Credit for Smart Lighting Controls

MasterCard International is one of the top credit card companies in the world. Over the last decade, along with every other competitor of its kind, it has invested billions in creating state-of-the-art data centers to manage electronic transactions on a 24/7 basis. Yet until recently, its 500,000-sq.


MasterCard International is one of the top credit card companies in the world. Over the last decade, along with every other competitor of its kind, it has invested billions in creating state-of-the-art data centers to manage electronic transactions on a 24/7 basis. Yet until recently, its 500,000-sq.-ft. Purchase, N.Y. headquarters was anything but state of the art. Take lighting. "Nothing was automatic. Every morning, building engineers would manually turn on toggle switches and then have to turn them off at night," says Joseph Mizrahi, P.E., vice president at Lizardos Engineering Assocs. (LEA).

The Mineola, N.Y.-based firm was commissioned by MasterCard to evaluate its existing lighting system and recommend a solution. The sheer size of the facility made more efficient lighting a priority, as Mizrahi, also the lead electrical engineer on the project, notes lighting can account for as much as 40% of electrical consumption in a commercial facility. But in this case, the obsolescence of the existing system was more glaring as it made maintenance of interior and exterior lighting cost-prohibitive.

"The old system, frankly, was broken and had even been disconnected," explains Mizrahi.

Even if it had functioned, he says, the system was controlled by outmoded timers and contractors that did not meet current codes. Also, being unprogrammable, it was inflexible.

Furthermore, the facility's existing lighting panels consisted of lighting and non-lighting loads that were not separated, leading to further inefficiencies.

LEA's study resulted in an engineering report that recommended a total renovation and automation of the facility's lighting system.

"When you leave it up to humans, you don't always get just what you want," he says, recalling how the study found that lights would regularly be left on through weekends and holidays.

As a result, LEA recommended the following:

  • Replace all lighting panels with panels containing smart breakers. These breaker panels have a master controller that, in essence, makes each panel self-contained and each breaker a separate lighting zone.

"Instead of a master/slave configuration, we decided to have each panel be an autonomous master panel," says Mizrahi.

  • All new lighting panels should interconnect, via a communication link, through a computer in the facility engineer's office.

This way, Mizrahi says, the facility engineer could then view the entire building using floor plans that would be prepared in AutoCAD. In addition, a touch-screen monitor offered with the software would allow the user to zoom to various locations. By touching the icon for a specific office's lighting, facility staff would be able to turn lights on or off, overriding the base program. "Even if you lose power on the control computer, you don't lose the lights," says Mizrahi. "We also installed a redundant computer in a remote location as a lighting control backup unit."

Another recommendation included a custom base zoning program designed by LEA, who then worked with programming staff from the vendor—in this case, Square D—to customize the software. The program schedules all the lights in the facility to go on and off at various times Monday through Friday, weekends and holidays. For example, the lights in the main areas are on at 6 a.m. and off at 10 p.m. If an employee needs to work late, additional lighting time can be granted by the engineer using simple touch-screen entries.

"Each zone is a different color on the touch screen," says Mizrahi. "Operators simply need to touch the area they want to affect."

When it came to actual implementation of the design to construction documents, LEA engineers found they needed yet further detailed building studies before they could issue such plans.

Along with these surveys, LEA engineers also decided to include a detailed zoning chart that was issued as part of the construction documents outlining the base lighting program for the facility, as well as the lighting distribution for the building, its 300,000-sq.-ft parking garage and parking lot.

Natural light a plus

One of the positives the LEA report uncovered was the fact that the building has many areas naturally illuminated by skylights. This, of course, provided a number of opportunities to implement daylighting strategies.

Fortunately, the building's base lighting program is able to work in conjunction with such strategies. "Photo cells track the outdoor light," says Mizrahi. "In areas with daylighting, lights are generally off during the day. But if it's a dark day, the lights automatically go on."

In fact, all lighting is automated. Computerization, according to Mizrahi, leads to numerous advantages: Automated timing creates accuracy of areas to be lighted or darkened. And when the functionality of a space changes, the computerized control system allows easy changes. Furthermore, as each smart control panel is a stand-alone unit, each can control lighting for individual zones. In the event that communication between panels and central computer is lost, the master controller can control lighting as a self-contained unit.

That being said, LEA did go back and add limited manual control in the form of momentary light switches. These switches were added in strategic areas so that by pressing a switch, an occupant can provide an additional five minutes of lighting.

While lighting is completely automated, interestingly, it is not integrated with other building automation systems. This, says Mizrahi, was in order to keep it independent and functioning on its own.

Good luck or planning?

As far as the installation itself, adding electrical power and lighting controls to an existing building can be problematic: Space for new equipment is often limited; modifying existing circuit runs is labor-intensive; and the installation itself might be time-consuming and disruptive to occupants.

Fortunately, the system was able to be fit into the spaces where the existing lighting panels were housed. In fact, because little additional equipment was required, space was not a problem.

In addition, by isolating lighting as a separate electrical load, LEA was able to avoid cutting existing circuits, which would have disrupted vital operations. Furthermore, work was completed during off hours so as not to disrupt occupants during the day.

Paid in full

There are many advantages to this system, the most obvious being the money savings over time, quick payback, energy conservation and low maintenance. As for this latter advantage, personnel costs are down for the MasterCard facility, mostly in that staff does not have to turn lights on and off. But an even greater savings is realized by the substantial reduction in daily burn time of lamps. In fact, the increased calendar time between lamp replacements is a triple play: It saves in labor costs because of less frequent lamp changes; less replacement bulbs are needed; and, of course, lamp disposal costs are reduced. Mizrahi estimates the new lighting system is saving MasterCard 20% to 30% in annual energy costs.

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