Timidity is getting us nowhere

Clear legislation is essential if the lighting industry is ever to tackle energy, says Miles Pinniger, international lighting consultant

As Victor Meldrew might have said: ‘Why can’t this Government stop pussyfooting around with energy-conserving legislation, tweaking the Building Regulations every three years, delivering “softly, softly” little changes that no one understands or knows how to implement?’

If we are to deliver carbon-neutral buildings by 2020 (that is the plan, isn’t it, or are they going soft on that too?) then we’d all better get out of our armchairs now.

There is no better driver for any market than clear legislation, and along with the Germans we are pretty good at following the letter of the law – as long as it’s clear and easy to do.

Take the example of the European carmakers and CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, in the lighting industry we’re still specifying and churning out light sources that emit 95 per cent of their energy as heat not light. This is a profligate waste of energy but it’s still legal to use them. The sorry bunch includes all tungsten lamps – GU10s, MR16s PAR 30s – and the mains halogen GLS lamps aren’t much better.

We do still need better low-energy sources that properly replace tungsten lamps. LEDs are improving all the time but the holy grail remains the cost-effective, rich-in-red, high-in-sparkle, well controlled beam that the standard MR16 gives.

According to a recent secret industry report, the installed efficiency and costs of ownership of LEDs will, by 2015, be on a par with fluorescent lighting. I suggest, however, that the installed power density of LED office lighting will probably not show better energy savings than about 30 per cent, and despite the rising cost of energy this will deliver neither sufficient energy savings nor realistic financial incentives.

Energy savings of 80-90 per cent are necessary to make meaningful progress towards carbon neutrality and realistic paybacks. Such savings can only be achieved by control systems that dynamically and continuously manage lamp power according to the instantaneous lighting requirement. Dynamic power management (DPM) in lighting is an emerging technique, thanks to improved sensor technology and automatic control systems. It works beautifully with LED systems because they dim so well.

There are examples around us: Shell petrol stations worldwide are being converted to modular LED downlighters with DPM sensors in each fitting. Network Rail is doing something similar with fluorescent lighting in underground car parks, and there is no reason why DPM can’t be applied to many different sectors. The energy savings can be astonishing – typically 85 per cent.

These examples demonstrate that the technology is already here, and LED systems are developing fast (albeit lacking any standards); but where are the market drivers? Where are the clear incentives and where is the leadership needed to drive this all forward? Some bold, clear legislation would transform this.

I remember from the distant past something called the Parliamentary Lighting Group so decided to Google it. Well, it’s still alive – and full of terribly important people (have a look for yourself), but its stated purpose is: ‘To extend the knowledge of MPs and peers on lighting issues in respect of constituency concerns and government policy; to link lighting issues into local authority and cross- cutting policy; and to promote improved application of lighting technologies.’

I wonder what Victor Meldrew would have to say about that. Not once does it mention energy, and I wonder if any of this august group know that lighting typically accounts for up to 70 per cent of energy use in retail applications and up to 40 per cent in offices. With the help of some kick-starting legislation, maybe up to 85 per cent of this could be saved, while giving the UK lighting and controls industry a significant boost.

Left hand, meet right hand

Two parts of the Building Regulations are at odds, but there’s little prospect that the hopelessly out of date Part B will be updated any time soon, says Miles Pinniger, international lighting consultant

A dim idea

Despite popular perceptions, LEDs don’t last forever, and it won’t be long before users start demanding an easy way to replace them. Manufacturers take note…says Miles Pinniger, international lighting consultant