In the game of energy efficiency it’s France 1, England 0

18 February 2013

Chris Bedford, Managing Director of Open Technology, examines why the UK is still failing to take control of our lighting as France commits to switching off at night.

With the UK languishing in the ‘relegation zone’ of Europe’s renewable energy league table behind countries such as Spain, Greece and France, you might have hoped that the UK Government would at least have been motivated to beat the French to introducing a night-time ban on lighting.

New measures will come into force throughout France from July, and apply to both interior lighting and external lighting of building facades. Interior lighting in offices must be switched off one hour after staff leave the premises; lighting in shops windows and commercial premises must be off between 1am and 7am; and façade lighting is to be switched off at 1am.

This simple move will save around 250,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, equivalent to the electricity consumption of 750,00 homes. So will the UK be quick to follow? I wouldn’t count on it. Government makes all the right noises around energy efficiency (and has estimated that we could reduce 40% of our demand by 2030) but doesn’t seem to be inclined to mandate even something as simple as a night time switch off. In the short term, however, it is businesses that stand the most to gain from implementing energy reduction measures, so why aren’t they taking control themselves?

Commercial buildings are increasingly taking advantage of the savings to be made from the adoption of low-energy, high-performance LED lighting, but overlook the additional savings (often 30-40% extra) that can be achieved simply by being able to switch off at night or whenever the building is unoccupied. Doing so should be a no-brainer, it’s saves money, it reduces carbon footprint and (done properly) it will have no negative impact on business operation whatsoever.

So how do you achieve this? You take out the human factor. The reality is that getting people to change their behaviour, particularly when they’re not paying the bills, can be a losing battle. But why rely on people to undertake a function that can be executed quickly and efficiently by modern technology? Control systems can offer time control to match lighting to building use but also presence and absence controls that ensure that lights are not left on needlessly even when the space is in use. Put simply, it can all be done for us.

The UK will have become a net importer of energy by 2015, the imperative to reduce consumption and take the burden off our straining power sector is clear. Turning lights off at night is a very easy place to start. There doesn’t seem to be any movement from our government towards regulating this, but as businesses stand to make considerable energy and cost savings by taking control of their lights, perhaps the impetus should come from there.