Reducing your carbon output with LED lighting upgrades

Specifiers and architects must harness the benefits of the most up-to-date LED lighting solutions as part of their strategies to combat embodied & operational carbon, and help building owners to reduce their energy usage, writes Tamlite’s Debbie-Sue Farrell.

 The last 12 months have brought a greatly increased awareness of the intersection – and interdependence – between building technology and energy efficiency. With the commercial property sector facing unprecedented challenges as many businesses move towards a more flexible hybrid operational model, and the ongoing unpredictability of energy prices, there is an onus on specifiers and architects to help building owners and tenants to operate in as energy efficient a way as possible.

 Simultaneously, the level of knowledge that individual organisations have about the role of individual building systems in achieving a low-carbon future has risen markedly. The overwhelming shift away from traditional light sources to LED systems during the past 10 years is a case in point. But, increasingly, building managers and other stakeholders are also cognisant of the connection between their use of technology and obligations to concepts such as embodied carbon and operational carbon – as well as whole life carbon, which is the ‘grand total’ of the two types.

From an electrical contractor’s perspective, there is a clear opportunity to talk to customers about making the move from traditional lighting types to highly efficient LED-based systems.

The use of these terms is giving a welcome sense of definition – and urgency – to the discussion around energy efficiency in buildings. To briefly recap, operational carbon is specifically concerned with the energy required to actually use the light fittings over their entire lifecycle. Embodied carbon pertains to everything that is not directly involved in day-to-day operations – for example, installation, maintenance, materials and so on.

Embodied carbon, in particular, has been in the spotlight recently thanks to the arrival of a new publication by CIBSE entitled ‘Embodied Carbon in Building Services: A Calculation Methodology’ (TM65) (1). Acknowledging that the embodied carbon related to building services design can be considerable over a building’s lifetime – not least due to the choice of materials and the frequency with which replacements are required – TM65 provides guidance on how to use environmental product declarations (EPDs) to assess the embodied carbon of building services equipment. Where EPDs are not available, it offers a methodology by which the embodied carbon can be estimated.

Placed in a purely lighting context, this approach means designers can compare one lighting solution to another in a systematic fashion. It can also be used by other parties – including engineers and specifiers – to generate data that encompasses an entire building, resulting in a more rounded picture of its embodied carbon status.

A gift to low-carbon strategies

The momentum behind TM65 has been building steadily since publication, and it’s important that everyone involved in both construction and the lifecycle of a building has a good grounding in the CIBSE document. For building owners and operators, it’s likely that alignment with TM65 will be sought-after in the future as it provides such a transparent methodology. For specifiers and architects, it offers a consistent benchmark as they review the carbon output of their buildings and the systems that serve them.

The modernisation of lighting stock has accelerated dramatically in recent years, and you won’t find too many commercial buildings now where there is zero trace of LED. But it’s worth explaining briefly just how advantageous LED lighting can be to achieving a low-carbon infrastructure.

On the operational carbon side, LED technology routinely makes it possible to reduce energy consumption by two-thirds. It is certain that future generations of products will be even more efficient. Of course, large-scale reductions in energy consumption also equate to significant cost savings – generally between 60 and 80% – when compared to traditional equivalents, as well as ROIs that can be as little as one or two years for even sizeable deployments. In the current climate – in which rising energy prices are expected to lead to a swathe of business insolvencies – the benefits of LED seem even more stark.
The implications for embodied carbon can also be profound. Replacement and maintenance are much reduced because the lifecycle of LEDs is far longer than predecessor technologies. On the basis that LED lights now afford at least 50,000 hours of operation, and the lights are used in a workplace for 10 hours per day, it could be that their lifespan will be well over 13 years. Then there is the simple fact that LEDs fail much less frequently than, say, fluorescents – meaning that there is less call for replacements, or the labour required to install them. With an increased tendency for in-house technicians to be based remotely, it equates to less travel-related carbon as well.

If all goes to plan, the next few years are going to be transformative for the use of energy in the built environment. Empowered by methodologies such as TM65, the accessibility and accuracy of building carbon calculation will continue to improve. Governments and authorities will stress the correlation between building efficiency and the Net Zero goals to which individual countries are committed, and make laws that reinforce it.

At least that’s what needs to happen. The latest edition of the PwC Net Zero Economy Index revealed that the decarbonisation rate had fallen to 0.5% – the lowest level for a decade – whilst the required annual rate of decarbonisation had subsequently risen to 15.2%, which is 11 times faster than the global average achieved since 2000 (2). In short, we are currently nowhere near the kind of progress needed to hit the 1.5°C maximum warming target.

Improving a building’s lighting is comparatively one of the most straightforward things that can be done to reduce carbon output, and it should therefore be a key priority for all building designers and specifiers.

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