Parking Vet’s Perspective on Lighting – Old, New and Now … ‘Going Green’
By Larry J. Cohen
The world of lighting has surely done a 180-degree turn over the last 25 years. As I began my career as a newly hired parking coordinator in Philadelphia, one of the tasks at hand was to replace 30-plus-year-old (T12’s) fluorescent lighting in our main parking garage. Those fluorescents have been around forever; they are the lights that “keep on ticking,” even as their lighting illumes decrease.
For those living in the colder climates, you know that as winter hits and the temperature turns below the freezing mark, those old fluorescents lights would dim and flicker as in a scene from an old horror movie – not great for safety on a dark winter night. Those darn flickering fluorescents …
Then, in the 1990s, there was a big push away from the fluorescents and toward the “bright, white, consistent light” that many (including myself) sought in metal-halide fixtures. Bright, white, light output? Absolutely. Everyone was happy, right? Yes, for awhile …
Well, as the 1990s turned into the early 2000s, the “green and energy efficiency wave” kicked in due in big part to rising energy costs. The awareness of energy efficiency and “green” initiatives started to become the norm as energy costs used by those “bright, white” lights had proven to be too costly as energy awareness started to rise.
So, as the newer standard fluorescent (T8’s) for the garages were slow to change, it opened up the market for more energy efficient “LED” lighting around the same time as “LEED” initiatives took a stronghold at universities, municipalities and others across the country. (Light-Emitting Diode and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – only the acronyms are similar.)
LEDs have been around for many years, but not in the general illumination business. Entrance into the parking garage lighting market is also fairly new. The main pitch? “Save Energy Costs! Cut Your Energy Bill in Half!” Well, everyone started to take notice.
Now, LEDs are pitched as “the most energy efficient lighting,” which in some cases is true. But their capital costs have been prohibitive, and the variety of unit sizes, overall lighting output and shape of each lighting unit are still evolving and may be several years from optimum pricing and unit standards.
But many vendors have jumped on the LED train. One vendor approached me and, I kid you not, opened up his jacket pocket, right out of a Bogart movie, and said, “Hey, I’ve got something [inside my pocket] to show you. It’s the latest and greatest LED light, and it’s the size of a pen.” Well, the sooner we weed out those who jump into the LED market, the better for that market’s long-term players.
Of course, it has been the same with other green initiatives in the marketplace; whether electric-vehicle charging stations or solar panel providers. Many enter the market to get their piece of the action while the money, grants and energy rebates are readily available. Several years later, they are gone and never to be heard from again. Not very good for operators and owners who need to get parts down the road.
So, as the LED market is still evolving and finding its niche, the fluorescent market moves forward, as many manufacturers are providing better quality T5’s (for offices) and T8’s (no more dimming in the cold), but with the same basic components that provide the lighting illumes levels, energy output and lower cost fixtures that are required in today’s parking garages.
A case study at the Lancaster (PA) Parking Authority, where I am Executive Director, outlines that we decided to install new T8 fluorescent lighting, to our specs, in all five of our garages – 2,400 fixtures in total – with an anticipated energy savings of 35%-45% per year off our yearly $250,000 energy bill, and the side benefit of a greater security image, and enough to pay back the lighting fixtures and installation in three years and eliminate maintenance costs for the same time period.
As far as the residual benefit from the project that targets the “green” benefits, I am no expert in this field, but we’re told we will save hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide and thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, while taking the equivalent of 128 cars off the road and planting 17,000 trees.
We won’t be measuring these impacts, but I will take their word for it as an additional benefit of installing new energy efficient lighting. And most important, don’t forget the positive cash flow of more than $700,000 in energy savings over the next 10 years! That is truly “Going Green.”
So whether your next step is to install new fluorescents or another energy-saving lighting program, the energy savings will pay back over a short time, and the benefit to your parking operation will be in energy savings for many years to come.
Larry J. Cohen, CAPP, Executive Director of the Lancaster (PA) Parking Authority, can be reached at (717) 299-0907 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Cohen will be presenting and hosting a discussion on lighting at the PT-sponsored Parking Industry Exhibition March 18-21 in Chicago.