July 17, 2012 | James Bedell

To kick off our new blog, The Current, IMT asked experts from a range of disciplines to describe a new frontier for energy efficiency. In this guest post, sustainable lighting designer James Bedell imagines just how advanced our lighting systems might be in the year 2030.

When people think of lighting and sustainability, they usually think of LEDs. However, LEDs are just the current frontier in sustainable lighting and the built environment. The next frontier is all about intelligent lighting control through smarter building systems.

In the future, buildings will make sustainable choices before we even have to think about them.

To give you an idea of what I mean, I want you to imagine one day in a state-of-the-art office space in the year 2030.

9 AM. You pass through the revolving door on a cold, dreary January morning. Sensing the temperature outdoors, the lighting in the lobby has been dimmed to slightly brighter than it is outside, and only slightly warmer. You know you’re indoors, but there is no shock to the system or blast of heat.

You wave your key fob over the sensor to get through security and an elevator is called for your floor. As the doors open, your fob is sensed in the hallway, and the doors to your company’s office open. You turn and make your way to your work area. The lights begin to fade up to a warm and inviting glow as you make your way down the hall. The perimeter window shades have been opened wide to allow what little natural light there is pour in. The windows were sealed by the control system to minimize heat loss over the night.

9:15 AM. Imperceptibly, as the ambient light outside has increased, so too has the light inside the office. The color temperature and brightness of the LEDs that wash the concave ceilings has adjusted based on settings created by the lighting designer years ago. Not a timer–the settings are based on conditions from the natural world.

11 AM. You have a big presentation this afternoon for your colleagues in the conference room. You’ve spent the morning prepping for it: the control system will be smart enough to see that you’ve been staring at your computer for over an hour, and will adjust the ambient lighting at your desk to help relieve eye strain.

12 PM. By midday, the sun has broken through the clouds, and the weather reports all show a sunny, chilly afternoon ahead. The system knows this and gradually shifts the color of the lighting to match more closely the sunlight now pouring through the windows. The heating systems reduce their output in reaction to the solar heat gain. Eventually and automatically, the solar shades are drawn to reduce glare.

2:30 PM. A few minutes prior to your presentation, in the conference room, the lights have ramped up and all of the shades have been drawn. As everyone files in, you tap your tablet to begin your video presentation; lights fade, and you talk through your big idea. Since the system knows which team members are attending the meeting, their workstations have powered down, and their heat level was reduced to save energy.

4 PM. When you’re finished, the room’s lighting gently fades back in and the blackout shades are rolled back. You tap a button on your screen and the room shuts down as you leave.

5 PM. With the sun setting, the office empties out and it’s time to get home. Most of the workstations have gone dark and the system is opening all of the shades and sealing all of the windows. You gather your things–you’re the last one out. The system begins to power down all lighting systems and run heat to a minimum.

This is just an idea of how smarter building technology, with sophisticated energy management, will help lighting designers like me create beautiful, sustainable work environments in the future. As occupants, we will all simply expect our buildings to react to the world around us. Fluorescent lighting that pops on and off on an occupancy sensor will seem archaic to our kids.

Sustainability is coming, and it’s coming in the form of beautiful spaces that respond to us and the world around us minute to minute, day by day.

James Bedell is a lighting designer based in New York City. Over the last 10 years he has designed lighting for a wide variety of clients. His ebook Losing Edison: Beautiful, Sustainable Lighting at Home was published last year.

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James Bedell

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