Lighting the way to Europe’s green recovery

The EU’s ‘Renovation Wave’ is an opportunity for the lighting industry to drive the bloc’s decarbonisation efforts, writes Harry Verhaar, Head of Governmental Affairs at Signify.
Source: Signify

By Harry Verhaar

Harry Verhaar is head of governmental affairs at Signify

12 Apr 2021

LED lighting will be crucial to the success of the European Commission’s ambitious continent-wide initiative to reboot Europe’s battered economy and combat climate change.

Buildings account for about 40 percent of the EU’s total energy consumption yet as little as one percent are renovated each year. This low rate presents a massive opportunity to make energy savings and deliver on the Commission’s ambition of making Europe carbon neutral Europe. But times are a changing.

Last October, the Commission released its Renovation Wave Strategy, which aims to double the rate of building renovation within the next ten years as part of its green economic recovery.

The initiative has earmarked around 35 million buildings for renovation, which should add 160,000 jobs in the sector and support the goal of Brussels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen Europe’s digital infrastructure.

“We want everyone in Europe to have a home they can light, heat, or cool without breaking the bank or breaking the planet,” said Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, adding that the strategy would “improve the places where we work, live and study”.

“Two-thirds of all installed lighting is legacy technology” Frank van der Vloed, Signify

Signify has long recognised that lighting is the quickest, easiest, and least intrusive aspect of building renovation, in comparison to thermal insulation and plumbing which can be disruptive and time consuming.

But lighting doesn’t just pave the way for quick energy savings. As it’s now a digital technology, lighting is often the killer application or impetus for new digital infrastructure.

Speed is essential

Despite lighting holding much promise, the Commission’s building renovation strategy is simply not happening fast enough. Annual renovation rates are as low as one percent for buildings and three percent for streetlights converting to LED.

We hope this changes. The recent agreement by European leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, based on 1990 levels, is in line with a three percent annual renovation rate. This should now be enshrined into European climate law.

According to Frank van der Vloed, Market Group Leader for Signify’s business in Europe, “Two-thirds of all installed lighting is legacy technology. Across Europe there are 1.3 billion conventional light points that could be switched to LED. In many instances it’s as straightforward as changing a light bulb, but Europe needs to get up to speed and do so quickly.”

The savings from a Europe-wide switch to LED and connected lighting are jaw dropping. The EU would save around €40bn and eliminate around 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. The 270-terawatt hour electricity saving could power every household in Germany, Italy and Spain for a year.

An area with great potential is Central Eastern Europe, where there are around 100 million installed light points in commercial buildings alone, most being fluorescent light points.

The future’s bright, the future’s connected

A large part of the EU’s Renovation Wave and recovery plan is to implement and integrate digitalisation, which it describes as “crucial in fostering new forms of growth and strengthening the EU’s resilience.”

Source: Signify

Connecting light points to sensors, devices, and software to manage them, drives further energy efficiencies. For example, luminaires equipped with sensors can dim or brighten in response to changing daylight conditions: a process called “daylight harvesting”. Sensors can also detect when people enter and leave a room to automatically switch on and off the lights. Switching to LED alone provides users with a 50 percent energy saving, but when combined with smart controls users can bring this up to 80 percent.

The municipality of Albertslund in Copenhagen was an early adopter of such technology. It uses Signify’s Interact Office management system to control 400 light points. Building managers save on electricity but also get valuable insights into their energy use and space utilisation. Office workers also benefit by being able to personalise the lighting around their workspace through a smartphone app.

"Connected lighting ticks the Commission’s boxes as it’s both green and digital” Frank van der Vloed, Signify

"Connected lighting ticks the Commission’s boxes as it’s both green and digital. Prioritising this technology in recovery initiatives will deliver impressive results and simultaneously pave the way to an era of smart buildings," said van der Vloed.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Increasing building renovation to three percent will be one of the biggest levers to pull in rebooting Europe’s post-COVID economy. It will create good local jobs at the expense of costly energy imports. Job creation is a viewpoint famously articulated by IEA executive director Fatih Birol who, in June, similarly described energy efficiency as a “job machine”. Indeed, recent reports indicate that for every €1 million spent on renovation, 15-20 jobs will be created.

“With building renovation, we have a once in a generation opportunity to strike a blow against global warming and revitalise Europe’s COVID-battered economy,” said van der Vloed, “So it makes sense that national recovery plans incorporate the quickest and easiest weapon in our armoury.”

Click here to see how else lighting can help you reach Green Deal targets here.

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