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Why lighting is key to making buildings more energy efficient

Simon Greenwood

Simon Greenwood

Sales Director Trade & Specification at Signify UK & Ireland
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Simon Greenwood, Sales Director Trade & Specification at Signify UK&I, puts a spotlight on the need to improve the energy efficiency of the world’s building stock – noting that efficient lighting will be an important pillar to achieving net zero. 

Last year, COP26, the UN annual climate conference, featured a day fully dedicated to addressing the environmental impact of cities and the built environment – an issue that continues to be addressed – urgently. 

Given that our buildings are responsible for 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, it’s surprising that this point is so often overlooked. Buildings and out-dated construction practices have contributed to this crisis, and we must quickly turn our new and existing buildings into climate emergency first-responders. Yet, even within this space, it’s new, zero-energy buildings that make the headlines, with futuristic designs that incorporate cutting-edge technology to perform with the lightest possible impact.

Raising the standard of our new building stock will be a welcome change, driven by new building codes that will ensure that construction projects adopt a net zero standard. But to achieve our ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets, we must look to the areas where we can make the most meaningful impact. Within Europe, 85 to 95% of our current building stock will still be in use in 30 years’ time. If we focus energy-efficiency initiatives on the small percentage of new buildings, we address only a minor part of the problem.

Picking up the pace to brighter solutions

First and foremost, we need to accelerate the switch toward energy-efficient connected LEDs. This is a simple but significant step that will contribute to countries meeting their targets to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030. 

Upgrading to LED lighting is one of the quickest and least intrusive parts of the renovation process. This isn’t rocket science. Today, lighting accounts for about 12% of our global electricity consumption a year. By moving to more energy-efficient LED lighting, we can drop this to 8% by 2030, even while the total number of light points continues to rise. It’s a fast, non-disruptive intervention that can act as a frontrunner as we accelerate preparations for more complex renovations.

If businesses and cities around the globe switch to LED lighting, we can reduce our carbon footprint by more than 553 million tonnes of CO2, the amount of emissions that 25 million trees could sequester in a year. Making the switch would also generate electricity savings of 1,132 TWh, which is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 494 million households. This would save a total of €177 billion per year on electricity costs. 

For the UK and Ireland, switching to LED lighting in the professional lighting market could reduce CO2 emissions by 3.9 million tonnes, the amount of emissions that 175 million trees could sequester in a year. Making the switch would also generate electricity savings of 16.1 TWh, which is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of more than 4.3 million households. This would mean a saving of €3.8 billion on electricity costs.

The switch to LED is just one part of the puzzle. The new generation of LEDs are not just energy efficient but connected. Converting to smart or connected LED lighting can reduce the built environment’s lighting-related energy consumption by up to 80%, offering carbon emissions reductions and bringing down electricity costs. 

Connecting LED lighting to a network and introducing sensors and controls further enhances their efficiency while laying the groundwork for a digital smart building framework that brings together multiple functions and applications, multiplying the benefits. A lighting system can be connected to other smart building technologies like sensors that can switch off lights in unoccupied rooms or adjust lighting levels in response to natural daylight conditions. Such systems can yield a 30% electricity saving over and above the savings from switching to LED. 

To add to the benefits, the lights themselves are sustainable and it is one of the quickest renovations that dramatically cuts carbon – it does not require large capital investments and has a short payback time.

Boosting the renovation rate

In professional lighting, the outlook shows that most opportunities are still ahead of us, as two thirds of the installed base is still conventional lighting technology. This means that we need to speed up renovation within commercial and industrial sectors as well as within housing, retrofitting older consumptive systems with more energy-efficient connected LED installations, and do it by 2030. A fundamental part of this transition is to more than double the annual rate of building renovation to 3% per year, as opposed to the current 1%.

As mentioned above, converting to connected LED lighting has the power to reduce the built environment’s lighting-related energy consumption by up to 80%. It will also deliver carbon reductions and reduce costs. It will improve the comfort of those using the building. And it will accelerate the adoption of smart technologies by governments, in industry, and in households across the world, reaping benefits in productivity, health, wellbeing, and digital innovation.

To achieve this, we need nations around the globe to revise their buildings codes and set high standards in the materials that are used, and the energy buildings consume, not just in our new buildings, but in our existing building stock, too.

The renovation revolution

In the European Union and the UK and Ireland, the Renovation Wave initiative aims to take on the challenge of upgrading aging buildings to keep our emissions within agreed levels. The initiative aims to double the annual energy renovation rate in the next 10 years. Such a plan yields multiple benefits, slashing emissions from our built environment while reducing energy poverty, improving quality of life, and creating skilled local jobs. The UK also has a resilience and recovery plan – The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution – which lays out a broad roadmap towards this goal and in particular its financing.

Decarbonising the UK and Ireland’s built environment is a significant challenge that also comes with major opportunities – accelerating the adoption of energy-efficient solutions and job creation. But with so much at stake, and with quick and significant additional gains on the table, it’s high time for our built environment to take its place on the world’s most important agenda.

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