Lighting Audit & LED Conversion Illuminate Energy Savings at Atlanta Int’l

Lighting Audit & LED Conversion Illuminate Energy Savings at Atlanta Int’l
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

As the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL) spans more than 7 million square feet of property. Naturally, it takes a lot of supplies and materials to keep the facilities that large running smoothly. Everything from carpeting and trash cans to paper towels and window cleaner is purchased and used in high volume.


Just “keeping the lights on” requires more than 120,000 fixtures. That’s why the airport and its private operator, Atlanta Airlines Terminal Company (AATC), are in the midst of a comprehensive lighting overhaul. Spoiler alert: The project is improving aesthetics, enhancing safety and reducing energy and maintenance costs to the tune of $1.75 million per year. And the return on investment has been quick.  

The initiative began in February 2016, when AATC President and Chief Executive Officer Kofi Smith first met with Energy One Consulting, AATC’s eventual energy partner. The firm’s strategy of methodically assessing and analyzing an organization’s energy profile—and subsequently improving it—struck Smith as genius. So he lobbied his board and ultimately granted Energy One the opportunity to optimize energy consumption at ATL. 


Project: LED Lighting Conversion

Location: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int’l Airport

Private Operator: Atlanta Airlines Terminal Co.

Key Stakeholders: City of Atlanta Dept. of Aviation; tenant airlines

Lighting Audit: Energy One Consulting

Timeline: Conversion began in 2016; completion expected in 2021 

LED Fixtures Installed to Date: 84,750 of 119,750 

Energy Savings to Date: $1.75 million annually

Savings in Progress: $650,000 annually

Rebates Received: $520,000

Rebates in Progress: $150,000

Product Specs/Implementation Support: Energy One Consulting

Installation/Lighting Suppliers: ABM Industries; Jacobs Engineering Group; MC Dean; Phoenix Lighting; Player and Co.; Regency Lighting

Ramp & Bag Area Project Management: Comprehensive Program Services

Key Benefits: Reduced energy consumption & costs; improved work environment for employees; enhanced aesthetics for airport guests 

In retrospect, Smith says he couldn’t be happier, especially regarding Energy One’s early support to swap out fluorescent lamps for light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures throughout the airport’s many restrooms. That small change improved conditions for passengers by providing brighter, purer light. Technically speaking, restroom color temperatures increased from the low-3,000 Kelvin range to 4,000 degrees with LEDs. The coloration changed from underlying yellow tones to brighter, naturally whiter hues, and lighting levels increased by more than 50%. What’s more, the initial restroom project involving 4,000 lights returned $50,000 in annual savings. When combined with an associated rebate from Georgia Power, payback for the investment was achieved in less than three years.

Smith, who has a doctorate in business administration, likens the subsequent wide-scale lighting conversion to finding a diamond in the rough. He also gives Energy One high marks for its dedication and success in reducing energy consumption and returning financial savings to ATL and its shareholders. “Our carriers have been ecstatic with what we have been able to achieve with our partnership,” he reports. 

Expanded Execution

Given the impactful results of the restroom project, AATC and Energy One teamed up to yield even bigger energy savings and return on investment by executing more LED replacements throughout the airport. 

Energy One Consulting President Mike Elmers highlights improvements in passenger facing areas. Between 2017 and 2020, a total of 50,000 fixtures were converted to LEDs in the main walkways, gatehouses, check-in areas and other main spaces in the Domestic Terminal, and T North, D, E and F concourses. Additional fixtures in the T South A, B and C concourses were upgraded to LEDs during a concourse modernization project. The resulting savings has been $1 million annually, with a payback period of less than one year.

Graham Thorsteinson, chief technology officer for Energy One, notes that the massive undertaking was broken into multiple smaller projects for each area with breaks in between each project. In order to improve the return on investment, Energy One worked with AATC’s existing maintenance contractor, ABM Industries. In total, the firm installed 70,000 new LEDs purchased from Regency Lighting. Jacobs Engineering Group installed approximately 1,500 lights on the immigration level of Concourse E that required rewiring, as well as several demo lights elsewhere. 

Using more efficient LEDs with five-year warranties had a positive snowball effect on the deployment of maintenance workers. “Previously, two people were dedicated to replacing failed lights,” Thorsteinson explains. “As a critical mass of lights were changed to LEDs, it freed up additional resources for further LED installation because there were so few failures.”

Airside & Underside Improvements 

As LED lamps proliferated inside the airport, AATC and Energy One also turned their attention outside. Together, they executed a two-pronged strategy to improve sustainability and employee safety by more than doubling lighting levels in key ramp areas where service personnel work. 

In 2017, a team managed by Comprehensive Program Services demoed several different types of lights, performed numerous lighting studies and solicited feedback from pilots and ramp employees. Ultimately, Player and Company installed 750 pole lights nearly 80 feet in the air. Throughout the project, crews measured light levels in various ramp areas and made adjustments to the tilt and angle of the lights to achieve optimum lighting.  

The updated bulbs from Phoenix Lighting, which register at day white-range (4,000 Kelvin), received positive feedback from ground personnel and pilots who navigate in the ramp areas.

Bill O’Connor, vice president of aviation for Phoenix Lighting, led the effort to install the 750 high-mast lighting fixtures supplied by the company. 

“AATC seems very pleased, and the airlines couldn’t be happier with the improvements and the results,” reports O’Connor. “The safety and security and efficiency of their nighttime ops have been improved tenfold. Literally, from the first night, they could see a difference. It just made it a safer, more productive place to work.”

Safety and aesthetics were also improved for employees working in areas underneath each concourse. Elmers, from Energy One, notes that the installation of 5,000-Kelvin high-lumen LEDs nearly quadrupled lighting levels in the apron baggage areas and on spine roads where employees handle bags and drive tugs. 

Comprehensive Program Services managed the projects, and MC Dean installed the new lights. The installation was especially challenging because the areas were packed with conduit, ducts, piping and conveyors. The firms also converted lighting in the ticketing area of the Domestic Terminal. In total, their crews installed about 12,000 lights. 

Smith is proud that the new ramp lighting exceeds standards outlined in the Illuminating Engineering Society’s IES RP-37-15, Outdoor Lighting for Airport Environments.   

“The color temperature was increased from 2,100 Kelvin to 4,000 Kelvin, and the color rendering index improved from 22 to 80, which is a significant visibility improvement for people and equipment,” he explains. 

The improvements also enhance footage from security cameras, he adds. 

Glare shields ensure that the day-bright light goes only where it is needed/wanted. 

“The photometrics of these lights are designed so they can be aimed straight down,” Smith says. “The pilot can’t see the bulbs shining, but light is ‘thrown’ to the tail of the plane. This is incredibly important in airport ramp applications as any ‘up light’ or glare negatively impacts the pilot’s visibility.” 

In total, the new LED high-mast fixtures reduce energy consumption by 50%, while doubling the light levels at the tails of planes, he reports. The new lights also have an expected lifespan of more than 20 years. In contrast, crews replaced older-generation high-pressure sodium lights every few years.  

Airline-Only Areas

With lighting projects complete in the ramp, baggage support and passenger-facing areas, the current focus is on improving airline offices and maintenance areas. In late May, the conversion of 18,000 fixtures was 80% complete. Total savings for the completed phase is estimated at $250,000 per year. 

When work resumes later this year, Smith anticipates the team will continue to focus on other airline-exclusive areas and begin to address back-of-house spaces such as concessions, Customs and Border Protection offices, space used by the Centers for Disease Control, maintenance areas for the Plane Train and mechanical/electrical rooms.

“The priority remains saving energy and improving the light quality for the airport’s passengers and employees until the entire airport is converted to LED, including areas not visible to passengers,” Smith summarizes. 

Ultimately, the completed conversion will save 22 million kWh per year—the equivalent of removing 2,000 houses from the power grid, he notes. 

“Eighty percent of the entire airport and 99% of the passenger facing, non-exclusive and concession areas have already been converted over to LED lights,” Smith reports. “The amount of money we have been able to save in energy reductions through these initiatives has not been done at any other airport globally.
It is nothing short of amazing what we have been, and will be, able to do.” 


ACC: Rethinking Airport Resiliency in the Aftermath of COVID-19

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Survival for airports requires re-prioritizing previously identified plans, exploring new ways to operate and fund airport operations, and learning from past experiences to improve an airport’s ability to succeed in the future. This guidance provides direction for airport operators and consultants, including planners and emergency management staff, on how airports can enhance resilience to weather the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future disruptions ahead.


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