Lighting: Four benefits to taking your best shot at energy savings

When the National Sports Center (NSC), a 600-acre multi-sport facility located in Blaine, Minnesota, received $475,000 in asset preservation funding from the State of Minnesota, it set its sights on finding a solution for inefficient, inconsistent lighting in its indoor sports arena and its dim, shadowy parking lots.

An amateur sports and meeting facility, the NSC hosts more than 300 events annually at its campus, which includes the world’s largest ice arena complex, 8,500-seat soccer stadium, indoor sports arena, golf course and convention center.

“The NSC is a state campus and Minnesota has a strong interest in keeping its facilities in top condition,” said Neil Ladd, the NSC’s Senior Director of Golf and Campus Operations.

In late 2014 the NSC worked with Energy Management Collaborative (EMC) to install 549 new light fixtures—293 of which were for parking lots and building exteriors and the remainder installed in the indoor sports arena.

“We couldn’t be happier with the results of the new lights,” said Darin Thompson, the NSC’s Senior Director of Field Sports Programs.

But just what is Darin raving about? There are four clear benefits to lighting retrofit projects at sports centers like NSC:

  1. Energy savings.


Whether indoors or out, if lighting technology is more than five years old, it’s not energy efficient.

In the last three years alone, new LED lighting technologies have reached the tipping point where efficacy and quality meet affordability. Installing new lighting technology now can put energy savings to immediate use, allowing sports centers to immediately begin recouping installation costs.


“Over the first six months of usage, we have already saved nearly 130,000 kilowatt hours (kWh). This is particularly impressive because we are continually adding more activities on campus,” said Ashley Marston, the NSC’s Sustainability Manager. “We’re projecting annual savings of nearly 320,000 kWh. The NSC’s savings is equivalent to the annual electricity usage of 30 homes, or roughly the same as the CO2 emissions of 25,000 gallons of gasoline.”

So when is the right time to make the leap to new lighting technology?

It’s really an individual decision and depends on the lighting technology currently installed. In some cases where technology is extremely outdated, newer fluorescent lighting provides the right value and savings desired—and can be implemented in a way that leaves the door open to a future switch to LED.

  1. Bottom line savings.


A lighting infrastructure that consumes less energy means lower energy bills. Depending on the current technology and what it is replaced with, lighting costs can easily be reduced by half…or more.

New lighting solutions also mean fewer service cal. The efficacy of LED lights is significantly longer than fluorescents. With LED’s expected lifespans at 10 years or more, a new LED solution eliminates the need for routine service calls that have probably become commonplace as outdated lamps sporadically begin to fail.

New lighting also brings a system completely under warranty. Lighting warranties become hard to manage as fixtures or lamps reach the end of their life and begin to fail. Tracking replacements is difficult and usually not well managed, so the benefit of having them warrantied is not realized.

Lower energy costs along with incentives offered by energy service providers and government programs also help recoup initial lighting investment costs. In the case of the NSC, EMC worked with local utility Connexus Energy to offset project costs with more than $35,000 in incentive savings.

Marston estimates the lighting investment will be paid back in less than three years.

  1. The right light levels for activities in that space.

When planning a lighting retrofit it’s important to consider how various areas are used and create a lighting design that fits those activities. For indoor stadiums, different lighting technologies and lamp placement optimize the playing field, locker room, hallway and entrance environments.

The NSC’s 24 year-old indoor Sports Hall provides 58,350 square feet of activity area. Prior to the retrofit, aging or failed lamps meant failing or burned out lamps lead to inconsistent lighting across the hall. The retrofit was completed just as the Minnesota United FC, the professional soccer team that calls the NSC home, brought their practices inside for the winter.


“The improvement was immediately noticeable to Minnesota United FC players at their first practice in the Indoor Sports Hall following the lighting retrofit,” said NSC Chief Communications Officer Barclay Kruse.  “The club tweeted enthusiastically about the new clean lights, with no dark spots.”

  1. An inviting, safe environment.

Parking lots set the tone for those who visit athletic complexes. For those located in northern climates, it’s especially important to have consistent, bright lighting in parking lots.

Located in Minnesota, the NSC recognized that one of its busiest seasons—winter—meant a dim, uninviting first experience for guests in its parking lots.

As part of its lighting retrofit project, the NSC replaced pole lights with efficient and bright LED fixtures. LED fixtures mounted on buildings next to entrances and in pathway lamps also significantly brightened exteriors. Vehicles, signage, pathways and grounds are now evenly illuminated and clearly visible from NSC’s parking lots.

The new parking lot and exterior lights also positively impact the NSC’s branding. Banners flying the Minnesota United FC logo are clearly visible in the parking lots and across campus after dark.

Open 365 days a year, the NSC knew that implementing the lighting retrofit in-house was not an option. Instead, they looked to EMC, a turnkey lighting solutions provider specializing in lighting retrofit, to get the job done right the first time and minimize disruption to activities happening throughout the facility.

Turnkey lighting solutions providers are also skilled at maximizing savings opportunities—both during and after a lighting projects. This includes identifying and applying for incentives that can significantly offset project costs and managing warranties for installed lighting products.

Your best shot at energy savings comes from having a trusted partner help you optimize your sport center’s lighting. You keep your eyes on your venue while they deliver the energy and bottom line savings and help you maximize visitor experience from the parking lot to the playing field. – By John Loheit, director of marketing and customer incentives for Energy Management Collaborative.