A massive casino will soon open at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, and much of the centre’s uncontrolled fluorescent lighting has been replaces by LEDs with sensor controls. Martin Tomlinson discovers that energy savings are expected to top 70 per cent

The NEC is one of the UK’s largest exhibition venues, and welcomes more than two million visitors a year to about 140 shows and events. And it’s planning to grow: in 2014 a massive casino, Resorts World, will open on the site, transforming it into a 24-hour, seven day destination.

As an organisation the NEC has committed to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Lighting represents a fifth of the NEC’s energy use, so it was only a matter of time before the venue had to tackle the efficiency of the 70,000 luminaires on the site.

‘Lighting is a massive part of us achieving this target,’ says the man with the daunting task of making the changes, NEC project engineer Andrew Cope. ‘It’s a huge cost and finding solutions that improve light quality while reducing energy consumption is key.’

The 400-metre-long Skywalk was one of the first elements to be tackled

Skywalk under scrutiny

The first element that was tackled was the famous 400-metre-long Skywalk that connects the exhibition halls to Birmingham International Airport and the railway station. At peak times this elevated walkway, with its numerous travelators, can be filled with thousands of visitors. The brief to supplier MHA Lighting was to improve the visitor experience while saving energy and lowering carbon emissions.

The Skywalk had been lit with T8 fluorescent fittings rated at 54W. MHA replaced them with 30W LED luminaires. The 260 bespoke RodLite luminaires above the Skywalk were designed to deliver 300 lux and to match the NEC’s corporate branding. They also had to echo the lighting finishes in other areas. MHA says the acrylic rods in the luminaires control the light output, reducing the number of LEDs required.

The Skywalk lights are on continuously, so MHA created software that uses sensors to detect when the Skywalk area is empty and dims the RodLite fittings to just 10 per cent output.

A 600 lux target

The next stage was to replace the T8 fluorescent lighting in the concourse and gallery suites, again with LED lighting. Here the brief was to improve the lit environment for visitors and achieve an illumination of 600 lux.

MHA installed 144 of its TiLite LED luminaires in the ceiling. They can be dimmed to just 7 per cent of full output and work seamlessly with the RGB colour-changing LED downlights that are also installed in the spaces.

‘We definitely found the best solution in terms of budget, energy reduction targets and overall lighting effect,’ says Cope. ‘The light colour, output and uniformity of the LED lighting installation is tremendous and all in all I believe we have the right light solution for the NEC.’

Acrylic rods control the light output, so fewer LEDs are needed

Positive reception

Cope adds: ‘We have only had positive comments from customers and NEC staff alike about the lighting, particularly about the Skywalk.’
Tom Harrison, managing director of MHA Lighting, told Lux: ‘The combination of the colour-changing LEDs and the white light from the TiLite working in harmony under DMX control is sensational and creates a unique environment for events and conferences.

‘In the Skywalk, our fittings are able to deliver precisely the specific colour – and with an 80 CRI – and this not only makes the Skywalk brighter, cleaner and friendlier but also shows everything in its truest colour.’

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