Bright Ideas for Lighting, Cooling and Energy Savings

Bright Ideas for Lighting, Cooling and Energy Savings

Even in the era of the compact fluorescent and rapidly-emerging LED lamps, a picture of Edison's screw-base A lamp is a near universally recognized symbol of someone having a bright idea. And although it is less than half as efficient as a compact fluorescent or LED, the incandescent lamp is far from the worst idea ever used to provide illumination for human activities.

That dubious honor goes to whale oil, the pursuit of which nearly extinguished the gray, bowhead and right whale species. These largest of mammals were only saved in the late 1800s by the emergence of, that's right, petroleum kerosene, which finally became a less expensive way to keep Jack the Ripper off the streets at night.

But compared to the energy efficiency and environmental impact of oil lamps, incandescents look like 10th generation LEDs, and oil was about five to seven times more efficient in terms of light output per unit of energy than candles. The best LEDs approach 90 lumens per watt and soon are expected to surpass the ~100 lumens/watt of the best fluorescent systems.
Matthias Grossmann and Jean-Paul Michel of Siemens Financial Services Inc. and Osram Sylvania, respectively, note that lighting represents 30 percent of all electricity and approximately $37 billion in expenditures, so wasting lighting energy is not a very bright idea at all. These programs are like paying your customers to eat lunch (there's no free lunch, remember?) through infinite-payback lighting efficiency energy performance contracts. I just know the Siemens and Osram folks are also packaging the longer-payback measures together with the lighting cash cow so we don't end up with a bunch of egregious cream-skimming, right guys?

Yet, in order to avoid Severeid's Law: "The cause of problems is solutions," we should pay attention to Milena Simeonova's exhortation to look beyond the simple watts per square foot and footcandles and focus on the human response to lighting. I'm a huge advocate of the importance of good lighting design and have been for years -- the first major project I did for NRDC was helping bring the Seattle Lighting Design Lab to life in the mid '80s.

In other lighting news, research by GE shows that the popularity of incandescents is dimming, while that of compact fluorescents is really beginning to glow due to growing awareness of the energy-saving benefits of CFLs and not, repeat not, due to that big bad regulation phasing out incandescents that goes into effect in 2012 (finally, a contemporary bright idea associated with that technology.) Amazing what can be accomplished with a decade-long marketing program of one of the world's largest companies.

Moving from being bright to being cool in school (definitely looking forward to that being synonymous), CALMAC and the Sarasota County Schools report saving the district $8 million. So much for the canard that we can't invest in the environment because we need to spend it on the kids. I wonder how many books you can buy for $8 million?

I think ice storage gets a bad rap, so I was happy that the Southern California Public Power Authority and Ice Energy unveiled a 53 MW energy storage project today. The California Energy Commission found that the off-peak power system -- between lower heat-rate power plants and increased thermodynamic and electric distribution efficiency because of lower temperatures -- is about 15 percent more efficient than the on-peak system, which means that ice storage can use more kWh, while still saving energy at the power plant. Who woulda thunk?

Rounding out this week's newsletter is Nike's announcement that they have reduced the carbon footprint of their buildings by 15 percent, in spite of a 41 percent increase in floor area. Other gains are on the manufacturing side, where emissions are down 6 percent, while production is up by 9 percent. In light of this success, the company has decided not to offset any of its emissions and to fully focus on in-house measures. (Disclosure, I'm working on LEED certification for a Nike facility in China.)

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you-said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to the Environmental Defense Fund (they FINALLY figured out that ED was not a good acronym). EDF's Gwen Ruta reports on the impact of last summer's Climate Corps, a really bright idea that puts top MBA students into corporate settings with a mission to prove that the bottom line of green is black. Twenty-three Climate Corps fellows found a total of $54 million in energy savings, removing about 100,000 tons of global warming pollution. Nice work!

Rob Watson is the executive editor of You can reach Rob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @KilrWat.

Top image CC licensed by Flickr user
Inset image CC licensed by Flickr user
James Jordan.