LED lighting provides new hope for energy conservation at UConn

Imagine stepping into an empty hallway after class and having each overhead light switch on as you pass beneath it like you’re Darth Vader patrolling the halls of the Death Star.

Or, if space exploration isn’t your thing, remember the last time you walked down the frozen foods aisle at Price Chopper and each individually wrapped pizza lit up before you, begging you to waste your last $5 on cardboard and cheese.

Both examples demonstrate the power of LED technology coming to campus as part of the University of Connecticut’s Climate Action Plan, putting the university on track to cut $1.2 million in energy costs by 2020, said Stanley Nolan, director of Utility Operations and Energy Management.

“I’m sure most people see the tuition increase and that’s one of the things we’re trying to help with, because if we can reduce energy use it contains the cost of being at the university,” Nolan said.

UConn has relamped 115 buildings since 2010, with 31 renovations in the past year and a half alone, including updates to Gampel Pavilion, expected to save the university $75,000 annually and reduce carbon dioxide production by 470 tons per year.

According to UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, the transition to LED – light emitting diode – bulbs is expected reduce carbon dioxide production by 12,000 tons per year by 2020. It’s estimated that replacing just one incandescent light bulb with LED lighting can result in $295.74 in energy savings and reduce production of carbon dioxide by over 4,000 pounds per year.

“The cost of retrofitting is relatively low and the return on investment is very short, sometimes less than a year,” said Richard Miller, director of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy.

Nolan said the addition of motion activated lighting and custom brightness settings can create even more significant savings.

“You want your computer, your lights, everything, to be more intelligent to save that energy,” Nolan said. “We have new technology and new abilities now, so we can control each light depending on the amount of daylight.”

Many of these upgrades have been financed through a partnership with Eversource Energy, which offers UConn a 30 to 40 percent rebate on LED purchases and installations as part of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Lead by Example program.

Miller, who worked at a Fortune 400 energy company before coming to UConn, said it’s Connecticut state policy that utility companies collect a surcharge on customer bills to be spent on energy efficiency programs like the LED rebate. The resulting energy conservation reduces the load on Eversource’s existing systems, allowing them to cut costs by avoiding outages and the need to build new power plants.

“It is in the utility’s economic best interests to ensure that supply is readily available to meet demand for energy throughout its service territory, especially during peak demand days,” Miller said.

The low emissions of UConn’s Cogeneration Power Plant, which creates steam to heat buildings on campus during the process of generating electricity, also allows the university to put profits from the state’s cap and trade renewable energy credit program toward renovations.

“You can use the credit to offset your emissions or you can sell the credit,” said Mark Bolduc, an Office of Environmental Policy environmental compliance analyst. “UConn decided to sell the credits and use the money to do additional energy projects which, ultimately, offset our emissions more than if we had just used the credits to offset it.”

Bolduc said re-lamping buildings with particularly inefficient incandescent lighting is priority, but that the university will also be replacing fluorescent bulbs in the future.

Despite limits on the availability of classrooms, offices and high traffic areas like the Homer Babbidge Library, Nolan said his department’s goal is to make the re-lamping process, in addition to upcoming renovations to the university’s World War II-era piping, as seamless as possible.

“That’s the way power and utilities should be. If you open the tap on your sink or your shower, you should just get nice clean water,” Nolan said. “You shouldn’t have to think, ‘Gee, there’s a team of people making this happen.’”


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.