As the construction slowdown forces developers to build more sustainable buildings, Peter Ward looks into the impact lighting can have on energy usage.
Lighting in a building is generally considered to be the area of designers and architects. While it is true that lighting can determine atmosphere and enhance the look of a building's interior, it can also set the tone for a green and sustainable project.
The role of lighting in building design appears to be coming into more and more prominence. Phillips Lighting GM DP Smedema explains: "Lighting is no longer an afterthought in the Middle East. People understand the role of lighting and its function.
People in the Middle East place an enormous emphasis on the symbolic nature of light. It is the role of a lighting designer to combine both the decorative and functional aspects of light.
One of the functional aspects of choosing a worthwhile lighting system is that it can affect the efficiency of the building. Atkins regional head of sustainability Nicholas Lander reveals: "Lighting is quite a big part [of designing an efficient building]. In terms of direct electricity consumption, it will account for around one fifth to one quarter, depending on the building.
However, when you consider lights also produce heat, then this is greater because of the required cooling. Essentially, the more you can reduce the lighting, the better off you are."
Fagerhult GM Gary Turner stresses the point further: "Of course, the interesting thing is that, for every watt you save in light, you also do not have to produce that in chilled air, so that has an impact on the overall scheme, not only in lighting terms but also in terms of the mechanical air handling and air supply capacity that you have to provide."
All aspects of a building have to be built correctly if a development can be described as truly green, and lighting is certainly counted among these. Smedema comments: "Lighting is a major part in buildings, and energy-efficient solutions should be a priority in all design.
These exist today for all market segments; we just need to make the switch. In offices, for example, energy savings of up to 75% can be achieved by the use of new TL5 fluorescent systems, combined with modern optics and lighting controls."
The lighting industry, like almost every other sector, is currently battling through the challenges that a global economic downturn presents. Construction, as a whole, has slowed, and although it will take time for this slowdown to filter through, it is inevitable it will hit the lighting sector at some point. "What happens in the construction industry in January normally affects the lighting manufacturers sometime in December.
We are not quite a last ditch item, but we are towards the end of the development," comments Turner. "While the prognosis overall is not that bad, if we are not careful, in nine months' time the whole of the construction industry will have a serious dip."
Lander believes the anticipated slowdown could have its benefits: "The economic slowdown is seeing more thought going into refining what already exists, and looking at how to make existing buildings more efficient.
"We look at an existing building and determine ways we can save the client money by reducing its energy consumption. Some may argue that energy is cheap; however, with companies that have a number of buildings in their portfolio, and in the current climate where purse strings are a little tighter, they will want to know how they can save some money, and this is an obvious area.
With lighting systems it is possible to save on electricity and cooling - for example, by retro-fitting energy-efficient lights, you would see a payback in a matter of months."
While the credit crunch is giving lighting manufacturers a similar headache to the rest of the construction industry, other more specific problems present themselves as well. Smedema reports: "The main hurdle to overcome is the slow switch to energy-saving solutions. Training and education on lighting and what less efficient lighting can do to our environment are key. Energy-saving solutions are already available in the market, so this should not be the problem." The future is light
Technological advances in lighting mainly revolve around improving the efficiency of systems, with LEDs at the forefront. Turner explains: "There have been some interesting discussions recently, pertaining particularly to LEDs.
"For sure, LEDs have got their place. When CIBSE held a lighting seminar last December, they had the top guy from GE lighting and the top guy from Phillips, and one of the questions asked was at what point will LEDs be able to be used as an effective office lighting luminaire. Their view was it not being sooner than 2011," says Smedema.
The concept of LEDs as the ‘saving light' of the lighting industry certainly seems viable, partly due to the fact that both designers and engineers stand to benefit from the technology. Smedema comments: "Take LEDs.
The miniaturisation that this allows has an enormous impact on how architects and lighting designers think about light. Integration of light is now possible in areas where previously there was not even room for a fitting. It leans itself to customisation, which means more freedom for architects and lighting designers."
Lander also points to LEDs as the major technological advance at this moment, and adds that organic light-emitting diodes are another recent product. Maurice Adema, MD of Sundaya, is quick to agree, although he reveals the factors holding back LEDs: "I fully believe that LEDs are the future. One problem with LED is that it is still extremely bright in one small spot, so it can hurt your eyes.
You need a diffuser, and this can make the lighting output go down. With the next-generation lighting it is already diffused, so that could be the future, but basically it is a similar technology."
There is a concern within the lighting industry about the units used to sum up a lighting installation. Adema explains: "Lighting is quantified by watts, so everyone talks about a 10W light or 20W light. Basically what is the most important job of a lamp is to produce light, and light is not quantified in watts, but in lumens. So people have to learn that, if they want light, they should calculate how many lumens they need."
Lighting is an important part of the sustainability push being championed at present. Speaking at the recent World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair commented: "Simple household items such as lighting continue to be done in an energy-wasteful way.
The potential of technological and scientific advances are there before us; this is not a problem without a solution; the creativity, ingenuity and innovation of humanity is on hand to solve humanity's self-made problem."
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