Often when we are presented with news of advancements in lighting technology, the words we read are presented alongside slick photos of blue- and pink-hued buildings, professionally-photographed and lit and night with a futuristic glow. The lines are meticulous and the design is exhilarating. There is no doubt that these images excite and inspire lighting design professionals and technology developers to push harder and achieve greatness through shock and awe. But there is another way to use high-tech solutions to invigorate our notions of what lighting can do to take society further and, simply put, to make life better.
For those of us surrounded every minute of every day with enough electricity to both heat our homes and freeze our ice cream, giving consideration to the possibility of not having sufficient electric power to operate a single lamp is not easy. Of course we are aware that large populations live every day without access to enough power to charge a cell phone, but these people are distantly separated in our minds from photographs of the latest design award winners that are prevalent in the building industry. How can any one profession advance the preeminent aesthetic aspirations of urban trendsetters while still addressing the basic needs of an enormous segment of the global population? It should be our goal to keep both of these goals in mind as we go about our days.
In a recent article titled “Out of darkness: Solar power sheds a little light on powerless communities,” NBC reports how critical the advancement in LED technology has contributed to the practicality of using solar power to provide light to residences far off the electrical grid. While the power harnessed by the type of small, affordable solar panels being used in communities like the one featured in the article is not great enough to provide heating or refrigeration, it is enough to provide light. This light can be used by children to study after sunset. It can be used, as in the case of a woman featured by NBC, to knit socks to make winter a little bit more comfortable. And this light comes from clean, high-efficiency sources instead of the commonly-used kerosene lamps that can create an unpleasant and unhealthy home environment.
Innovations in lighting technology, paired with improvements in the production and storage of electrical power can do much to improve living conditions for a huge slice of the world’s population. Sometimes it is difficult to keep in mind that good lighting design is not just about winning a prestigious project. It should also be about supporting cutting edge technology that improves life.