Bright Ideas for More Efficient Lighting

Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Street lighting can increase the safety and enhance the appeal of a neighborhood or city center—but it can also drive up energy use and carbon emissions. Governments around the world are adopting strict lighting standards to promote maximum efficiency and incorporate the latest technologies. The eight countries in the Central American Integration System (SICA) are now in the process of developing such standards, with support from the Organization of American States (OAS).


Think of the multiple ways people use lighting every day—whether it’s the desk lamp a child studies by at night, the runway lights that guide planes in for a landing, or the bright stadium lights that give fans a virtual front-row seat. Around the world, lighting accounts for about 15 percent of total electricity consumption and 5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to CLASP, a nongovernmental organization working with the OAS to support the SICA effort.

For governments, upgrading efficiency and performance standards for lighting brings clear benefits, according to CLASP Senior Manager Ana Carreño. Efficiency gains will cut public electricity bills right away, and in the long term will reduce the need to invest in power generation. They will also help countries meet their goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers will come out ahead too, Carreño said, as newer lighting technologies are long-lasting and extremely cost-effective.

It’s no wonder that governments around the world—including many in the Americas, such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—have adopted standards that manufacturers and importers of lighting products are required to meet.

Among the SICA countries, the development of lighting-related regulations fits into a larger process that includes establishing energy efficiency standards for such equipment as refrigerators, air conditioners, and electric motors. (See related story, below.)

The OAS and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been providing technical support to SICA on draft regulations related specifically to street lighting, as part of an energy efficiency initiative implemented through the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA).

The OAS brought in CLASP—an organization that focuses on improving the energy and environmental performance of appliances and equipment—to analyze proposed regulations that had been drafted by a SICA technical group. In March, CLASP presented its findings and recommendations at a technical workshop in Guatemala City that included representatives from all the SICA countries. Based on that report, the SICA team decided to make further revisions to their proposed regulations to ensure that they meet what are known in the industry as minimum energy performance standards—specifications for products that run on electricity.

The support provided through the ECPA project has enabled the transfer of good practices and know-how based on international standards, Werner Vargas, Executive Director of the SICA General Secretariat, said in an interview. He added that the result will be “a leap in quality for the proposal that was being developed.”

Regulations such as the ones SICA is considering aim to encourage the use of the most efficient alternatives for street lighting; today, that is LED technology (the acronym stands for light-emitting diode). Most traditional street lights in use today are variations of high-intensity discharge lamps, which include sodium-vapor, mercury-vapor, and metal-halide lamps.

LED lights are already starting to appear on the streets of some cities in Central America, according to Vargas. Later this year, he added, Taiwan, China, will provide a $4 million grant for solar-powered LED street lighting projects in the four SICA countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan—Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. The grant, which will be implemented by SICA, will be based on the needs defined by each country but will focus on well-traveled, highly visible areas.


Smart Regulations


The regulatory process underway is intended to further the move toward energy-efficient alternatives such as LED lighting. However, the idea is not to mandate the use of a specific technology but to set energy performance standards that will favor the most efficient alternatives, Carreño explained.

“When you put the limit a bit higher, logically there are some technologies that are going to disappear from the market,” she said in an interview.

Over the next few months, CLASP will produce some technical notes for the SICA team working on the street lighting regulations. It will also do a market study to determine what types of lighting are being used now and will eventually prepare recommendations related to common types of indoor lighting as well, which will be the focus of separate regulations.

Carreño, who has worked closely on the SICA project, offered some considerations for countries or regions that may be looking at adopting lighting standards:

It’s important to regulate the market—in part because other countries and regions are already doing so. If a manufacturer can no longer sell its inefficient lighting products in the European Union, for example, it will look for other buyers.

“The market needs to be regulated to prevent the dumping of inefficient technologies and technologies that have substances that are harmful to the environment,” Carreño said, adding that mercury is a particular problem. Ideally, she said, the advanced regulations implemented in other countries can serve as a benchmark.

Adopt a technology-neutral approach. Instead of setting standards just for LED technology, establish more general performance standards that apply to all types of lighting, Carreño said, “so as not to create barriers and additional costs for the most efficient technologies.”

Take the example of an energy efficiency standard known as lumens per watt—the measure of how much light is emitted for a given amount of electricity. If the standards are set only for LED luminaires (the technical term used for complete light units), that will create a disincentive to import or manufacture them; however, if all luminaires are held to the same standard, the advantage goes to the LED technology.

Include up-to-date quality criteria in the regulations. Beyond light output and energy use, it’s important to consider a range of technical specifications: How long is the lamp rated to last? What color of light does it emit? Does the light flicker or is it steady? Unlike an incandescent lamp, which “either emits light or it doesn’t,” as Carreño put it, newer technologies can be more complex and have more variations. “All those things have to be regulated,” she said.

For smaller countries, regional efforts make sense. In the case of the SICA countries, they will be able to save money and regulatory headaches by developing a common set of standards and a uniform system for evaluating quality and exercising oversight. That will help manufacturers and importers too, Carreño said; instead of dealing with eight different sets of regulations, they can comply with a single regulatory framework.