Magazine

‘Greening’ America’s Garages ... With Light!

Peter Kelly

If someone had asked me seven years ago where my future concentration would be regarding commercial lighting design, the last marketplace I would have mentioned would have been multi-level parking garages.
In the 26 years I’ve been designing commercial lighting systems, I’d like to think I’ve learned a little something about it. During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some of the most prestigious projects in the country: General Electric’s world headquarters, the Empire State Building, World Trade Center, MetLife corporate headquarters (formerly the Pan Am Building), as well as for cities, hospitals, universities, etc.
Now, it’s multi-level concrete bunkers. The glamour has gone. Or has it?
When we think we have seen it all, we have not. Let’s take a look at the differing lighting technologies:
First, thanks to Tom Edison, it was incandescents. Then it was “early” vapor-tight fluorescents, mercury vapor, low- and high-pressure sodium, metal halide, pulse-start metal halide, induction, light-emitting diodes (LED) and “new” vapor-tight fluorescents. Yes, several other lighting sources have come about, but keep in mind we’re talking about parking garage lighting.
In efforts to stay on the cutting edge of lighting technologies, we have taken all of the above lighting sources and independently tested them to see which system would answer the following questions:
Which would be able to provide ample illumination, and have a good uplight contribution, a broad light distribution and a good downlight contribution without glare?
Which would be the most energy efficient? (As of 2005, which would be able to maximize the tax deduction available by the Energy Policy Act 2005 criteria?)
Which would have the lowest maintenance costs?
Which would bring the most environmental benefits; which would be the most “green”?
And most important, which system would create a safer environment?
We placed high-pressure sodium down on the “accepted” list due to the color rendering (orange-yellow light), which cannot distinguish colors from brown to red to green to blue to black to gray. They all look the same. It also is quite expensive to maintain, because every two to three years, all the lamps need to be replaced since their “rated life” is so low as compared with other systems.
We ruled out metal halide, because it is a high-intensity discharge (HID) monopoint light source that is very glary. It almost takes on a “flash bulb” effect when one looks at it. It takes the eye a few seconds to refocus. HID’s go through what lamp manufacturers refer to as “color shift” when not properly maintained, which, as with high-pressure sodium, has to be maintained every two to three years.
We then tested an induction lighting fixture that has entered the marketplace over the last few years. They also are glary and look very similar to metal-halide fixtures. Their claim to fame is that they are supposed to have a long lamp life; actually, manufacturing specifications state up to 100,000 hours, but in most cases they are warranted to five years. It is a very expensive system from an up-front cost standpoint, and it is so expensive to “retrofit” (replacing lamps or ballasts after five years) that some manufacturers recommend replacing with new fixtures. They have limited wattages available, and should be used in areas that have limited access, such as pole or street lighting.
Then we tried testing LED fixtures. They are very new to the marketplace from an actual luminaire design (they’ve been around for several years for traffic signal lighting, for example). For the lack of a better description, they resemble tiny flashlights. Their claim also is long lamp life at 100,000 hours, although warranted to 60,000 hours in most cases. They are expensive and have extremely poor light distribution and little-to-no uplight contribution.
Lastly, there are “new” vapor-tight fluorescent fixtures which aren’t exactly “new.” There have been advancements in these systems for more than a decade, with new lamp and ballast configurations, multi-level switching and controls, photocells, etc. They can use mirrored reflectors to bend and shape the light in ways to properly illuminate most applications.
The chief problem we faced was the same decades-old problem with the “early” style fluorescents, which was cold-temperature performance.
We tested a variety of “conventional or economy grade” fixtures that are available in today’s marketplace (most of which are produced overseas). In cold temperatures, we found that the gasketing, which is the most important part of a vapor-tight fixture, would contract and separate from the lens. No more vapor-tight. This would result in reduced light output, dirt and insect accumulation inside the fixture, and major future maintenance considerations. Nearly all the fixtures we tested had this problem.
The solution was to use a high-quality vapor-tight fixture that stood up to the very cold temperatures and adverse climate conditions typically found in the northern regions of the country.
Talk about a “green” lighting system. There are no systems greener in the marketplace today that can do as much for multi-level garages as a high-quality fluorescent system and nothing safer in appearance with its clean, crisp, bright light.
These systems have been installed in nearly 100 garages (close to 65,000 fixtures). By saving more than 35 million kilowatt hours of electricity collectively, we have saved the equivalent of 21,000 metric tons of CO2 or 24 million gallons of gasoline or 50,000 barrels of oil. We’re very proud about helping the environment.
And with an estimated 40,000 parking garages in America, we are confident this lighting system will be very prevalent for the future of garage lighting design – until some other technology decides to come “full circle.”

Peter Kelly is a Founder and a Managing Director of IntellEnergy.
He can be reached at pk@intellenergy.com.

Article Abstract from October, 2007




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