LEDs are just a small part of the new technology driving efficiency in lighting – and the systems are becoming more intelligent too


Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium is at the heart of the 2018 Fifa World Cup, hosting the tournament’s opening match and the World Cup Final, as well as five other tournament fixtures in between. The games are all being played under the glow of 348 newly installed floodlights. Further illumination in the rooms and stands is provided by a network of more than 20 000 LED lamps and some 150 special spotlights. Yet fans in the 81 000-seater arena would never guess that all those lights inside the Luzhniki are switched on and off via tablet.

According to Andrei Bochkaryov, head of Moscow’s Department of Construction, the interior and exterior lighting control system uses a phased power-up of the lights to avoid a sharp overload as the powerful lamps are turned on. Outdoor lighting, he adds, is controlled using energy-saving algorithms that take into account the time of day, natural illumination and the overall load on the power network.

Six years ago, New York’s iconic Empire State Building replaced its 400 standard lamps with a network of 1 200 newly designed LEDs. The new system allows the lights – located on the 72nd and 81st floors of the Midtown Manhattan skyscraper – to be pro­gram­med remotely at the stroke of a key, glowing up to eight times brighter than the old lights, while expanding the colour palette from 10 colours to a kaleidoscope of a potential 16 million.

Globally, lighting technology is driving energy efficiency in our public and private spaces and LED bulbs are at the forefront. Eskom estimates show that LEDs generally last up to five times longer than compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which in turn last around six times longer than the old incandescent lamps. What’s more, about just 10% of the energy used by an incandescent bulb is converted to light, with the rest lost to heat. LED bulbs flip that ratio around.

Yet while energy-efficient light bulbs are – deservedly – enjoying the hype and the limelight, there’s another side to lighting technology that often goes unnoticed, as it does most of its best work in the dark.

On Windhoek’s Independence Avenue, three blocks from the central landmark Kudu Statue and across the street from Zoo Park, you’ll find FNB Namibia Holdings’ Parkside head office. Last September, the building was awarded a 5-star Green Star Africa As Built rating by the Green Building Council South Africa, making it the first building to receive this rating beyond South Africa.

FNB Namibia Holdings worked closely with engineering firm WSP on the project. Greg Rice, sustainability consultant at WSP Building Services Africa, said in a statement: ‘The As Built rating verifies that the building has been constructed and optimised to perform in the most efficient way possible, ensuring that the efforts put into design are in fact carried through to completion.’

The building boasts a number of energy-efficient innovations, including community-accessible bicycle racks and a comprehensive waste and recycling management plan. Each light fitting throughout the building’s office area is equipped with an occupancy sensor, which detects when someone enters the room, and switches the lights off when the room is unoccupied. This reduces energy wastage by preventing lights being on in the building when nobody is inside.

In a conventional lighting system, lights can only be manually switched on and off. In a smart lighting system – like the one used in FNB Namibia’s head office – a range of preset lighting modes can be loaded into the system to meet the user’s specific needs. Systems such as these are interconnected via a network, and operated and maintained through a centralised system, usually based in the cloud. The cost benefits are obvious. Eskom estimates that lighting accounts for 18% of energy usage in SA’s commercial sector – so curbing power consumption by opting for an energy-efficient lighting system is a sure way to decrease energy costs and lower operating costs.

Given those benefits, it’s little wonder that the global smart lighting market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 20% to surpass $24 billion by 2024. Yet, as Raja Moudgil, Southern Africa country manager at lighting firm Signify, points out in a recent statement: ‘While the rest of the world has made the move to new technology and LED lighting, South Africans continue to use 20-year-old technology, losing out on the energy-saving, environmentally friendly and cost-saving benefits of LEDs.’ Moudgil confirms that Signify – formerly known as Philips Lighting – aims to move the local market to a 50% LED, 50% CFL split by the end of 2018, and to move that up to 80% LED products by the end of 2019. He insists that while the rest of the world ‘already knows what the future of lighting is’, it is now ‘time for South Africa to come out of the dark and into the light’, which is LED technology.

‘While the rest of the world adopted LED two years ago, we are still seeing halogen lighting being sold here,’ Moudgil adds. ‘In 2016, the European Union banned the sale of halogen lights, which are even more damaging to the environment than CFL lighting. Even in Africa our neighbours are outstripping us when it comes to adopting safer and newer technology. Countries like Ghana, which started the shift away from CFL lighting in 2015, have invested billions in LED lighting and reaped the rewards within months of setting up infrastructure.’

Signify hopes to expand the impact of LED and smart lighting technology beyond homes and businesses, and into the public sector. ‘South Africa has close to 1 million street light points, and they are all conventional,’ he says. ‘Many of our highways, however, remain unlit because of either a lack of infrastructure, or a failure of infrastructure that does exist.

‘Converting highway lighting to LED lighting will cut costs; increase safety on our highways as LED lights last longer; and – if they form part of an intelligent system that activates lighting with the use of motion sensors – could end up saving the government millions of rands in electricity costs. LED lighting could not only serve as a more efficient way to light highways – it could also be a way to light them more smartly.’

He’s onto something there. In the south-western corner of the Netherlands, there’s a 10 km stretch of road between the towns of Woensdrecht and Bergen op Zoom. Until recently, that road – called Antwerpsestraat – had no street lights, forcing locals to cycle home in the dark, especially in the winter, when the sun sets early.

In early 2018, the local municipality bought 65 smart street lights, made up of connected LED lights hooked up to movement sensors. When a vehicle – or cyclist, or pedestrian – approaches, the lights come on, dimming again once the vehicle has passed.

‘The lights on each side of the road can switch off, or dim, independently,’ project leader Sven Willemsen told local news outlet BN DeStem. ‘And if residents complain about light shining into their homes, I can solve that instantly from the control centre on my tablet.’

While this is good news for local commuters – many of whom are schoolchildren – there are also environmental benefits to the smart lighting system. Illuminating a quiet country road may seem like a matter of laying pipes and connecting street lights to the municipal grid, but it’s not that simple. ‘In forest-rich areas like ours, you have to deal with protected nature that falls under the Natura 2000 legislation,’ according to Willemsen.

‘Lighting that burns at night can disturb nature, like birds, during the breeding season. You can prevent that with the lighting we create.’

Automation and remote operation are just the first steps. The smart lighting technology also notifies Willemsen if a lamp is broken or a light is out. Smart lighting – like any system connected to the internet of things can also serve as an infrastructure’s eyes and ears. Smart lighting systems are perfectly placed to collect data about buildings – or roads – and their occupants, and how people move through and occupy spaces.

In Bergen op Zoom, the street lights are already able to map traffic movements. In future, other sensors – such as cameras and microphones – could be fitted to collect more data. ‘In the case of an incident, you would then immediately have evidence of what happened,’ said Willemsen. ‘This makes the area a lot safer.’

The applications for building security – whether a home or an office – are clear. That is why there’s so much excitement around this technology. While LED bulbs offer greater efficiencies and opportunities for cost savings, it’s the data-driven technology and automation behind the smart lighting systems that hold the most promise for building owners. It’s something to think about as the lights come on in Russia’s World Cup stadiums…

By Mark van Dijk
Images: Gallo/Getty Images

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