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UN report urges lighting revolution

02 Dec 2010

At the Cancún climate change summit, the United Nations says that it will develop a road-map detailing the global phase-out of inefficient lighting.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is to produce a road-map detailing the technical, political and financial requirements to phase out inefficient lamps and support a transition to technologies including LED-based solid-state lighting (SSL).

Globally, it says, lighting is responsible for some 19% of electricity consumption, and 6% of CO2 emissions – citing a 2006 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

But with around two-thirds of lighting market sales still relating to incandescent lamps, the opportunity to cut electricity demand and emissions through new lighting technologies is an obvious one, according to the UNEP executive director Achim Steiner:

“Among the low-hanging fruit in the climate change challenge, a switch to far more efficient lighting must rank as among the lowest,” Steiner said. “There are multiple cost-effective opportunities, [and]…efficient lighting systems is one path that is literally available at the flip of a policy switch.”

To highlight the impact that lighting has on global energy consumption currently, the UN set up its “en.lighten” initiative, supported by the leading lighting companies, Philips and Osram. The initiative has looked at the impact of lighting in 100 countries, and assessed what effect a switch to higher-efficiency technologies might have.

Potential savings
For example in the US, there are potential savings of 80 Twhr in terms of annual energy consumption, as well as 45 Mt of CO2 emissions, and a $9 billion reduction in the cost of energy consumed. For China, the figures are 92 TWh, 86 Mt and $5.5 billion.

The report suggests that widespread adoption of new lighting technologies, including SSL, could mean that, in the future, lighting would account for only 7% of global electricity demand.

"The world needs quick wins to show that climate change can be controlled. A global transition to efficient lighting is perhaps the easiest method," says the UNEP report.

To usher in such a transition, which would also have a profound impact on the power grids used to distribute electricity, the UN is convening experts from more than 30 countries to put together a road-map “for the global phase-out of inefficient lighting”.

“The road map will include policy, technical and financial recommendations to support this transition,” says UNEP. “UNEP expects the draft road-map to be tabled for global consultation in the second half of 2011.”

While the development will undoubtedly be welcome news for LED companies and the related research community alike, it is possible that switching to SSL and other new lighting technologies may not have exactly the impact that UNEP suggests.

Jeff Tsao and his team from Sandia National Laboratories, for example, have looked into the historical relationship between lighting and economics. They found that countries have consistently spent 0.72% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on artificial lighting, meaning that as the cost-per-lumen of lighting has fallen, people have consumed more of it.

Historic trend
As Tsao noted, that linear historic trend may or may not hold true in the future, but if it were to hold steady, countries would consumer more and more light – wiping out some of the gains made in terms of reduced energy consumption.

According to a report by Global Industry Analysts, the 2010 market for all industrial, commercial, residential and public lighting will be in the region of $94 billion – with a great deal of growth resulting from developing economies. Those economies have much to gain from the adoption of technologies such as SSL, since Tsao’s work also clearly highlights the economic benefits of improved lighting efficiency.

And Tsao believes that 2012 will be the key breakthrough year for SSL – the point at which the technology becomes cheaper than fluorescent lighting for the first time. That timing should fit neatly with the publication of the UN’s forthcoming roadmap, it would appear.

Some 40 countries are already seeking to transform their lighting markets by phasing out incandescent bulbs – they include the 27 members of the European Union, as well as the US, Canada, Australia, Cuba and the Philippines. Meanwhile China has invested heavily in the development of an LED manufacturing industry, with heavy subsidies for critical manufacturing equipment and grand schemes for the introduction of SSL in public areas such as street lighting.

Main photo credit: iStockphoto.

About the Author

Mike Hatcher is the Editor in Chief of optics.org

HÜBNER PhotonicsCHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.Hyperion OpticsMad City Labs, Inc.CeNing Optics Co LtdAlluxaTRIOPTICS GmbH
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