Miguel Aguado, Marketing & Technology Manager at Lutron Electronics, explains why lighting is the ideal first step solution for those looking to decarbonise.
Although technology, consumer demands and the way we use our buildings continue to transform rapidly, the UK built environment lacks the same evolution. According to the UK Green Building Council, the UK’s building stock is set to be the oldest in the developed world, with 80% of the buildings that we will be using in 2050 already standing today.
These buildings already contribute 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. Half of this CO2 is a product of the energy used in buildings, while waste from construction, demolition and excavation represents a staggering 59% of total UK waste. When combined, these statistics show the bigger picture of the current state of the UK built environment, and the level of change needed to achieve the nation’s goal of net zero by 2050. On the long road to carbon neutrality, decarbonising our current buildings should be the first port of call.
For governments, businesses, and the public alike, smart building technology presents a prime solution to the building stock problem. By digitally retrofitting to create smarter and healthier buildings, both financial and carbon savings can be made, whilst avoiding intrusive building work. The most important place to start with a retrofit in terms of carbon reduction is lighting.
Due to its pervasiveness in buildings, cost saving ability, ability to improve occupant productivity and wellbeing, as well as safety, lighting is the perfect first step in decarbonising the UK built environment.
Why lighting is key to net zero
While the pandemic disrupted many elements of society, the pressing urgency of sustainability has remained the same, if not more urgent. Throughout governments, businesses, and individuals, expectations of efficiency and decarbonisation are continually rising.
In the unanimous push to build back better, the fundamental question being asked is – where do we start? Our buildings represent an open goal for national improvement, with smart lighting systems the ideal solution to drive the desired and necessary change.
Ubiquity – Firstly, and perhaps most crucially, wherever there are buildings, there are lights. They are the most ubiquitous and intrinsic building technology, fundamental to their performance. Therefore, a single piece of legislative change could have a sweeping impact on the overall energy efficiency of our buildings. The universality of lighting must make it the clear first choice for action.
Energy-saving – Over recent years, we have tangibly seen the impact of LED lighting. Indeed, in the journey to net zero, efficiency has been more effective than reducing carbon emissions.
Energy efficient lighting installations can easily realise savings of more than 50% over legacy technology. However, the sensing and communication capabilities of lighting systems provides benefits that are far greater than the sum of its parts. 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.
People-centricity – On average, in a commercial building, energy accounts for 1% of the total cost to the business, while the running of the building itself accounts for 9%. The remaining 90% is devoted to the people and the accumulated knowledge and skills that make a workforce productive. Lighting has a greater impact on employees than any other building technology, helping productivity and overall wellbeing.
Smart lighting control takes our lit environment a step further. Combining data from lighting systems with that from additional sources (including weather, time of year, etc.), they can unlock even greater benefits to building operations and provide a better setting for users. Through the collation of data, we are moving closer to the perfect lighting environment.
Protection – The use of automation, personal control, and data analytics can help realise not only further energy savings, but reduce the spread of disease which, as we have seen, can have a devastating snowball effect on the global economy.
Automation allows building occupants to avoid touching shared surfaces, such as light switches or blind controls. Occupancy data analytics can tell a facility manager which areas of the building are used and how often over time, and be able to plan the distribution of workspaces. That data, in turn, can be shared with the climate control of the building and optimise its efficiency.
We already have access to the tools we need. The development of wireless lighting enables smart systems to be applied in any environment – however, we are not yet seeing the potential of these technologies being realised.
The current UK regulations (Conservation of Fuel and Power: Part L) are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of necessary action and are currently failing to fully utilise the technology available. In terms of efficiency alone, smart lighting systems represent a clear opportunity for rapid improvement – able to take energy savings to new levels, with the capability to be cost-effectively deployed across the UK’s built environment. Combined with the productivity and safety benefits, it’s clear why smart lighting should be top of the agenda.
A comprehensive, actionable regulatory framework is needed to motivate change. Part L must make capabilities, such as presence detection, daylight linking, and timeclock events, compulsory for all new buildings and throughout the multiple stages of renovation. Legislation should prescribe the adoption of smart building technologies in new and existing projects, propelling the industry and the economy into a hyper-efficient future.
The benefits of a lumen requirement are limited – explicit guidelines for controls will bring pervasive, universal benefits in the short, medium, and long term. So far, Europe has led the way, launching the €1.8 trillion EU Renovation Wave project. It’s now time for the UK to show the same commitment to net zero.