Efficient Lighting for the University of Mexico

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Efficient Lighting for the University of Mexico

To demonstrate that the improvement of lighting efficiency in universities / public buildings can lead to major electricity and cost savings

To highlight the potential benefits of efficient lighting, a pilot project was conducted by the Büro Ö-quadrat and the UNEP/ Wuppertal Institute Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP), accompanied by their Mexican counterpart the Genertek S.A. The project was carried out at the oldest University in the Americas, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). It consisted of four model lighting modernisation projects in four typical areas of a university: Classroom, Library, Foyer and Workshop/ Laboratory of the Institute of Engineering. Based on the experience gained from these model areas a master plan for the entire campus of the UNAM was developed, including possible financing options. The results and possibilities for future development were than presented to the university administration, to local politicians and to interested faculty staff and students in September 2009.


Lighting accounts for 20% of the global demand for electricity and especially in schools, universities and other public buildings, lighting costs constitute the major share of the electricity bills. The development of a more efficient lighting system in educational institutions can therefore result in major electricity and cost savings. Technology, Operations and Maintenance The upgrade of a lighting system is a complex process. Commonly available technologies were used for the model modernisation projects at UNAM. The systematic approach that was chosen consisted of several steps. First the required degree of lighting was determined. Following that, the room interior was redesigned to create the best possible conditions for light reflection. This was accomplished, for example, through brighter walls, ceilings and floors. The reflection of the incident daylight reduced the need for additional lighting. The next step was to choose the most suitable efficient technology. At UNAM, electronic ballasts that can be dimmed were used and more efficient T5 tubes replaced the old T12 tubes. Next, daylight sensors were installed to minimise the need for artificial lighting. Finally, presence detectors were installed to ensure that lighting is only active when the room is in use.

Financial Issues and Management

The initial investment for modernising the lighting in the four model areas was €10,900. As a result of the modernisation, 84% less electricity was used than previously, which represents cost savings of €3,540 per year. The average payback period for all four rooms was, therefore, just short of three years. And the longer the existing lighting has been in use, the shorter the payback time on the investment. With regards to the modernisation of the entire university, the master plan that was developed suggested initial investment of €2.4 million and total investment of €10.9 million. The savings in energy costs over the lifecycle could amount to as much as €53.4 million, which would result in a net return of €42.5 million. It is now up to the faculties and the university management to take further action to improve the lighting efficiency across the whole of UNAM; the pilot project has demonstrated that this is possible and feasible.

Environmental Issues

If the master plan were to be implemented, the estimated electricity savings would be 19 million kWh. This would result in a reduction in carbon emissions of 266,000 t over a lifecycle of 20 years. The existing model lighting project saves 28,231 kWh per year, which equates to a reduction in carbon emissions of as much as ca. 20 t/year.

Social Issues

The improvement of the lighting situation at UNAM created a better learning and working environment for the students and the staff. The newly designed areas offer not only more light but also a better atmosphere. In addition, awareness of lighting efficiency issues has been raised amongst the students and interested engineers, as they now have had the chance to learn from direct experiences in their environment.

Results & Impact

The pilot project at UNAM has shown that significant energy and cost savings in public buildings are possible through the implementation of efficient lighting technologies. In addition, the project has made clear that the payback period depends on the age and quality of the existing lighting. So far the project has had no further concrete impact, as the university administration has not yet taken steps to implement the master plan. However, various faculty members, as well as the Mexican consulting firm who contributed to the project, showed a significant interest in supporting and implementing further lighting efficiency improvements at UNAM.


The lighting situation at UNAM is not unusual for universities, schools, offices, banks etc. in Mexico; the same applies for many public buildings around the world. In fact inefficient lighting is widespread and there are many opportunities for cost- effective energy savings. For example, some of the university buildings in Freiburg, Germany also have inefficient lighting. Furthermore, the technology deployed at UNAM is commonly used and can, therefore, be utilised on a large scale. As with most projects, the critical factor is the initial financing.

Lessons learned

Several delays occurred during the project, due mainly to administrative factors that included some communication issues between the project team and the university administration. Future projects should, therefore, try to involve the institution's management team at the outset of the project to ensure productive and regular communication between the project team and the management.