Education, Feature

Hundreds of new light fittings, loads of energy saved, and no complaints – how one university is making a success of LED

Lux meets Alan Mitchell, principal engineer at the University of Southampton, to hear about how he’s revolutionising the university’s lighting.


Just because people don’t like change doesn’t mean it ain’t gonna happen, says Southampton Uni’s Alan Mitchell  |  Photo: Jack Everitt

They call me Mr LED
I got the nickname Mr LED because I was always pushing LEDs, even from the early days. Since then we’ve been trialling different LED luminaires. We have an inordinate amount of 600x600mm module fittings around the university and we’ve looked at various LED panels to replace them. We’ve completely re-lit our administration building with LED panels, and we’ve not had a single complaint. People don’t like change, but we’ve been in there nearly a year now and we’ve not had any complaints. There’s been only one failure and that was a driver that was quickly replaced. We have a thing called a carbon management fund at the university. A few years ago it committed itself to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent before 2020, from levels about six years ago. This is difficult because we keep building new buildings. One of the biggest areas of saving is undoubtedly the lighting.

“The most difficult thing to deal with in my job is that people don’t like change”

It’s difficult to upgrade lighting when the buildings are in use all year round 
We have about a hundred buildings – more if you include the halls of residence. The student accommodation is getting to the stage where it needs refurbishment, and that’ll be done with LED lighting. Student accommodation is very difficult to upgrade because we also have conferences and summer schools and all sorts of other stuff. We used to have a few months when we could go in and take them apart, spending a lot of time and energy doing whatever needed doing. We struggle with that now because of the fact that they’re used, well, not quite every day of the year, but very close. We’re building a new building, Chamberlain Halls, that will be totally LED. That’s a 380-bed unit.

We’re upgrading lighting when we get the opportunity
The university doesn’t stand still, so we do take an active interest in where we can save energy on lighting. We have a couple of other projects going on where we are relighting some internal corridors. Twelve hundred fluorescents are being replaced with LEDs. We don’t have a specific plan rolling across the university, but as we get the opportunity we go in quickly and do it.

A fitting that has LED light sources isn’t necessarily an LED fitting
I’ve been to a few lighting shows and I get very frustrated when I find a luminaire where the 2D lamp has been replaced with LEDs and they call it a new fitting. LEDs technology is such that the luminaires can be completely redesigned. There are a few manufacturers out there that do look ahead. One of them is P4 – it looks ahead, and they worked with us to produce specific emergency luminaires for student accommodation.

We’ve installed a new emergency lighting system
We decided to trial a P4 emergency lighting system in a small area, and they’ve worked with us with to design luminaires for specific areas and applications, some of which have just been patented. P4 produces a very good fitting, a very good system and it saves us a massive amount of time and energy. P4 has a good warranty and they’ll send an engineer down to fix any problems.

There’s resistance to change and LEDs are too expensive
The most difficult thing to deal with in my job is that people don’t like change and LEDs do tend to be a whiter light. The other one is that luminaire costs are so high. We’re trying to encourage the use of low-energy sources, but you can buy six hundred modular fitting from a wholesaler for about £30 or £40 ($46 or $61), but an LED version costs £90-150 ($138-230) so it’s sometimes difficult to justify that. Manufacturers definitely need to address the costs of these fittings, bearing in mind these things are made by the millions. It’s new technology and if you can milk the market at the beginning, that’s what you do.

OLEDs have a lot of potential
One of the other things I was looking at a while ago was OLEDs. There was an article in your magazine about a lecture or presentation area that is all lit by OLEDs which I found fascinating. At the moment they’re extremely expensive, even in comparison to LEDs, but LEDs have come down in cost.  I’m very keen on OLEDs.


The picture of University of Southampton is from Wikipedia, licenced from MHV under Creative Commons.


  • This special Lux conference for Facilities Managers is taking place on Thursday 19 May 2016 at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London. Entry is free to specifiers including facility managers, consulting engineers, estate managers, energy managers and others responsible for the management of lighting installations and their specification. 
  • View the full programme and register for your free place by clicking on the logo