Shedding light on the services of Electrical Distribution

Twice a week, in the early morning hours while most of us are still sound asleep, the Electrical Distribution (ED) unit of Utilities and Energy Management performs a routine check of more than two thousand outdoor lights across the UT Austin campus. Beginning at 4:30 a.m., the two-person crew covers ground from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Dean Keeton Street, and from Guadalupe Street to IH-35. Newer sections of campus, such as the Dell Seton Medical Center and the area east of I-35 are also inspected, as are the off-campus locations of Pickle Research Campus, Gateway Apartments and the IC2 Institute. By the time the sun rises, the mission is complete, with the team noting any needed pole repairs, bulb replacements or unusual activity or damage.

The ED unit, overseen by Associate Director Rossen Tzartzev, PE, is made up of nearly 20 skilled electricians and technicians. On any given day, crews may be tasked with a number of maintenance activities and repairs, including cleaning and replacing globe fixtures, repairing and replacing ballasts, replacing damaged poles, or repairing circuits, controls, and breakers as needed. Some of the more challenging work can involve troubleshooting circuits that are malfunctioning or repairing circuits damaged by excavations. Other activities that can affect campus lighting include accidental interference with feeders by other groups working on campus and projects that require the removal or replacement of lights.

Since this type of work is performed outdoors, nature can have an impact as well. Trees continually need to be trimmed, so they don’t block light, and squirrels have been known to get stuck in nests they have made in and around lighting fixtures.

Another common task for the ED unit is monitoring and maintaining lighting efficiency. Many of the parking lot fixtures have been updated with light-emitting diode (LED) lights. LEDs offer more energy efficiency, durability and longevity, and are cheaper to maintain than the older lights. ED staff have also implemented time clocks and photocells, which work similarly to night lights in that they react to sunlight to limit the length of time that lights remain on and thus reduce energy use.

“Our employees take a lot of pride in their work and in serving the university,” said Moses Kai, PE, Electrical Distribution manager. “And their work often requires collaborating with other campus organizations, so there’s a strong sense of teamwork among the groups as they come together to make sure students, staff and visitors have a safe, well-lighted campus to walk across.”

Campus light fixtures to be maintained by the UEM ED team
Pedestrian pathways on the Main Campus are typically lined with 12-foot poles, while streets and parking lots feature 20-foot and 30-foot poles. ED crews recently updated the Dell Pediatric Research Institute parking lot with LED heads. The installation took approximately 20 hours to complete. The above image shows the previous versus the updated fixtures.
Feb. 21, 2020