"What is holding you back?"
This was the question I posed as part of a discussion on street lighting at this year's Carbon Trust Public Sector Conference. We have the technology, the payback is attractive and the finance is available – so why are local authorities still hesitant to adopt low energy lighting?
19th March, 2014
The timing is certainly right - according to our panel discussion partner, the Green Investment Bank. Its recent market report ‘Low energy streetlighting: making the switch', concludes that price and product are now at the point where local authorities should be developing “spend to save” business cases, with research by McKinsey demonstrating that costs have been dropping by 30 per cent a year. By 2020, the energy saving compared to today's conventional lighting is expected to reach 90 per cent.
Lack of confidence definitely has a role to play. With no standard specification for outdoor LED lighting, the sheer amount of time it takes to fully understand and compare the multitude of products on offer can be overwhelming for some. With no set testing standards, a manufacturer's claims are difficult to qualify and with so many new entrants into the market it's almost impossible to decide whether a 25 year warranty will be worth the paper it is written on.
“The more well known the manufacturer, the more confidence you should have in the quality and reliability of the product”, advised Paul Huggins, the Carbon Trust's Head of Technology, and although simplistic, it's a valuable rule of thumb. In addition, any manufacturer worth its salt should be able to prove all of its claims with verified test results, whereas standards such as LM79 demonstrate that data hasn't just been extrapolated from different sources but instead the product offered has been fully tested as a whole. The Energy Technology List also provides guidance.
A survey undertaken by the Carbon Trust prior to the event revealed that the biggest barrier to carbon reduction was the availability of finance (49% of respondents). However, my experience to date is that we have yet to come across a project where funding can't be found. Lack of human resource might actually be the real problem. The head count required to convert the available funding into a reality just isn't available – and to an extent there isn't the expertise to translate the technical case into a business case. For such a large scale enterprise project, the executive who ultimately ‘wields the pen' is therefore hard to engage.
Whatever the reason, any barriers to adoption must be overcome. Of the 7.4 million streetlights in the UK, less than 10% are low energy LED. Make the switch and we could save 50-80% in energy costs – that equates to a £200 million annual saving for the UK as a whole; and that's before you take into account escalating energy costs. Major manufacturers and organisations such as the Carbon Trust and the Scottish Futures Trust are geared up to guide local authorities through the process; and funding is available through the Green Investment Bank and Salix so it seems all that remains is the willingness of individuals to drive change – and that's why GE Lighting is a strong supporter of events such as the Carbon Trust Public Sector conference, which are aimed at stimulating not only thought but action.