Why this car maker could revolutionise emergency lights

Tesla Motors, the US electric car maker, is staking its future on the efficiency of the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery and may, in the process, change the way that we understand emergency lighting in our buildings.

The company has already developed a power storage system for the home called Powerwall, offering 7kWh and 10kWh units. The system comes complete with a solar panel and inverter to convert DC battery power to 240V AC electricity. The commercial breakthrough comes due to the physical size of the Li-ion batteries relative to their performance. Li-ion battery performance offers high energy density with slow loss of charge at a much lighter weight. We are already familiar with these batteries in our mobile phones and tablets but they are beginning to replace conventional lead-acid batteries in small utility vehicles. Tesla is taking the Li-ion technology further by developing cars with performance and range to compete with petrol engine vehicles.

It’s in this step-change of Li-ion battery performance that the opportunity exists to change the way that we plan our emergency lighting. Currently we understand two types of emergency lighting. Escape lighting dominates the emergency lighting scene, but this requires evacuation on a building in the event of a power failure – emergency or not. Standby lighting does not require evacuation and enables business-as-usual, but is seen as expensive, relying chiefly on outdated technology to maintain full lighting to a premises.

But it is with standby lighting that the unexpected change could occur. If lighting circuits were designed to be run via a system like the Tesla Powerwall, then a break-wall of some hours can be created between the moment of a power failure and the batteries losing their charge. And if we include the intervention of solar charging, then we could have a complete game-changer that would mean the end of emergency lighting as we know it.

  • A special conference on emergency lighting takes place on Thursday 25 February 2016. It's free to those responsibe for the specification and maintenance of emergency lighting including facility managers, energy managers, electrical engineers, consulting engineers etc. To view the full programme and register for free, please click here.

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