the University installed LED bulbs in the Welder Hall student lounge, where the old lights emitted too much heat. Wissmiller said most classrooms already have T-8 fluorescent lights, which are highly energy efficient for the cost. In the summer, UST powers off garage lights in cycles, because the building is used less.

A light bulb moment

This bulb-replacement project began during Christmas break, with the decision approved by Jim Booth, former vice president for finance, and Howard Rose, assistant vice president for facilities operations, to move forward with the capital expense. While the University was closed, Wissmiller and other staff prepared the proposal to meet the Jan. 4 rebate deadline.

Wissmiller said Richard Garcia, UST’s in-house electrician, was instrumental in researching and implementing the LED cost-savings project and working with Crawford Electrical.

The bulbs were installed during two weeks around spring break in March. Since then, the electricity bill has been $3,500 less per month. Wissmiller said he hopes to be able to change more bulbs to LEDs on exterior lights, where there is the best bang for the buck in cost savings.

“This is one of those no-brainers where you see the instant kick,” Wissmiller said. “It’s a great project. It’s green all the way around.”