Lighting at height: Lessons from the National Stadiums Program

by FM Media
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The lessons learned from the National Stadiums Program, in which a large number of stadiums are reducing their energy costs through improved lighting solutions, are shared by JEREMY MASLIN, managing director of Global Sustainability Initiatives.

In October 2010, Global Sustainability Initiatives (GSI) installed clean technology lighting into the Bankstown Basketball Stadium, the largest basketball site in New South Wales with impressive results. A $54,375 investment delivered a simple return on investment of 22.6 percent by reducing costs by $12,303 per year, reducing energy use by 36.4 percent on site, saving 61 tonnes of greenhouse gas per annum and improving the level and evenness of light levels, providing a far better playing environment for players and coaches.
But, was the success of the Bankstown renovation just a one-off fluke? Bankstown was part of a 3000-strong energy assessment program GSI was completing on a number of small-to-medium enterprises’ sites. GSI management made the decision to research whether the site results could be replicated on other similar sites. Initial investigations unveiled that there were little to no existing energy use profiles or facilities management data for this sector.

To understand whether the sector would benefit from the development of a dedicated program, GSI needed to understand the key issues, such as the different buildings and types, the different ceiling structures and heights, the different light types being used and available, the various ownership structures (was there a split incentive between owners and tenants?), capital expenditure and recurrent budgets, funding sources and finance options.
In early 2011, GSI met with stadium stakeholders in New South Wales and Victoria and agreed on a research and development (R&D) process across 23 sites. The sites were selected to provide a representative sample of the portfolio of opportunity within these buildings across Australia. Selection criteria included the age and size of sites, roof height, number of courts and different types of user groups, type of owner and tenant arrangement (for instance, council, private, school, tenants), type of stadium management (for instance, council staff, associations, school, YMCA/PCYC) and geographic location (urban or regional).

Each site received the same assessment process: obtaining the site map (or creating one); reviewing the electricity bills and lighting maintenance costs; videoing, counting and mapping all of the lighting and energy use equipment; and taking lux level tests of existing lighting across the site.
GSI created a dedicated energy toolkit that, following the input of key site data by the user, produced a report explaining the cost and benefits of the action for each site. Data produced included energy, dollars and greenhouse gas pollution saved; total costs; returns to customers and financiers; a baseline energy assessment; and a year-by-year breakdown of all important inputs including cost of electricity, maintenance and depreciation.
Predominantly, the existing lighting was found to be standard old commercial/industrial ‘bell-shaped’ high bay lighting. Some of the older stadiums still had their original fluorescent lighting. Many sites had multiple lighting technologies on site.
Light levels were found to be below the Australian Standard in 21 of the 23 stadiums and the directional nature of many high bay lights meant the evenness of the light across the activity area was poor, due to the ‘pools’ of light across the activity area. Further, if one light fitting went out, then a large portion of the activity area was in darkness.

Working with the facilities managers from the 23 R&D sites, GSI developed 28 selection criteria to identify a lighting solution that met the needs and issues raised by the facilities managers. Following assessment of the different types of light fittings, including a thorough light mapping exercise under different scenarios, the key issues that were revealed included:

  • Evenness of light spread. To be successful, lighting must be matched with the task. Many lighting technologies are like a large ‘dolphin torch’, pointing straight down and creating circles of light, which results in light and dark patches across the space. This produces poor results for both sporting environments, where the ball is moving through light and dark, and factories and warehouses that have high roof environments and are used for storage and by forklift drivers.
  • Glare. Don’t confuse glare with good lighting. To achieve the required light levels at 1 metre off the ground, many technologies become ‘small bright suns’ to look at. A good layman’s test is that you should be able to look up at the light fitting for one to two seconds and look away without your eyes seeing ‘speckles’.
  • Durability. Changing a light 7 metres off the ground is not an easy or cheap task. This results in facilities managers putting up with poor lighting and often waiting for two or more fittings to ‘blow’ before arranging replacements. The fitting must be able to take direct contact, the fitting must be long lasting and lamps must have low levels of light deterioration over their lifetime to eliminate ongoing maintenance costs.

The floors in stadiums are often the most valuable asset on the site. Ensuring there is no damage (denting or puncturing) to floorboards during the installation process was identified as extremely important. Thus, an understanding of weight bearing loads of all the different floorboards is required.
Other installation issues identified included working at height health and safety issues, and access, which can impact on the type and size of working platform that can be used. Suspension systems were assessed as having potential risk. In some cases light fittings fell down, as their chains were rusted due to high condensation levels at ceiling height. Replacing rusted suspension systems with new galvanised steel cabling systems, appropriately rated to handle the weights of the fittings used, is advised.
Spacing of the existing fittings was found to often be poorly aligned with activities and user group requirements, due to the fact that most fittings were installed prior to the tenants moving into the site. Ensuring the new fittings had long plug leads was identified as an initial opportunity to move the existing fittings slightly for better placement; however, there are important safety restrictions regarding the length of cords and/or extension cords, which meant extending existing wiring was required in some stadiums – an expensive add-on.
Finally, it was found that at many sites one switch turned lots of lights on and the potential for energy reduction at installation by rewiring so that rows of lights could only be switched on to match up with site bookings was identified. However, the cost of rewiring at height was identified as a barrier, as the savings were dwarfed by the cost.

GSI undertook a survey of the key barriers concerning securing capital for such projects and researched the information required by private financiers. Finance partners provided a list of issues that would need to be considered and addressed in the creation of a financing vehicle.
GSI is unapologetic in its goal of developing energy efficiency responses that use the existing finance sector resources and not relying on taxpayer-funded political handouts. GSI argues that a more innovative approach is to use any government money to de-risk issues private capital has in investing into energy efficiency.
The requirements and key issues raised with regards to developing a financing solution included:

  • Security. The asset may not be accepted by the private financiers as there is little residual value in lighting.
  • Structure. The structure of associations is such that should default occur, lenders do not wish to ‘chase mums and dads’ as opposed to lending to corporations where directors’ guarantees can be obtained, as well as the assets of such a company.
  • Guarantees. Financiers need to be sure that the energy savings claimed will eventuate. If the savings don’t eventuate, then the customer may have cause to default on the payments.
  • Warranties. Quality clean technologies come with five-year guarantees to ensure ongoing maintenance costs are limited.
  • Good customer financials. Demonstrating longevity and stability is required to be reflected in the financials.
  • Good project cost/benefit position. The average return on investment per project is circa 26 percent, but anything above 15 percent can be attractive to third parties.
  • Cash positive. With the technology guaranteed and under warranty for five years, and the infrastructure being long-term, the finance period can be set at five years or beyond. This means that there will be enough energy savings to cover the cost of finance, and the customer and financier both have enough money to achieve cost neutral or cash positive from day one.

The first lesson learned is to outsource energy and financing risks. Australia is home to a number of innovative models that de-risk any energy and cost reduction action taken, including moving all of the risks associated with energy reduction and lighting levels on to suppliers. Further, with the right products, installation and measurement processes, the costs of implementation can be shifted to a reputable third party at good rates.
Second, quality product selection and installation is required. Any solution for lighting at a height of 7 metres and above needs to be a quality, long-term solution for a variety of reasons. Changing lighting at height is costly, intrusive and, generally, a risky task. A quality solution ensures this it being done correctly, being done once, and does not have to be done again for at least five years.
Third, cheap or emerging technology increases the risks. Unproven technologies give questionable light output over time. Do not choose a product with less than a three-year warranty. The warranty should preferably be five years. Do not just choose the solution with the lowest price. Choose a solution that balances price, energy savings and other considerations, such as maintenance and depreciation.
Finally, use the one-off carbon rebate wisely. It could be argued that the carbon rebates available in New South Wales and Victoria are designed to support an upgrade to quality, long-lasting lighting, rather than a simple cash grab.

A higher priced quality product supported with long warranties can provide certainty to a facility’s budget by eliminating annual maintenance costs. It will also assist in attracting a third party willing to fund the upgrade.
The difference in price between quality and cheap imitations is mitigated by the carbon rebate and the site benefits gained by avoiding costs that would have been paid to the electricity retailer if action hadn’t been taken. A quality solution will keep paying for itself long into the future.

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