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What if lighting could solve Britain’s energy problems?

As Britain’s old coal and oil power plants approach the end of their lives, we’re facing an energy crunch.

Unless something is done, we risk suffering blackouts at times of peak demand, according to warnings from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the National Grid.

Following years of underinvestment, the government’s plan to address the issue is to increase capacity, with more nuclear and more renewables – both controversial solutions, and both with their own set of challenges to overcome. But what if there were another way? What if you could avoid boosting supply by slashing demand?

Lux decided to take a look at the impact that energy-efficient lighting could have on the 316 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity that the UK uses each year.

Almost a quarter of the energy used for lighting is used in our homes. The incandescent bulb ban means that CFLs are now the dominant technology, unless you’re one of the people who still buys ‘rough service’ incandescents from the local hardware store. LEDs have been slow to take hold because they’ve either been too expensive or not good enough. But there are now so many great retrofit LED lamps available – some with ‘smart’ features like smartphone controllability and colour-change  – that the consumer market for low-energy lighting looks set to explode. In which case we can probably halve electricity consumption for lights in the home, and do away with the need for Aberthaw coal power station. Sorry Aberthaw, but it’s for the best.


The UK’s 7.4 million streetlights consume about four per cent of all the energy used for lighting. Fewer than one in 10 streetlights are believed to be LED, with the vast majority still using SON or SOX sources. There’s a massive opportunity here to save energy – the taxpayer-owned Green Investment Bank reckons LED upgrades could save the country £200 million a year, and it’s offering local authorities funding to make the switch at no upfront cost. As it happens, the amount of energy that could be saved with a two-thirds reduction in energy use by streetlighting in Britain is almost as much as the new London Array windfarm produced in 2013. Not that we’ve got anything against windfarms. We’re just sayin’.

The ‘commercial’ lighting category is the 70 per cent of all lighting that’s not residential or streetlighting – covering shops, factories, offices, train stations and all the rest. Of course, the applications and types of lighting vary massively, so it’s hard to pin down a figure for how much could be saved by switching to low-energy lighting and controls – shops still widely use wasteful halogen lamps, while offices tend to use more efficient T5s. We’ve settled on a round number of one third for potential savings, which does away with 14 billion kilowatt-hours of annual energy consumption. Which happens to be about as much as a new nuclear power station could produce each year.

NB The estimates in this article are based on the best sources we could find – do let us know if you have any better ones