LEDs light up saving in parking garages

Potawatomi, others shifting to lower-cost lighting source
Next-generation LED lighting is showing up across the city and the country amid amped-up interest in energy saving and going green.

It was just two years ago that BetaLED rolled its first LED streetlight off its assembly line at its 500,000-square-foot Sturtevant factory. BetaLED is a subsidiary of privately held Ruud Lighting.

Demand for outdoor lighting and parking garage lighting has led to expanded employment and an uptick in business for BetaLED, where shipments are more than twice last year's levels, said Kevin Orth, director of sales.

That includes work on gas stations in the United States and overseas, street-lighting initiatives including a $57 million LED replacement program in Los Angeles and strong demand for LED lights in parking garages.

LED lighting is much more efficient than conventional technology, and that has led to bullish forecasts from market research firms. The consulting firm Databeans Inc. is projecting the global LED market will see growth of at least 20% a year through 2013, and the market research firm ElectroniCast Consulting forecast more than 30% growth for LED market in exterior lights. That segment of LED lights alone is expected to rise to $1.3 billion in global sales by 2013, up from $338 million in 2008.

At one of the largest parking garages in the state, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee's Menomonee Valley, crews from Uihlein Electric are replacing metal halide fixtures with LED lights that are projected to trim energy use in the casino garage by more than 50%.

The $918,000 project will produce saving of more than $221,000 next year, said David Brien, the casino's facilities manager. That saving is about $33,000 higher than the casino projected - given rising utility bills from Milwaukee utility We Energies, he said. In addition, because the LED lights are expected to last six times as long, maintenance costs will be trimmed by $120,000.

"It's a win for everyone involved," Brien said. The project came together with the assistance of a U.S. Department of Energy financial incentives valued at $500,000 and an energy-financing model developed with Uihlein Electric and Godfrey & Kahn, said Mark Holter, director of Uihlein's energy solutions group.

"It's a huge maintenance savings for us, as well as on the environmental side," he said. "Every year and a half I'd be replacing all those bulbs and supplying the labor to replace those bulbs and having to deal with the environmental waste from those bulbs."

Potawatomi, which saw its casino gambling winnings fall 5.4% in 2009, is investing in energy-saving technologies in other areas, with LED lighting in certain areas indoors.

Even slot-machine lighting has gone high-tech. The first shift was from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs, Brien said, adding, "Now they're coming out with LED strings that can go inside the machines."

Two other local parking ramps, at The Brewery and Froedtert Hospital, recently revamped their lighting with an extra-efficient form of LED - LED lights coupled with motion sensors that can either dim the light or turn it off completely.
led mjs-ledramp-1-of-hoffman.jpg-ledramp.jpgPhoto:Apprentice electrician Brad Arreola (left) is aided by foreman Vince Mandella while installing an LED light Wednesday at Potawatomi Bingo Casino. The casino is having its parking garage lights replaced with LED fixtures that use less energy and have lower maintenance costs.

LED plus motion sensors

The former Pabst brewery, now being redeveloped into a multi-use complex called The Brewery, was the first to deploy these sensors.

The use of occupancy sensors and dimmable LEDs as well as daylight sensors is what set the Pabst redevelopment parking garage apart, said Phil Rose of Roman Electric. Using those can potentially double the 100,000-hour expected life for the fixtures, he said.

"This is kind of taking energy efficiency to the maximum," Rose said. "How many times have you heard people get excited about a concrete parking deck? But this is really something."

For Uihlein Electric, LED retrofits have kept the company's crews busy, Holter said. It takes Uihlein's crew just a few minutes to replace one 170-watt fixture with a 49-watt LED panel, but replacing more than 1,700 fixtures at the casino is a project that will last for weeks.

Several parking garages in the Milwaukee area already have had their lights replaced. But others haven't and are weighing whether to do so, including one of the biggest - the parking garage at Mitchell International Airport.
There's a lot more to do," said Holter, whose crew will be finished installing LEDs at Potawatomi by the end of the month. "We're obviously chasing quite a few of them."
 
"Everybody wants LED as being the latest and greatest technology," Rose said.

The challenge, given the economy, remains the higher upfront cost associated with the newer and longer-lasting technology.

"What you find is everybody's interested in it, and they're averse to spending the capital," Holter said. "The big thing we're trying to help people understand is how to use creative financing, third-party financing, to pay for their projects."

As LED lighting technologies evolved, parking garage lights were among the first kind of lamps to develop, followed by streetlights and now lights for indoor applications, said Orth, of BetaLED.

One of the biggest projects for BetaLED has been the citywide street-lighting project launched one year ago in Los Angeles. BetaLED is one of two LED vendors nationally supplying LEDs for the $57million project.

$10 million annual saving

With an annual electric bill for its street lights of $15million, Los Angeles is forecasting saving of $10 million per year from the project, including $7.5 million in electricity costs and $2.5 million in maintenance, after the five-year project is completed.

Instead of tapping strapped city coffers for funding, the city is paying for the installation of 140,000 street lights through saving on its electricity bills.

After the first year, the city is seeing $700,000 in electricity cost saving from installation of 20,000 fixtures, according to the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting.

Interest in outdoor and parking garage lighting applications abounds, particularly in regions with high electricity costs per kilowatt-hour, Orth said.

"We're seeing it from coast to coast," Orth said, noting projects to retrofit garages at Logan International Airport in Boston and several campuses of the California college system.

"It's really driven by the fact that people are realizing better than 50% savings, reducing maintenance costs significantly and when you're in an 24 by 7 operation like a parking garage, it really becomes a quick payback."

The added features of motion sensors can increase energy saving to 80%, Orth said.

Other high-profile projects are in Racine and Milwaukee as well as Minneapolis, where the rebuilt I-35 bridge incorporates Ruud's BetaLED fixtures.
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