Let There Be (LED) Light!

EARTH DAY SPECIAL

Green initiatives on campus, including “smart” lighting upgrades, keep Fenwick’s facilities cleaner and more energy-efficient — while saving the school nearly $84,000 last year!

By Mark Vruno

If Fenwick seems a little brighter lately, that’s because it is. Beyond the sharp, young minds honed in classrooms, we literally are talking light bulbs – namely, vibrant ones employing LED (light-emitting diode) technology.

The Fenwick Library was empty and dark during Easter Break, but the new LED lights were turned back on Tuesday, April 23.

From the John Gearen ’32 Library to labs and classrooms; from the Fieldhouse Gym to the Dan O’Brien ’34 Aquatics Center and adjacent locker rooms/showers; from hallways, stairwells and the Auditorium to parking lots and emergency-lighting systems; the LED lights shine more brightly nearly everywhere in our building, parts of which are 90 years old come fall. In the past year or so, hundreds of fluorescent and metal-halide fixtures have been replaced by Custom Light Solutions (CLS), a retrofit firm based in Roselle, IL. CLS is a business agent for American Green Lights, a manufacturer of LED and induction lighting headquartered in San Diego, CA.

“Thanks to the Fenwick facility team’s leadership and foresight, the school has quite a story to tell from a savings, energy and environmental perspective,” says CLS principal and Fenwick alumnus Dave Segerson ’71, who grew up on Chicago’s West Side and attended old St. Thomas Aquinas Church in the Austin neighborhood. The latest Friar lighting “footprint” improvements since 2016 have resulted in “a significant reduction in electricity expenses,” according to Mr. Segerson’s calculations.

Fenwick Operations Director Jerry Ruffino notes, “The savings is not only in energy but also in ‘man power’ and labor. My guys don’t have to replace bulbs and ballasts nearly as often with these LED lamps.” Adds Denis McCauley, Special Projects Manager at Fenwick: “They last substantially longer [than fluorescent and metal-halide ones], with warranties of five years and longer.”

Fieldhouse Gym

More than four years in the making, the lighting conversion project is spearheaded internally by Mr. McCauley and overseen by Mr. Ruffino. The total team effort is led by President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P., Chief Operating Officer Nancy Bufalino and the school’s Finance Committee.

“Upgrading our lighting from incandescent, fluorescent and metal halide [MH] to LED has reduced the load on our existing electrical system,” McCauley says. (A type of high-intensity discharge (HID) gas lamp, MH produces light by an electric arc through a gaseous mixture of vaporized mercury and metal halides — compounds of metals with bromine or iodine.) He cites as an example the building’s upper West Wing hallway, where 77 single fluorescent lamp fixtures have been replaced with 41 LED units. “We went from 2,464 kilowatt-hours [kW⋅h] to 1,640 kW⋅h. So we are saving more than 800 kilowatts just there, every hour of every day. The payback comes quickly!”

Another dozen fixtures in each of the wing’s 11 classrooms also were replaced, he adds. Electricity provider Commonwealth Edison (ComEd)/Exelon estimates that, since incorporating the LED technology, Fenwick is saving about 40 cents per watt reduced.

$aving energy and money

As down in the pool, MH fixtures were replaced upstairs in the new gym – 48 of them, each with two lamps – with 144-watt LED high-bays. The energy/wattage savings amounts to 68% per fixture, according to CLS statistics, which translates to more than $11,300 off Fenwick’s electricity bill in the Fieldhouse alone (factored on a cost of 10 cents/kWh). Nearly 100 more LED installations can be found in the Fenwick Auditorium, including house lighting and on-stage “show” lights.

The pool area was the “guinea pig” for Fenwick’s LED lighting experiment, receiving 48 new units.

Tack on another almost $6,000 a year in maintenance savings and more than $26,000 in federally funded incentive rebates from ComEd as well as state-funded Illinois Energy grants, and the cost benefits become apparent. Similar savings (of nearly $40,000 annually) are being realized in the pool area. The total 12-month savings for those two areas adds up to $83,424, which is the equivalent to about five full tuitions for the 2019-20 school year.

McCauley adds that the brightness effect is no optical illusion. Everything under roof at Fenwick “looks more brilliant,” he explains, because LEDs offer a high color rendering index (CRI) — the measurement of how colors look when compared with sunlight. The green tint under fluorescent lights is noticeable, he adds. (See graphic.)


Comparing full-spectrum to intermittent-spectrum light sources: The top image is the spectral color distribution of light produced by American Green Lights’ PerformaLUX LED. Every wavelength within the visible spectrum of light is present and in significant strength, while the fluorescent lamp’s spectral distribution is full of peaks and valleys — with dominant wavelength in the green color wavelengths and smaller peaks in the orange, yellow, cyan and blue wavelengths, and a tiny little peak of red.

Going forward, “every replacement bulb at Fenwick High School is going to be LED,” Ruffino announces. Or at least until a newer, more energy-efficient lighting solution is invented in a near-future decade or two.

Editor’s note: CLS supply partner American Green Lights is one of only eight such companies in the Greater Chicago Area — and approximately 200 nationwide — recognized with an Illumination Merit Award from the Illuminating Engineering Society in 2017.

Bye, Bye “Big Bertha”

As part of the construction preparation for Fenwick’s new, six-level Michael R. Quinlan ’62 Parking Center, set to break ground in June, McCauley and Ruffino also are supervising another massive undertaking: the replacement and relocation of the school’s back-up generator. The existing 500-kVA diesel model from Generac Power Systems “is absolutely huge,” McCauley observes, “and pumps out half a million watts of power.” (1 kilo-volt-ampere is equal to 1,000 volt-ampere.)

About to be retired, “Big Bertha” is almost the size of a school bus!

This past weekend, power was shut off to the entire school building(s) as “Big Bertha” was disconnected. In her stead is a pair of smaller, natural gas-fueled Generac units (250 kVA each) installed atop the Priory roof. The end result is the generation of cleaner-burning power when the need arises during a power-outage emergency. “Without a doubt, these gas generators burn cleaner [than diesel], resulting in the discharge of fewer emissions” into the atmosphere, say thermal engineers from ThermFlo, Inc., the Buffalo Grove, IL-based firm working on the project. LaCrosse Electric Co. (Bensenville, IL) is the other key contractor.

“Plus, we won’t have to rely on a tanker [for diesel fuel],” McCauley notes. “This is a more up-to-date system for our purposes.” So far as the nuts, bolts and piping of the operation, the rooftop is a natural choice that provides convenient service access. “The Priory is built like a fortress,” he says. The choice of location on this sturdy structure is ideally suited to handle the weighty steel of the two gas generators. “The West Wing or the Link simply couldn’t handle them,” McCauley points out. “The main [old] building could, but it’s farther away. The piping runs up to the Priory are minimal.”

To ensure that his calculations were correct, McCauley sent his drawings to structural engineer and Friars’ alumnus David Fanella, Ph.D. ’78, Senior Director if Engineering at the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI) in Schaumburg, IL. “Dave came highly recommended by another alum, Tony Garippo ’76, who is a Fenwick Life Trustee and serves on the Facilities Committee.”

Denis McCauley (far left, without hat) supervised the new generator deliver on the Priory roof.

Each generator unit is enclosed in boxes to muffle the noise if and when they run. “We don’t want them roaring across the neighborhood,” McCauley concludes. “That’s not fair to the residents who live across the street and nearby.” As for Big Bertha, a crane and flatbed truck soon will take her away to be recycled and reused.

How LEDs Work

Extreme close up of an LED bulb.

In scientific terms, a light-emitting diode is a semiconductor light source that emits light when current flows through it. Electrons in the semiconductor recombine with electron holes, releasing energy in the form of photons. This effect is called electroluminescence. 

According to the howstuffworks.com website: LEDs are just tiny light bulbs that fit easily into an electrical circuit. But unlike ordinary incandescent bulbs, they don’t have a filament that will burn out, and they don’t get especially hot. They are illuminated solely by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material, and they last just as long as a standard transistor. The lifespan of an LED surpasses the short life of an incandescent bulb by thousands of hours. 

An electrical ballast is a device placed in line with the load to limit the amount of current in an electrical circuit. (It may be a fixed or variable resistor.) In a fluorescent lighting system, the ballast regulates the current to the lamps and provides sufficient voltage to start the lamps. Without a ballast to limit its current, a fluorescent lamp connected directly to a high voltage power source would rapidly and uncontrollably increase its current draw, according to the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), which for nearly 30 years has sought to “advance the effective use of light for society and the environment.”

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22. Worldwide, various events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day now includes events in more than 193 countries, which are now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network.

Green Photo Gallery

Fenwick’s hallowed halls are brighter and less dingy with the new lighting source.
Bright classrooms for bright students (not pictured!).

Even the bronzed cleats of Johnny Lattner ’50 (below, right) look better under the new, brighter lights.
LED components from Custom Lighting Systems (CLS) and American Green Lights.
CLS’s Retrofit Kit
The two new, gas generators await a crane on Scoville Ave. in late March.
Up, up they go to the Fenwick rooftop!
“Steady,” says the LaCrosse Electric engineering crew.

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