University parking lot upgrade to feature energy efficient LED technology

As a part of its commitment to energy efficient technology, the University upgraded the lights in Parking Lot E-15 to energy efficient, motion-activated light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, after receiving $50,000 in funding from the Student Sustainability Committee.

The parking lot on the corner of Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue is one of the first test locations in the state to feature adaptive lighting and the first in Champaign-Urbana to use this technology.

“We first heard about this technology at a conference with the Big Ten & Friends Environmental Stewardship Group,” said Morgan Johnston, associate director of sustainability for Facilities and Services. “The Student Sustainability Committee had one of their representatives with us, and they had indicated that they would be interested in it.”

In 2012, the University and other Big Ten institutions formed the Midwest Collaboration for Adaptive Lighting, whose goal is to reduce energy consumption in parking across university campuses and promote adaptive lighting techniques to surrounding communities.

“We are a committee that’s looking to bring new technology to campus,” said Marika Nell, chair of the Student Sustainability Committee and senior in Engineering. “We get our funding from student green fees (the Sustainable Campus Environment Fee), so we look into funding projects that will benefit campus and students in some way, and we also help people take risks with new technology.”

Lot E-15 was selected as the prime location to be home of the bi-level adaptive lighting, Johnston said.

“We wanted to put it somewhere where the lighting had to be replaced anyway,” Johnston said. “It’s not really sustainable to cut short the life of the lights, and because we had not ever done it before, we didn’t want to do a huge parking lot for the first installation. And another factor was that we were looking for a parking lot that would be visible so the general community could easily go by it and see it.”

The new 25 LED fixtures used in Lot E-15 double the light intensity when movement is detected in the parking lot, which allows the lights to consume less power, while still maintaining a minimal level of lighting at all times.

“The thing about adaptive lighting is that it cuts the power about 50 percent without cutting the light 50 percent, so we save a significant amount of energy without causing a safety hazard,” Johnston said.

In addition to reducing energy consumption and increasing visibility of surroundings for occupants, another benefit of the adaptive lighting is its durability. Because it is estimated to last up to 100,000 hours, cost avoidance is expected to provide a payback for the initial investment within a few years, Johnston said.

As one of the first major research institutions to commit to LED technology as its main source of lighting, the University is also looking to change all of the interior and exterior guide lights by 2025, with the majority of the lighting to be LED by 2050.

The University is also looking to make more parking lot lighting upgrades in the future, said Michelle Wahl,  director of the parking department.

Light poles in Lot B-21 will be replaced with LEDs, and all the lights in Lot E-14 and C-16 will be replaced with LEDs as well.

“Whether or not there’s been a decision for the other upgrades to use this technology, for every future exterior lighting upgrade on campus property, we will evaluate the potential for using the adaptive bi-level lighting,” Johnston said.

Julianne can be reached at