Light up your life – lighting solutions for shine, shape and sustainability
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By Nick Smith
17 February 2012
Solar powered LED bricks which charge up under sunlight and shine at night are one way any outdoor public space can get a boost from sustainable lighting
From large-scale spectator events like the 2010 Asian Games in China to a concept hotel in Birmingham; at a shopping centre in Solihull and throughout a Hamburg casino lighting is used the world over to grab eyes and strengthen signage.
Both in terms of media coverage as well as actual brightness, the most visible lighting technology is almost certainly the light-emitting diode (LED). Compared with fluorescent or incandescent lighting, LEDs can save 60 to 80 percent energy, by some estimates. Furthermore, LEDs don't contain toxic chemicals – which makes disposing them cleaner and safer than other light sources – and have no filament to burn out, which can result in up to 50,000 hours' shine-life.
So what kinds of commercial applications of LED display lighting systems have we seen lately? In 2007 electronics manufacturer Phillips retrofitted New York's famous New Year's Eve ball (you know, the one that drops) with Luxeon LEDs that the company says use twelve percent of the electricity of the previous halogen-powered set-up. More recently U2 updated its travelling display kit with LED technologies for reduced power consumption and portability while late last year, as part of a £30m renovation programme, Leeds-based signage consultant Signlex installed LED-illuminated fascia letter signage outside ten branches of road-side restaurant chain Little Chef.
Despite the size and prominence of flashy, high-ticket installations, however, lighting technologies come in shapes and sizes suitable for any business owner or signage operator interested in increasing sustainability and return on investment. Vista System International for example has developed products to update existing display solutions. To complement the company's Vista Light double-sided, convexed freestanding signage system, it recently released a low-voltage illumination kit comprising an adhesive LED band and power supply designed for installation along the aluminium profiles and end caps of the Vista Light structure. Last year out-of-home advertising agency Eye used a similar technology to begin an update scheme on over 1,000 of its panel installations across the USA in an effort to decrease operational costs.
Other companies like Permalite and Robert Horne have released LED fixtures over the past year which further improve on efficiency and functionality including greater colour ranges and consistency, and increased light distribution angles for channel letter and other signage applications.
Integral to all these developments is the form factor in which companies deliver LED and other lighting solutions. One product by diversified technology manufacturing company 3M looks to maximise flexibility in more than one sense by integrating light fixtures into the company's flexible substrates and translucent graphics films which have applications in back-lighting existing signage as well as illuminating new installs. Display lighting specialist PixelRange has developed solutions for building and out-of-home applications while its PixelSmart product has powered the lighting in BBC television shows such as Let's Dance for Comic Relief. Perhaps most fun of all are the increasingly visible water graphics set-ups seen in more and more hotel lobbies, public transit systems and on conference show floors. Pneumatics and lighting engineering firm Norgren for instance has developed portable water graphics solutions requiring minimal setup called Aquasermo. The product creates programmable LED-lit images in falling streams of water the company says is sure to attract crowds. Applications include a digital clock and pattern displays.
LEDs and similarly efficient lighting technologies aren't, however, where the efforts to make display lighting exciting and sustainable end. In public and commercial spaces lighting accounts for 30 percent of energy used, according to GreenWise – a sustainability initiative by USA-based lighting solutions provider Hubbell Lighting – which means it’s in companies' best interest to look into power- and cost-efficient solutions.
Solar is one route. Companies like EXlites specialise in powering LEDs with solar energy for applications as diverse as street and billboard lighting to bus shelter and playground lighting. Meanwhile, Santa Monica has begun powering illuminating road signage with solar energy.
In 2010 Pulitzer prize-nominated photographer Robert O Williams published a visual history of Wildwood, New Jersey, USA through 220 colour photographs of neon light installations in the town since the 1960s. Called Wildwood's Neon Nights and Motel Memories, the book shows, among other things, how lighting impacts the aesthetics that populate, decorate and inform our lives every day. So take lighting seriously and shine the light of your business into the lives of your customers.
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