April 13, 2006

C.U. Student Revises Blue Lights

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The only truly blue light bulb in the whole Blue Light Program at Cornell is shining from its post outside of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. An energy-efficient light emitting diode (LED) bulb, it is a harbinger of changes to come in the blue lights around campus. The LED bulb is the result of a proposal designed by Jenny Pronto ’07 during the Environmental Stewardship in the Cornell Community course she took last spring.

Although it is still in the final stages of official approval, Pronto’s proposal calls for LED lights to eventually replace all existing Blue Lights on campus. The other 87 Blue Lights are 127-watt white mercury vapor bulbs shining from behind a blue-lens covering, making them less visible than the new six watt LED bulbs. Cornell’s well-known Blue Light Program makes traveling across campus a safer ordeal by indicating the location of the closest call for help – a direct phone line to the Cornell Police – in case trouble occurs on a late-night journey back to the dorms, for example.

Annually, the current Blue Light Program costs Cornell roughly $8,000 in electricity, and at least $220 for maintenance each time a bulb must be replaced. Comparatively, though LED bulbs are about $200 per bulb against the current $7 bulbs, the new system would use less than $400 of electricity per year and the new bulbs burn five times as long as the old bulbs.

Pronto’s proposal paper reads, “These Blue Lights are lit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year to provide safety at all times. The lights are turned off only when a phone is broken or if a bulb burnt out. … Indeed, this safety system is costly to run and maintain”.

The project assignment for Pronto’s course last spring was to design a proposal to improve some aspect of sustainability at Cornell. While considering feasible projects for her class, Pronto, a double major in science of natural and environmental systems (SNES) and biological and environmental engineering, remembered that she was inspired when she noticed various Blue Lights burned out around campus at night, and was particularly concerned by the safety hazards this posed. Since she was interested in energy conservation and disappointed with current usage levels on campus, she explored her options for the project.

“I took a tour of the campus with Michael Boggs [project coordinator in Cornell’s energy department of utilities],” Pronto said. “He pointed out possible little projects around campus, and what resources were needed to implement them. … [The Blue Lights proposal] is such a simple project, and I’ve heard no negative feedback about it.”

Pronto presented the Blue Lights proposal to an audience of various Cornell administrators last spring, during the annual Environmental Stewardship spring presentation. Although the course has ended, Pronto has continued to pursue the project to fruition by cooperating with the student-run Sustainability Hub and Cornell’s first-ever sustainability coordinator, Dean Koyanagi, during this school year.

“After her presentation and active research, many people were ready to make the Blue Light switch,” said Ethan Rainwater ’06, coordinator for the Sustainability Hub, “but Jenny joined the Hub to see her project through to implementation. The Hub focuses on helping students make their ideas happen, and promoting their efforts to the rest of the campus.”

Explaining the success of this project in particular, Prof. Joe Regenstein, food science, who taught the course, said, “In this case, Jenny has the advantage because economics clearly say that not doing this is stupid.”

Examples of other successful proposals from the class include the installation of low-flow shower heads in some dorms on campus, and double-sided printing in libraries.

Regenstein described college as an opportune time and place for people to make changes, both in themselves and the system.

“We are bringing in young people, still hopefully growing and changing,” He said. “This is the right time to begin to create some sustainable habits. … In this class, we make a contribution by showing how to go about making change intelligently and sensibly, rather than just making simple slogans.”

In the overall cost analysis, Pronto determined that if all bulbs were replaced at once, the new system could be profitable within four years.

In the future, Pronto looks forward to working closely with communities on energy conservation, describing her philosophy as “bottom up, not top down.” Rather than having conservation policy just handed down from above without discussion, Pronto looks to integrate awareness around campus.

“I want the people at the bottom to understand the changes and why they are being made. I want them to want these changes,” Pronto said.

Archived article by Suzy Gustafson
Sun Staff Writer