Bright idea may save base $400k+ per year

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Stephen Cadette
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
The ideas of one Airman and a civilian in the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron have brought new light to the subject of energy savings at Vandenberg.

They have discovered a new way to provide illumination to Vandenberg streets, parking lots and facilities, using light emitting diode, or LED, lamps.

LEDs use less electricity than high pressure sodium fixtures--about one third as much, said Master Sgt. Russ Wells, the superintendent of the electrical flight.

"With a high pressure sodium fixture, it's a hollow glass tube and basically a lightning bolt that arcs through the tube," he said. "It's the arc that creates the light."

It draws about 450-540 watts of electricity to create that lightning bolt, he said. LED lights, however, work on a smaller scale. Following the principle of strength in numbers, each LED light fixture comprises dozens of pencil eraser-sized 5-watt lights.

"Inside is a little wafer of phosphor. It makes a very small arc so it consumes two-thirds to three-quarters less electricity than high pressure," he said.

In the electrical shop, Sergeant Wells installed two light fixtures. One of them is the sodium bulb. It glows yellow and turns everything beneath it a shade of orange. The other is a square panel with dozens of bright tiny lights that flood the floor with white light. The natural color is an added bonus.

Both are hooked up to meters to measure the amount of electricity used by each light. For the sodium bulb, the meter reads 1,110 kilowatt hours. The LED meter reads about 380.

The majority of electricity Vandenberg uses comes from El Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, said Brad King, 30th CES energy manager. The energy savings wouldn't make a difference on carbon dioxide emissions, since nuclear plants don't emit C02. However, Mr. King said the savings in power makes him very optimistic about saving money.

"We've estimated, with a 350 watt savings, each fixture could save $88.75 per year," he said. More than 5,000 light fixtures on base could potentially be replaced. That's a savings of nearly half-a-million dollars per year.

While LED fixtures are more expensive, maybe twice as much as the sodium lights, they actually may cost less over time.

"The difference is an LED light fixture is designed to last 50,000 hours, while the sodium bulbs last about 10,000," Mr. King said. In a corrosive sea-side environment, he said he expects fixtures to outlast the structures that bear them.

While the initial overhead may be expensive, LED lights may pay for themselves because they wouldn't need to be replaced as often. Additionally, Sergeant Wells said that translates into saved work-hours.

"On one fixture, we could save six man-hours per fixture. We have 5,000 lights on base, so in 12 years that's 30,000 hours we've saved."

Much more could be saved across the Air Force if the department decides to adopt this idea.

"We could probably make the assumption that we have 100,000 streetlights Air Force-wide, as many lights as a major metropolitan city. If we save $88 per light, that could be $8.8 million saved per year."

While saving the Air Force millions was enough incentive to propose this idea, Mr. King and Sergeant Wells stand to benefit if the Air Force makes the switch to LED lights. Through the Air Force Innovative Development Through Employee Awareness Program, military and civilian employees can submit ideas that improve processes or save resources. People whose ideas result in a tangible payoff are entitled to a reward up to $10,000.

But first, the base has to run a preliminary test. Already one light pole in front of the 30th CES operations flight building has been refitted.

"We're hoping in the next month or so, to do a pilot project where we can do a couple parking lots to see how they work out," Mr. King said. After a successful test, he said he'll work on the funding to refit the entire base. Once that happens, that will be one more Air Force Smart Operations step taken by Vandenberg to negotiate budget and personnel cuts, rising energy costs and aging equipment.