Aggie, Ingeniero April 2013

Engineers collaborate with Lea County Rural Electric Co-op to brighten up schools

The halls of Lea County’s Lovington High School shine a little brighter now, due to the light-emitting diode light bulbs that were recently installed through a collaboration between the New Mexico State University College of Engineering, Marathon Oil Company and the New Mexico Environment Department.

Lovington is the first of two schools under this program that will have energy efficient technologies implemented within its facilities.

The Southeastern New Mexico Efficiency Improvement Project is being led by NMSU’s College of Engineering Assistant Dean Patricia A. Sullivan, Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Head Satish Ranade and graduate student Steve Bukowski. Its purpose is to reduce carbon dioxide and other air pollutants in the region.

“We worked collaboratively with Marathon Oil Company and the state’s environment department to identify environmental improvement ideas that would benefit the southeastern region of the state,” Ranade said. “We worked closely with the Lea County Rural Electric Cooperative and the school districts to solidify the project.”

Collectively, they came up with several energy efficient ideas and decided light bulb replacement would yield the most direct impact.

“The state of New Mexico wanted to implement a plan to reduce the carbon footprint,” Bukowski said. “One way to do this was to reduce the amount of electricity used in the area.  The production of electricity in southeast New Mexico is via coal, natural gas, wind and other fossil fuels – each of these fuels add to the carbon footprint for each kilowatt-hour used. Therefore, reducing electricity usage would translate to a reduction in carbon footprint for the area.

“The original proposal was about compact florescent light bulb replacement in exchange for residents’ light bulbs. However, this presented a challenge in measuring actual program results. We could do the exchange, but would be unable to measure the impact.

“I did some analysis and thought one of the most effective steps was to look at public buildings, such as schools. Metering of the larger facilities allowed us to measure the effects, versus just handing out compact fluorescent lamp bulbs to electric co-op customers.”

Bukowski presented several options in his research, including the replacement of older fluorescent T-12 to T-8 bulbs.

After meeting with Lovington administrators and taking a tour of the facility, Bukowski researched different lighting options and their cost benefits.

His findings led him to conclude that LEDs were the way to go, though this originally was not the case.

“Initially, in 2010, the LED cost benefit wasn’t as good as the T-8 options,” he said. “Then we saw a big shift in the cost which made the LED a better cost option for the school districts. We changed the way the school looked by quite a bit. They ended up reducing their electric consumption, and we were able to measure that directly and calculate the reduction in carbon footprint.

“Lovington High School was positioned well for us,” he continued. “They actually metered their buildings so that it allowed us to view the lighting usage independently, so we knew if we did this, ‘this’ is what we should see happen. It was important in our proposal to show how the funds would be used.”

The proposal submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department shows the cost of LED bulbs is about 40 times that of T-12 bulbs, while “the energy savings are approximately 60 percent of the energy used by a T-12.” As per the agreement, NMSU will provide calculations relating the estimated reductions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants to the department’s air quality bureau.

“Schools have so many needs, I’m sure they would put these savings to good use,” Ranade said. “They’re already realizing the savings; they could be applied to reduce more energy or even support academic programs.”

Additionally, LED bulbs have a significantly longer lifespan than T-12s – 10 to 15 years, or approximately 40,000 hours.

“The calculations came right in line with what we were [predicting],” Bukowski said, adding that because LEDs require less maintenance, more money is saved. “There’s a big reduction in maintenance costs.”

Accordingly, he estimated a carbon dioxide reduction by 10 million pounds over the anticipated 20-year lifetime of the bulbs.

The project has been completed at Lovington High School, and Bukowski said he expects the LEDs to be implemented in Tatum schools by this summer. A total of 1,505 lights in the two schools are estimated to be replaced with LED bulbs through the program.

“I think there are opportunities to continue this work, if funding becomes available,” he added.

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