Parking garages and lots constitute an industry that generates at least $25 billion a year in gross revenue in the United States and with their many needs beyond just providing parking spaces for cars and other vehicles, like accessibility, safety and the ability to blend into surrounding environments, they present dynamic spaces where intelligent commercial lighting design can make a huge impact in a number of ways.
Along with more practical concerns, parking garages have also become an outlet for innovative architectural techniques over the past decade. Cities and businesses that own parking garages have come to understand that those structures are no longer just a place in which to stuff metal and machinery, they are also part of the urban landscape, and as such they need to be treated more like traditional buildings, with the same need to become more aesthetically pleasing, cleaner, safer, cheaper and more energy efficient. Fortunately, innovations in the lighting industry have made that pursuit easier.
Lighting is key to parking lot safety
As of 2011, there were an estimated 40,000 parking facilities in the United States With such an immense number, many of which are used at night or are covered and thus provide little light even during the daytime, ensuring security isn’t just an option for owners and operators of those facilities, it’s a necessity.
No matter what the financial or energy savings considerations are for a parking facility, safety should always be at the first concern, especially because savings and safety can go hand-in-hand. The safer your facility is, the more people are going to want to use it, and the chances of there being any sort of legal action being brought are greatly reduced, both of which ultimately benefit the bottom line.
And with new lighting products on the market that are specifically designed to improve safety and energy efficiency in parking facilities, like Cree, Inc.’s new VG Series Parking Garage Luminaire, owners and operators can provide better safety and realize cost and energy savings at the same time.
Studies show benefits of LED parking lot lighting
Many parking facilities operate around the clock, are housed in large buildings or cover large expanses of land. Because of those factors, they can also eat energy at an alarming rate. That is not only an environmental hazard, it also ends up costing parking companies millions of dollars a year in extraneous energy usage.
Considering their impact on the energy grid, parking facilities have been the subject of several studies by government, private and academic institutions. As with other commercial electric lighting issues, the U.S. Department of Energy has been a prime mover of research in this area, conducting a number of studies into energy efficiency in parking facilities, especially as it pertains to lighting. And the DOE has also put together a fact sheet that, in concert with lighting specialists, can guide parking companies in the planning and installation of commercial lighting solutions for their facilities.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also got in on the action with its 2011 study comparing LEDs to fluorescent bulbs and high-intensity discharge lighting. Among the study’s findings, it found that LEDs were especially well-suited for parking lots and garages.
Researchers at Portland State University conducted their own study, Reducing Carbon Emissions by Improving Lighting Efficiency in Parking Structures at Portland State University, for three of the campus’ parking structures. They found that LED retrofits in those spaces led to a 7 percent reduction in total emissions caused by electricity consumption, and an annual cost savings of $4,450.
Shining examples of retrofitting parking lot light fixtures
With so much information available about the advantages of using energy efficient lighting to improve the parking industry, it’s not surprising that many governments, private companies and universities have been retrofitting their facilities with lighting upgrades.
A major effort is currently underway at Detroit Metropolitan Airport to convert all 6,050 of the lighting fixtures in its two parking garages with LEDs, while also increasing the overall number of fixtures by 19 percent. Despite the increase in the amount of lights, the Wayne County Airport Authority, which approved the project, still expects to save 66 percent on its annual electric bill due to the increased efficiency afforded by the LEDs.
“This project will produce multiple desirable outcomes,” said WCAA CEO Tom Naughton. “It will improve the lighting in our parking facilities, reduce energy consumption, save on maintenance costs and shrink our carbon footprint.”
Owners of the Helix Garage in Lexington, Ky., are also incorporating LEDs, but in this case it’s about more than energy efficiency and saving money. Aiming to make their building a focal point of the city’s downtown area, they are using their 80 LED lights to project a beautiful color scheme across the neighborhood. The lights can be programmed to be any color or pattern, and came on display this past Fourth of July with a festive red, white and blue projection.
“The lights enhance the architectural detail of the Helix’s circular exit ramp and are a dramatic way to brighten up downtown,” said Gary Means, executive director of the Lexington Parking Authority, which helped finance the project.
A new mall project in Kenwood, Ohio, plans to use LEDs to ease traffic congestion by installing LEDs above each parking space. Customers can will be able to look down a long row of parking spaces and see a bright green LED pointing the way to an open spot.
One of the country’s most esteemed universities is also switching to LEDs in its parking garages around campuses. Washington University in St. Louis is in the midst of redoing all of the garages around campus, and LEDs are playing a major role in their effort to improve safety, reduce energy usage and improve overall campus ambience.
“We are looking to provide an environment that offers enhanced safety and improved functionality,” said Steve Hoffner, associate vice chancellor for operations.
Whether it’s a business, academic or government parking facility, the need to incorporate energy efficient lighting solutions has gone from being a choice to an imperative. With the many tangible safety, financial and ecological benefits smart lighting provides to parking companies, it’s become a matter of how and when, not if, the transition will take place.