CSUN’s Lightbulb Moment

Considering the extensive commitments and improvements CSUN has made in its pursuit of climate neutrality, the campus’ lighting infrastructure has left much to be desired. With lighting contributing to roughly 50% of the energy use in a typical building, and an annual electricity bill of over $5.5 million, lighting represents significant opportunity for economic and environmental conservation. The vast majority of the bulbs on campus, while considered energy efficient a decade ago, use around twice as much electricity as their modern LED counterparts. Additionally, lights in some spaces remain on 24/7/365, due to either occupant inaction or a lack of switches or motion sensors. CSUN has made hundreds, maybe thousands, of lighting improvements in the past 5 years, including retrofitting all of its outdoor walkway lights with 75% more efficient LED’s. However, the capital, labor, and opportunity to perform extensive building-wide retrofits of indoor spaces has not been available. Until now.

The Commercial Lighting Incentive Program (CLIP) offered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) provides financial incentives that significantly reduce the cost of certain approved lighting improvements. In March of 2019, an outside contractor utilized this incentive program to retrofit the B5 and G3 parking structures at no cost to the university, reducing CSUN’s annual electric bill by over $40,000. The same contractor created a proposal to retrofit the entire University Library for $68,000, achieving annual electricity savings of $293,000. With this proof-of-concept, CSUN’s Energy & Sustainability team received $224,000 as seed funding for additional lighting retrofits, with plans to continue investing the utility savings in further lighting upgrades until the entire campus is complete.

The sudden reduced building occupancy due to COVID-19 significantly accelerated the project’s timeline, enabling the University Library to be completed by the end of 2020. To date, Nordhoff Hall, Noski Auditorium, Monterey Hall, the Education Admin building, Santa Susana Hall, Jerome Richfield Hall, and the Art and Design Center have also been completed, and projects in over 20 other buildings are underway.

In addition to reduced energy use and costs, CSUN will also benefit from the longer, 5-year minimum lifespan of the new LED bulbs. Fewer bulbs burning out and needing to be replaced will reduce annual maintenance and material costs, and waste disposal costs associated with older mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs. Building occupants will also enjoy higher-quality lighting, with no flickering caused by failing fluorescent bulbs, and a color temperature that more closely matches natural daylight.

Once completed, the total annual electricity cost savings from this project are expected to be around $1.2 million. Some of these savings will be reinvested in further energy efficiency projects to continue achieving cost savings and greenhouse gas reductions in alignment with CSUN’s goal of climate neutrality by 2040.

The Energy & Sustainability team has compiled a summary of the project, which contains the projected costs, savings, greenhouse gas reduction, and ROI at a building level, as well as a project timeline. This summary is updated on a weekly basis, and is available online at the following address: https://sway.office.com/YzW7YXCCWspG3rt7

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