New lighting system enhances exhibits at Ashmolean Museum

An extensive project, undertaken by Estates Services’ Electrical Services and  Environmental Sustainability teams, to improve the quality of the static exhibition lighting displays at the Ashmolean Museum was completed in October 2014. As well as greatly enhancing the exhibits, the lighting is now fully adaptable, more energy efficient and cheaper to run.

The project entailed replacing all 1,969 of the inefficient halogen light fittings in the Museum’s galleries. As well as complying with the detailed technical specifications set out in the University’s philosophy documents, the brief from the Museum team also stipulated that the new lighting system should:

  • enhance the visitor experience – with  quality and adaptable lighting
  • reduce carbon emissions and energy costs
  • reduce the building cooling load
  • reduce the manpower demand of changing light bulbs. 

LEDs the ideal solution

After approaching multiple specialist manufacturers, just one supplier was prepared to meet all of the Museum’s and the University’s requirements.  A bespoke, LED spotlight system with dimming capacity and variable focus lenses proved to be the ideal solution.

LED lighting has a low energy demand and heat output, whereas, surprisingly, halogen bulbs are only 3% efficient – 97% of energy is released as heat.  All 1,969 bulbs burning daily were literally cooking the ceiling. 

Furthermore, each LED light operates for over 50,000 hours (compared with halogen bulbs at 2,000 hours), immediately eliminating the need for two workers to spend one day a week, clambering up tall ladders, to change the numerous spent  bulbs around the Museum. Estates Services also negotiated a seven-year extended warranty on the LED lamps at no extra cost.

The LED lighting provides excellent colour rendition, which helps to further enhance the exhibits on display, and does not emit ultraviolet or infrared light, which is detrimental to the preservation of precious artefacts.

Environmental benefits key to sourcing funding

The environmental benefits of the new lighting (with estimated annual savings of 450,000 kWh of energy and 236 tonnes of CO2) meant that the project was eligible for funding from the University’s Carbon Management Fund. This contribution (58% of the total cost of £365k) was essential for the Museum to be able to progress with the work.  The Environmental Sustainability team was instrumental in calculating the potential energy and carbon emissions savings and sourcing this funding for the project.

The Ashmolean now has flexible lighting system that meets all of the project specifications. It is fully adaptable, can be adjusted to suit different styles of displays and will fulfil any future design needs of the Museum for at least 20 years.

Though the average cost of each new light was £185, annual energy cost savings of £45k – the equivalent of leaving a kettle on the boil for 34.2 years – mean that the project will have paid for itself in eight years. 

Published April 2016