An Interview with Gary Hubbard: Illuminating How a Lighting Designer Approaches His Work

Gary Hubbard has been with Leading Edge Design Group (LEDG) since its inception. According to the company website, LEDG helps organizations create modern, connected facilities through the planning, design, and installation of data center and intelligent building solutions, [working] with architects and engineers, technology and network leaders, and real estate and facility managers to develop sustainable, scalable technology infrastructures. The company serves the healthcare, education, manufacturing, retail, and life science industries, among others.

What is your background?

Gary Hubbard: I worked for the post office for 35 years and retired. A guy I’ve been friends with since I played in a band with him in the 1970s, Jay Boucher, contacted me. He was an electrical contractor and wanted to get more into efficiency. I was an electrical engineering college dropout. He asked me to work for him, and I said sure. This was about 10 years ago.

We started out with power factor correction. We started getting into, for example, load-based capacitors, to help motors be more efficient. When we looked into setting up some of our customers with demand response, we met a refugee from Color Kinetics who introduced us to a lot of people working in the emerging LED and controls market.

What is your title at LEDG?

GH: Who knows? I’m kind of a project manager, or a design consultant. Well, I am a certified lighting consultant. I was the first person to draw a paycheck from the company.

What kind of work did you start out doing?

GH: I would walk around a facility and see inefficiencies in the operation, figure out what we could do. Give me a copy of your electric bill, let me analyze it for you. We had a client with an ice rink, for example, and two large compressors providing coolant for the ice. The demand rate was way off the charts, much higher than the energy it was using. We set the compressor to cycle differently and saved the customer $300 a month.

Another client was a sawmill. The demand ratio was too high. We found out that when the workers would go for lunch, they would turn everything off. Then they’d come back, turn all the machines on at once, and there’d be a huge surge. (Starting up a motor uses more energy than running it.) And this was lunchtime in the summer, the peak charging time at the peak season. We helped them save money by having them stagger the workers’ lunchtimes.

In one case, a guy I worked with was using a machine he had probably had since the 1930s that manufactured a part that made him money. He wondered about upgrading it since it was so old. Instead, I pointed out the metal halide light over the machine and said Here’s your problem. At least that machine is making you money. This light is costing you money every month.

How much of the company’s work is new buildings versus existing buildings?

GH: We do not bid on projects related to new construction. However, we do design build projects. We have an ongoing relationship with local architects as well. For example, at Thetford Academy [Thetford, Vermont], we did a new lighting design. Primarily for me, though, it’s a retrofit world.

I also like to control the lighting systems I design. I was with one customer looking out over his factory floor and he said Hub, I don’t see the value of control. I said, See all those machines? See all those lights on? Yes. Where are the people? I mean, why are you lighting machines when no one is using them? Machines don’t need light; people need light.

What’s a typical day like for you?

GH: Depending on scheduling, I might do an audit, go sell something to somebody, or play with some new technology that’s come in. I might go to a customer site and make sure things are working as they should. For instance, I will be going to check on some recent work we did at Keurig Green Mountain and tweak it with new data we’ve gathered since it was installed (heat maps, occupancy levels, et cetera).

What’s your favorite thing about your work?

GH: The variety. When I worked at the post office I was basically a clerk, but the work was so repetitive I would look for problems to fix (for example, software-related problems with the way optical character readers interpreted addresses). I like learning about new things.

I like to see why things are lighted the way they are. One workplace I was in had four times the lighting it needed in a hallway. They had just automatically installed a two-by-two light like they always did. But you ought to light the place the way it should be lit. Some [efficiency enthusiasts] pick lights strictly for maximum efficiency. I say you can make the lighting more efficient, but also make it pleasant. And make the lighting controls as unobtrusive as you can.

What challenges do you face?

GH: Trying to find customers. A lot of organizations will automatically turn to their trusted electrician or contractor, and they turn to the familiar solution they’ve always used. You’ve got to get into that space and educate people about better choices that are available now.

We don’t want to compete with contractors, though. We typically create a project where there was none before. For example, if I happen to drive by some [closed] facility on a Sunday, and all its lights are on, I call them up on Monday.

I went shopping at a big outdoors store years ago and noticed they had MR16s shining on their products all night. This company says it is pro-sustainability. I stopped shopping and went around and counted every MR16 in the store. If they replaced them all with LEDs, they’d see less than a two-year payback, and I told them that. But they didn’t take my suggestion—they didn’t think the technology was there yet. It would have saved them a lot of money.

Your company does a lot with intelligent buildings and the Internet of Things. Can you explain a bit about that?

GH: For Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury, we worked on a lighting retrofit that has the ability to do asset tracking. This is where the industry is headed: each component has a motion sensor, and it captures information. The sensor can also do things like dim the lights and read bar codes. You can put a bar code that the sensor recognizes on every wheelchair, and the lighting sensors can then detect where every wheelchair is in the facility. It’s like an indoor GPS. Patients wear a tracking wristband; the wheelchair could be tracked as well.

With the development of new technologies designed to save energy, it makes sense in a lot of cases to put sensors on every new light fixture in the space. They are very inexpensive when installed at the factory. They can react to occupancy, daylight harvesting, temperature, and even CO2 levels, along with location. They can communicate with each other and with other control devices such as wall switches and cell phones, in many different ways. They can be wired or wireless.

Wireless technologies such as EnOcean, ZigBee, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi allow fixtures and components to communicate with one another and the user of the space. Such systems can be connected to the HVAC system to add more data points for making decisions. The Internet of Things will be using the control umbrella created by the lighting system to do a great deal.

Tell us about your company’s relationship with Efficiency Vermont and the EEN.

GH: Our affiliation with Efficiency Vermont, getting those referrals, helps us come in through the front door with a prospect as opposed to making a blind sales call. We have a better relationship with our customers thanks to the Efficiency Excellence Network.

Also, the lighting gurus at Efficiency Vermont always want to know what we are seeing in the “real world.” I get letters all the time from lighting manufacturers about new products, even one-off products. I see whether a new product has merit or not, and I pass my thoughts on to Efficiency Vermont because I know they will be interested.

Anything you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered?

GH: I think one of the industries in Vermont that may benefit from the LED revolution is the dairy industry. A lot of dairy farms went from using high-pressure sodium or metal halide to T5s, so they have experienced some efficiency benefits. But it may be time to make the switch to LEDs. I don’t think the cows will mind.

Making Vermont more energy efficient is a collaborative effort, and would not be possible without a strong network of independent contractors. In 2014, Efficiency Vermont created the Efficiency Excellence Network in order to better support and encourage Vermont contractors to provide energy-efficient solutions in the field. There are currently over 250 members in the Efficiency Excellence Network, including Leading Edge Design Group of Enfield, New Hampshire.

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