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What’s the solution? Britain is not only facing the prospect of an increase in the number of “catastrophic” energy blackouts, but consumers and businesses will also see their electricity bills double in the next seven years, says industry expert Richard Perry of Lumispec.
Recent figures from Ofgem, the energy regulator, show that Britain is already being threatened by a ten-fold rise in power cuts, with 17,657 blackouts affecting 3.5 million people in 2013-14. This compares with 1,600 black outs affecting 180,900 people in 2010-11. Britain is facing “energy blight”, resulting from an increase in peak demands, the continued closure of our most inefficient or polluting power stations and increasingly erratic weather due to climate change.
The Royal Academy of Engineering has reported that any blackouts could have a “catastrophic effect”. London would potentially experience the greatest economic threat, as peak demand is already near to capacity. Many buildings would be totally unusable and companies would have to shut down in their entirety.
The National Grid has forecasted this year’s capacity margin – the difference between available supply and expected peak demand – is 1.2% before the additional measures, the lowest since 2005-2006. Extreme bad weather could see the grid failing to meet its "basic reserve requirement" of the spare capacity needed to run the system.
If this happened, the politically exposed government would force energy companies to adopt contingent measures such as generating power from previously mothballed power stations and paying factories to shut down.
It’s happening already, on 4 November this year when our national reserves dropped below 1.2 per cent, the power companies paid businesses to shut down, thereby reducing the demand for power. This practice is called “demand-side balancing reserves” and is very profitable for businesses as they are paid up to 50 times the rate they normally pay for their power, to shut off and go home; £2,500 per MW/Hr compared to their normal £50 per MW/Hr. This is yet another cost that is being passed onto us.
The state has also scoped out the possibility of importing higher-cost electricity from neighbouring Holland and France via huge undersea cables, or even from as far away as Asia or South America, to mitigate the increasing energy deficit.
What hasn’t been reported is that this comes at a much, much higher cost, which is why the cost of wholesale electricity, which comprises of 40% of the average bill (the rest being distribution, operating costs and profit) are projected to increase from £43 per MW/Hr in 2014 to £92 per MW/Hr by 2023. This could mean our electricity bills at least doubling over the next seven years. That’s a huge and bitter pill for both consumers and businesses to swallow.
What’s the answer? Nuclear is in turmoil (and in the hands of the French and Chinese) and there is little sign of a cohesive plan from the government, which has closed down five power stations in recent years. The proposed costs of the continually delayed Hinkley Point C continue to rise. In 2015 EDF said the construction cost was £18 billion, but environmental think tank E3G predicts it will be nearer £45bn by the time it’s completed.
A switch to green energy isn’t so simple as the UK’s renewable energy strategy is in disarray. The efficiency of wind turbines is widely debated and they are considered by many as blots on the landscape that harm precious migratory bird life. The government has ripped the heart out of the solar industry by slashing the price of the feed-in tariffs (the amount of money solar panel owners receive for selling their energy back to the grid). Feed-in tariffs are due to be cut by 87% to 1.89 pence per KW/Hr in January 2016. Plus, most solar panels are only around 22% efficient.
The answer is clear. We, both as consumers and businesses, need to dramatically cut down the amount of energy we consume in the first place. The simplest and most cost-effective way of doing this is to switch to the new generation of LEDs and energy efficient lights.
Many other countries have done just this; 89% of all Japanese lighting is now LED. America, Canada and Australia governments are also driving LED uptake with well-defined subsidies and rebate programmes. America’s Department of Energy has a seven-year lighting plan that projects that, by 2025, the benefit in energy reduction from LED would be the equivalent of twelve times the energy that is generated by solar and 100% of the energy generated by wind in the same year for about one hundredth of the cost; that’s enough to power 20million households.
70 per cent of our national lighting consumption is used by commercial properties such as shops, offices, factories, hospitals and train stations. Lux Magazine argues that one third of this energy consumption can be saved by switching to LED, reducing 14 billion kilowatt-hours of annual energy consumption - about as much as a new nuclear power station could produce each year.
A quarter of our national lighting energy consumption is used in the home. By installing LED lights for our domestic use, we could save 10 billion kilowatt hours from the 16bn kWh we consume each year as a nation. According to Lux magazine, that is the equivalent of the Aberthaw coal power station’s annual output.
Around 19% of the UK’s energy is used for lighting. By moving to LED from current lighting, even if we conservatively look at all current lighting as being Fluorescent (which is 50% as efficient as LED rather than 10% efficiency that halogen and incandescent lighting have) , we can reduce this 19% of total energy consumption by an additional 40-50%. This means that a nationwide switch to LED would mean approximately only 10% of total UK energy is being used for lighting. This 9% difference means the £18bn Hinkley Point C project would not really needed. The same £18bn, if invested into pushing forward nationwide LED via education and subsidisation, could result in greater energy savings and long-term economic benefit. Also, long-term maintenance and associated costs are probably similar or less for nationwide LED implementation than for the nuclear power plant.
But what about the lights themselves? When most people think of energy efficient light bulbs, they think of the old Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) which give out an unnatural, cold-coloured light. CFLs are slow to warm up, aesthetically displeasing and can’t be dimmed. However, the new generation of LED lights are now much better quality, offer better light output in a range of colours and are cheaper. Some now offer “smart” features such as colour changing to suit mood and control by smartphones such as the Philips Hue range.
LEDs are 90-92% more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and 50-60% more efficient than energy saving CFLs. If you also install motion sensors and controls to your LED set-up then energy efficiency increases exponentially. LEDs are also fantastically suited for use with lighting controls such as motion and ambient light sensors; their ability to instantly emit 100% luminance is unparalleled. With these controls further benefit of up to 80-90% in areas such as stairwells can be achieved.
But LEDs and induction lights are very different to incandescent bulbs and CFLs, and that’s been the main barrier to their adoption into the mainstream. You need to have quite a bit of knowledge in the first place to know what LED light you need to replace an old bulb.
Currently, you would have to get a qualified lighting engineer or electrician to walk around the room or building, take measurements using pen and paper, work out a number of calculations and then offer you a limited range of products based on their opinion, and maybe commercial bias. It all takes a long time, and can be quite disruptive if you’re a business with customers or employees present.
But all that is set to change.
With the launch of Lumispec, years of lighting expertise, product knowledge and industry training can be accessed by anyone with a tablet device or desktop computer. For the first time in the UK any consumer or business can audit their current lighting requirements, learn how to implement energy efficient lighting and see the impressive savings that can be made.
There is simply nothing else like it; Lumispec analyses the size of the room or building and how it is currently used. It asks questions around the desired lighting design and then impartially recommends products on a large and ever-expanding catalogue of established brands. An easy-to-read report highlights the upfront cost, Lumen light output, payback period, energy, carbon and financial savings. Every variable can be changed within a few clicks and the report is instantly updated.
After three years of collaborating with industry bodies, lighting designers and installers we at Lumispec have developed a series of applications that are conformant to industry guidelines.
Lumispec Audit makes lighting specification and the implementation of LED lighting products a simple, easy and intuitive process for businesses of all sizes. It is based on a tablet and is specifically designed to enable engineers to “walk the customer site” and undertake a lighting audit and assessment. The project is then fed back into Lumispec Cloud, the key system software that works from a Chrome browser, in order to finalise the project and create the client proposal or project report.
LumispecLite, is a B2C product for homeowners and SMEs and uses images to help the user make informed choices on suitable products, while also explaining the potential investment return for each choice.
As a result, switching to energy efficient lighting has never been easier.
The potential savings from installing LED and induction lights, particularly when they’re fitted with controls and sensors, are so great that companies can often enjoy payback periods of little over a year. From then on they’re able to save hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.
For example, one of our customers, the Captain’s Club in Christchurch, a medium-sized four-star hotel, asked us to audit its lighting estate and commission the recommended energy efficient lighting in its public areas and customer rooms. For an investment of £16.5K in LED lighting and sensors they not only paid back the project within 18 months from the installation date, but will achieve a further £100k reduction in operating costs over the subsequent seven years – the equivalent of increasing turnover by £90k per year.
Whether you believe power generation via renewables is the answer or not, no-one can argue that immediate energy reduction is a better strategy. Lighting is the simplest and fastest way to make a considerable difference, either as a company, a home-owner or a nation. The earlier we switch to new energy efficient lighting, the more we’ll save...and ensure that our future looks brighter.