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Lighting Brighter: 6 Effect of Smart Sustainable Lighting

08/13/2014 05:30 EDT | Updated 10/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Walk into a hardware store these days and you'll find more varieties of light bulbs than ever before.

Some may look a bit strange and cost a bit more than the incandescent bulbs that used to be the norm. But these amazingly energy-efficient, "green" lighting solutions -- and others still in development -- are also helping to drastically change our homes, our cities and our world.

For example, "light emitting diodes" (or LEDs) are already starting to brighten up our cities even as they reduce city energy bills. They dress up Toronto's CN Tower with colourful, changeable, sustainable light displays -- and they're popping up in more day-to-day fixtures, too.

"If you're in Mississauga, look up," said Elyse Henderson, special initiatives coordinator from the Smart Sustainable Lighting Network (SSLNet) based at the University of Toronto's Impact Centre. "Forty-nine thousand street lights in Mississauga are now being switched to LEDs, saving 55 per cent in energy costs and significant reduction in maintenance given that they last 20 years compared to five years for the older bulbs being phased out."

It's known as smart sustainable lighting. Already popping up in desk lamps and urban infrastructures, it's continuing to inspire new ideas for researchers and entrepreneurs at the University of Toronto.

"Smart sustainable lighting is important," says Henderson, "because energy-efficient products are the easiest and cheapest way to combat climate change, rising energy costs and increasing energy demand."

Over the next few weeks, U of T News will introduce you to researchers and grads leading the business and science of smart sustainable lighting. We'll check in with an alumni startup called OTI Lumionics, hear more about how SSLNet is bringing together researchers and industry through a conference at UTM August 18-25, and follow up with the alumni startup called Nanoleaf.

But first, a primer on what smart sustainable lighting has to do with life outside the lab -- and the hardware store.

LEDs are the "greenest" lights around -- and older bulbs are so bad, they're banned.

"The traditional incandescent bulbs we all grew up with are so inefficient that their production has been banned by countries all over the world. Compact fluorescent lighting is energy-efficient, but those bulbs contain toxic mercury, which makes them less environmentally sustainable than LEDs. LEDs are the most energy-efficient form of lighting available, and their root in electronics makes them compatible with digital smart systems for homes and for public areas."

Elyse Henderson; coordinator, Special Initiatives, SSLNet

Imagine if the City of Toronto only had to change light bulbs every 10 years

"Outdoor lighting is one of the rapidly changing areas within the lighting sector. Toronto City estimates that it takes on average $200 to change a failed outdoor bulb, besides traffic disruption. LED lighting devices have eight to ten times the life of the current technologies, significantly lowering the total cost of ownership. Besides, incorporating smart sensors helps collect vital data and perform energy analytics, condition monitoring and preventive maintenance of street lighting assets."

Venkat Venkataramanan; director, Scientific Operations, Impact Centre

A world where lights themselves are the only ones worrying about lighting

"With the implementation of LED technology and adaptive controls, we will never need to manually adjust lighting levels or worry about lighting quality. Smart lighting systems will be working 24-7 to optimize energy usage, improving sustainability in the background of our daily lives."

Elyse Henderson

Entrepreneurs from U of T are global leaders in smart sustainable lighting startups

"As lighting undergoes rapid transformation, the time is ripe for truly innovative companies to contribute significantly. U of T faculty and alumni startups like OTI Lumionics, Lumentra and Nanoleaf are all getting a lot of attention in the lighting community."

Venkat Venkataramanan

A light that could improve health and happiness

"As we focus on optimizing energy savings there is also a significant move towards creating more human-centric lighting. It has been well established that we perform better under different types of light during various hours in a day. While a sunlight-like spectrum of cool white light increases productivity during the daytime, a warmer incandescent light help increase melatonin production ensuring a calm, good night's sleep. U of T researchers are creating technologies that can enable an enriched spectrum of light."

Venkat Venkataramanan

And smart sustainable lighting could save the lives of thousands of birds, too

"Urban light pollution not only causes energy drain, Nature Ontario reports that approximately one million birds strike Toronto high-rise buildings annually, a greater fraction of which result in bird fatalities. Smart lighting helps deliver light where we want it, eliminating lighting pollution and reducing bird strikes on buildings."

Venkat Venkataramanan

Brianna Goldberg writes about entrepreneurship and startups for U of T News. Read more about entrepreneurship at U of T.