Large-venue lighting control and energy efficiency

Under the Lights:

It’s all about efficiency in the world of large-venue lighting; dealing with integrated systems and energy codes while garnering more foot-candles for the same power emission are challenges that occupy lighting manufacturers. End-users, architects, engineers and contractors are starting to pay attention as more vendors develop lighting technology that takes the footwork out of controlling a stadium’s lights while at the same time consuming less power.

According to Scott Jordan, product marketing manager, Square D, a brand of Schneider Electric, around 60 percent of Square D’s business is in integrated lighting controls that allow facility managers to control their lighting over the Internet.

While that kind of technology has been available for years, end-users began getting more comfortable with it only recently.

Still, changing technology and more stringent codes and regulations have both end-users and the construction industry scrambling to keep up. Senior lighting designer for Smith Group, Rodrigo Manríquez, said Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings and tighter energy codes are putting pressure on the industry to stay up-to-date, keep projects within code and use new technology the way it was meant to be used. All of which requires a growing degree of communication.

“A lot of people [such as lighting manufacturers and engineers] claim they do things they can’t deliver, and then we get called in to fix it,” Manríquez said. “Building is all about communication. There’s always a risk when you get involved with new technologies. If the contractors and owners understand it and what it provides, it turns out all right.”

Often end-users still need help in understanding what specific lighting technology is offered, how to best apply it or even whether they should apply it at all. Codes are becoming tighter at the same time that promises from some lighting designers become more grandiose.

“Sustainability is the buzzword and as long as you understand what it means, end-users can start delineating proposals,” Manríquez said. Sustainability is especially relevant to stadium and sports facility owners, since the large-scale lighting also means large-scale savings if a sustainable design is implemented.

New developments

End-users are getting comfortable with Internet-based control technology. Not long ago, a janitor or facility employee needed to walk around the sports fields or arena turning on light contactors. Facility directors want to get out of that work, Jordan said. Square D has offered an Internet-based system for about three years. The system allows facility directors to control their lighting remotely, but surprisingly, the technology did not take off right away.

“In the beginning, they would scratch their heads and say ‘I’m not sure I’m ready for that’,” Jordan said.

Today’s end-users are ready. The majority of them are now seeking a stronger level of control.

Jordan described one facility director who was able to make a change to the lighting—based on a last minute event scheduling change—from his hotel room in Honolulu. In fact, changes can be made from any location with Internet access.

Musco Lighting, Oskaloosa, Iowa, is one of many vendors offering facility operators control of their lighting via an Internet connection. With its system, Musco can also track its own lighting and dispatch service in the event of lighting problems, at times before the facility operators are aware of it, Shanahan said.

Better controls offer facility operators other advantages. If they are overseeing the lighting on numerous fields, they can monitor how much lighting is being used on any specific field and at any specific times. That provides them with the opportunity to go back to the field users and bill them for light usage if necessary.

Today’s systems also offer reporting of the usage hours, which allows facility managers to have a reliable log of when and how much power they consume. The systems recognize how long a circuit is energized and can alert the user by e-mail when it has reached a specific number of hours; relamping can then be done before the light quality degrades.

Sports facilities are also offering more amenities, including the upgraded skybox experience. One part of that is touchscreen-controlled lighting. That lighting system, Jordan said, can interface with the main venue lighting, parking lot, concession stands or any other part of the facility.

Energy and money savers

Architects, manufacturers and engineers are following the interests of their end-users in LEED construction, and contractors will soon be focusing on the same, Jordan said. 

“With energy costs at all-time highs, manufacturers have concentrated on improving their lighting hardware so that their systems operate more efficiently,” said Dan Dwyer, vice president of sales at Qualite Sports Lighting, Hillsdale, Mich. The challenge has been to reach equivalent or improved light levels on athletic fields using fewer fixtures than were required in the past.

“The net result is a drastic reduction in operating costs over the lifetime of the installation, saving customers thousands of dollars.”

At Musco, the focus has also been energy savings. Most facility managers stay awake at night over power bills and operating expenses, which Musco’s national accounts director Dave Shanahan said the company is addressing. Initially, it offered products that reduce the life-cycle cost by reducing the necessary light fixtures by as much as 60 percent.

With this in mind, facility operators should expect the bulk of their costs to be in capital expenditures rather than recurring energy costs down the road.

“The other thing is they want longer warranties,” Shanahan said. Typically, he said, manufacturers offer one or two year warranties, but the Musco system extends to 25 and includes replacement parts, labor and lamps.

“It allows building owners to have all their costs on the front end,” Shanahan said. “We’re finding more and more facility operators are looking for more predictable results.”

Sports standards

Minor League Baseball has standards for foot-candles, which have been a challenge for both manufacturers and facility operators. Generally, they buy lamps that exceed that standard level of lighting. As lighting deteriorates, it will continue to remain within the standard. Musco has developed a solution to that problem by providing lighting that does not deteriorate as quickly. That is possible because the capacitor is activated by time, giving the system a power boost after a certain number of hours have passed. The result is a more constant lumen output until it drops by a certain degree.

This system is not without some controversy from other manufacturers. Chuck Lindstrom, president of Universal Sports Lighting, Atlanta, Ill., pointed out that the traditional lamps offer greater light from the onset, since they are designed to allow for a degree of decline in effectiveness. For that reason, he argued, facilities get just as much for their money from a lamp that starts at a higher level of lighting then declines to the point in which it needs to be replaced.

Musco currently has 20 patents on Light-Structure Green, which it offers with a 25-year warranty. “The customer response has been tremendous,” Shanahan said.

Controlling light spillage

The rapid growth in sports participation and popularity in North America the past few decades has also generated the need to illuminate fields in greater number. Often teams play and practice well after nightfall on nearly every night of the week.

This all makes light pollution one of the top concerns when it comes to sports lighting. Cities worry not just about the comfort of neighbors, who have been adamant in protesting spill light in their homes, but also worry that lights could actually blind drivers passing on nearby roads. To prevent this, tight spill light control is now specified on most sports lighting projects.

These factors have led to the introduction of improved products from sports lighting manufacturers. Qualite has improved the designs on their three reflector product series so that a wider array of beam patterns can more uniformly spread light over the field, which has allowed it to use fewer fixtures.

“By adding visors and shrouds, implementing improved photometry to accurately predict light levels on fields and benefiting from the latest technologies of component suppliers of lamps and ballasts, Qualite can now hold spill light zone tolerances to less than one foot-candle,” Dwyer said.

Qualite’s Request remote control system uses global positioning, computers and cell phones to program and monitor lighting installations. Officials no longer are required to be present to turn on and off lights, and maintenance problems can be more readily diagnosed, Dwyer said.

Getting ready

Contractors need to stay up to date on electrical codes, to understand what they are installing and to ensure that products from a lighting manufacturer have the UL mark and that the company stands behind it.

“It is important that contractors, electrical engineers and architects become aware that there have been several improvements in sports lighting systems in recent years,” Dwyer said. “Pre-aimed fixtures with arc tubes engineered to be located in optimum horizontal positions, pre-wired crossarms with no direct exposure to weather elements, and remote ballast boxes located at eye level have all led to faster installation times and less maintenance.”

With any system, electrical contractors can expect to have an easier time with installation than their predecessors.

“We build the systems. The cross arms and internal wiring are all provided. They assemble the pieces and bring power to it. It’s getting a lot faster than it was in the days you had to buy individual components,” Shanahan said.

Athletic fields are big business across the United States. Many towns have a sports complex that is the center of entertainment for the community. With increased population density coupled with greater sport participation, fields are busier than they’ve ever been. With greater illumination needs, electrical contractors must mentally condition themselves and take the field in greater numbers.                EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at 




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