Zero energy, zero maintenance

Shanghai, 4th February 2010

Is it possible to design towards zero energy and zero maintenance? In other words design a full project lighting installation that is 100% sustainable through renewable energy (wind, solar, etc) and has such life span that maintenance becomes redundant?

Right now certain parts of a lighting installation can certainly be designed that way. Some of you may have seen the recent fully solar driven LED façade lighting of the Xicui Entertainment Complex in Beijing, I believe one of the first of its kind. Right now I am also exploring the possibility to design a large façade lighting project that way. But I believe we are still in a situation where the initial investment costs are still prohibitive for many.

The challenge for “zero energy” is the limitations of the size of the solar or wind collectors required to achieve the desired lighting performance. The proportional size of the renewable energy collector to light fitting is quite big. From my understanding the Beijing project for instance, uses 8 small solar collectors to feed one LED light, all embedded in the curtain wall. It also seems that feeding back the collected energy into the power grid is more workable than storing the energy due to the limited storage capacity of the batteries and space would need to be created for the batteries.

The challenge for “zero maintenance” is that the previously thought incredible 100,000 hrs lifetime of LED’s is actually more like 15,000 hrs. At an average of 3000hrs a year, that is only a 5 years life span, not really an indefinite life span anymore as we originally thought! Lighting performance is directly related to lifespan and with so much emphasis put on performance one can understand why the life expectancy has so dramatically decreased.

I think we should strive to design towards zero energy and zero maintenance as a target, but it may still take a while before it can actually be achieved.

04. February 2010 by Martin Klaasen
Categories: going green | 6 comments

Comments (6)

  1. This touches on an area I am currently researching – LED media/lighted building facades (meshes, grid & non-traditional display designs).

    I think it is very interesting as the lines appear to be blurring between traditional lighting and the large area electronic display industry (unheard of in the past). Companies such as Color Kinetics (Philips) and others are working heavily with lighting designers to come up with interesting designs both at the front end and back end (control software).

    A lot of these systems are on for a specific period of time; mostly dusk and night time viewing (zoning issues etc).

    But, it is interesting about the actual life expectency and performance issues you mentioned and I do agree with you on this.

    Some lighting designers I have spoken with really want more of a standardization as what is on paper does not always fit installed situations.

    Some of these systems are complete building wraps and I have already heard of the maintenance and replacement issues firsthand.

    It should be interesting to see how this all develops.

    (your blog is wonderful – thank you)

  2. Dear Terry
    Thanks for your encouraging compliment on my blog. At the same time it is comments like yours that make this blog become more valuable! It is for sure that the lines between conventional and theatrical/media-event type lighting are blurring fast! Not only that, lighting is also fast becoming integrated in the building components used in architecture and interiors! We have an exciting future ahead in lighting!

  3. Dear Martin,
    at first, thanks for this blog to share thoughts. With this theme, you are striking a sensitive point. Energy consumption reduction will be one of the biggest challenges for mankind in the future. This comes also down to lighting as important consumer in many parts of our life. In my opinion, it is important that lighting designers get aware, that even the best sustainable products are ignored, if in praxis of lighting business the argues are reduced to the price of the fixture and nobody fights for its technical abilities. I have too often experienced, that the good specified products have been replaced by cheaper ones performing lower. This creates savings in the contruction of a lighting system and pushing the then increased costs for running the products and its maintenance into the future, which might be shorter due to lower resistance to ambient influences.
    To me, one of the most important tasks for lighting designers is helping to reduce carbon and power consumption by specifying optimal products and defending them against those clients, which take everthing easy and simple. I hope, this blog helps getting more young designers aware about practical matters of sales and construction sites. At the end, this will help to accept their work more serious.
    Zero energy is technically impossible, zero maintenance is possible for a long time, but efforts are high at the start as an investment into future.

  4. Dear Thomas…you are right, unfortunately there is a price tag to energy saving. I think we have an important task in educating our client in understanding that efficient energy saving starts with high performing and good quality light fixtures!

  5. Dear Martin, how would you interprete the “price tag”. For me it is clear, that high performance and good quality demands for an investment first, then having payback by savings. Going cheap first means shifting costs into the future, for what ever reason. Contractors for example have limited interest to invest in quality, for this reduces their margin and a long and good performance is needed only up to the end of their warranty. So a lighting designer should also be a kind of lawyer for the end client. What do you think? Do we have to create more rules for lower carbon products with better products to avoid contractors or other dealers going cheap?

  6. Thomas
    We may be clear about the issue but we are not the ones paying for it. When client is only an investor his main concern is to keep his capital costs as low as possible, hence he has no direct benefit unless perhaps he wants to be seen as environmentally responsible.Energy bills are generally paid by the users, so unless investor and user are the same it is a difficult issue. However we need to keep educating, we have that responsibility and should always make the point in our design of showing that responsibility, whether in the end it is done or not.

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