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Why the lighting industry will be critical in the road to net zero

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In this Q&A, Peter Hunt of the Lighting Industry Association (LIA), discusses how lighting can help support economic recovery and the goal of a net zero economy.

Firstly, how severely has the lighting industry been impacted by the pandemic? 

The lighting industry has been hit by Covid-19 in much the same way as any other business linked to the construction sector. By June we were seeing sales reductions in the region of 40% on figures for the same month in 2019, although this recovered somewhat in July as restrictions were eased. 

There is modest optimism as our industry looks to the end of the year with predicted sales levels at around 80% of 2019 figures month-on-month. Pockets of the industry have done well, in particular those supplying the supermarkets and large retail outlets, and the same sector is also continuing to roll out their refit programmes which has helped some contract lighting suppliers.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel (pun intended) with regards to normality within the lighting industry? 

This depends to some extent on the success or otherwise of the Government initiatives to stimulate the economic recovery through the construction sector. The recently announced £2 billion Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme does not include lighting, despite early indications that it would. The LIA believes this is a mistake as lighting offers the lowest cost improvement in energy consumption of any measure. 

Given that the Government have insisted the money must have been spent by the end of March 2021, it is hard to see how the core measures such as insulation, ground and air source heat pumps and solar thermal will be able to gear up to meet a short burst of demand in the few months available. 

There are still many millions of inefficient lamps burning in peoples’ homes and this is an ideal opportunity to introduce a new lamps for old scheme, which removes them from service and replaces them with efficient LEDs. We very much hope that there will be further initiatives to stimulate public spending on infrastructure projects.

So, how can the lighting industry help support economic recovery? 

It is worth noting that 80% of the buildings that will be in use in 2050 already exist, however, much of that stock is old, energy inefficient and in many cases unhealthy. The UK has among the oldest building stock in the developed world and, arguably, it could be considered a greater priority to improve the energy efficiency of these than building new zero carbon homes. 

With only 1% (on average) of buildings undergoing energy renovations each year, it would take over 100 years to deliver on the UK’s 2050 zero carbon objective. Renovation of our ageing building stock will reduce energy demand, while supporting the value chains of the construction industry and create jobs and wealth. 

The National Infrastructure Commission, established in 2015, has consistently called for greening of the UK building stock to support the government’s statutory commitment to be running a net zero carbon economy by 2050. LED lighting is highly efficient. Add presence detectors, daylight linking, timeclock events, and personal control and the impact can be upwards of an additional 60% over the energy savings already provided by LED lighting. Smart lighting systems can unlock benefits to building operations, and more importantly to the well-being and comfort of the building occupants, as well as their productivity.

Will government backing be necessary if lighting is to make a positive impact to the economy? 

Yes, the Lighting Industry Association recently launched a White Paper setting out a number of measures the Government could adopt to stimulate the economy. 

  • Amend building regulations to increase the efficiency of installed lighting and introduce smart lighting and controls to maximise the energy efficiency of lighting in buildings.
  • Review taxation policy to encourage uptake of the more efficient technologies.
  • Incentivise the adoption of ‘circular economy’ thinking in product design to ensure the UK takes the lead in sustainable lighting. Developing a metric to rate a product for its energy consumption in manufacture and use, its upgradability, reusability and recyclability is a way to facilitate this.
  • Review business rates to incentivise raising the efficiency of buildings.
  • Public buildings should lead by example through a programme of refurbishment and energy efficiency upgrades.

Finally, do you feel the UK’s target of Net Zero by 2050 is realistic? 

Yes, but it will need a major commitment from the Government to stimulate a green economy to drive this.

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