The new Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center (ERC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has transformed a key building on the Institute’s storied campus into a test bed for high-efficiency lighting.
Under the leadership of director Robert Karlicek, the Smart Lighting ERC worked with campus officials to replace some of the conventional incandescent bulbs in overhead lights with leading-edge light-emitting diode (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 with energy and labor cost savings within 12 to 16 months. Following the payback period, the bulbs are forecast to result in annual savings of $5,608.
Along with a significant reduction in energy consumption and lower maintenance costs, Karlicek said, 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,” Karlicek said. “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. Imagine the impact of doing this across the entire campus — or across the entire world.”
Most of the incandescent bulbs replaced were 50 watts with an expected lifetime of 2,500 hours. The new screw-in LED bulbs use only 8 watts of electricity, but produce as much light as a 65-watt incandescent bulb. Additionally, the LED bulbs have an expected lifetime of 50,000 hours — or 20 times that of conventional bulbs, Karlicek said. This means the LED bulbs would need to be replaced about every six years, as opposed to about every four months for incandescent bulbs. Along with buying fewer bulbs, there will be a significant decrease 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 as opposed to $4.50 each for conventional bulbs — the long-term savings over the lifetime of the bulbs are apparent, Karlicek said. Another advantage is that LED bulbs don’t contain any of the mercury present in competing compact fluorescent bulb technology. Individual consumers looking to purchase LED replacement bulbs should be sure to do a bit of research with the U.S. Department of Energy or other sources before their purchase, to make sure the products meet recommended performance requirements, he said.
Karlicek reinforced that these cost and labor savings are only scratching the surface of the promise of solid-state lighting.
“The LED bulbs that were installed are a great showcase for sustainability, but they’re not ‘smart’ technology,” Karlicek said. “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. 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. 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.”
The applications for smart lighting, Karlicek said, span the entire spectrum of technology, from illumination of our homes and offices, to breakthroughs in biotechnology, transportation, and light-based wireless communication.
The Smart Lighting ERC is funded by the National Science Foundation, industry, and New York state, and led by Rensselaer 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.