In the gathering rush to comply with increasing governmental regulations and emotional desires to leave an unpolluted and more sustainable planet to our children, Ciralight Global, a manufacturer of patented Smart Skylights™, known as the Suntrackerⓒ, uses solar powered GPS solar-tracking technology with mirrors to track the sun throughout the day to illuminate buildings using natural daylight. Suntrackerⓒ is a solar powered lighting solution for building interiors and allow users to shut off electric lights for up to 10 hours a day. Designed with thermal heat traps, Suntrackersⓒ provide up to 63,000 lumens of lights without the heat gain generally associated with artificial lights and reduce lighting costs by 40-80%. The result is a FREE source of abundant, bright, diffused, healthy sunlight. Architects, city planners and construction companies are specifying daylighting as a low-cost, efficient design to meet the energy requirements of tomorrow.
Suntrackersⓒ have a weatherproof plastic dome and lightwell. Inside the dome is a single or triple, highly reflective, angled mirror array driven by a solar-powered electric motor. The units require no line voltage. A Global Positioning System (GPS) that ‘knows’ its latitude and longitude and its orientation to the sun is the unit’s brain. An energy-storage super capacitor provides supplemental power to the GPS and motor on successively cloudy days.
Before the sun rises, the GPS signals the motor to rotate the mirror array to the exact position where the sun will crest the horizon. The mirror locks onto the rising sun and begins reflecting light down into the light well. The mirror follows the sun as it arcs across the sky during the day. The GPS programming accounts for varying lengths of daytime throughout the year and the sun’s position from season to season.
The intense, reflected daylight passes through a prismatic lens positioned in the dome frame between the mirror and the light well. The top diffuser lens distributes and softens the light and helps minimize solar heat gain in the building’s interior. A decorative lower diffusion lens at the bottom of the light well further diffuses light, virtually pouring it all over the building interior. The illumination is uniform throughout the space; completely glare free, and without the hot spots that generally sweep across a room from a passive skylight. The lower diffusion lens also keeps conditioned air from escaping the room through the light well.
Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa announced at a special press conference earlier this year, in which Ciralight was one of the participants, the launch of a new city program that will eventually seek to retrofit every one of the thousands of buildings already owned by the city to be more energy efficient and to cut future costs for taxpayers. The City of Los Angeles will not be building many new buildings in the near future, making the Suntrackerⓒ the new green product for Los Angeles and other cities looking to reduce energy costs.
Under discussion are installations at the Marshall Space Center, in Huntsville, Alabama, through participation with NASA, and with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to install Suntrackersⓒ at three locations, beginning with Fort Irwin, in California.
A clothing manufacturer Patagonia recently furnished their distribution center in Reno, Nevada, with Ciralight’s Suntrackersⓒ to reduce electricity consumption. Upon installation, the facility’s need for artificial lighting dropped by two-thirds and operating costs, including HVAC, fell by a third. At the A-1 Cold Storage warehouse near Los Angeles International Airport, Ciralight’s SunTracker units pour in so much daylight that their electric lighting, standard four-foot long fluorescent lamps, can be turned off completely. The skylights are so effective that A-1 turns off every row of the office’s lights at 9 a.m. and switches them back on at 5 p.m. In the winter, when the sun sets earlier, they’re turned back on between 3-4 p.m. Their warehouse in back also follows a similar daylighting schedule. Ciralight also installed a Suntrackerⓒ unit as a test in a specially built Energy Efficiency building at the University of Alabama.
Suntrackersⓒ in schools show that student test scores and attentiveness improves as a result of daylighting. Daylighting for schools is now a focal point for architects because it’s ‘Green’, improves not only the light by which students study and learn, but also improves their ability to focus and retain information. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that researchers in Sweden have concluded, “work in classrooms without daylight may upset the basic hormone pattern of growing children, influencing the children’s ability to concentrate or cooperate, and also eventually have an impact on annual physical development, health, and absenteeism.”
According to Carnegie Melon University’s Intelligent Workplace design studio, cutting energy use by 50% in a typical building usually saves about US$1 per square foot. Boosting productivity in that same building by 5%, on the other hand, saves more than US$10 per square foot. Both of these figures above suggest that the savings gained from even a small increase in human productivity can far exceed the savings gained through a large reduction in a building’s energy consumption. Research also shows that retail sales increase an average of 10% to 40% with the implementation of daylighting, school grades increase from 6% to 20% when compared to non day lit classrooms, Industrial savings include less absenteeism, higher productivity, better safety records.
A growing number of tax incentives and subsidies are becoming available from local utilities and governments for the implementation of daylighting systems in association with new laws being passed requiring buildings to meet higher standards of energy efficiency. For example, in California, ‘Title 24’ requires buildings of 25,000+ sq ft. and a minimum 15 ft. ceiling height to illuminate at least 50% of their floor space with natural daylighting.
Utility companies are now designing new rates to reflect the increasing changes in energy efficient technologies. Actions like this by utility companies are helping to catapult the social acceptance of daylighting systems, while, at the same time, greatly improving the timeframe for the return on investment of the initial purchase
Wall Street is recognizing the Green trend as well. A Fortune magazine article on CNNmoney.com, reported, “In addition to chasing investment opportunities in areas like renewable energy, alternative fuels and carbon trading, investment banks are slowly ‘greening-up’ their own facilities with energy-saving systems.”
A health care study by Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture “shows consistently positive associations of increased daylight levels with shorter hospitalizations.” This same study also notes that none of the hospital wards having low daylight led to a shorter stay by patients. Daylight helps recovery after illness or injury, physically and psychologically; it is also a preventative health measure. Moderate levels of daylight have been found to help prevent and/or reduce the symptoms of eyestrain (breakdown of vision; irritation; headaches), sleep disorders, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), skin tissue conditions (psoriasis; eczema), anxiety, depression, and vitamin D deficiency, to name a few.
Ciralight has developed a form to calculate the return on the initial purchase of Suntrackersⓒ based on business/building variables affected by daylighting. Typically, the return on investment through energy savings alone is generally 15% to 35% or more, depending on a number of factors (% of sunny days, latitude, cost per kWh, days of operation, tax rate, government and/or utility rebates, peak kWh rates, etc). However, once additional components such as increased productivity and reduced absenteeism are factored in, the actual returns can quickly and easily eclipse this.
Natural daylight is an inseparable element in our lives, linking vital biochemical, physiological, and behavioral processes to the chronology of the Earth through our circadian clock. The human circadian rhythm regulates, or plays an influential role in, biological functions such as sleep, appetite, alertness, cell regeneration, hormone secretion, and more. ‘Mal-illumination’ is a condition coined by light researcher, Dr. John Ott, resulting from a deficiency in natural sunlight and the subsequent effects of this on human health, performance, and longevity. In-depth research has cited ‘sunlight and vitamin D deficiency’ as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more. According to a recent study, Americans spend 85%-95% of time indoors. With fluorescent lighting currently being used as a primary light source in 92% of commercial buildings, and the vast majority of people spending an average of 7.5 hours per day at work, it is very likely that we all suffer from mal-illumination to varying degrees because we do not get enough exposure to sunlight daily.
Retail stores who embrace daylighting often find they have a measurable advantage over their competition in several ways. An increase in consumer activity in daylit stores can be attributed to a combination of better visibility; more attractive displays; greater color differentiation; calm, relaxed atmosphere; stronger loyalty and increased frequency amongst customers; and finally, improved employee morale.
Many case studies have been done on the correlation between daylit stores and increased retail sales. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) analyzed a retail chain of 108 stores where two-thirds of stores were daylit. The study found the daylit stores had 40% higher sales than the stores without daylighting.
Wal-Mart incorporated daylighting in their Lawrence, Kansas store, where sales rose significantly higher on the side of the store that utilized skylights than for the same products at other nearby Walmart stores. To test this finding, departments in this same store were rearranged, and again, the products located under the skylights had significantly increased sales while the sales of products removed from the daylit areas returned to their national sales average.
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