When construction was completed on the Empire State Building (ESB) in 1931 it cost $25.6 million—that’s just $9.20 per square foot. You can’t even build a single floor for that nowadays, much less a 1,454-foot tall skyscraper (adjusting for inflation, the ESB would cost $352 million today). Though the building hosts events and tour groups, most of us only see it from the outside and don’t realize that the reason it’s known as the World’s Most Famous Office Building is because tenants occupy the vast majority of its 102 floors. And like any other office building, lighting consumes the majority of its electrical costs—a whopping 39 percent.
In order to meet their stringent return-on-investment requirements, Anthony Malkin, President of Malkin Holdings, which owns the ESB, and Jones Lang LaSalle, an energy and sustainability consultancy, commissioned Lutron to supply pre-built tenant spaces throughout the building with sustainable lighting control solutions as part of the Clinton Climate Initiative Building Retrofit program aimed at improving efficiency and financial performance. The building-wide retrofit is projected to provide a total lighting energy savings of up to 65 percent and a reduced installed payback period of just 2.75 years. Overall, the Lutron system will reduce energy use by 38 percent and energy bills by $4.4 million per year. Moreover, the upgrade will prevent an estimated 105,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years.
The concept is simple: use less light, less often. Just as automatic faucets solved the problem of people forgetting to turn the water off at the sink, automatic sensors in Lutron’s wireless lighting system turn lights off when a room is unoccupied. They also dim the lights according to the amount of daylight in a room so tenant spaces aren’t over-lit and only use as much light as is necessary. “It’s not about going without,” said Lutron’s President, Michael Pessina, “it’s about not spending for what you don’t need.”
It works like this: An occupancy/vacancy sensor is installed in the ceiling and/or in the corners of the room. In test mode you can check to make sure the sensor can reach the entire room and there aren’t any dead spots. The sensors, which track motion and temperature and control both lighting and HVAC systems, offer three levels of sensitivity, from basic body movement to small, isolated actions like typing on a keyboard. The sensors are operated by small remotes and dimmers that can be attached to the wall like a standard light switch or left free to be used at your desk, couch, meeting area, etc. The sensors can be customized to power on and off automatically or to be powered on by the user and powered off automatically with various time-out times. In the Empire State Building, where overall usage is metered, tenants also have the option to install sub-metering units that allow them to monitor their energy consumption in real-time and make adjustments to consume less and, ultimately, pay less on their monthly bills.
“It sounds basic,” said Lutron’s ESB project lead Tom Myers, “but making sure lights are only on when people need them is a big deal in terms of savings.” As you would expect, Lutron’s Manhattan office is equipped with all the bells and whistles, including a wall-mounted LCD TV where energy consumption is tracked in real time and adjustments can be made with an iPad application. Large windows that offer an impressive view of the city (which, in case you were wonderings, includes the ESB) are fitted with automatic shades programmed to raise and lower according to the amount of daylight in the room. You’ve probably seen motorized shading systems that aren’t completely accurate and, over time, don’t line up with one another anymore, but unlike many such systems on the market, Lutron’s motor is not only completely silent, it’s guaranteed to stop within ⅛” of its programmed level so each shade is always perfectly in line.
While the projected energy savings for ESB retrofit are impressive, more impressive still is the ease of installing the wireless set-up. It literally takes just 12 seconds to program a sensor and its corresponding switch. More switches can be synced to the same sensor, adding a mere six seconds apiece to the installation time. Because rewiring is difficult and labor intensive, especially in buildings over eighty years old, Lutron’s easy to install wireless system minimizes disturbance in retrofits. Wireless lighting technology streamlines construction on new projects, too, and cuts the cost of materials (no wires or pipes) and labor overall.
While Anthony Malkin is in high spirits about the energy savings of Lutron’s “state-of-the-art, cost-effective and architecturally beautiful” system in terms of the savings it will bring to his own properties, he seemed genuinely excited about what it could mean for the future of building in general. “If we only succeed at the Empire State Building” he said, “we have failed.”
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