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Are we being dumb with smart lighting?

Are we being dumb with smart lighting?

Technology News |
By eeNews Europe



One of the strange aspects of advances in science and technology is they often never quite turn out as the original inventors envisage.  For example, did Tim Berners-Lee really think that when he came up with the concept of the World Wide Web that it would give birth to phenomena such as Twitter, Facebook and ‘selfies’?  Would John Logie Baird continued with his research on television if he realised one day in the future he would have inadvertently spawned TV programmes such as  Strictly Come Dancing, The Voice and Neighbours?

Now it is gradually beginning to dawn on some people that the constant drive for cheaper, energy efficient LED lighting may prove counter productive.  Although the new generation of lightbulbs consume less electricity they may not achieve energy savings or reductions in greenhouse gas emissions because when light becomes cheaper many users will simply increase illumination.  The result is that previously unlit areas may become lit.

An article in the journal ‘Energy & Environmental Science’ spells out the conumdrum with scientists from the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin (IGB) and the Museum am Schölerberg in Osnabrück, Germany presenting three policy recommendations, which they say could greatly reduce energy consumption and light pollution – without leaving cities in the dark.

The energy efficiency of lamps has continuously improved over many centuries. Despite these efficiency increases, the total energy required for lighting has continued to grow. The scientists point out that lighting now accounts for an estimated 19% of all electrical energy use worldwide, and argue that changes in lighting strategies could therefore have a large influence on energy consumption, carbon footprint, and environmental effects associated with light and power generation.

In recent years, the most visible policy response to excessive energy use for lighting has been restricting sales of new lamps to ‘energy efficient’ models with higher luminous efficiency. The scientists claim that such policy-driven improvements in efficiency are unlikely to reduce energy use and CO2 emission, because cities might opt to use more light.

This is a classic example of the ‘rebound effect’.  The higher efficiency gains due to technological innovation actually leads to greater consumption rather than reduced energy use. The scientists point to the case of the UK between the years 1950 and 2000 as an example: even though lamps became twice as efficient at producing light, per capita electricity consumption for lighting in the UK increased fourfold.

The study authors propose three recommendations to make nighttime outdoor area lighting more sustainable.

The first recommendation is a transition to need-based lighting, where lighting is only provided where and when it is needed. Franz Hölker of the IGB said: “The idea is that by directing light more carefully, visibility could actually be improved while saving energy and money. In suburban and rural locations with very little activity after midnight, modern lamps could also be dimmed to 10% of their normal power until morning traffic begins.”

The scientists point out that in future, motion sensors could be used to run lamps at full power only during periods with activity. There is also a case for smarter use of the ‘smart’ capabilities of modern LED lighting solutions.  For quite a while now the ‘Holy Grail’ of LED industry seems to have been solely focused on producing increasingly more energy efficient lighting as cheaply as possible which has had the effect of almost financially ruining some of the lighting manufacturers as a result. Maybe if some of these companies spent more time building more ‘intelligence’ into their LED solutions then they could offer a value-added product that could be tailored more precisely to our specific requirements and be less wasteful and cause less light pollution.

The second recommendation is for policymakers like the European Commission that specify minimum requirements for street lighting. The scientists say they should also stipulate conservative maximum illuminances, because in many cases in the USA and Europe, the amount of light far exceeds current standards. “If you use twice as much light as is needed for a task, then half the energy is wasted”, explained Hölker. Again here more controllable lighting solutions can react more easily to changing regulatory demands. It is simply dumb to not harvest the benefits of using ‘smart’ lighting.

The final recommendation called for adopting a new definition for efficiency in urban area lighting. “We need a more appropriate measure for reporting energy efficiency, that would allow apple-to-apple comparisons of radically different lighting delivery systems”, explained physicist Christopher Kyba, also of the IGB. “For example, suburban streets with lights that are dimmed after midnight could potentially use less energy in a year than a more efficient lamp that burns at full power all night.”

The study authors reckon that if cities around the world implemented their recommendations, real reductions in energy use would be possible without compromising the public experience and use of outdoor lighting. They say the goal of lighting policy should be to provide exactly the right amount of light needed, while minimizing electricity consumption and unintentional influence on people’s sleep, or on nearby natural areas.

2015 has been designated by The United Nations to be an International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies to celebrate the importance of light for human society.

As somebody once said ‘Let there be light’. Only maybe now actions should speak louder than words and we should all look for ways to use our lighting more intelligently and with greater control. After all, the technology to do so is here and now. So why wait for 2015 to do the planet a favour?

Related articles and links:

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