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UCD leads the way with new ‘smart’ lighting

A UC Davis student walks from the Memorial Union on Monday evening through the middle of the Quad under newly installed “smart” lights that communicate with each other.  Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | June 19, 2012 | Leave Comment

When UC Davis students walk across campus at night this fall, the streetlights that illuminate their way won’t be quite as inanimate as they have been in the past.

No, they’ll come alive.

Over the past year, UCD has been installing “smart” lights throughout the university grounds that can talk to each other to help safely and efficiently guide those moving about campus to their destinations.

The UCD California Lighting Technology Center unveiled the $950,000 project as part of its Smart Lighting Initiative before dawn Monday morning. The initiative strives to reduce campus electrical use by 30 million kilowatt-hours by 2015.

CLTC also picked the first day of the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference, which the university will host this week, to debut the system. The conference is expected to attract nearly 1,000 people from about 70 California colleges and universities to share best practices in sustainable planning.

Beyond the carbon offset, the new light system that will be front and center during the conference will provide UCD savings of more than $100,000 every year, part of which will be paid back to the Strategic Energy Partnership Program, which lent the university $4 million to fund the initiative.

UCD already has retrofitted 1,400 of its outside lights with predictive motion sensor equipment that adapt the new efficient light-emitting diode (LED) light points to their environments.

The lights not only sense when pedestrians or bicycles are approaching, but they also predict the direction in which the travelers are heading so the path ahead can be appropriately, and safely, lighted.

To reduce energy consumption, the system also features bi-level lighting that dims and brightens depending on pedestrian traffic. The lights turn off completely during the day.

“Adaptive lighting means having the right levels when you need them,” explained Keith Graeber, director of engineering at the California Lighting Technology Center. “It’s safe, secure and efficient. It’s better lighting.”

UCD plans to install 600 more lights over the next several months.

Each point of light in the system is wirelessly connected through antennae that sit atop the fixtures. The wireless configuration allows UCD officials to easily monitor, maintain and control the lights.

According to Julianne Nola, assistant director of project management for UCD, 20 percent of the energy consumed on campus comes from its lights. The new system already saves about 58 percent more of campus’ outside light energy than the university used five years ago, before several new facilities were added to the grid.

The new LED lights use half the energy of the old lights.

“Once complete, (the system) will save 1 million kilowatt-hours per year,” Nola said before the sun rose early Monday morning.

That 1 million kilowatts is enough to offset the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 135 cars and trucks, she added.

According to Kelly Cunningham, media outreach coordinator for CLTC, the new lights won’t have to be replaced for more than 12 years. The old lights had approximately one- to two-year life spans.

Three types of fixtures found on campus will receive the upgrade, including the common “post tops” that dot campus pathways. The post tops will look the same, but will feature the updated LED lights and smart system features such as the predictive lighting and bi-level lighting.
The new technology and lights also will replace the “shoe box” and “wall pack” lights, which are found attached to the sides of buildings.

“Campus has a lot of different fixture applications, and the (radio frequency) system works with all of them,” Graeber said.

Once all the outside lights are replaced, attention will turn to the interiors of campus buildings.

UCD hopes to begin that work later this year. Once both systems are in place, the university expects to save $3 million a year in energy costs.

CLTC also believes the system eventually will be adopted throughout the state.

Along with the new lighting, the higher education sustainability conference this week will feature tours of some of UCD’s most innovative green projects.

The conference, which is itself a zero-waste affair, is closed to the public. Attendees include representatives of colleges and universities who are attempting to “green” their respective campuses. The conference wraps up Friday.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
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