Greenhouse gas legislation: Job killer or job creator?

Legislation enacted in California often promulgates across the country in one form or another. With that in mind, consider the Golden State's biggest energy policy driver, Assembly Bill 32. Also called the ‘Global Warming Solution Act of 2006; the Bill was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. Essentially enacting the Kyoto Protocol for California, the law states that by 2020, California will have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, roughly a 25% drop relative to ‘business as usual’ scenarios. Additional reductions of 80% below 1990 levels are targeted for 2050.

The lead agency responsible for implementing AB-32 is the California Air Resources Board, which already regulates criteria air pollutants like ground-level ozone. The law states that CARB will adopt early actions, and will work both through regulation and market-based approaches. A cap-and-trade system for the state will go into effect by 2012. California is also working with six western states and four Canadian provinces to implement the Western Climate Initiative to develop a greenhouse gas reduction plan for the entire region at lower cost.

At a minimum though, the cost of fossil-fuel based energy will have to rise. Where will that extra cash go? A lot of it will go into technology and methods to improve energy efficiency, so that people can get the same benefits while using less energy. Efficiency measures which are nearly cost-effective today will soon be low-hanging fruit, and firms which can spot and implement these technologies will prosper.

Where might we see some of these early technology change-outs? Let's take a look at lighting: There are still T-12 fluorescent lamps with magnetic ballasts burning in many California buildings, and changing them out to the newest super T-8 or T-5 lamps with electronic ballasts is a sure winner. But that's just a start.

One obvious measure would be a reduction in lighting hours. Some of the new approaches involve bi-level lighting for sporadically occupied spaces. Combined with occupancy sensors, this approach can provide a bundle of savings. Stairwells, corridors, stockrooms, parking garages, and outdoor pathway lighting are all candidates for bi-level lighting, which provides a minimal level of lighting when no one is around, and rises to full brightness when a person or car enters the space. The California Lighting Technology Center has pioneered a variety of approaches to this form of lighting control, and works with manufacturers to help them implement the concepts.

Another approach to energy efficiency in lighting is to let occupants control their own ambient light in the vicinity of their cubicles. It sounds obvious, but in large area offices, most times a whole section of lighting is on even if only one person works late. Usually, lamps are just circuited that way, and there's no choice.

That's why Adura Technologies in San Francisco developed its wireless lighting control system, which can be easily installed in existing lighting systems. It adds a wireless addressable relay at each lighting fixture, and wireless switches in each cubicle, a quick and easy operation. The result is system which can turn on lights for only a single cubicle or small group of them when the occupants need them, and sweep them off automatically when no one is around, or when the occupants switch them off.

Some low-rise or top floor buildings can get by with practically no lighting at all, at least during the day, by using skylights or solar-tubes. The advanced models have 2×2-ft. lighting diffusers which fit into a standard dropped ceiling grid, and provide a beautiful, bright, uniform light whenever the sun is shining, which in California is most days. They have electric lamps integrated for nights and cloudy days.

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What about all those spaces near windows? Side-lighting can be effective near the windows, particularly for north-facing windows which don't admit direct sunlight. Electric lighting, ideally with dimming ballasts, can be integrated using daylight sensors.

Architectural Energy Corp. of Boulder developed award-winning software called SPOT, for Sensor Placement Optimization Tool, to choose where to place lighting sensors, which is by no means obvious. There are also blinds and reflective devices which can direct sunlight towards the ceiling, effectively illuminating a much larger space.

Sometimes the problem is too much light, usually from direct sunlight, and this of course leads to excessive heat gain as well. Automated shades, sometimes integrated with multi-pane windows, can deal with this condition. Optimally the excess light and heat are blocked before they ever enter the space, by controllable automated external shutters or shades, or by architectural features like light shelves.

There are so many approaches to saving energy with lighting, so many technologies. So many are in their infancy, barely developed at all, only offered by a few companies, and understood by fewer still. All are driven by the need to improve energy efficiency, ultimately by the cost of energy.

The winners of this game will be the ones who can identify, develop, and apply the most cost-effective approaches to saving energy and improving performance. So is AB-32 a job killer? For the energy efficient lighting and daylighting industry, AB-32 is a job making bonanza. Have at it!

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