There is a deep, dark network of caverns lying under our city and it is hungry for energy. No, this is not the beginning of a bad sci-fi novel, I’m just trying to avoid starting a blog with the words “parking garage.”
Here’s the story: there are several thousand parking garages honeycombing our city and they are energy hogs. These auto lairs have at least 250,000 light fixtures burning 24/7, consuming about 250 gigawatt hours of electricity per year. That’s a lot of juice – about enough to power 20,000 average Ontario homes.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to reduce the energy demand of parking garages. New lighting technologies such as Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) can cut energy use by up to 50 per cent. Combine them with advanced controls, such as occupancy sensors that dim the lights when no one is actually using the garage, and you can cut energy use by 70 per cent or more.
Nice, simple technical fix, right?! Wrong: occupancy sensors aren’t currently allowed for use in garages (or corridors) under Toronto’s Municipal Property Standards Code. Fortunately, due to some pro-active thinking and growing interest from building owners, that situation is about to change as Toronto moves its policies in line with its energy conservation goals.
The point is that more enlightened (pardon the pun) policies can make just as much of an impact on energy conservation as new technologies – and the former often needs to be adjusted to accommodate and advance the latter.
Another example: Toronto Atmospheric Fund is piloting LED fixtures in two Toronto Community Housing underground garages, and comparing them against the existing high-pressure sodium lighting system (see www.toronto.ca/taf/lightsavers.htm#lightsavers)
Early feedback from the building’s residents is that the LEDs are far brighter – maybe even too bright. Yet, measurements show that the LEDs are actually producing about 30 per cent LESS light than the high pressure sodium lamps. It turns out that perceived brightness, and more importantly visibility, has as much to do with light quality as light quantity. In this case, standards will need to catch up to the technology by paying more attention to things like “colour temperature”, “colour rendering” and light distribution.
With the right combination of technology and policy, we have the opportunity to save an enormous amount of "underground" energy while enhancing public safety and light quality. Efficiency is not about doing without, it is about doing things smarter.