April 3, 2009 By Blake Harris
Using natural light to illuminate building interiors is a concept as old as the window itself. But with recent advances in lighting research and technology along with growing awareness of the vital need to reduce the carbon footprint of energy consumption, there are new horizons for daylighting.
"Daylighting also represents the single largest 'new' opportunity for energy savings in commercial lighting today and for the foreseeable future," explained Dale Brentrup, professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Instead of just relying on a few windows or skylights, cutting-edge daylighting is shaped and delivered by the architecture itself. This is where the School of Architecture's Daylighting and Energy Performance Laboratory comes in. Equipped with a "sun machine" and "sky machine," graduate students and faculty crunch numbers to determine which designs work best.
The two instruments are used to assess the impact of sky luminance and solar radiation - the Artificial Sky, which allows simulates the average overcast conditions of the Piedmont region, and a Fixed Sun Movable Earth Heliodon, which simulates actual solar penetration.
Under Brentrup's direction, lab staffers are working with the University, as well as with local industry and government, to figure out how current practices have impacted the region's carbon footprint.
"Daylighting is directly related to the idea of carbon reduction," said graduate student Lindsay Frizzell, who is working on a project to quantify energy efficiency. "For every kilowatt hour of energy we save, we're cutting approximately two and a half pounds of carbon dioxide emissions."
While buildings can be retro-fitted to be more energy efficient, Brentrup said the greatest amount of energy savings can be achieved by designing new buildings in accordance with environmentally responsible practices.
In the last 15-years, as director of the Daylighting Lab, Brentrup also has developed numerous partnerships within Mecklenburg County. Local architects and government have consulted with the lab in the design of facilities including Imaginon, Freedom Center (400,000 square feet of County office space), the Health and Social Services Building, and the Renaissance Recreational Sports Learning Academy, a new project in the pipeline.