Asumag 9833 Sustainabilitycornell

Cornell University's lighting upgrade improves efficiency, saves millions

Nov. 21, 2019
The university says the upgrades to energy-efficient LED bulbs is projected to save $16 million over the lifetime of their use.

Cornell University has completed a comprehensive lighting upgrade on its Ithaca, N.Y., campus that replaced lighting in indoor and outdoor spaces with energy-efficient LED bulbs.

The university says the upgrades, which began in 2014, have saved the campus more than 18,000 tons of carbon and $2.9 million to date.  

The university's Energy Conservation Initiative (ECI) is part of its efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2035. The new lighting reduces the campus carbon footprint by nearly 3% annually. 

The ECI team targeted both internal building lighting, including fixtures in research labs, and external lighting, including streetlamps. Both athletic and outdoor lighting spaces on campus had been using metal halide fixtures that were prone to failure and low light output in addition to being energy inefficient. 

 “This project demonstrates the value of sustainable decision making in operations,” says Mark Howe, director of utilities distribution and energy management. “The lighting project will successfully save the institution energy, carbon emissions, and money.  The upgrades have also improved the quality of lighting in lab and work spaces.”

The upgrades will remove more than 45,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the campus carbon footprint in the next five years alone. The resulting impact is equivalent to removing 9,660 vehicles from the road for a year.

And, once the new lighting’s energy saving has paid for itself, Cornell will realize $16 million in savings over the lifetime of their use.

With an anticipated lifespan of 10 to 20 years for the lightbulbs, the project will pay for itself three times over by the end of 2033 after accounting for installation costs. More than 160,000 LED lightbulbs were installed.

The project included six major phases: athletic lighting, interior tube lighting, two phases of street lighting, Stocking Hall lighting, and exteiror building lighting.

The next major ECI project will focus on updating heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) controls in campus buildings, which require continual improvement to maximize efficiency and occupant comfort. 

The team is also looking to maximize heat recovery in campus buildings, or the process of reducing the amount of energy needed to comfortably heat or cool a building using outside air. 

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