Canadian Manufacturing

Reinventing the light bulb

Companies and municipalities can save money and reduce emissions with some made-in-Canada innovations

Everyone loves plucking low-hanging fruit, a business metaphor for taking simple and easy actions to accomplish your goals.

But what’s the low-hanging fruit when it comes to slashing energy use and reducing carbon emissions? Changing lightbulbs is not the first answer.

But switching to higher-efficiency lighting in our buildings and along our roadways is fast becoming a significant way to cut both emissions and energy costs—a large and succulent fruit within easy grasp and tidy cost-return timelines.

In April 2014, retail giant Walmart announced a switch to energy-efficient LED lighting in its stores in several countries. This, says the company, will cut energy usage by 40 per cent and eliminate 327,360 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions, “or the annual GHG emissions from more than 68,000 passenger vehicles,” according to a company press release.

Those are big rewards, so imagine how much carbon emisions high-efficiency lights can reduce how if we install them across Canada.

First, the big picture:

The Nanoleaf LED light bulb lasts for 20 years. PHOTO: Nanoleaf

The Nanoleaf LED light bulb lasts for 20 years. PHOTO: Nanoleaf

“Total greenhouse gas emissions of Canada in 2012 were 699 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent,” says Godo Stoyke, president of Carbon Busters, a global energy efficiency and green building consultancy headquartered in Edmonton, Alta. (Since the company started in 1993, Carbon Busters’ clients in Canada, the U.S. and Europe have saved a total of $26.6 million in utility costs, much of this due to lighting savings.)

Of this 699 MT CO2 equivalent, 12 per cent was due to electricity, Stoyke explains. “Based on the estimated electricity consumption for lighting and assuming the average national specific carbon intensity (amount of CO2 emitted per unit of power produced),” he says, “lighting accounted for 4.2 per cent of the GHG emissions from electricity, or about half a percent of national emissions.”

Across Canada, lighting accounts for about 10 per cent of overall energy consumption, notes Gimmy Chu, co-founder of Toronto-based Nanoleaf, the maker of a very unique and efficient lightbulb. “With the energy savings of the Nanoleaf, we have cut the electricity requirements for lighting in half,” he says. “If we can scale this across all of Canada, we can completely shut down eight of Canada’s fossil fuel-based power plants, or reduce the overall carbon emissions by 25 M tonnes (of CO2).”

The Nanoleaf has small LEDs mounted onto a PCB circuit board folded into a bulb shape. It lasts for about 20 years or about 30,000 hours, equal to 30 incandescent bulbs or four compact fluorescent bulbs. The Nanoleaf achieves the brightness of a 100W incandescent bulb (1600 lumens) with only 12 watts of electricity, where a compact fluorescent uses about 26W and a comparable LED bulb uses about 20W.

Lowering the power needed to light a bulb is crucial as the cost of electricity continues to climb. On the commercial side, Stoyke says lighting typically makes up about half of electrical consumption costs at offices in Canada. Industrial lighting use varies widely, depending on the type of facilities.

Stoyke gives a payback example in a commercial setting from the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. It shows that changes to a four-tube fluorescent ceiling building fixture with T-12 bulbs – using T-8 bulbs instead, along with a single electronic ballast, occupancy sensors, specular reflectors, acrylic flat prismatic lenses and regular maintenance – will achieve cost return in just over three years.

“With modern LED lights we can do even better,” Stoyke says. “With rapidly dropping costs per fixture, LEDs are finding their way into homes, businesses, street lights and even industrial uses.”

How we illuminate our streets and other outdoor areas is indeed becoming a significant way to cut both our energy costs and carbon emissions, here in Canada and around the world.

Now found in 40 countries, the street and area lighting fixtures and control systems produced by Halifax, Nova Scotia-based LED Roadway Lighting (LRL) helps municipalities and utilities do just that. The company’s primary manufacturing centre is in Amherst, Nova Scotia.

“Globally, there are more than 280 million street lights,” says LRL Director of Marketing Ken Kovachik. “In Canada, there are roughly 4 million. Given average energy savings of 60 per cent that our products and systems provide, the opportunity for energy use reduction is very evident.”

What allows LRL’s lights to provide these savings is all in the design. “Our luminaires have a 20-year design life,” Kovachik explains. “Contrast this with incumbent high-pressure sodium technology, where lamps typically have a life expectancy of four to five years.”

The easily-removable components of the company’s NXT luminaire means they can be replaced in the field without tools. The design also allows for future upgrades as technology evolves, which again reduces costs and prolongs the lifespan of lighting infrastructure.

“Maintenance is a very large part of the total lifecycle cost of street lighting systems as well,” Kovachik observes. “Our ‘Lumen IQ’ control system assists with reducing maintenance costs through things like detailed outage and service reports, allowing customers to more efficiently deploy work crews and track lighting assets more effectively.” Other control systems offered by LRL are GPS-enabled, with programmed on/off/dimming schedules that use location-specific sunrise and sunset times throughout the calendar year.

In collaboration with Silver Spring Networks and On-Ramp Wireless, both of California, LRL’s lighting and control tech is being combined with networking systems to produce ‘smart grid-enabled’ lighting. “This collaborative effort will tie together numerous elements of municipal infrastructure in a networked fashion, with the aim of improving grid management and demand response, reducing redundancies and lowering total operating costs,” Kovachik explains.

In 2012, New Brunswick Power chose LRL to supply about 72,000 luminaires across the province over a five-year period, with about 25,000 fixtures installed to date.

“Our new fixtures replace existing 100 to 400 W high-pressure sodium fixtures,” says Kovachik. “The installation will provide energy savings of approximately 60 per cent, or a total of 27,000,000 kwH per year. In addition to the economic benefits and improved lighting conditions, the retrofit will yield GHG emission reductions of approximately 324,000 tonnes over 20 years, an amount equivalent to removing approximately 3,000 cars from the road.”

Big savings, easily accomplished. No wonder the figurative lightbulb has literally turned on for individuals and those at companies and municipalities who want to go green and clean, in Canada and beyond.

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