U to save energy in parking structures

Replacing lights and adding sensors will cost $3.3 million.

by Meghan Holden

meaghan holden

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The University of Minnesota plans to update every campus building to reduce overall energy use, starting with their lights.

Parking and Transportation Services will spend $3.3 million on energy-conserving light fixtures for all campus parking structures, which should be fully installed by 2015.

Lighting is a main focus for the University’s push toward sustainability energy because it’s an “easy hit,” said Mike Berthelsen, associate vice president of Facilities Management.                                                                              

Although parking structures account for a small percentage of energy consumption compared to other buildings, the poor lighting pushed University officials to start there.

PTS estimates the project will save $350,000 per year in energy costs — about a nine-year payback time. The new light fixtures are estimated to last more than 20 years.

The Mall of America recently updated the lighting in its parking structures, which are slightly smaller than the University’s, for $3 million.

Facilities Management usually shoots for a six-year or less payback time, but anything less than 10 years is “good” for a project of this size, said Alicia Phillips, project engineer and manager.

Phillips said they chose to install LED fixtures and daylight- and motion-sensing lights after assessing campus parking structures.

PTS will update lighting in 16 parking structures and some of the parking lots. Five parking garages exceeded more than 110 percent of the Minnesota Energy Code targets in 2012-13, according to Facilities Management data.

Energy Code targets weren’t a big factor in planning this project since they’re just guidelines, Phillips said, but the new lights will save about 100 watts per fixture.

The multimillion dollar project will take two years because it will take a large amount from PTS’ annual budget, Phillips said, which was more than $35 million in 2011-12.

Expensive sustainability projects of this size aren’t uncommon for universities, said Niffy Ovuworie, a sustainability engineer for Ohio State University.

“Everyone has their own budget,” Ovuworie said, “but a nine to 10 year payback is absolutely reasonable.” 

Installing LED lights wherever feasible is something a lot of universities are moving toward, he said.

Ohio State will be installing motion-sensored lighting as a part of their $7.1 million energy-saving building upgrades.


Stairwell savings

The University is also in the process of retrofitting all stairwell lighting — an $800,000 project.

About 5,000 fixtures will be installed in 115 buildings, said Blaine O’Brien, engineer manager for the project.

Because University stairwells are only occupied 3 to 7 percent of the time lights are on, sensor lights with dimmers are being installed, O’Brien said.

Facilities Management expects the project will save $125,000 per year in energy costs. The project, which started last August, is expected to be finished in June 2014.

“[Changing the stairwell lighting] is a visible way for people to see we’re conserving energy,” O’Brien said.