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For those of us who spend most of our days under the alien glow of the artificial light that illuminates most large buildings, a brighter future may be at hand.
Technology being commercialized in British Columbia aims to transform building interiors -- providing practical, affordable illumination by harnessing the natural light of the sun. It’s light that will be brighter, more attractive, less expensive and more sustainable than electric light, according to Tony Formby.
Mr. Formby is president of SunCentral Inc., a company developing technology based on breakthroughs made by University of British Columbia physics professor Lorne Whitehead. That technology uses computerized collector panels located on the sun-facing exterior walls of buildings to gather and concentrate sunlight, which is transported and dispersed inside the building by special light guides.
Dr. Whitehead, who holds more than 100 patents, first began dreaming about piping sunlight into buildings in 1978 when he was a graduate student working in a windowless laboratory. His interest in the quality of light had been piqued by a stint helping out with theatre lighting, and he recalls thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if it were practical to bring sunlight indoors?”
He soon found out why that had never been done. “The problem was,” he says, “that we didn’t have efficient light guides. … You have to channel or guide the light to get it inside in a practical way.”
Because light travels very efficiently through air, the basic idea of any light guide is quite simple, says Dr. Whitehead: “Take any pipe and mirror the inside surface, and if light goes in one end, it kind of has to come out the other because it reflects.” However, nothing’s perfect, he adds, and in the case of a hollow light guide, the snag is the loss of light that occurs with each reflection.
SunCentral envisions by 2020, in most commercial buildings in major cities in the world, electric lights are turned off and buildings are illuminated with sunlight whenever the sun shines, substantially reducing energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and increasing energy security.
SunCentral will achieve this vision with its innovative and patented “Core Sunlighting System”, the first proven and practical way to illuminate spaces deep within multi-storey commercial buildings with sunlight. SunCentral’s technology is 7x more effective than current photovoltaic solar panels and it delivers sunlight to places inaccessible to light from windows and skylights.
When SunCentral's "Core Sunlighting System” becomes commercially available in 2013, it will offer commercial payback to customers within 3 – 9 years, depending on the local sunshine availability and cost of energy. SunCentral's "Core Sunlighting System" will also be economically viable without government subsidy, although we will qualify for numerous government energy efficiency subsidy programs.