The Real Cost of Lighting
By Phil Sanders, Commercial Lighting Application Specialist, GE Lighting
Sooner or later, your parking facility will need new lighting. How will you take care of it? If you’re like many managers, chances are you will look closely at the bottom line to ensure you get maximum value. How you perform that bottom line analysis is crucial. Typically, many managers focus on the initial cost of alternative systems along with the cost of operation and maintenance (O&M) over time. Energy cost is usually a significant O&M factor and, for that reason, energy efficiency often becomes the most important consideration of all.
You may be somewhat taken aback to learn that what seems to be a “tried and true” approach may not be particularly effective. In fact, the dollars associated with lighting go far beyond the lighting system itself. Case histories collected by the National Lighting Bureau underscore the point.
In Smithfield, Rhode Island, Bryant College relied on 32 400-watt (400W) mercury vapor fixtures (luminaires) mounted on eight 30-foot poles to illuminate the school’s 1,557-car commuter parking lot used by almost 2,000 night-class students. The college’s physical plant director reported that an average of five auto-to-auto accidents occurred in the parking lot each year, along with a dozen incidents of vandalism and theft.
After careful study, the school decided to replace the mercury vapor lighting with eight 1000W high-pressure sodium fixtures. The new lighting cut O&M costs by 45 percent, saving the school almost $3,000 annually. And the number of vehicle-to-vehicle accidents and vandalism and theft incidents was reduced significantly, saving more than $6,000 per year.
As a result, Bryant’s $12,000 investment in new lighting paid for itself in about 16 months. Unquestionably, Bryant could have spent less money initially on the retrofit and/or could have selected a system that consumed less energy. But would it have generated as much value?
In Camillus, New York, the Fairmont Fair Mall installed new parking lot lighting that cut energy costs by 24 percent annually, which seems substantial. In reality, that savings reduced energy expenses by less than $1,000 each year and, given the $95,000 it cost to convert the system, payback would have taken 116 years.
Nonetheless, actual payback occurred in less than 100 days, because the shopping center’s management considered economic factors beyond the cost of the lighting system itself. For example, the higher light levels made the mall appear to be more secure at night, which encouraged more people to shop there.
Increased traffic resulted in increased sales and a lower store vacancy rate. This ultimately led to increased rental income for the owner. With the better income, the overall value of the shopping center increased. The new lighting configuration added six parking spaces to the parking lot (each space generates about $20,000 in sales) and the increased visibility allows faster (and therefore less costly) snow removal with less plow blade damage.
Annual snow removal savings alone were estimated at $7,500. Add to the equation the reduced security patrols, lower vandalism, theft and liability, and management’s estimate of a $400,000 annual benefit (excluding increased property value) seems conservative.
In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the Prince Street Garage needed new lighting. One option was to renovate the existing luminaires at a cost of $100,000, but continue reliance on outmoded technology. Instead, the city’s parking authority spent $115,000 on new technology, generating an energy savings worth $80,000 per year, but more was involved.
The new lighting made parking safer and enhanced the appearance of the garage, creating such a “run-up” in commuter parking that a waiting list developed. Maintenance costs were cut by 24 percent, adding $6,500 in savings plus $2,000 from lowered vandalism. Unquestionably, another system could have been used to cut energy savings still more (e.g., the same system with 20 percent fewer luminaires), but that would not have added to the energy efficiency. In fact, a lighting system that does not achieve the purpose for which it was installed wastes energy every time it is used.
As these case histories demonstrate, managers need to identify what they specifically need from a new lighting system. First you must know what lighting can do in general. As indicated, it creates better security and the perception of security, which increases patronage of the parking facility, individual stores, and the area in general.
Fewer accidents, reduced vandalism, lower liability exposure, and reduced insurance premiums all contribute to the bottom line. In winter, better lighting can mean faster, easier snow plowing. It can also reduce the number of hours required to maintain good security.
Effective lighting can make a facility more noticeable at night, thus making it an advertisement for itself. Lighting can make the facility more attractive by adding highlights and other effects that cannot be achieved during the day.
Essential: Realize the bottom-line values that each of the listed items has. In many cases, they can contribute 10, 20, or more times the value to be derived from energy savings alone. This is not to say that energy use if unimportant, but the fact remains that the values derived from energy conservation are often not as significant as those derived from good lighting or, as the National Lighting Bureau calls it, High-Benefit Lighting®. As the Bureau also points out, you cannot have High-Benefit Lighting unless the system is energy efficient.
The key: Identify all the benefits you can achieve and go after them through an effectively designed system. By making certain that the “right” lighting system is also energy efficient, energy waste will be all but eliminated and dollar returns will be maximized.
Specific National Lighting Bureau publications provide information on lighting benefits, some of the major components and how they can be applied to achieve those benefits. Most of the publications also list sources for assistance. The National Lighting Bureau is a 21-year-old informational source sponsored by lighting system manufacturers, trade associations and federal government agencies.
In summary, when it comes time for new lighting, seriously consider High-Benefit Lighting. Given the positive effects of High-Benefit Lighting, the need for new lighting just might occur sooner rather than later.
Reprinted from the April 1998 issue of Parking Today.