Parking garages get efficiency update

In addition to saving the U money, St. Paul’s Gortner Ave. ramp won awards.

The Gortner Avenue Ramp sits on the St. Paul campus on Sunday evening. The ramp was granted two awards from the Better Buildings Alliance's Lighting Energy Efficiency in Parking for the greatest percent of savings in a single structure as well as the best use of lighting controls in a single parking facility.

Juliet Farmer

The Gortner Avenue Ramp sits on the St. Paul campus on Sunday evening. The ramp was granted two awards from the Better Buildings Alliance’s Lighting Energy Efficiency in Parking for the greatest percent of savings in a single structure as well as the best use of lighting controls in a single parking facility.

Ellen Schmidt

The artificial orange glow of many of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs parking ramps is now a white light that changes brightness as it senses motion, the result of a three-phase energy efficiency initiative that will conclude this year. One part of the project, the Gortner Avenue parking ramp on the UniversityâÄôs St. Paul campus, won a national award earlier this month in recognition of its energy-conserving lighting methods. The project has saved the University an estimated $475,000 annually. The school received the award from the Lighting Energy Efficiency in Parking Campaign, a national organization led by the United States Department of Energy that guides facility owners to use less energy with their parking structures. âÄúIf you think about your energy use in a parking structure, itâÄôs really just lighting,âÄù said Michael Myer, a lighting engineer for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which takes part in the campaign. âÄúIn terms of energy savings, this is easy for the university or non-university entity to do.âÄù The UniversityâÄôs Parking and Transportation Services began its lighting project in 2012 to make all 16 parking structures on campus more energy efficient. By replacing the older, high-wattage sodium lights with low-wattage LED lights and adding sensor controls, the University reduced energy use in parking ramps by 86 percent. Now in the third phase of the project, the University has updated the lighting in 10 of its parking structures, with the remaining six to receive new lighting by the end of the year. LED lighting lasts longer, uses less energy and requires less maintenance because it can be controlled via software, said PTS project manager Puneet Vedi. Motion sensors automatically dim the lights when there is no movement or when daylight shines through to the parking structure, which decreases the amount of energy used, he said. âÄúYou get enough ambient light from outside that the light in the ramp can actually turn off because there is enough sunlight to meet the lighting levels that are needed during the day,âÄù Vedi said. PTS was slow in agreeing to implement the changes because the project required a large investment, said Jerome Malmquist, director of energy management for Facilities Management. But the $3 million venture is expected to pay for itself in less than three years because of the amount of energy it saves, Malmquist said. The energy management division stresses University-wide energy conservation, an effort that has been given greater emphasis over the last seven years, he said. When distributing each departmentâÄôs utility budget, the division allows some departments, like those in the College of Science and Engineering, to hold on to extra money not spent on utilities for other purposes of the departmentâÄôs choosing, Malmquist said. âÄú[The University] spends pretty close to $100 million on energy every year, and my department tries to save about five percent of that,âÄù said Jeff Davis, assistant director of facilities engineering for energy management. Typically, energy management selects five or six buildings per year to make efficiency updates to, like lighting, heating and cooling, Davis said, but the department only takes on projects that will pay back within five years. âÄúThere are much more efficient ways to run the buildings than when they were originally built,âÄù Davis said. âÄúSo we go and tune things up and make changes where we can, where we can afford to and where it makes sense to.âÄù PTS officials plan to change lighting in parking lots once they complete their current project, spokeswoman Jacqueline Brudlos said.