Value-driven property-investing strategy for the UW campus—A lighting example

Total Amount Awarded: $69,277

Final report poster or presentation: View the PDF

The objective of this study is to demonstrate that lighting retrofits, which include personal controls and dimming capability, can generate significant energy savings and improve occupant experience/satisfaction, ultimately leading to better worker performance. The University of Washington (UW) has retrofitted and replaced existing lighting fixtures in university buildings with more energy-efficient fixtures as part of the campus-wide energy conservation effort. Although a reduction in electric power is a measured performance metric, the associated occupant experience is not currently evaluated. For example, replacing an incandescent lamp with a florescent light can reduce the total electricity consumption, but the associated light quality and impact on occupant performance are not assessed. However, there is emerging evidence that workspace strategies (e.g., lighting quality) impact productivity, absenteeism, employee turnover, and even innovations in organizations. And because organizations are ultimately dependent on their human capital, finding empirical data to demonstrate that high-performing interior space (e.g., with individualized controls) affects employees in a positive way is crucial. 

The study will address the following research questions: (1) How much electricity savings can a lighting control strategy add to the existing lighting system without any control strategies? (2) What are the values added in terms of economics, but more importantly, what are the values added to the occupants? (3) Does a recent lighting retrofit project on campus perform according to established lighting audit protocols by such agencies as the Illuminating Engineering Society; American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)? (4) If not, what deficiencies exist, and how can they be resolved? (5) How can the university monitor the lighting performance of all buildings on campus in the future to provide a superior occupant experience in buildings?

Specifically, the study proposes to measure the existing lighting quality both objectively by deploying sensors and subjectively by surveying occupants of the UW Tower before and after the retrofit. The current conditions include recently upgraded florescent light fixtures but do not include any personal controls or dimming capabilities. The research team have received support and permission from Facilities Manager Troy Swanson, Director of Operations Steve Kennard, and Associate Vice President of Office of Planning and Management Gary Quarfoth, to deploy sensors and surveys to the occupants on the 12th floor and to install the lighting control system on the 12th floor. The outcome of this study will generate a process for evaluating the success of a lighting retrofit in terms of both energy savings and the lighting quality in a building space.

Relevance to UW Sustainability Goals:

This research question has direct bearing on the UW sustainability goals in many ways. First, according to the updated Climate Action Plan of 2010 (University of Washington, 2010), regarding the renovation of existing buildings, the long-term goal is to connect capital investment strategies focused on both capital and operating budgets. A prime case that exemplifies the difficulty in connecting capital investment to a long-term operational solution is the UW Tower. Although the UW Tower has undergone incremental upgrades on the fixtures over the years, the investments only modestly improved the energy use in the building, and the overall ambient lighting quality of the space still leaves more opportunities to be explored.

Secondly, another goal of the Climate Action Plan is to function as a research center and test bed for greenhouse gas goal setting, reduction technologies, and administrative processes. Since the UW Tower is being used as a test bed, the proposed research is fulfilling this aspect of the Climate Action Plan. The results of this project will be helpful in understanding how lighting control strategies impact both energy and occupant performance. This point also resonates with the recent discussion that the PI had at a College of Engineering workshop to discuss the research thrust areas of “Infrastructure and Smart Cities” on November 17, 2014. Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Affairs Dr. Santosh Devasia was the workshop facilitator, and the objective of the workshop was to discuss in small groups the opportunities and challenges for the college to become a major player in the proposed area. The group consensus was that the university campus—with sustainable features such as smart meters equipped on over 256 buildings, access to a variety of green public transportation services, a pilot organic and locally based food-producing system, and a major thermal plant servicing the campus—should be the testing ground for many of the research questions. When successfully completed, the study findings will aid in reaching out to local, state, and national organizations to continue the research.

Finally, one of the goals of the smart grid project is to enhance UW education and promote academic research opportunities (University of Washington, 2014). As part of the smart grid projects, more than 250 energy meters have already been installed on campus buildings to measure energy usage in real time. This study will actively use and critically analyze the smart meter data for the proposed UW Tower study. Furthermore, during the process, the research team will be able to identify and demonstrate how the smart data are useful in further reducing the energy consumption in buildings around campus. In the fall 2014 quarter, the principal investigator also used the energy dashboard and information from the smart meter to teach the course CEE 498, Sustainability in Building Infrastructure. Through this project, the PI plans to incorporate more of the findings into the coursework to further enhance the educational experience for seniors.


The research team consists of Professor Amy Kim, staff member Scott Bybee, post-doctoral student Hessam Sadatsafavi, and graduate research assistant Benjamin Lukes. Dr. Kim will serve as the PI on this project. Integral to this team will be the advisory roles that Troy Swanson, Steve Kennard, and Ben Newton (Tenant Service Manager) will take on to ensure that the project is in line with university policies and administrative guidelines. Table 1, Timeline for the Proposed Investigation, provides the breakdown of the tasks the team will complete during calendar year 2015.  Please see the supporting documentation for detail information.

Primary Faculty:
Amy  Kim
Primary Staff:
Scott Bybee
Primary Student:
Benjamin Lukes

This project was funded during the 2014-2015 academic year.