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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine


Lighting up the Future

Lighting Up the Future

Futuristic-looking light fixtures give support to UTSA

When Paul Duran was 5 years old, his father sold off the last of the cows and moved the family from their Pearsall farm to a one-bedroom apartment on San Antonio’s West Side. Decades later, the move would prove enlightening for both San Antonio and Duran.

At the time, there wasn’t “enough money to turn the electricity on…so Grandma had brought some lanterns and we lived like that for three months,” he recalled. “Can you imagine the same kid who lived there lighting up the city?”

Now Duran and his wife, Alice, own GreenStar LED, which they founded in 2009, to design, manufacture and market energy-efficient, eco-friendly light-emitting diode (LED) light fixtures for commercial and municipal use around the world. Last fall, the company won a contract to replace 25,000 of San Antonio’s streetlights—one of the country’s largest municipal LED projects. Duran hopes to eventually contract to replace all of the city’s nearly 100,000 streetlights.

As part of the deal with the city, the firm moved its plant from Boerne to the West Side of San Antonio and agreed to contribute $10 to UTSA’s College of Engineering for every light fixture the firm sells the city. To date, the university has received more than $145,700 from GreenStar.

“GreenStar’s partnership with UTSA and CPS Energy is a prime example of how we are leveraging all of San Antonio’s assets to be a leader in the new energy economy,” said Mayor Julián Castro. “By linking the private and public sectors with our institutions of higher learning, we are establishing San Antonio as a center of innovation and research in 21st century technologies.”

The city and CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned gas and electric utility company, have set a goal to utilize eco-friendly, energy-saving and energy-producing technologies to make San Antonio the greenest city in Texas. That partnership dovetails with GreenStar’s effort to assist UTSA.

“We want to help UTSA become a Tier One school,” said Alice Duran. “We employ a lot of people and we see kids coming in, so they need the education.”

“This green economy is a new business and we need to teach our kids what it is all about,” Paul Duran added, noting that none of the 14 engineers currently on staff are from San Antonio. It is a situation he’d like to change.

The first batch of San Antonio’s lights was installed on Alamo Street near HemisFair Park. The difference was almost immediate, he said. He points out that a new 400-watt equivalent fixture uses about 171 watts of electricity and has an average lifespan of 60,000 hours, compared to the nearly 500 watts consumed by the older technology light it replaces, whose lifespan averages between 10,000 and 20,000 hours.

Additionally, the light illuminates with a cool-to-the-touch daylight color balance that doesn’t attract bugs.

At the firm’s sleek and modern 40,000-square-foot facility, an international crew of 52 workers assembles and tests the components that go into the futuristic-looking 23-pound, flat-head lights. Above the workers hang 19 flags of nations from Argentina to Japan that represent the firm's international clientele.

It’s a growing business, and its future appears as bright as its product. GreenStar recently contracted with Toshiba to make LED lights to be sold in North America, Canada and the Caribbean under the Toshiba brand.

“The Toshiba relationship has put us in a different arena,” Paul Duran said. Because of that contract, he predicts that the firm will be growing “probably three to four times faster than we could have otherwise.”

“A year ago we were producing less than 100 lights per month. This month we will produce more than 4,000,” Gabriel Senior, chief financial officer, said in April. “We are not even at 1 percent of where we want to go. The LED lighting industry is still tiny,” with huge growth potential, he said.

The Burn Room
All lights must go through a rigorous approval process before they hit the streets. This is the burn station, where the lights are tested for functionality and brilliance.

The company’s outdoor light fixture illuminates streets and parking lots and uses up to 70 percent less energy than the light it is replacing. Another product designed for warehouses and gas stations rings up nearly 75 percent energy savings, Senior said. In addition to using much less energy, the components are designed to maximize the lifespan of an LED by dissipating heat that can wear it out. It also needs less maintenance, meaning a longer life and lower operating costs.

In its contract with the city, GreenStar delivered some 5,000 lights and began installation along South Alamo Street, a historic and much-traveled downtown tourist artery. An informal survey of pedestrians there found that while many did not realize the lights had been replaced, they did notice a difference, Duran said.

“It’s more comfortable,” he said of the new illumination. “People don’t understand, but lighting has a real effect on you.”

CPS Energy CEO and President Doyle Beneby noted that GreenStar brings the community improved energy efficiency in addition to its investment in education.

“Like UTSA, CPS Energy realizes the importance of education, from our youngest students up to the collegiate level,” he said. “Investing in human capital and preparing people for the workforce is critical to a utility that relies heavily on engineers and other degreed professionals. We saw the advantage of leveraging our municipal buying power to bring to San Antonio partners like GreenStar that will satisfy our clean energy needs.”

And the young company’s relationship with UTSA continues to grow. Recently, the company pledged a $250,000 GreenStar Energy Engineering Professorship in the College of Engineering, according to Dean C. Mauli Agrawal. He termed the gift a pioneer: it is the college’s first energy-related endowed professorship.

“Energy is going to be a very big part of our future,” Agrawal said of the college’s research focus.

Duran, who has been in business locally for 30 years, sees it as acting as a good corporate citizen.

“It’s not about the dollar. Of course you have to make a profit and take care of your shareholders, but you also have to give to the community,” he noted. “Corporations need to do that today, especially in the U.S., if we are going to stay ahead of the curve.”

“It’s not about the dollar. Of course you have to make a profit and take care of your shareholders, but you also have to give to the community.”

Paul Duran

The Durans own four commercial refrigeration businesses and it was a discussion about the less-than-reliable conventional lighting in a client’s refrigerated trucks that got them thinking about LED technology. After introducing LED lighting to his biggest customer’s vehicle fleet, Duran realized the potential applications of efficient lighting technology.

That was five years ago. In addition to San Antonio, GreenStar’s clients now include the Texas cities of Wichita Falls, Robstown, Corpus Christi, Laredo and McAllen; the city of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Schreiner University in Kerrville; San Antonio’s Camp Bullis and Fort Sam Houston; as well as customers throughout Latin America, Europe and the Far East.

Projections call for GreenStar to continue to rapidly grow, but Duran said the company will stay true to its quality products and customer service.

“We are going to try very hard,” Paul Duran said. “That is done by doing what you say you are going to do and very simply taking care of our customer.”

To paraphrase a popular rock song, the firm’s future is so bright, it’s got to wear shades.

–Kate Hunger


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