Lighten Up

Ball Fields, Pools Get a Boost With LEDs

By Deborah L. Vence

Sports and pool facility managers are finding that switching to LED lights or simply placing their lights in a different location can help conserve energy and enable them to better manage their lighting systems and keep costs down.

"Recently LED lights have been developed to replace older style incandescent fixtures. At first, replacement LED bulbs were developed that could be used in an older incandescent fixture to basically convert the fixture to use an LED bulb. There are many benefits to replacing the incandescent bulb with an LED bulb. The illumination is much brighter and produces a bright white color, instead of the greenish color an incandescent bulb produces," said Charles R. Luecker, president and CEO of a national distributor of commercial swimming pool equipment, chemicals and supplies.

In this issue, sports lighting experts discuss the popularity of light-emitting diode technology (LED), the importance of lighting management and how even the position of your lights can make the difference in your sports or pool facility.

Energy Conservation

Energy has been a chief consideration in lighting decisions for years.

"The typical Little League field we lit in the late 1970s using a 1500-watt metal halide light source consumed about 54 kilowatts of energy," said Jeff Rogers, vice president of developmental sales for an Oskaloosa, Iowa-based company that designs and manufactures sports lighting systems.

"Today, using the same basic 1500-watt metal halide light source, we are able to achieve the same light levels using about half the energy and with significantly less impact to the surrounding environment," he said. "This results from multiple system innovations in structures, control of light, electrical systems and application for the specialized needs of lighting sports fields. Operational control systems further enhance energy efficiency."

He added: "Over the past five years, we have researched the challenge of optimizing the increased lumen output of diode technology without sacrificing the spill and glare reduction that we have been able to achieve with metal halide arc tube technology."

For example, Rogers' company has provided energy-efficient lighting solutions for thousands of customers across the globe.

"Matching our efficient design with the evolving LED technology, we've used the LED light source as the best choice for both indoor and outdoor venues," he said.

This summer LakePoint Sporting Community, a sports vacation destination in Emerson, Ga., became the first outdoor sports complex with competitive level of play to feature his company's energy-efficient lighting system, which uses an LED light source. The company's foundation-to-poletop system--using an LED light source--enhanced playability with the near absence of glare while using less than half of the energy of typical floodlighting equipment.

"With high hours of usage annually, the energy savings helped LakePoint achieve their sustainability goals," Rogers said. "Operators have flexibility to instantly turn lights on or off, or dim to preset levels during practice or between games for additional energy savings. The first phase of lighting at LakePoint features four baseball fields, three soccer/lacrosse fields and four volleyball courts."

What's more, Michigan State University installed Rogers' company's arena lighting solution with an LED light source at the Munn Ice Arena with an overwhelmingly positive response from players and coaches.

"This system not only improved the quality and quantity of the light on the playing surface, but it reduced energy consumption by 80 percent compared to the prior system," he said.

"The system's dimming controls allow the university to efficiently use energy when the full power of the system is not needed. The LED light source has less heat impact on the ice, reducing the load on ice-making equipment and further increasing the arena's overall energy savings," he added. "Michigan State also just installed our same technology at the Breslin Center."

LED Leads the Way

While halogen and incandescent lights have been the choice of lighting for many years, LEDs have become the preferred alternative for sports facilities and pools. Today, LED lighting illuminates' ball fields and pools and has become a popular topic for sports lighting.

"The technology has been around since the 1960s. Like the metal halide arc tube light source, the diode is the component of a lighting system that converts electrical energy into light energy," Rogers explained.

"Recent improvements in the diode lumen output and decrease in cost have made it a relevant option for some sports lighting applications," he said.

That is, the rate of converting electrical energy into lumens of light energy is an element that affects the end result.

"Optimizing the lighting comes from the combination of how the lumens of light are generated, how the fixture is designed to control and deliver light to the field of play, how the lighting is designed to meet the activity requirements, how the lighting impacts the playing and surrounding environments, and the cost of owning and maintaining the system over time," he explained.

Evaluation of the benefits and cost of both diode and arc tube light sources should be done in order to determine the light source option that best fits the project needs.

"Years ago, when pool lights were being selected, halogen lighting was the save-the-day kind of thing. Now, it's LED—especially in the last two or three years," added Mike Fowler, commercial marketing manager/sales for a company that specializes in commercial pool and aquatics products. "In the last two or three years LED lighting has changed the pool industry."

Different options are available in changing out pool lights, too. For one, you can change the whole fixture.

"The choice is to decide whether to replace the entire fixture and start new," Luecker said. "This requires removing the old fixture from the niche, installing the new fixture and wiring it to the junction box. This takes more time than just changing a bulb, but the benefit is you get a new, completely sealed LED light fixture," he said. "If you select to install a new LED bulb, instead of installing a completely new LED fixture, you are provided a new light lens and gasket along with the LED bulb. This is to make sure the light is sealed properly, so it will prevent any water from entering the fixture and damaging the new LED bulb."

And, "A lot of the manufacturers … are looking at white lighting," Fowler added. "Most of us have color LED lights, but we're talking about white. We have a full line of white ones. But, in general, what people are doing is taking the incandescent and replacing it with the equivalent LED."

Basically, LED technology provides longer life and uses 86 percent less energy than incandescent lights. Several different power companies are offering rebates to end users using LEDs, too.

"A typical incandescent light bulb was meant to last 3,000 hours. LEDs are capable, but certified for 30,000 hours of operation," he said.

When looking at incandescent lights in a pool, you will observe a spotlight in the pool, and then the light will disperse as you look further down from the spotlight.

"On one end, you will see the spotlight, just a few feet away. But, you will not be able to easily light the pool up everywhere," Fowler noted.

With LED lights, on the other hand, you don't see that spotlight. It's transformed into the water and is evenly lit.

"That's why pure light [offers] better lighting and is evenly distributed. Another option is a yellowish tint. The thing to ask is, was it a true LED light or a color LED light on the white? When you have the color version, it's a combination of white and red," he said, adding that another option that's fairly new to the industry is an LED replacement bulb suited to go into any incandescent lighting fixture.

"Without changing the fixture [you can change it] to an LED version, simply by taking the bulb out," Fowler said.

About a year ago, Fowler's company launched a special type of LED lamp that uses minimal electrical consumption. The LED lamp, which is sold as a kit, is a plug-and-play replacement for the company's incandescent bulbs.

The kit contains a light assembly, gasket, a light wide/narrow option glass lens and new clamp. The company's white lamps use 34 to 51 watts of power, and are available in white 300-, 400- and 500-watt incandescent light equivalencies, in 120V or 12V versions. Vibrant color-changing models also available. In addition, the lamps have a reflector design that creates more uniform light distribution; a lens that can be rotated 180 degrees to provide wide or narrow beam pattern.

"The whole thing with going to LED means better lighting, energy savings (money savings for facility), serious money. One of the things in comparing possible savings is that we did an analysis program that shows what the potential savings aspect is," he said. "Incandescent lights that were running 24 hours a day, if you had a 500-watt incandescent light, the annual cost just to electrical savings by switching … would be $593 dollars a year in energy costs. That's just one light." (The estimated life savings of that one light switch to LED would be about $9,700.)

Furthermore, Fowler suggested that facility managers consider going to a lighting manufacturer's website, once the decision to switch to LED has been made, and do a further analysis on potential savings. "You can even contact your local power company [to find out] about rebates. A lot of them are doing it," Fowler said.

Luecker added that choosing to change to LED lighting for your swimming pool saves energy, and is really an easy switch.

"The change does not make a difference whether the pool is indoor or outdoor," he said. "Many swimming pool operators are amazed at how much better their pools look, with the brighter spectrum lighting from the LED bulbs/fixtures, than the light their incandescent lights provided."

Moreover, LED lights consume 1/10th of the power of an incandescent bulb and have a longer life.

"An LED bulb can last up to 40,000 hours, which can work out to be many years as compared to an incandescent bulb that may only last one year. This saves labor cost in that the bulbs need to be changed less often," Luecker explained.

Lighting Placement

Another way to conserve energy and better manage your lighting system is simply by changing the location of your lights.

For example, renovations of the 50-meter indoor pool at Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Ore., involve new, higher efficiency T5 incandescent lights, but not LED lights. Rather, the placement of the lights will be changed.

"[We're] having the lights redesigned over the perimeter of the pool, within a foot of the pool deck. When we have to fix them [we want to do it] without having to actually drain it," said Elsa Lemoine, facilities director at the club, a private athletic and social facility that offers a variety of activities to its 21,000 members (including children). Membership in the club is an exclusive, invitation-only process.

"What you do is try to align the replacement [of the lights] with annual pool maintenance. And, now you can just replace them as you need them. You are getting the full life of the lights," she explained. "You don't have to drain [the pool]."

Another factor in making the change involves the life of the bulbs when they're turned off at the end of the day.

"They're on 24/7. But, now, we will be able to program them and run them at 25 percent capacity for emergency purposes only. That makes a difference. That was the main seller for Energy Trust of Oregon to subsidize this project. The number of hours you can turn them off, [being the] main driver of savings. You have that option based on hours of operation," Lemoine explained.

With the new renovation, the lights will be programmed to go off at a certain time, about an hour after the pool closes, which still leaves the lifeguards ample time to clean things up.

"The other thing we did was that we took the underwater lights out. One day … we were touring the pool and then with the lights off, we didn't even notice [that they were on]. You could barely see the difference because it is so shallow. And, really when the pool is deeper, seven feet and deeper, that's when the lights really make a difference," she said.

Overall, the estimated energy savings are more than 34,000 kilowatt hours per year with the change. "And, with the underwater lights being taken out, it's actually probably more. But, just with overhead lights, that's the savings," she added.

What to Consider

In general, when planning for a new lighting system or when making lighting changes, written specifications should be established for performance criteria for playability, environmental light control, life cycle cost savings, maintenance and warranty.

"Multiple variables impact the lighting, structural and electrical decisions for a project," Rogers said. "For example, the quantity and quality of light needed is impacted by facility type and size, players' skill level, spectator capacity, TV requirements and required lighting standards from organizations."

And, when evaluating proposals, it's important to look at both initial and operating costs, which are largely affected by a manufacturer's track record of reliable performance and service.

And, don't forget about the neighbors, either, especially those living next to outdoor sports fields.

"Every owner wants their facility to be a source of pride in the community and not a source of disruptive glare and spill for neighbors," Rogers said. "When evaluating environmental impact, it's important to consider neighboring properties—whether it's roadways, residents, airports or observatories. Often, local ordinances exist to regulate sports lighting.

"Owners should evaluate lighting designs presented by manufacturers to ensure each critical issue is effectively addressed," he added, "and verify results have been achieved for projects with similar concerns."

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