LED’s Illuminate Rush Rhees Dome

Generating electricity for lighting can be costly, energy inefficient, and harmful to the environment, as it requires burning fossil fuels, releasing pollutants into the air. To combat these effects and keep the University of Rochester sustainable, Facilities Manager Eris Oleksyn partnered with WESCO Distribution, the University’s integrated supplier of materials, and SmartWatt Energy Inc., a company specializing in sustainable lighting and electricity, to replace the old lighting fixtures on the campuses with more sustainable ones in order to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Their most recent project? The Rush Rhees Library Dome.

In 2008, Oleksyn put in a proposal to replace the metal halide lights that previously lit up the Rush Rhees Dome with Light-emitting Diodes (LED) lights. The proposal has since then “been on their radar,” Oleksyn says, but at the time LEDs were incredibly expensive. General Manager of SmartWatt Energy Brian Donald claims that as light technology develops, the price goes down and efficiency goes up. Once LED lights became more fiscally and environmentally beneficial, the project was enacted with excellent results.

According to Donald, the switch from metal halide to LED lights in the dome reduced its energy use “by just under 70%.” SmartWatt also reports that the project was equivalent to planting 7 acres of trees, removing 4 cars from the road, or saving 2,693 gallons of gasoline annually. Based on EPA statistics, inventory, and energy data, the SmartWatt team “did the math” and calculations revealed that the light bulb switch will help prevent 44,426 pounds of carbon dioxide, 74,044 grams of sulfur dioxide, and 171,782 grams of nitrogen oxides from being released into the air each year, vital figures considering these pollutants contribute to global warming, smog, and acid rain.

The environmental impacts of the dome lighting replacement project are not the only impressive ones. The financial advantages are also substantial. According to Oleskyn, the light bulb replacement in the dome saves the University $2,369.40 in electricity costs alone. On top of that, SmartWatt applied for and was granted a rebate for the project from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). NYSERDA is a public corporation that provides incentives for institutions to make sustainable choices in order to “improve New York’s economy and environment.”

Along with these benefits also come some perhaps unexpected ones as well. The LEDs radiate a higher quality of light, thus Oleksyn asserts, “accentuating the architectural detail of the building” and enhancing its aesthetic value. Not only that, but because LEDs’ metal heat sinks release thermal energy at the back of their fixtures, they will also prevent snow from building up on the top of Rush Rhees, an added bonus for a library nested within the Rochester weather system.

Donald’s team from SmartWatt was responsible for physically switching out the lights, a not-so-easy task. Made up of four men, the team repeatedly climbed the Rush Rhees stairs to the top 40 or 50 times to create the three rings of light that exist on the dome. They installed 28 41-watt fixtures on the lower two levels, and 14 58-watt fixtures on the upper level. With alumni headed to the University of Rochester to visit their alma mater on October 17th, the crew had to work quickly to finish the project before Meliora Weekend. The diligent team not only fulfilled the deadline, but completed the project two weeks prior. “It wasn’t bad,” Donald says, as to him the top of Rush Rhees is “probably one of neatest views of Rochester.”

Wesco Distribution and SmartWatt have previously collaborated on projects around campus, including replacing the lights in Wilson Commons, the Interfaith Chapel, and Spurrier Gym, and are now working to replace the fluorescent and incandescent fixtures in the Emergency Department at the University of Rochester Medical Center.


 Written by Julie Elliot, Class of 2015

One Reply to “LED’s Illuminate Rush Rhees Dome”

  1. It’s true that environmental impacts of the dome lighting replacement are really impressive as well as there are some unexpected benefits also like the LEDs radiate a higher quality of light with little consumption of power.

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