Lighting Our National Parks

The National Park Service (NPS) is in charge of protecting our national parks. It only makes sense, then, that NPS is pushing for environmentally friendly lighting systems in those parks.

Green Energy Parks, a joint program of the NPS, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), was launched in April 1999, with the purpose of promoting the use of energy-efficient practices and renewable energy technologies—passive solar heating, solar electric systems—and use of energy-efficient lighting in the parks. “Parks are an ideal way to showcase clean energy technologies,” said T. J. Glauthier, former deputy secretary of the Department of Energy.

The Green Energy Parks partnership has resulted in parks nationwide receiving funding and technical support from DOE and public/private partners. While the initial funding was $1.6 million followed by $2 million in 2000 and 2001, current funding includes technical support but less than $180,000 from the DOE, with some additional funding from the NPS’ fee demonstration program in 2002 and 2003. In spite of the reduction, the NPS has implemented many projects.

Millions of people visit the national parks each year. Rethinking the light levels at our national parks has been an important part of the process. Lighting accounts for more than 30 percent of the energy usage at state and national parks. Park officials looked at light usage in administrative offices. At both the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the San Francisco Metropolitan Area and at the NPS Regional Office in San Francisco, employees are keeping general lighting off and are working mainly by daylight. Occupancy sensors have cut down on light usage in interior spaces.

At NPS western region headquarters in the old federal building in Seattle, a plan was proposed to replace the overhead lighting provided by T12 fluorescents with T8s, for more efficiency. Then Steve Butterworth, regional energy manager for NPS, and his colleagues got to thinking about overhead lighting, and how the ceiling would be torn up with the conversion. And they thought about new technologies. “We have people working under large banks of overhead lights,” said Butterworth. “A switch turns on 30 to 40 fixtures at one time. If only one person is at the office working, all the lights are still on.”

So his office researched alternatives and came up with these solutions: Keep the lights as they were. Use them when needed, for maintenance or when it is dark outside. Otherwise, outfit every desk with a Berkeley Lamp, a compact fluorescent table lamp suited to computer and office work environments. The lamp was developed for work spaces by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories in a project funded by the DOE’s Office of Building Technologies, State and Community Programs, with additional support from the California Energy Commission. The Berkeley Lamp’s two-lamp fluorescent system matches the combined luminous output of a 300W halogen lamp and a 150W incandescent table lamp while using only a quarter of the energy.

“We were able to convince the GSA (General Services Administration) that if they bought each of us a Berkeley Lamp, they could achieve not only conversion to higher efficient lighting in the workplace but also save energy and money. When they analyzed it, they agreed,” Butterworth said. His office also added the Watt Stopper Isolé IDP-3050 that consists of the eight-outlet power strip and the personal sensor, that turns office power devices on and off based on occupancy, while also providing maximum surge and noise suppression. “With our new practices, we can cut our electrical consumption by 60 to 70 percent depending on how many people are in the office,” added Butterworth. “We’re accelerating the energy savings by turning things off.” The Berkeley Lamps are being used in thousands of park offices throughout California, including those at Death Valley, Yosemite and in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Park and resort management companies have also investigated a variety of lighting products to find the best source to deliver a longer performance life, efficient light levels, increased energy efficiency, and lower heat levels. They determined that they could save more than 1 million kilowatt-hours yearly by replacing incandescent and halogen lamps with compact fluorescents, lamps that last 8,000 to 10,000 hours compared to a 1,000-hour lifespan for incandescent lights, while offering the same lumen levels.

“Compact fluorescent lighting is an environmentally sound product by saving energy and reducing disposal,” said Ellis Yan, president of Technical Consumer Products Inc. in Akron, Ohio. Yan’s company has provided lights, such as 14W mini spiral lamps and 16W indoor/outdoor floodlights, to many national parks. “The compact fluorescent light source offers a substantial financial savings without compromising the lighting quality that visitors have come to expect at national park resorts, as well as at five-star hotels,” added Yan.

Steve Smith, director of purchasing for Aramark Parks and Resorts, a company that manages lodges at several national parks including Mesa Verde and Shenandoah, noted, “Whenever we replace light fixtures, either through remodeling or because the light fixture fails, we have been exchanging incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents. We’ve also gone to electronic ballasts that consume less electricity. It’s absolutely made a difference as to energy consumption.”

Replacement of fixtures is a gradual process that has been taking place for the past four years and continues. “Lighting is a quick way to save energy, so we’ve been trying to canvass the parks about restocking with compact fluorescents or T8s, things of that nature, when they are restocking,” said Terry Brennan, coordinator, NPS Green Energy Program. “We can’t write policy to endorse any product, but we are under executive order [the Energy Policy Act of 1992] to reduce energy usage. The GSA has a lot of these things on contract. My biggest push is to get procurement folks to open up supplements and to buy compact fluorescents instead of incandescents. That’s all I can do without the funds to buy compact fluorescents and send them out to parks.”

Yet the NPS, in its efforts to be model user of efficient lighting technology, is going even further than a mere adoption of compact fluorescents. “How we use lighting goes to the basic mission of our parks, which is to preserve the cultural and national resources within our areas,” added Butterworth. “In support of the dark skies initiative, we want to reduce light trespass and light pollution.” To that end they are making use of control devices. “We have photo and occupancy sensors and timers to turn lights off in areas where and at times when we don’t need lights, like when the park is closed. They help us make efficient use of the lights so we also protect the environment.”

At Redwood National and State parks in California, the park service has installed solar-powered LED lighting, for pathways leading to amphitheaters, lodges and the like. A white LED light used for this purpose is a recently developed technology. “Our solar system produces power that feeds back into grid network,” said Butterworth, “and powers commercial LED products that run off 120V. It’s had a great deal of acceptance because it cuts power down and provides adequate pathway lighting.”

While fluorescent or incandescent spot lighting is the most commonly used system for lighting exhibits, in two exhibit areas in the western region, optical fiber lighting is being used instead.

Power companies are pitching in to help in the effort as well. “They are the unsung heroes of this picture,” Butterworth said of Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric, Pacific Gas and Electric, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as well as utility companies in the Northwest, including the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The BPA has instituted the Conservation Augmentation Program that makes direct investments in lighting controls for national parks to drive down load so that overall the grid is better able to match supply and demand.

“They’ve helped our parks make making change outs to T8 and compact fluorescents and other specialty lighting,” said Butterworth. “By investing in our parks, they reduce our consumption of electricity. They’ve pumped over $1 million into energy-efficient lighting products, mostly for lighting controls in inns and lodges of Glacier, Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier and other parks.

“We want to share lessons we’ve learned with people who come visit our national parks, so they can take knowledge home to their communities. If the practices are successful in parks, they can be successful in homes, too.” 

CASEY, author of "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors" and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at or

About the Author

Susan Casey

Freelance Writer
Susan Casey, author of "Women Heroes of the American Revolution," "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors," and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at or www.susancaseybooks...

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