Miguel Aguado, marketing & technology manager at Lutron looks at how lighting can contribute to emissions reductions

While technology and consumer behaviour continue to evolve at an ever-increasing speed, the UK built environment remains stuck in the past. According to the UK GBC, 80% of the buildings that we will be using in 2050 have already been built, making our building stock the oldest in the developed world.

These buildings contribute 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, half of which derives from the energy used in buildings. Concurrently, waste from construction, demolition and excavation represents a staggering 59% of total UK waste. These statistics, when considered together, add some much-needed clarity to the quest for net-zero by 2050. Clearly, the decarbonisation of our existing buildings must be the top priority.

Unintrusive, smart building technology represents one of the greatest win-win investments for governments, businesses and individuals. By embracing its benefits, we can see both cost savings and carbon reductions. Lighting, due to its ubiquity, cost saving ability, positive impact on productivity and wellbeing, as well as safety, must be the first port of call for retrofitting activities in the years to come.

Lighting the way

While COVID-19 has changed the world, our priorities remain the same, if not more urgent, as all governments, businesses, and individuals come under pressure to become more efficient, sustainable and resilient.

As we collectively pull to build back better, the question fundamentally becomes; which area should we invest in first? Buildings represent the greatest opportunity for mass improvement, with smart lighting systems as the prime candidates to bring about dramatic and effective change.

Universality – 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.

Efficiency – 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.

Productivity - 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.

Safety - 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.

Taking action

The technology to bring about genuine change is available today. The maturity of wireless lighting technologies makes it possible to deploy smart systems in any environment – however, we are not yet seeing that reality.

The current UK regulations (Conservation of Fuel and Power: Part L) barely scratch the surface of what is needed and fail to capitalise on the technology available. In terms of efficiency alone, smart lighting systems represent an open goal - able to take energy savings to new levels, with the capability to be cost-effectively deployed in the UK’s current built environment. Add the productivity and safety benefits, and it simply can no longer be shunted down the list of priorities.

Change can only come from a clear, prescriptive regulatory framework that forces action. Part L must make capabilities, such as presence detection, daylight linking, and timeclock events, compulsory for all new constructions and during every piece of renovation work. Legislation must require the use of smart technologies in new and existing buildings, turbocharging the industry and providing the basis for a hyper-efficient economy in the years to come.

Lumen requirement can only take us so far – explicit requirements for controls will bring short-term, long-term and universal benefits. Our European neighbours have led the way, launching the €1.8 trillion EU Renovation Wave project. It’s time the UK joined the party.