University demonstrates how to slash energy costs just by changing light bulbs.

Question: How many people does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: 831 work hours per year.

It's not up there with the best of the lightbulb jokes. But it's even less amusing to the property maintenance staff at Wellington's Victoria University, who spend that much time each year replacing burned-out lightbulbs at the Kelburn Campus.

But not anymore. In an ambitious initiative, the university is in the process of replacing 4500 light fittings and energy hungry incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes with their far-superior cousins - LED bulbs.

It's happening with the support of an interest-free Crown loan from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) - which has a long-running partnership with the university of bringing energy efficiency and carbon reduction programmes to fruition.

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Stephen Costley, Victoria University's director of property services, says that this is just the beginning of a university-wide overhaul of its lighting systems.

"The university is growing rapidly and has nearly 300,000 sqm of teaching, learning, research and recreational space, with about 24,000 staff and students.

"We also own and lease halls of residence; 10 years ago we offered beds to 660 students, now that has grown to 3200 so it's a fairly big footprint," he says. "Our chillers and boilers rank at number one and two in terms of energy demand and lighting comes in at number three. It has a significant cost and emissions profile."

The numbers forecasted for phase one of this initiative are impressive - the university will save almost $100,000 per year to reinvest in core services. With the much longer life expectancy of LED bulbs, it also means big savings on maintenance - the aforementioned 831 work hours saving thousands of dollars a year. Less hours of maintenance also reduces risk to staff.

The Crown loan from EECA helped the university begin the project earlier: "It was the enabler which allowed us to move forward with the project, which we'd wanted to tackle for a while," says Jonny Parker, energy analyst at the university. "It meant we didn't have to wait so long to begin work - and we're not spending that time wasting money and emitting CO2 waiting to do it."

Parker and his team began by conducting an audit of the lighting - the types of lights and fittings, their age, their energy use, the systems they're operating on and how long they run for. Areas were then identified where the biggest impact could be made - hallways and circulation spaces, where lighting run-time is longest (around 18 hours per day).

"When you talk about the number of light fittings around the campus and what this particular project might address, it was pretty significant," says Costley.

That detail was required by EECA Business for the Crown loan, along with forecasted energy savings, maintenance savings and CO2 equivalent reduction estimates.

"EECA then helped connect us to service providers and consultants who can provide the expertise we need," says Costley.

Parker says this phase of the project will be completed by March next year: "Then we have a phase two target concentrating on administration areas and post-grad areas, where lighting also has to operate for long periods of time."

The project aligns to the goals of the newly-formed university sustainability office, which looks at the overall environmental performance of the emissions and waste profile of the institution - as well as how the university can align with the United Nations Sustainable Development goals.

"We used to change the fluorescent tubes on average every 18 months and, in those tubes, there's a lot of mercury and other hazardous material. So by moving to LED we also mitigate the waste factor," explains Parker.

The findings from the Victoria University initiative will be presented to EECA Business. The idea is that EECA can publish those results, informing other lighting refurbishment projects being undertaken in New Zealand.

Graham Dray, account manager at EECA Business, says a Crown loan means an organisation doesn't have to delay a refurbishment project and, with lighting in particular, results can be measured and enjoyed immediately.

"When public organisations save money on energy, everybody benefits," he says.

EECA Crown loans programme

• EECA Crown loans programme are a low-cost, interest-free way to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for publicly funded organisations such as local councils, universities and polytechnics, government departments, hospitals and schools.

• Loans can be used to fully or partially fund equipment that delivers carbon, energy and cost savings. Eligible projects include energy efficient equipment for new builds and retro-fit projects. Crown loans are also available for electric vehicles.

• Applications are evaluated according to energy savings, CO2 emission reductions and payback period.

To apply, go to the Funding and Support page at www.eecabusiness.govt.nz