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Lighting Research Center
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Troy, NY -  8/15/2003

Watt of Prevention Is Worth a Megawatt of Cure

* Innovative Lighting Offers a Hedge Against Future Outages *

In light of the recent distressing power outages to northeastern United States, new methods of reducing strain on the nation's power grid are in greater demand than ever. Rather than sacrificing our precious air conditioning, new lighting methods allow office workers to keep their cool while offering energy-efficient/cost-effective means to reduce the likelihood of further system failures. Lighting could present businesses with an inexpensive "insurance policy" against such interruptions.

The Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in conjunction with the US Department of Energy, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, California Energy Commission, and Connecticut Light and Power, as well as leading lighting manufacturers, have been developing a simple, practical and low-cost system using the concept of load shedding-limiting the demand for electricity at particular times to make better use of existing electric capacity.

Over the last 3 years, LRC researchers have developed load-shed lighting systems to allow a utility, in cooperation with building managers, to shed electric load quickly and reliably by sending a signal to a building's lighting system. Andrew Bierman, LRC lighting system specialist, states, "The ballast works by reducing the current supplied to the lamps, thereby dimming them by 30 to 60%. This reduction in lamp current reduces electrical power demand." While a seemingly small power reduction when viewed as an individual light bulb, the lighting systems of commercial buildings contain thousands of lights—typically three for every 100 square feet. Nearly a megawatt of electrical load could be reduced for every 3 million square feet of occupied commercial real estate. Bierman adds, "This load could be shed at a moment's notice and would not disrupt the activities of the occupants."

Unlike other electrical loads, lighting can be operated at reduced power levels for short periods of time with little or no decrease in the productivity of business. This is because people are remarkably adaptive at working under a variety of lighting conditions. LRC studies indicate that temporary light level reductions of up to 50% are acceptable to the majority of occupants engaged in common office tasks. In fact, light level reductions of up to 15% are undetectable to most people if such reductions occur smoothly over a period greater than a few seconds. For larger reductions, smoothly reducing light levels over a period of a few seconds greatly reduces the perception that light levels have changed.

Lighting is an easy target for those interested in reducing and even preventing energy grid crises. Virtually all commercial buildings use lighting. Done properly, lighting is easy to control. Lighting load reduction is measurable, repeatable, and largely independent of other variables. By contrast, to effectively measure energy savings in HVAC systems, factors such as outside temperature, humidity, area size, number of occupants, and the activity of those occupants must be considered.

"Load management through lighting is a viable alternative to building new power stations and should be part of an integrated public policy strategy to prevent future outages," says Dr. Mark Rea, Director of the LRC.


About the Lighting Research Center
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world's leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC conducts research in light and human health, transportation lighting and safety, solid-state lighting, energy efficiency, and plant health. LRC lighting scientists with multidisciplinary expertise in research, technology, design, and human factors, collaborate with a global network of leading manufacturers and government agencies, developing innovative lighting solutions for projects that range from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to U.S. Navy submarines to hospital neonatal intensive-care units. In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today, offers a M.S. in lighting and a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. Learn more at www.lrc.rpi.edu.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America's first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.