Magazine

A Lot of Light

Innovative lighting control options benefit users, operators and the environment

By Antony Corrie

Carpark illumination levels and hours of operation vary, based on the purpose and use of the facility. Regardless, current lighting systems installed at most do not give the business owners or parking operators enough control over lighting to minimize energy costs, or the impact it has on the environment.

 Benefits of the innovative outdoor lighting control systems currently being installed around the world follow.

Parking lots used in conjunction with a business, whether a supermarket or an office block, generally have lighting installed to ensure customers feel safe and secure when walking to and from vehicles in the dark.

We have all parked in those dark and gloomy facilities, where you feel vulnerable and wonder if your vehicle will still be there when you return. And, on the contrary, we also have parked in modern, well-lighted facilities, where you feel at ease and don’t think twice about your own safety and that of your vehicle.

A well-lighted parking lot is more appealing to potential customers, as it has been proven to deter crime, giving customers a more reassuring peace of mind and a worry-free experience.

More fundamentally, parking facility lighting also allows motorists to navigate the carpark safely, protecting vehicles from damaged paintwork and bodywork.

When it comes to lighting upgrades, parking lot and garage lighting is an area where operators and businesses can save substantial amounts of money and energy – ultimately increasing revenues.

The last generation of cost- and energy-saving lighting solutions for parking lots saw most of them fitted with preset light-level timers and photocells connected to the ballast. Parking garage lighting is commonly operated by a motion or occupancy sensor during the hours of darkness.

Unfortunately, the switching off and on of lights as movement is sensed is not that energy efficient. It also means there is a significant amount of time when a parking garage will be left in complete darkness. And although that is unlikely to be a major concern for some operators – as most parking garages and lots are empty between the hours of 1 and 5 a.m. – if operators could keep the lights on constantly to make them safer and yet still yield significant savings on energy, costs and carbon emissions, they would.

There are valid arguments in favor of leaving lighting fully switched on during hours of limited use or during the night, and equally valid arguments for leaving them off during these times, too.

The solution is to monitor and adjust the lighting in garages throughout the day in order to save energy and costs, but also to maintain a safe environment for the public and motorists.

That might sound as if it requires an expensive and time-consuming use of personnel, but the solution is actually a lot simpler than you might imagine.  

Remote control

Innovative technology is now available to constantly monitor and control parking facility lighting, allowing for predetermined and reactive dimming. This approach provides opportunities for saving energy and carbon emissions while maintaining public safety.

These monitoring and control systems allow operators to save energy, and therefore money, even when the lights are on. The most innovative systems, such as Harvard Engineering’s LeafNut system, can be controlled remotely over a wireless network.

A central management system (CMS) allows the lot or garage owner or operator to dim lights at times when they may not necessarily be needed, for example to 50% between 1 and 5 a.m., and bring them back to 100% instantly through the touch of a button on a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, should this be necessary.

Dimming the lighting to 50% allows for cost and energy savings to be achieved, and ensures that drivers can clearly see the boundaries of the carpark, and the safety of staff and the general public is maintained.

The dimming of outdoor lighting illuminating parking lots can also be done imperceptibly, which means the human eye can barely notice a difference. The lighting of an outdoor lot can even be adjusted to accommodate the natural light levels, which will change according to the seasons.

Having a wireless management and control system allows operators to clearly define their lighting needs. Flexible CMS setups allow for programmed lighting levels based on outdoor ambient light and the time of year, or exact remote control by an operator real-time.

Solutions

The lighting control systems can be retrofitted to a facility’s existing circuits to allow older lots and garages to benefit from efficient control of the lighting. But when incorporated into new parking construction in conjunction with super-efficient and long-lasting LEDs, the energy and cost savings are significantly boosted.

As you might expect, because of the sophisticated technology involved, there is a substantial initial cost to implement a wireless monitoring and control system. But as parking lots are significantly smaller than entire streets, blocks and towns where these systems have been previously deployed, the cost of installation is reflected in the size of the lot and scale of the implementation project.

The most important factor is that the benefits will still be felt long after the technology has been paid for.

The operator is able to manage the lights individually or in groups while also controlling light output. Through a central web server, this can be done at any time over the Internet. As well as controlling each light, the most sophisticated system also can collect information about each lamp’s energy use and maintenance requirements. This delivers additional cost savings by allowing operators to plan schedules and accurately predict lamp failure.

The wireless monitoring and control of parking facility lighting offers huge potential for energy and cost savings in many areas. And with the technology now refined and readily available, the emphasis is on the forward-thinking parking owners and operators to adopt the systems and start saving.



Antony Corrie, Vice President for Harvard Engineering Americas, can be reached at USsales@harvardeng.com.

Article Abstract from July, 2013




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