John Bullock Lighting Design
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Lighting on the Rebound


Yet another bombshell hits the in-box, with news from Snow Hill Station, Birmingham of the Living Wall - the longest in europe, with beautiful LED lighting.

I'm reminded of a poorly attended talk given by Jonathan Porritt at LUXLive 2012, at which JP spoke about a phenomenon that was causing concern within the green community - that of The Rebound Effect. It's not such an original idea, as it's based on an observation by Williams Jevons in 1865 that technological efficiencies result in increased use of that technology, resulting in a greater use of resource, not a reduction as was originally believed. If humans can, then humans do.

But if The Rebound Effect is true in a lighting context, then we're all wasting our time trying to rein in our use of energy because new technologies will just come along and use more energy in different, energy-efficient, ways. And I suspect that's a decent enough explanation for "The Living Wall - now with beautiful LED lighting".

In November 2012, JP set out his argument to me like this: although energy efficiency is seen as an essential tool in countering rising global energy consumption, the projected reductions don't take into account the impact that new 'energy-efficient' technologies can have on energy reduction targets.

He sees three types of Rebound Effect:

The DIRECT Rebound Effect that sees new 'cheaper in-use' technologies are used more extensively simply because it costs less to use them;

The INDIRECT Rebound Effect whereby money that is saved via one energy-saving measure is re-directed to other energy-using products and services;

The ECONOMY WIDE Rebound Effect where energy efficiencies drive greater productivity, leading to the manufacture and use of more energy-using products and services.

Looking at that list, we can put a big red tick against the DIRECT Rebound Effect and we've probably all heard - or used - the argument that, having effected an energy saving of X, then we can afford to relax and spend a little more on this fancy detail over here because it would have an impact of Y.

It's still too early to quantify the actual impact of The Rebound Effect - especially because new technologies are still emerging out of the LED primordial soup. But there can be no doubt that The Rebound Effect is in full spate and I'll give you a fine example of the Effect in action - not strictly lighting but the next thing to it. According to 'figures', the old CRT TV set that I inherited from my parents is far less efficient than an LED/LCD equivalent, so why don't I do the decent thing and help support the global electronics community. But it's never that simple, is it, because the marketplace really wants me to buy a 55" OLED TV with split screen facility so that I can watch TWO programmes at the same time - in 3D! And the damnable machine will actually ask me what programmes I want to watch - and then make suggestions just in case I'd missed something in the TV guide. It only consumes 124W - so why wouldn't I, because that's only 50% more than I'm using at the moment with my dumb, low-brow, CRT bumpkin of a machine. You get the HD picture of what I'm saying here?

So what can we do about it? I can't help but feel that we have to look closely at our behaviour and challenge that Human Can - Human Do mindset. I'm sure The Living Wall is a thing of beauty; but it really doesn't need to be there. Those gigantic LED screens on the side of buildings all over the world - they don't need to be there. I swear that are past issues of lighting magazines that would have been so many blank pages if the question of real lighting value had been asked at the point of design inception. And, rest assured, not having these technological and aesthetic gems around won't make the world a poorer place; it won't reduce the human spirit to that of a knuckle-dragging thug ....... ah, er, maybe best not to go there.

It starts with the small stuff - and let me be the first one out of the blocks to Confess on this one: since when did we need waymarker lights to make our way from the bedroom to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Yes - of course it's handy, but that doesn't make it essential. I grew up in a house where the bathroom was as far away from my bedroom as it was possible to get without going next door. And I've been fortunate enough to live in weird places out in the country where any kind of lighting felt like a luxury. And we all survived. In the dark. It all starts with a bit of lighting convenience here, but it ends with a LENI-busting computerized interactive bit of whizzbangery that just got out of control. Really - I didn't mean that to happen.

We really are a crazy species. Easily capable of believing seven impossible things before breakfast, we can support our kids in their enthusiasm for Switch It Off campaigns such as Waste Week and Earth Hour, both happened in March by the way, while at the same time leaving lights, TVs and computers switched on all night for the rest of the year - along with our essential ultra-low wattage LED wayfinders mounted in the back passage.

Perhaps the primary job of a lighting designer is to ask "Why Would You Want To DO That?" and not be scared to come up with an answer that th best thing to do would be nothing. Leave it Dark.


RIBA CPD in 2015

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