Green Solutions: Dimming The Lights

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By Anne Vazquez 

Published in the July 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Fielding complaints from employees in a multi-function data center was a daily occurrence for John P. Hunt, director of facilities at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) headquarters in Piscataway, NJ. The installation of dimmable ballasts, along with individual desktop controls, served to make occupants happier and also reduced lighting costs in the space.

How many years have you been in the facilities management profession?

I’ve been in facilities management for nine years here at IEEE. Prior to that, I worked in hotel operations management for 16 years. I’m based in Piscataway, NJ at a three building office complex that includes a data center and a warehouse operation. I’m also responsible for an office in New York City and collaborate with our offices in southern California and Washington, DC.

What did this project entail and why was the decision made to pursue this goal?

We completed construction of our data center facility in 2002. The data center consists of a large server room, various individual equipment rooms, and a command center area. This command center is a multi-function space with work stations for operators, network administrators, and help desk staff. It’s a 24/7 operation. There are three shifts, with the help desk running primarily over business hours. Over the course of a day, between 10 and 15 people may work in that area.

After the first three or four months, we were receiving recurring complaints from staff working in that area over various environmental issues: lighting, temperature, and ergonomics. The area was specified for basic 2′ x 2′ lighting fixtures, but we found that some staff members needed more light on their desktops, others were noticing glare on their screens, and others simply wanted their lights dimmed to a low level.

I called on Howard Wolfman, a manager for OSRAM SYLVANIA. He’s a longtime IEEE volunteer and member who has been an excellent resource for us in the lighting and controls discipline.

We met with lighting engineers from SYLVANIA and were introduced to the QUIKTRONIC® DALI T8 dimming system [DALI is an acronym for Digital Addressable Lighting Interface]. It was a good fit for what we were looking for—individual control at each work station. From the variety of the complaints we were receiving, I knew there would be differing opinions about the dimming of the lights. We decided that one level of dimming was not going to solve the problem.

There are 17 stations in the command center, so the installation was handled over a period of time. First, we repositioned the existing fixtures directly over each work station, so each person would have a dedicated fixture. Next, we retrofit the existing fixtures with the new dimmable DALI ballasts—and changed the diffuser lenses to concentrate more light directly on the desktop. In all, we retrofit 26 fixtures in this manner.

Starfield Controls handled the individualized controls for the system with a dedicated server managing assigned IP addresses for each ballast.

Users can click an icon on their computer screens to access the control panel to adjust their dedicated fixtures. Each user can now adjust the lighting to his or her personal preference—and change the settings throughout the day.

What were some of the challenges of this project?

We had a few issues along the way, because this project was a retrofit. SYLVANIA was very responsive with solutions.

Also, with these types of installations, Starfield usually does the software installation, and then handles adjustments and upgrades remotely. Our IT department elected to handle this phase, and Starfield did an excellent job in partnering with our staff and providing technical support.

Was there any resistance from upper management?

Actually the executive director was very supportive of the project, since it would improve employee satisfaction for the area.

In terms of ROI, did the project meet these expectations?

We saw immediate results from the employee satisfaction perspective.

We’ve also seen energy savings, since most users are setting their lighting well below 100%. Since the installation was complete in September 2003, we’ve seen a 15% to 20% reduction in lighting costs for that area.

Have there been other aspects of the IEEE facility for which you’ve implemented sustainable practices?

In 1999, we installed an energy management system that can interface with everything from hallway lighting to HVAC motor drives—providing opportunity to trim energy use. We’ve also implemented occupancy sensors in rest rooms, motion sensors in the warehouse aisles, and a more efficient chiller.

In 2002, we were awarded the Corporate Environmental Excellence Award from the Township of Piscataway for our environmental program, which includes Adopt-A-Highway, an extensive daily recycling program, and our commitment to natural landscaping.

At this time, we’re researching options to harness solar power through photovoltaic panels placed on our rooftops or parking structure.

What did you learn from this project?

The DALI system can be used in a wide variety of applications—from pre-set lighting levels in a conference center to individual controls in each office.

Also, when people have control over their lighting, their general satisfaction increases over all aspects of the office. This was a very interesting lesson.

Why should facility professionals consider green solutions whenever the opportunity is present?

It’s our opportunity to make a difference—to our customers, to our community environment, and to our organization’s bottom line.

What was the most professionally rewarding aspect of this project?

The most rewarding aspect has been observing the dedicated staff in the command center. They are now comfortable and productive. Our last internal survey reflected excellent increases in employee satisfaction with comfort, office equipment, and overall work environment. We feel we’re on the right track!

Questions about this project can be sent to John P. Hunt at [email protected].

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