3 November 2010


Rensselaer Smart Lighting research center deploys first LED bulbs on its campus

The new Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center (ERC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) of Troy, NY, USA has transformed a key building on RPI's campus into a test bed for high-efficiency lighting.

Led by director Robert Karlicek, the Smart Lighting ERC worked with campus officials to replace some of the conventional incandescent bulbs in overhead lights with LED bulbs in the nine-story George M. Low Center for Industrial Innovation (CII). The initial batch of 119 replaced bulbs is expected to pay for itself via energy and labor cost savings within 12–16 months. Following the payback period, the bulbs are forecast to result in annual savings of $5608.

Karlicek says that, along with a significant reduction in energy consumption and lower maintenance costs, the new LED bulbs produce better, brighter light.

“Initially, we’re trying to show the campus community how easy it is to make a very noticeable difference in terms of sustainability and reduced energy consumption,” says Karlicek. “We hope this is just the first step. If we replaced all of the old bulbs in the CII with LEDs, the annual savings could increase by a factor of five,” he adds.

Most of the incandescent bulbs replaced were 50W, with an expected lifetime of 2500 hours. The new screw-in LED bulbs use just 8W of electricity, but produce as much light as a 65W incandescent bulb. Also, the LED bulbs have an expected lifetime of 50,000 hours (20 times longer), so the LED bulbs will need to be replaced about every six years (rather than every four months for incandescents). Along with buying fewer bulbs, there should be a significant drop in the amount of time required by staff members to replace light bulbs.

Though the LED bulbs represent a larger up-front investment (costing $60 each versus $4.50 each for conventional bulbs) the long-term savings over the lifetime of the bulbs are apparent, Karlicek says. Another advantage is that LED bulbs don’t contain the mercury that is present in competing compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) technology.

“The LED bulbs that were installed are a great showcase for sustainability, but they’re not ‘smart’ technology. When we talk about ‘smart lighting’, we’re looking forward to a new wave of solid-state lighting with applications that will transform the way society uses light,” Karlicek notes. “The vision for smart lighting that we’re working to realize is a holistic integration of advanced light sources, sensors, and adaptive control architectures that take full advantage of the amazing capabilities of light,” he adds. “The smart lighting we’re developing will be able to talk with networked electronics and sensors within a space, and automatically adjust the lighting parameters to provide the ideal illumination required for the task at hand.”

Applications for smart lighting span the entire spectrum of technology, from illumination of homes and offices to breakthroughs in biotechnology, transportation and light-based wireless communication, Karlicek says.

The Smart Lighting ERC is funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), industry, and New York state, and led by RPI with core partners Boston University and the University of New Mexico. Center outreach partners are Howard University, Morgan State University, and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

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