It was estimated by the energy information administration that in 2006 primary sources of energy consisted of petroleum 36.8%, coal 26.6% and natural gas 22.9% amounting to an 86% share for fossil fuels in primary energy production in the world (international energy annual, 2006). In 2013 the burning of fossil fuels produced around 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide and additional air pollution. This caused negative externalities of $4.9 trillion due to global warming and health problems. (ottamar Edenhofer, 2015)
Artificial light has long been a significant factor contributing to the quality and productivity of human life. As a consequence, we are willing to use huge amounts of energy to produce it. From 1970 to 2014, electricity consumption in the UK increased by 58% (ECUK 2015) and an estimated 15-18% of this total electricity consumption is through lighting. It is easy to see that lighting consumes vast amounts of energy and from the data it appears to be consistently increasing. (Fouquet and Pearson, 2006)
However, all of these statistics will probably not come as much of a shock to most as the global population is forever becoming more aware of the effect our modern society has on the environment around us (Thomas Arcury, 1990). Energy consumption within lighting has been a target for research and development for a long period of time and there have been significant improvements over the past 100 years (Creighton JR et al 2010) LED technology is now roughly 8x more efficient than an equivalent incandescent bulb (Tsao et al 2010) and the cost of light is ever rapidly decreasing. (Creighton JR et al 2010). So the question has to be asked, with all the improvements in lighting technology and energy efficiency why does consumption continue to rise?
"It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption, the very contrary is the truth. " (William Stanley Jevons, 1866)
A Rationale Explanation
On the surface you would feel safe in assuming that advancements in energy efficiency equal a reduction in the overall consumption. However, paradoxically, when consulting the data, quite the opposite seems to be the case (Alcott B, 2005)
History has conclusively shown that as progress has been made in technology/energy efficiency, equally, consumption has risen. This is an economical phenomenon that has been titled 'The rebound effect' (Sorrell S 2007). The rebound effect refers to a reduction in expected gains from new technologies that increase the efficiency of a resource and can be broken down into 3 categories.
Direct Rebound - this refers to increases in consumption of goods because of the substitution effect from lower cost of use.
Indirect Rebound - This effect comes from the income effect as decreased costs enables increased household consumption of other goods and services
Economy wide - These effects occur because improved technology creates new production possibilities and increases economic growth.
Recent evidence suggests that all these divisions have an effect on lighting consumption to a certain extent, however, studies indicate that the direct rebound has the largest effect for the lighting industry (Tsao et al 2010).
One of the reasons why the lighting industry has such large repercussions from increasing energy efficiency is due to the fact that the main costs of lights are dominated by the cost of energy (Creighton J R et al 2010). As luminous efficiency increases, per capita consumption of light increases, this increase exactly cancels the reduction in per capita energy consumption that would otherwise have occurred, and hence does not alter energy intensity (Creighton J R et al 2010). The data indicates that the consumption of light increases as the cost of energy decreases. The consumption of light as a production factor also mediates a small increase in GDP and thus causes consumption of light to increase slightly more. Thus, in total, lighting consumption increases by 1.01 units for a 1 unit decrease in the cost of lighting (Fouquet and Pearson 2006).
Indeed, the lighting industry is not the only one that succumbs to the rebound effect. Similar patterns can be seen in fuel efficiency for travel, fuel efficiency in heating (Edgar G. Hertwich, 2004) and even in 1865, when William Stanley Jevons wrote 'the coal question' which pointed out the rebound effect within coal efficiency improvements. (William Stanley Jevons, 1866)
The implications of this are important for those who care about global warming and the population's environmental impact. In recent years, more efficient light bulbs have been widely viewed as an important step to reducing energy consumption and thus greenhouse gas emissions (Navigant 2010). Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations and the International Energy Agency have produced analyses that assume energy efficient technologies will provide a substantial part of the remedy for climate change by reducing global energy consumption approximately 30 percent --a reduction nearly sufficient to offset projected economic growth-driven energy consumption increases. (International Energy Agency, 2015)
Many have come to believe that new, highly-efficient, solid-state lighting -- generally LED technology, -- will result in reduced energy consumption. When in actual fact, quite the opposite is to be true.
A Different Perspective
The good news is that increased light consumption has historically been tied to higher productivity and quality of life (Bowers 1998). The bad news is that energy efficient lighting should not be relied upon as means of reducing aggregate energy consumption, and therefore emissions.
In the most developed parts of the world, the commercial industry represents 70% of the total amount of energy consumed through lighting (IEA 2006). As costs have decreased, offices and retail spaces have taken full advantage of lightings promised productivity increasing and attention grabbing abilities (Marans 1989). As a result, over illumination seems to be a notion that has gone relatively unchallenged. History has shown that consumption continues to rise as efficient gains and reductions in costs are made. The evidence would suggest that a new approach to reducing energy consumption within lighting needs to be taken.
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