A new way to deliver natural light to rooms without windows.
Natural light is good for you; it changes throughout the day. Our bodies are attuned to this Circadian rhythm; The Well building standard notes that "multiple physiological processes—including those relating to alertness, digestion and sleep—are regulated in part by the variance and interplay of hormones involved in this cycle." That's why healthy building standards like Well or Fitwel insist that people have access to windows and natural light.
But what if you have dark rooms without windows? That's where this new system from Sweden, Solros, could be useful. Chief Communications Officer Mathias Strömberg tells TreeHugger:
We created a system that harvests sunshine with a mirror dish (put on a roof or other exposed area) and distributes the daylight to rooms without windows. The technique has existed for a while, but this is the first consumer product out there – we managed to keep the price to a minimum with a patented algorithm that enables the dish to find the sun at all times, no matter the weather. Obviously, this is extremely good for sustainability reasons as well, lowering the world’s appetite for electric lights.
We have shown this idea before; Parans, another Swedish company, was delivering sunlight in a cable back when our pictures were very small. But their systems are elaborate and expensive; according to the Kickstarter for Solros, inventor Jon Ramstedt wanted to develop an affordable system for the consumer market.
They claim that the output, in full sun, is 10,000 lumens; a typical 60 watt incandescent bulb puts out 800 lumens so that is a lot of real natural light wherever you need it, pretty much for free. And there is another bonus compared to regular sunlight through a window:
A super important bonus, not least for users in equatorial or very hot regions – the light is transported without the excess heat that comes with direct sunlight, rendering it perfect where windows are kept to a minimum to keep the temperature down.
In cold countries, where windows are often kept to a minimum because of heat loss, it can provide natural light deep into the building. This could be really useful in super-insulated designs like PassiveHouse, where you want to control window size (they are really expensive). It could bring natural light into interior rooms, which could perhaps lead to more efficient floor plans with less perimeter wall.
Not too long ago, nobody took the issue of Circadian rhythms and the benefits of natural light seriously, but there has recently been lots of research showing that full spectrum natural light has tremendous benefits. Building standards have been developed that insist on it. Solros could be a terrific way to deliver the highest quality light to places that don't have it.
I wonder, though, if it isn't a bit late. When we first covered Parans, LEDs didn't exist and there was just inefficient incandescent (14 lumens per watt) and fluorescent (60 lumens per watt) lighting with fixed colour temperatures. Now, you can get LEDs with efficiencies of over 100 lumens per watt. You can get RGB bulbs where you can mix up the colours at will; companies like Philips sell "therapy lights" and "energy lights" to simulate different conditions of daylight. It seems that the price, efficiency and light quality of LEDs gets better every day. I wonder if lighting engineers couldn't mix up some of the best LEDs so effectively that you couldn't tell it from the real thing in that light box on the ceiling.
The Solros system appears to start at about $US 1,000; that's obviously a lot cheaper than a window but not as cheap as a good quality LED system, which you probably still need for night time anyway. It doesn't provide much of a view, either.
There are many things to love about the Solros system, but I can't help worrying if its time has passed.