UT installs bright idea to boost energy-efficiency

7:11 PM, Jan 3, 2013   |    comments
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Phrases such as "the lights are on but nobody is home" or "not the brightest bulb in the box" are generally used to mock someone for being unintelligent. Right now a bright idea at the University of Tennessee is working to ensure those phrases are not applicable to the use of electricity on campus.

Contractors are currently working to install new energy-efficient lighting systems in four large buildings on campus. Federal grants are helping fund the $2.3 million project to replace the old lights in the communications building, student services, the Bailey education building, and HPER.

"Compared to the old ones, these new lights last about five times longer, use less energy, and are about 25 to 45 percent brighter," said construction project manager Bryan Lord. "The improved lighting makes a big difference because people work under these lights daily. It is supposed to help with not straining their eyes as bad. Some people have really enjoyed having the extra light because they are a lot brighter."

While the improved illumination may provide a more welcoming workplace, the new system will not be so polite as to leave the light on for you.

"These lights have motion and heat sensors to tell if someone is in the room. You can program it so that after 10 or after 15 minutes, if that sensor does not detect any motion or any heat the lights will go off. As soon as someone moves or comes in the room the lights should come back on to full brightness," said Lord.

Lord said the new fixtures are also capable of dialing back the electricity usage without leaving people in the dark.

"They can detect how much ambient light is in a room and then dim the lights. On a sunny day, this office has a window so it will detect how much light comes through and could have the capability of dimming or shutting off the light."

UT said the combination of more efficient fixtures and energy-saving sensors should cut the campus utility bill by about $700,000 a year.

"Our normal utility bill is about $20 million dollars a year, so it's a huge utility bill," said Dave Irvin, Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities. "Anything we can do to save that is money we can put back into the classroom, back into research, and back into the educational mission of the University of Tennessee. State dollars go to support this institution and we want to be good stewards of those dollars."

UT plans to complete the current installation by the end of February. Irvin said the school has long-term plans for similar upgrades in other buildings across campus. He also said UT is already among the top 25 institutions in the country in terms of energy-efficiency.

"We are benchmarking ourselves against other top 25 institutions and other SEC institutions. If you look at other institutions and adjust for weather and other factors, we are about 30 percent more energy efficient than any other school in the SEC," said Irvin.

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