The economic activity generated by the lighting industry will have to fall significantly if we are at address climate change, a veteran environmentalist has declared.
Former Friends of the Earth chief Jonathan Porritt says we must accept a reduction of the historic proportion of GDP attributable to lighting and its associated energy requirements if we are to have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Delivering the inaugural annual lecture of the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers, he said: ‘We need to find ways of delivering increasingly sophisticated lighting services to the whole of humankind…in ways that cause considerably less impact, which probably needs less total economic activity.
‘Lighting is responsible for anywhere between 16 and 18 per cent of total electricity consumption in the world today, depending on how you do the calculations. So this is an absolutely massive part of the challenge. And although it’s rarely spoken about in those terms, people are beginning to understand that if we are going to make a difference to this story, we have to make a difference on lighting.’
Referring to the barrage of criticism from campaigners over the UK Government’s decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow Airport in London, he pointed out that aviation is responsible for 2 and 4 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
‘It’s relatively small in fact. When you compare lighting to these other big sectors, you can begin to see why it is people are focusing suddenly on the need to get lighting right.
‘What we know is that if you back right back before electricity to when people were using whale oil and tallow and candles, the contribution of the lighting industry as a whole has remained astonishingly constant over hundreds of years. It always contributes around 1.7 per cent of total GDP in any one year.
‘This rather amazing statistic was unearthed by Professor [Jeff] Tsao in the paper he wrote in 2010. And I quote: “New applications of increasingly efficient lighting technologies have consistently offset the energy efficiency gains from new lighting technologies almost exactly, leaving the portion proportion of global GDP attributable to lighting essentially unchanged for hundreds of years”.
‘So lighting’s always had this critical part in the economy of human societies at different points, at roughly 1.7 per cent of GDP.
’The problem is, we need to do something about that,’ he told a London audience of lighting executives. ‘I hope this isn’t going to upset people here but we kind of need to get that figure down. Because if we are to have a massive contribution from lighting to addressing this problem, we need to find ways of delivering increasingly sophisticated lighting services to the whole of humankind – not just the rich world – in ways that cause considerably less impact, which probably needs less total economic activity.’
However, he praised the lighting sector for its technological achievements, especially the development of the blue LED by Professor Shuji Nakamura and his team in the 1990s. Quoting the US Department of Energy, he said: ‘ “the widespread introduction of LEDs today will reduce electricity consumption by around 348 TWh by 2027, equal to the output of 44 large power plants, saving more that $30 billion at today’s power prices”. So you can see why this is going to have an impact on GDP. It takes $30 billion of economic activity out of the US economy, that translates through into the economic multipliers.
‘If the Indian government were to replicate the LED roll-out that it is currently undertaking in Pondicherry, it would reduce electricity demand by over 50 TWh and cut consumer bills by over $3 billion. These are just massive changes that are underway now.’
He also highlighted the president of Institute of Physics’ claim that the optimum use of LED lighting could reduce lighting’s share of the global electricity consumption in buildings from 19 per cent to 4 per cent. ‘That translates to the total electricity consumption of Europe.’