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Lighting Control Systems Help Save Thousands in Energy Costs

The Thomas & Mack Center is a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facility, which was completed in 1983 and is located on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV). Home to the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena Football League, the Thomas & Mack Center also hosts numerous other events, such as championship boxing matches, professional wrestling, music concerts and a busy schedule of conferences and exhibitions. Several publications regularly list the Thomas & Mack Center as one of the top venues in the country.

At this venue, and in many typical commercial buildings, lighting can be the single-largest consumer of electric power, often exceeding 30 percent of the building’s total energy cost. Simply adding the ability to control lighting during periods when the building is not occupied can reduce lighting costs by as much as 50 percent — not to mention cut down on replacement costs for lamps and ballasts by reducing the number of burn hours logged.

 

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Darrell Smith is the electrical supervisor for the Thomas & Mack Center, along with the nearby Cox Pavilion and Sam Boyd Stadium at UNLV. A few years ago, while a nationally televised basketball game was in progress at the Thomas & Mack Center, the facility went dark after a power failure, resulting from a stuck contactor in the Center’s original, almost 25-year-old lighting system. After a frantic, three-minute search in the dark, a staff electrician had to restore power manually, using no less than a screwdriver.

The incident was enough to spur the installation of a more reliable, whole-building lighting control system. After extensive review, a Square D® Powerlink® G3 3000 Level System from Schneider Electric was chosen. “Since we’re a state-owned facility, we usually have to contract the lowest bidder — but in this case, I knew that I was going to be around for awhile, and I wanted the system to work,” Smith says.

The Thomas & Mack Center is divided into four sections or quads — similar to a pie — each having an intermediate distribution frame (IDF) room where the quad’s power is controlled. “With the old system, almost anyone was able to access the power switches to turn on lights in the arena, and they usually wouldn’t take the time to turn them off when they were done,” Smith says. Today, only he and one other member of his staff have access to the center’s lighting control system, meaning that when a basketball practice is scheduled, its timeframe is programmed into the system, and the lights are automatically turned on and off at precisely the appropriate times. This saves valuable power and affords a whole new level of control for Smith and his staff.

An initial concern when installing the Powerlink system at the Thomas & Mack Center was space constraints. “There was no space to put huge cabinets and relays, so we needed a solution that was powerful, yet compact and well laid out,” says Smith. The Square D® Powerlink® G3 3000 system controller mounts inside a standard panelboard. The system also incorporates alarms and notifications via email, which can inform a facility manager about a tripped breaker, non-operating photocell or other critical parameter through a simple network connection. “No more searching in the dark for stuck contactors,” says Smith. “I have all the information I need right at my computer.”


Lighting settings can be changed with ease using a wireless laptop computer.

 

In terms of energy savings and return on investment, the lighting control system had a payback of $200,000 in its first year, meaning that it virtually paid for itself in about eight months. Furthermore, its newfound monitoring capabilities over its lighting-related power charges allows UNLV to negotiate with Nevada Power on its energy rates, as well as monitor current bills for accuracy. Smith downloads his energy bills with Nevada Power, and verifies them against what his metering system has monitored.

In addition to using the data from Powerlink to negotiate energy rates with the utility, Smith is able to conserve power by scheduling such events as basketball practices during off-peak hours. “Additionally, we’re able to just leave a few lights on for cleaning when the facility is not in use to accrue further savings,” adds Smith.

In terms of energy savings and return on investment, the lighting control system had a payback of $200,000 in its first year, meaning that it virtually paid for itself in about eight months. Furthermore, its newfound monitoring capabilities over its lighting-related power charges allows UNLV to negotiate with Nevada Power on its energy rates, as well as monitor current bills for accuracy. Smith downloads his energy bills with Nevada Power, and verifies them against what his metering system has monitored. In addition to using the data from Powerlink to negotiate energy rates with the utility, Smith is able to conserve power by scheduling such events as basketball practices during off-peak hours. “Additionally, we’re able to just leave a few lights on for cleaning when the facility is not in use to accrue further savings,” adds Smith.

On a regular basis, other college facility managers come to Las Vegas to review what Smith and his staff have done with the Thomas & Mack. “When people visit, they are impressed with the level of control and the cost savings resulting from the Powerlink system,” says Smith. “I have literally stood in the middle of the basketball court and changed the lighting settings with a wireless laptop to demonstrate the system’s capabilities.”

Article courtesy of Schneider Electric.