Eager to save money and become more energy efficient, many colleges have been early adopters of new lighting.
But there’s been a downside: Today’s dorms and student centers are often lit by flickery CFLs, which can have a harsh fluorescent light that fails to brighten quickly, especially in cool temperatures. In addition, those “squiggly lights,” as opponents of energy efficiency have dubbed the compact fluorescents, contain mercury, which is dangerous if inhaled should the light bulb break.
LEDs provide even coverage to a kitchen in a new dorm at NCSU.
Cree Lighting Inc. of North Carolina hopes universities across the globe will see that it has a better solution in the LED lights the US company produces.
The company has showcased its LEDs at a new dorm at North Carolina State University. The Wolf Ridge at Centennial Silver-certified dorm features two buildings that are fully lit by LEDs that will last for 50,000 hours (they’re guaranteed for 10 years) and spread a pleasant, even light, keeping kitchens, hallways and stairways brighter and safer.
The university focused on placing LEDs in common areas, where they could get the most return for their money.
“As facilities manager, I’ve tried to steer us towards the biggest bang for the buck,” says Pete Fraccaroli. “And that means the stairwells and hallways where lights burn 24/7.”
But the team overseeing improvements also installed LEDs – specifically a light called the SL24 LED Surface Linear luminaire - in the dorm rooms, which they call apartments.
Officials say the brighter LEDs create a safer environment for students.
“We’ve gotten good feedback on the SL24 fixture. The look of it and the way we used it in those apartments, I think it turned out really well,” said Dr. Tim Luckadoo, vice provost for campus life in a statement about the project.
Although LEDs cost more upfront, they last longer, providing a return on investment that can yield an overall savings, according to Cree. The NCSU officials report that they also considered that the lights save staff time, because dorm assistants will not have to replace bulbs so often.
The team was also energized about the better quality of the lighting.
“The quality of light from the fluorescents is not very good because a student might have a four-tube fixture in the room, and as long as two of the bulbs are still burning, they won’t call in a work order,” says Fraccaroli. “They’ll sit there all semester with a light that’s not performing as it was designed.”
By contrast, the Cree LEDs receive high marks from the students, officials said.
Rep. Joe Barton’s last bright idea – to apologize to BP for having to make reparations for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – earned him national ridicule.
His pandering may not have misfired (much) in the conservative-leaning Texas district he represents, but it was a rude affront to those who earn a living on the gulf, and anyone who cares about the workers and wildlife there.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton
Now, less than a year later, Barton again appears to have his finger on the pulse of the mean-spirited minority.
And there’s a connection. Once again, Barton is thumbing his nose at America’s urge to become more energy efficient. His plan: Roll back a 2007 law that requires light bulbs to be 30 percent more efficient than old-style incandescent bulbs starting in 2012.
Yes, it’s come to that. Even new light bulb technology is now suspect in certain circles. Oh, how far we’ve strayed from more ambitious attempts to curb our energy use. Forget carbon pricing or fees on big smokestack polluters. Now, even a nudge in the right direction ignites a controversy.
Rep. Barton and some like-minded cohorts in the House, Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Steve Burgess (R-Texas) , who also represents… well, it doesn’t matter who he represents, because this group may not be representing the public, so much as they’re representing an ideology, and possibly corporate supporters.
These three have introduced, H.R. 6144, known as the “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act,” which argues for sticking with outmoded technology and would stymie efforts to reduce household electricity consumption.
The question is why?
Barton (whose office declined to comment for this story) has said it is important that we stick with old-style light bulbs because a U.S. light bulb factory recently closed in Virginia. He’s also concerned about mercury in CFL light bulbs, which we’ll get to in a moment. And, he says, old incandescents are cheaper to buy (but only if you count just their upfront cost).
CFLs consume 25 percent of the energy of old-style light bulbs.
Let’s start with the jobs. It’s true that 200 people lost their positions when the last incandescent light bulb factory in the U.S. closed Winchester, Virginia last year, marking the end of an era.
What Barton fails to mention is that new lighting technology has been creating thousands of jobs, many of them in the U.S., as companies like North Carolina’s Cree, a leader in LED lighting, Philips and Sylvania expand operations. Cree is even developing a new LED that mimics the old incandescent. These are jobs that would be jeopardized by a political showdown over advanced lighting technology.
But Barton and company are not really worried about jobs. Truth be told, they just don’t want government telling us what to buy. And they’ll follow that ideology off a cliff. (One survey, by a conservative pollster, did show that about 70 percent of the respondents didn’t want to “be told” what light bulbs to buy. But the answer might have been generated by the way the question was asked. Good thing the law on the books doesn’t “tell” anyone what to buy. It requires manufacturers to make more energy efficient light bulbs of whatever type they choose.)
Lighting might seem like a filament on the large stage of energy debates. But it accounts for about 20 percent of our household electricity costs. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the switch underway to lighting that’s 30 percent more efficient would save the U.S. $10 billion a year on electricity.
The savings could actually be much greater because CFL light bulbs actually use only about 25 percent of the energy of an old incandescent. What’s more, those who like that friendly warm glow from incandescents will find it replicated not just in newer CFLs, but in new more efficient incandescents coming onto the market, as well as those LEDs that aren’t quite ready for the consumer just yet.
The argument to stick with the light bulb that Edison invented 130 years ago seems to vaporize when you shine a light on it.
So hail to the old ways! Let’s go back to refrigerators with ozone-blasting CFCs and cars without seat belts. They could be powered by leaded gas!
Sounds silly. But this has become a huge battle in Congress, with a corollary bill in the Senate to shutdown lighting progress drawing support from several senators. (Here’s the latest on that.)
Yes, Barton is spot on when he says CFLs are an imperfect solution to the old style incandescent light bulb. CFLs contain a small amount of mercury and must be dealt with very carefully if they break. The EPA advises the public to take specific steps — to clear the room, avoid handling the debris directly and to dispose of it properly. It’s onerous. But new technology doesn’t always roll out perfectly, and where was the outcry over the mercury that’s been hanging around for decades in all those long tube fluorescent lights in offices and garages everywhere?
The mercury content in CFLs is miniscule, about 4 milligrams, a fraction of the 500 milligrams that floated around in those old-style thermometers, according to the NRDC.
The NRDC argues that newer, more efficient light bulbs will do far more to protect the environment from mercury pollution than they ever could to contaminate it.
Using CFLs could save households $100 to $200 in electricity costs and cut national energy use by an amount equivalent to that consumed by all the houses in Texas every year. The concurrent reduction in air pollution from coal-fired power plants would greatly reduce mercury emissions nationally. Let me say that again, mercury emissions would decline, because we’d be saving energy. (It’s a key point often missed in news stories on this topic.)
“These standards will help cut our nation’s electric bill by over $10 billion a year and will save the equivalent electricity of 30 large power plants,” says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council. “That translates into a whole lot less global warming pollution being emitted.”
Most CFLs also last a long time, compounding their efficiency. Some of mine are six years old, and I can attest to their energy-saving ability. Only two, in a ceiling fan fixture, expired before their time, and were recycled via a Lowe’s recapture center.
As for this breakage issue. I can understand why people with small kids might worry. This is a legitimate concern. But some CFLs come with an extra coating around the “squiggly” part, as Barton calls it, that contains the breakage with an outer sheath. You can also buy CFLs that have the lowest mercury content thanks to a green lighting guide produced by the Environmental Working Group. And it’s possible that LEDs, even more efficient, and mercury-free, will conquer the home lighting market.
So I’m searching for the problem here.
Perhaps those who want to dismantle the energy progress promoted by this Bush-era law have special interests cheering them on; special interests that prefer the status quo.
Some of Barton’s biggest supporters include electric utilities and oil and gas companies.
We shouldn’t assume, though, that every utility or power provider wants us to waste energy.
MX Energy President and CEO Jeffrey Mayer recently noted that some power companies want to help shape a more sustainable world.
“The transition to more energy efficient lighting is just one example of how a universal small change – something as simple as changing a light bulb – can produce a dramatic and substantial impact on our energy consumption as a nation,” Mayer said. “Some people may be surprised that as an energy provider we would support a move that will translate into people using less of our product. However, the issue of sustainability and energy efficiency has always been at the core of who we are as a company.”
I like to think Mayer, whose company has been carbon neutral for the past few years, is not alone; that he represents the vanguard of the power industry.
But maybe some of Barton’s supporters just aren’t there yet. The electric utilities and oil and gas companies that gave him $350,000 of the $2.38 million he raised in the last election cycle may not be ready for new ways to save energy.
Guess they’re still in the dark about how we need to tread more lightly on this planet.
Read more about the value of keeping new light bulb technology moving forward at this NRDC fact sheet.
When Ric Richards recently acquired an aging McDonalds in Cary, N.C., he knew the place needed an overhaul. The 25-year-old store was fraying at the edges.
LED lighting at Cary McDonalds
Richards decided to give these particular golden arches a green touch.
Once he’d decided that the building needed replacing, the decision to go eco-friendly was not difficult. Richards knew it made sense from a business standpoint – it would cut energy costs dramatically – and he figured it would resonate with the educated customers living in the Research Triangle region, especially those interested in lower-carbon living.
“I felt it was the right thing to do,’’ said the owner-operator whose green restaurant celebrated its grand opening this winter. “We all need to be more geared for sustainability as we move into the future. We need to build buildings or live at home using fewer resources.”
Creating the third green-credentialed restaurant in the nation proved just a little easier in the Raleigh-Durham area, because the leading LED manufacturer Cree Lighting is just down the road.
Cree representatives, Richards and architect Logan Luzadr of LMHT Architects collaborated to light the restaurant’s public spaces completely with LEDs, which use less than 20 percent of the energy consumed by comparable incandescent lighting and only about half the energy used by CFL lights.
Virtually all of the restaurant’s lights are LEDs, making the LEED (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ) Gold-rated building a showcase of state-of-the art lighting.
Not only are the LEDs more efficient than other types of lighting, they don’t contain any mercury, which has been a downside of CFLs.
“If you didn’t know the lighting in McDonald’s was LED, you probably wouldn’t notice, but that’s the point. The Cree LED lights in the Cary McDonald’s give off the same beautiful light you would expect from an incandescent but consume just a fraction of the energy,” said Cree executive Gary Trott. “This allows the store to layer in accent lighting for a more pleasing environment while still meeting LEED-certification standards.”
Lighting doesn’t just come from a socket, however, and Luzadr’s design assured that day times at the McD’s would be naturally lit. The building was constructed with 360-degrees of windows in a cupola above the eating area with 19 Solatubes – tunnels that carry sky light – spread across the restaurant.
“Aesthetically the restaurant looks terrific,” said Richards, who explained that lighting was a key focus of the rebuild because it does double duty, saving energy and improving the feel of the cafe.
The other aspect of green building that Richards wanted to be sure to get right was the heating and cooling system. His “green team” of Luzadr, operations manager Tony Myers, green site designer Brian Stoltz of Commercial Site Design in Raleigh and green advisor Skanska USA, came up with an enclosed Hydronic Water Boiler System (available in residential versions) that cuts energy use, in part, by using humidity to keep the restaurant at an even temperature.
The technologically advanced system gives the restaurant a different tactile feel, Richards says.
“I own seven restaurants and I can tell the difference. I just built another one (with the) same style and design, very aesthetic…and it’s energy efficient, but it feels different.’’
Richards estimates his return on the green energy investments will be just five years. Figuring the ROI on the other green changes will not be an easy mathematical formula, but the improved aesthetics and environmentally sensitive changes are tangible but immeasurable rewards.
Among the other features in the LEED-certified builiding:
All the seating and cabinets and other décor elements were glued together with lower VOC adhesives
Table tops are made of wheatboard and sunflower seeds (recovered from food processing) or bamboo, a renewable source.
Countertops are Vetrazzo, which uses recycled concrete and glass.
Speaking of concrete, the concrete from the demolition of the predecessor store was sent out for recycling. The concrete that was installed in the parking lot is recycled stock. While the green team was pondering the heat island effects of being encircled by concrete, an inevitable outcome of being a drive-through restaurant, they added areas for vegetation to curb runoff and mitigate heat effects.
One day someone on the team muttered that they should think about putting in a couple places for electric vehicles to plug-in. Heads snapped. Of course they should. So they did, partnering with NovaCharge in Florida to install two charging stations, which have already been used.
Inside, energy and water savings continue with low-flow faucets and toilets that use 1/10th of a gallon to flush, a vast savings over even the going green standard of a 1.6 gallon flush.
Topping it all off are placards throughout the restaurant that explain the changes, as well as an electronic presentation of how the building was constructed.
Now, as for that McDonald’s food…it’s being prepared with EnergyStar appliances. But it bears acknowledging that, in all honesty, a big burger is not the poster food for the green movement.
However, a recent sustainability report by the fast-food giant shows that McDonald’s is well aware of changing tastes, as well as pressures on the food supply. The report noted that 98 percent of the whitefish used in Filet-O-Fish sandwiches came from fisheries with “favorable sustainability ratings” and that healthy sides for Happy Meals are offered in the top McD markets. Those sides include fruit bags, cherry tomatoes, corn cups and “Apple Dippers.” And there are those salads and parfaits. So those who eschew burgers, can at least chew something else.
The report also said that 80 percent of the cooking oil used in McDonald’s in Europe is converted into biodiesel. The EU has a stronger biodiesel network than the U.S. But more and more U.S. restaurants are recycling their cooking oil, including the Cary McDonald’s.
Dalrymple also sits on the national board of the U.S. Green Building Council, the organizer of Greenbuild Expo and International Conference, which this year (its eighth) has packed 1,800 exhibitors into the recently expanded Phoenix Convention Center.
An electrical engineer, former Hollywood filmmaker and graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Dalrymple first came to green building as a way out of an oil-based U.S. national security policy. He would give talks on how green building could lead to energy independence, and when people complained they couldn’t find where to buy these mysterious carbon-neutral products, he opened a store.
Dalrymple has enthusiasm and some concern for the abundant new green technologies and materials on hand.
Just as former Vice President Al Gore cautioned the green builders at an opening celebration Wednesday night, Dalrymple warned against “greenwashing” – selling something as green that isn’t.
“The business has become more mainstream and a lot of the traditional channels are starting to be populated with ‘light’ green materials. They may be better, but nowhere near what is possible, or they may use toxins or child labor to produce it,” Dalrymple said, noting that the maze of certifications in the industry sometimes can lead to more, rather than less confusion. He also mentions the small percentage of recycled materials in some so-called recycled products: “Why not recycle more? I want to see more things recycled—pecan shells or pistachio shells—stuff people normally think of as waste. Why is it waste?”
Dalrymple also has some idea of where the wild things are at the jam-packed Greenbuild Expo 2009.
LED residential lighting
“I’ve been waiting five years for the next step in LED. I think this will be the year of the LED. I have a background in film and I just love lights,” Dalrymple said.
Cree's Indoor Recessed Light
He may be right. LEDs (light-emitting diodes), traditionally the light on your clock radio—use less energy, live eons longer, dosn’t emit heat, work with a dimmer switch and don’t contain the mercury of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Until now, LED fixtures have been too expensive and didn’t look “warm” enough for household use. New technology has improved the products and brought the price down. The life of an LED can be 50,000 hours (or more than 5 years if you left it on around the clock).
Cree LED Lighting, a growing green company based in North Carolina, is working to improve the quality and price of LEDs. Cree offers “Cree True White Technology,” to deliver warm color and very high efficiency. Its LR6 LED uses 12 watts to deliver the equivalent of a 65watt incandescent. LR6 and other fixtures can be retrofitted into existing recessed lighting hook-ups, last about 12 years in homes and cost under $100.
RAB Lighting’s outdoor LPack, made for over garage doors and pathway lighting, uses about 13 Watts to light the equivalent of a 55 watt incandescent for 50,000 hours; at $140, it comes in a cool aluminum housing that looks sort of like an over-sized Blackberry.
“Shredded bamboo is now made into flooring that has patterns and looks fabulous. And the popularity of cork flooring is growing, almost replacing bamboo,” Dalrymple said.
A fast-growing grass, bamboo is a renewable resource, but for optimal environmental imprint, it shouldn’t be harvested before 5.5 years and should come from the hardy moso species. Ask questions when shopping. Some manufacturers use formaldehyde for bonding—but they don’t have to.
Teragren Flooring doesn’t use formaldehyde and offers an array of Floorscore-certified (a third-party certification by Scientific Certification Systems) bamboo flooring; this year Teregren sells water and bacteria-resistant countertops, in addition to flooring.
Sustainable Flooring's shower cork
Cork flooring isn’t exactly new – Frank Lloyd Wright used it in his 1936 masterpiece Fallingwater with good reason. It’s a natural insulator, is silent and reduces jostling of the joints and spine when you walk on it. The best cork comes from the Mediterranean. A softer version grows in China, but the durable stuff is firm and a by-product of the wine-cork industry in Portugal and Italy.
Both Expanko and Sustainable Flooring show gorgeous samples of Mediterranean cork tile and mosaic cork tile. Expanko provided the new floors when Fallingwater was restored.
With flooring, comes the danger that what adheres it may be manufactured with formaldehyde and other toxins. A new product from Smith & Fong Plyboo, SoyBond, is formaldehyde-free, made from soybeans for use with bamboo. Plyboo also makes a line of nontoxic plywood.
• Certification and label help.
With the mainstreaming of green building, new green labels abound at Greenbuild Expo — and at every home improvement store. But which ones mean anything? Dalrymple says keep in mind that a third-party rating, like Green Seal for paints, cleaners and other products, is likely to be more dependable than the “green this or green that” labels created in the marketing departments of home improvement companies. A growing legion of online help is available to sift out the scientific from the marketing messages.
Ecolabelling is a tool for anyone. It’s a nonprofit that tries to compile data on every green label in the world and tells you what the label is worth.
The so-called “Amazon.com of green building products,” Buildingease helps designers, contractors and others search for certified green products. Click on “3″ to find legitimate third-party green product ratings. It’s a one-stop portal for researching, rating and buying green building products at the lowest price.
Mick Dalyrmple, owner a.k.a. Green
The newest entry in online aid is GreenKonnect, a search engine built for the green building industry. The Beta version bowed at Greenbuild Expo. Watch for the actual launch. Utilizing a database of LEED-certified building projects and green products used in LEED buildings, site organizers hope to become a first stop for architects, engineers and contractors planning projects for LEED certification or other types. It will be free to everyone at first. Later, manufacturers will pay, based on product sales.
Thousand of products and so little time. A solid two day’s of looking is on display at Greenbuild Expo. For detailed listings, visit the Greenbuild website.
Then, if you plan to transition into a green home, start small, says Dalrymple. “Buy a few low energy bulbs. See how you like it. Pretty soon you’ll be opening a green products store and wondering: why did I do that?”
(Kate Nolan writes about the environment and health in Phoenix. She worked formerly as areporter for The Arizona Republic; managing editor at Phoenix New Times and editor at Playboy.)
Deb Lovig’s official title at Cree, the lighting and semiconductor company, is “LED Programs Evangelist.” The description fits. Ask her to pick a favorite project and she’ll name five before you get her stopped. She’ll skip from North Carolina State’s dorm lighting project (see picture, right) to the University of California-Davis’ smart parking garage to Notre Dame’s beautiful acorn-shaped fixtures without taking a breath.
The projects are all part of Cree’s “LED University,” a program that combines the company’s expertise with university situations and helps campuses figure out how to begin evaluating LED lighting projects for themselves. While many organizations know that LED lighting is less expensive and lasts longer than conventional lighting, they aren’t sure where to take it from there. Interior projects? Exterior security? A total campus makeover?
“The biggest issue I see besides price is just not knowing how to start,” Lovig said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, is just get people to get started.”
The motivation is there, certainly. As LED (light-emitting diode) technology continues to develop in brightness and color, it is becoming a darling in the green market. LED devices reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption, and contain no mercury. And they can make a big difference in an electric bill, partly because they consume less energy and partly because they can last for as many as 20-25 years.
“Parking garages are kind of unique,” Siminovitch said. “Parking garages are pretty intensive energy users because it’s 24/7, and they’ve got some real safety and security issues. LEDs are really suited to smart applications. You can have controls that respond to occupancy.”
The lights in the garage can be set at half-power, increasing to full power when sensors detect people or movement within.
“It’s a real opportunity to demonstrate effectiveness of new technology,” Siminovitch said.
And an opportunity to illustrate cost efficiency as well, considering that lighting accounts for 20 percent of the overall energy use in a building, according to U.S. Department of Energy statistics.
“The numbers that we’ve presented to the vice chancellor, we’re talking statewide about 50 percent savings. And while we usually associate (cost savings) with having to do without, this is not the case. Here it’s not how much lighting, it’s more the quality of the lighting. Lighting that improves safety, essentially.”