Portland State electricians hope to install long-lasting, sustainable bulbs on campus
Along the path on the south side of the Science Research and Teaching Center, four pole lights have become “Mick’s experimental lighting project.”
Mick Nelson and Ryan Roberts, Portland State’s electrical supervisor and lead electrician, respectively, have installed a different type of bulb in each of the four lights. One is the type currently used throughout campus, while the other three are different energy-efficient bulb types.
A placard is posted on each pole explaining the technical specifications and projected long-term costs of each of the different bulbs. The project was dedicated to former provost Roy Koch—a champion of sustainable practices—as part of his retirement ceremonies last spring.
Nelson and Roberts are trying to figure out which energy efficient bulb would do the job best in the 248 similar pole lights scattered across campus. Despite clear-cut financial, resource and safety benefits, the project has yet to be approved because it lacks funding. The estimated cost for the labor and materials needed to replace all the outdoor pole lights is $225,000.
Most of these fixtures now house non-environmentally-friendly bulbs. They contain mercury, provide orange-hued light that pollutes the night sky and have to be replaced every few years.
With new technology, these problems can be eliminated. Nelson and Roberts hope to go with free LED bulbs; these bulbs are designed to project all their light downward and produce light that closely mimics daylight. The bulbs only need to be replaced every 17 years.
The LED bulbs also use less wattage and emit three times as much light. “We’re going to get more light with less maintenance,” Nelson said.
Both electricians were quick to stress another aspect of campus-wide light bulb replacement: safety. Because the bulbs produce daylight-quality light, it would be easier to identify suspicious people on campus.
Whereas the hue of the current bulbs has a tendency to distort the color of objects their light falls upon, the new bulbs would create a what-you-see-is-what-you-get situation: for example, a green jacket would look like a green jacket rather than some shade of brown.
Though the electricians are passionate about what they do, they stress the ultimate beneficiaries of their work: “It’s all about the students,” Roberts said.
The electricians are currently seeking a source of funding and strongly emphasize the long-term savings on electricity and continuous bulb replacement.
The initial funding came from donations secured during Koch’s retirement last spring. Along with the sustainable garden near Lincoln Hall, the lighting project appealed to Koch’s mission.
“Because of Roy’s commitment to sustainability, [the electricians] thought it would be a good way to recognize him,” said Donna Bergh, special assistant to the provost.
Though the Office of Academic Affairs didn’t contribute money directly, it helped gather small donations from the campus community in honor of Koch’s decades-long service to the university.
Koch’s name appears on each of the placards near the SRTC.
The OAA hasn’t received any feedback on the project; neither have the electricians. The project was kick-started over the summer when fewer students and faculty were on campus. Nevertheless, the electricians were able to get the ball rolling sooner than later because of the donations, Bergh explained.
A brief observation at the site of the lighting experiment illustrated that the word is getting out. At least one campus tour guide stopped her group at one of the light poles and explained what was going on with them. Another student said he had just been looking at the placards.
Taking a break between classes near the site, student Mary Robbins offered her opinion of the lights. For her it’s a matter of safety: “Especially downtown, espec-ially here, because less people travel here at night,” Robbins said, referring specifically to the southwest corner of campus.
When asked if she thought PSU’s emphasis on sustainability should be reflected in every possible way, right down to the smallest light bulb, Robbins responded that large institutions like PSU need to set an example.
“If bigger organizations don’t do it, smaller organizations won’t.”
Anyone who would like to weigh in on the issue is encouraged to send Nelson feedback at [email protected].