Argonne Interns Develop Bright Idea for Energy Savings

Team from Oklahoma State conducts inventory of lighting on campus—and figures out a more efficient plan in the process.

Everyone is trying to cut down on electric bills these days—even Argonne National Laboratory.

Three college-age interns spent the summer helping the energy-research lab to do just that by creating an inventory of every light bulb, fixture and switch in four buildings on the Darien-area campus.

After mapping the infrastructure, they measured the intensity of the illumination to determine how Argonne’s power usage stacked up to industry lighting standards.

Anna Eckhoff, Ashley Dowdy and Kristin Schieffer presented the results of their survey Wednesday at the culmination of the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation-funded 10-week Faculty and Student Teams (FaST) program.

The lighting solutions they presented could save the lab more than $10,000 in energy costs annually.

Documenting the light fixtures at Argonne proved to be no simple task for the team, all of whom are students or recent grads from Oklahoma State University.

Most of Argonne’s buildings were constructed during the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when ideas about energy consumption were very different than they are today.

“Argonne National Laboratory has been around for a very long time and there’s so much going on here,” Schieffer said. “People are so devoted to their projects that sustainability can easily be overlooked.”

Argonne has already begun updating some fixtures as a result of a 2009 executive order from President Barack Obama mandating greater sustainability in government facilities.

Yet despite measures such as switching out some mercury-vapor lamps for more energy-conscious choices, Schieffer said the team’s inventory found the lab still has a ways to go.

“It’s shocking to think how bright some of the buildings must have been originally,” she said.

Just as surprising was how much of a building’s total energy use comes from lighting.

The team found the 377 light fixtures in Argonne’s cafeteria, for example, account for 7.8 percent of the power that building consumes. On average, the brightness in the cafeteria was about seven times greater than the industry standard. Lighting accounts for 3.9 percent of the energy used in a nuclear research facility.

But with a few changes—cleaning fixtures, swapping motion sensors for light switches, halving the number of bulbs in certain fixtures—the team determined Argonne could save $10,227 each year on energy costs.

The team will present their research again at Oklahoma State this fall and anticipate they’ll also bring their findings to research symposiums.

Eckhoff, who recently graduated from Oklahoma State’s design program, said she appreciated the opportunity to apply what she learned in school in a practical way.

“I took a few lighting courses, so I’m familiar with the lingo,” she said. “But it’s a whole other level when it’s a science project.”

As she begins looking for full-time employment, she said she’s intent on nurturing her interest in sustainability by focusing on LEED-accredited architecture firms.

“Sustainability is something I’ve always been passionate about,” she said. “Sustainability is the future.”


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