By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now
Harvesting daylight is an ancient trick â as old as the first man-made structure, as old as life on our planet, actually.Â Using the sunlight provided by nature isÂ the most basic and simple way to illuminate one’s world. But when it comes to modern, sustainable architecture, the idea is relatively young.
Only in recent times has âdaylighting,â as it’s sometimes called, made a blip on the broader green movementâs radar, with industry experts speculating that fewer thanÂ 1 percent of all U.S. buildings use natural light in a substantive manner (going beyond windows). The 21st century approach is waaaay more technologically involved than, say, a prehistoric clan setting up its fire pit next to the cave entrance.
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âIn a layman’s terms, daylighting â which was our original term for it â is the process of bringing natural sunlight into a building and distributing it so you can turn the electric lights off,â says Bruce Bilbrey, co-owner ofÂ theÂ Natural Lighting Co in Phoenix, founded inÂ 1990 by his brother, Paul Bilbrey. (See the photo above of Frito Lay offices in Arizona — lit totally by daylight.)
âItâs not using the sun to create power to run the lights. It’s not a solar electric system. It’s using the sunlight directly. You use it with lighting controls, so that the lights can beÂ off when there’s an adequate amount of daylight in the space.”
Bilbrey says the technology involves installation of skylights and reflective “lightwells” that architecturally bend lighting into a space, then, viaÂ large lenses and diffusers,Â deflect the lightÂ around. The company’sÂ various systemsÂ can be used in residential and commerical spaces, and, depending on a building’s size, ceiling heights, lighting requirements and other needs, different types of diffusers andÂ are employed.
“In very basic terms, it’s solar lighting. We call it simple solar,” Bilbrey explains. “But itâs not the same as having a skylight, which is just a feature on the roof where the light kind of comes in and goes where it wants – thoughÂ the whole process does (use) âskylights.’”
Over the past several years,Â he and others in the business, such as Lighting Control & Design in Glendale, Calif.,Â have notedÂ a steady rise in the harvesting and harnessing of natural solar goodness. By doing so, âdaylightingâ converts don’t just save on energy bills and carbon output; they increase productivity among workers and create a healthier indoor environment that can lift spirits as well as enhance mental prowess. (This picture shows a daylight system at a charter school in San Diego.)
Daylighting even helps boost retail sales, studies show.
Large retailers including Whole Foods Market, Kohlâs, Target, Wal-Mart and JC Penney now use solar lightingÂ (known generically as light, or daylight, harvesting) in many of their stores, while corporations such as Frito Lay/Pepsi and branches of the U.S. military employ solar harvestingÂ to shed light onÂ multiple situations – provided the situation occurs during daylight hours.
âSolar lighting really only works during the day,â says Bilbrey, who along with his brother andÂ co-founderÂ James Hennessey works with retailers Whole Foods, Target and Safeway, as well asÂ various schools, municipalities and military bases around the U.S.
âWe manufacture and install Component Daylighting Systems, which donât store light, like a solar electric system,â the Arizonan says. âBut in many buildings, the (daytime) lighting load is 50 to 70 percent of total energy use. The lighting load inÂ one gym we worked with was 70 percent of the energy used in that building.â
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