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The lighter side of saving energy

October 1, 2015


Wednesday night I noticed that four of the light poles illuminating the enormous parking lot behind the 9-storey BCAA Building at 999 West Broadway Avenue, were taking turns.

There was nothing faulty about the lights; they were winking on and off in a deliberate, repeating pattern.

It had to be a scheme on the part of the building manager, TPMG Capital, to shave a little something off the cost of illuminating the parking lot while it sat empty all night.

It’s not hard to imagine what drove them to such a whimsical-looking sololution.

Removing one of the middle light poles would’ve looked weird, while taking ones off an end would’ve left some of the parking lot unacceptably dark and reducing the bulb wattage would be too dim overall and, well, this was probably the best and cheapest solution, under the circumstances.

As for how much money the building is saving by turning the lights on and off…I can only guess.

Other famous examples of penny-pinching


I’m reminded of the famous “drops of solder” story attributed to Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, by several writers, but taken here from Ron Chernow’s biography Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., (pp. 188–89):

“In the early 1870s, Rockefeller inspected a Standard plant in New York City that filled and sealed five-gallon tin cans of kerosene for export. After watching a machine solder caps to the cans, he asked the resident expert: “How many drops of solder do you use on each can?” “Forty,” the man replied. “Have you ever tried thirty-eight?” Rockefeller asked. “No? Would you mind having some sealed with thirty-eight and let me know?” When thirty-eight drops were applied, a small percentage of cans leaked—but none at thirty-nine. Hence, thirty-nine drops of solder became the new standard instituted at all Standard Oil refineries. “That one drop of solder,” said Rockefeller, still smiling in retirement, “saved” $2,500 the first year; but the export business kept on increasing after that and doubled, quadrupled—became immensely greater than it was then; and the saving has gone steadily along, one drop on each can and has amounted since to many hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

In the same vein there was the famous order by George Goethals, third and final engineer heading the American Panama Canal project from 1907 to its completion in 1914. His instruction that workers emptying bags of cement should give the bags an extra shake, saved an estimated USD$50,000 a month — about $1.2 million in 2015 terms.


I trust that the managers of the BCAA building are saving a meaningful amount on the cost of electricity. There’s no problem illumination-wise to having the lights flick on and off and it’s actually rather soothing to watch.

One can only wonder what it would look like, and how much money the city might save, if all the street lights in Vancouver behaved this way.

From → Fairview

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