COMMENTARY: Policymakers must seize opportunity to secure public health through lighting

Dec. 15, 2020
LightingEurope’s OURANIA GEORGOUTSAKOU outlines a European perspective on new policy opportunities to leverage UV-C disinfection technologies.

As interest in ultraviolet C-band (UV-C) disinfection technologies as an effective tool to combat the current pandemic booms over recent months, LightingEurope is working to shape policies that will foster sustainable uptake and growth for UV-C. We advocate the inclusion of UV-C in new European policies that will encourage the installation of UV-C as an integral part of safe and healthy environments where people can continue to coexist and collaborate.

The European Union’s Renovation Wave Initiative is a significant opportunity to accelerate the uptake of existing lighting technologies, both visible lighting and UV-C. Buildings account for 40% of the energy consumed in the EU and improving their energy performance can substantially contribute to the EU’s ambition of becoming the world’s first climate-neutral economy by 2050. Announced in mid-October 2020, the policy aims to double renovation rates across Europe to make buildings more energy efficient. Reportedly, 75% of the existing EU building stock is inefficient, and the EU target is to renovate 35 million buildings by 2030. While the main objective is delivering energy savings, the policymakers acknowledge that this renovation drive must also deliver quality indoor environments for people.

Delivering on the targets will come at a cost an estimated 275 billion per year. But policymakers are committed to getting this done, not only because of the significant gains in carbon reduction but also because they view renovation as one of the main instruments to address the impact of the current pandemic and kickstart Europe’s economy. Financing renovation will come from a part of the EU budget dedicated to achieving Europe’s green ambitions, as well as a dedicated new financial instrument, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, that has been set up to help EU countries address the economic and social impact of the pandemic. Funding is expected to be made as of early 2021, in the form of subsidies from public authorities (EU, national, local/regional) as well as private lending.

Related article: Revised EU regulations light the way to more stringent requirements for light sources

LightingEurope’s motto is “No renovation without lighting.” To benefit from financing, we recommend that renovation projects include the full replacement of luminaires and the transition to LED systems combined with controls and sensors. “Just relamping” simply replacing a lamp should be avoided. We further recommend that UV-C disinfection should be clearly listed among the technologies included in a renovation project, as part of the design of new safe spaces and to minimize the transmission of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 today and the common cold tomorrow.

To leverage the potential of the Renovation Wave to stimulate the installation of UV-C disinfection technologies, it is important that the industry educates public authorities about the benefits of the technology and how to enforce existing standards and guidelines which ensure it is safe for people.

The benefits are clear: UV germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is an established disinfection technology that has been applied extensively since 1910 and it has been proven to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is widely used to disinfect drinking water, swimming pools or fishponds, air and surfaces, for example in manufacturing sites or hospitals. The Global Lighting Association (GLA), the association bringing together lighting associations from across the world including LightingEurope and NEMA for the United States, has published an overview of sources, products and applications of Germicidal UV-C Irradiation.

Safety requirements are already in place. The Global Lighting Association has published and widely disseminated UV-C Safety Guidelines, which include a list of existing standards and legislation across the world. LightingEurope has set up a dedicated subgroup on UV-C and our experts have drafted a FAQ on UV-C to complement the GLA publications, addressing both technical aspects of the technology as well as questions as to whether the technology is safe and effective.

The proliferation of some types of UV-C disinfection devices (for example, targeting individual consumers and offered via online channels) that make uncorroborated claims and do not contain adequate safety features nor instructions is worrying and risks undermining confidence in UV-C.

The response to non-compliant products on the market must be to ensure they are swiftly removed and altogether prevented from being placed on the market in the first place. More needs to be done to ensure that existing safety guidelines are adhered to and that only safe quality products are made available on the market and used. We are sharing our publications and expertise with market surveillance and public health authorities across countries in Europe to help them understand and enforce the measures that are already in place and to shape clear policy guidelines for the adoption of safe, quality UV-C disinfection technologies.

The current pandemic has put an established technology in the spotlight and has spurred innovation and investment in UV-C products and applications. Europe’s lighting industry is working with policymakers in the EU institutions and in national governments to harness this interest and foster the sustainable uptake of UV-C disinfection technologies.

Editor's note: LEDs Magazine has also separately published a column from the Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that addresses some of the technical aspects of UVGI. This work is unrelated to the policies and guidance of LightingEurope.

An abridged version of this column appears as "Last Word" in the January/February 2021 issue of LEDs Magazine.

Get to know our expert

OURANIA GEORGOUTSAKOU is the Secretary General of LightingEurope, the voice of the lighting industry in Brussels. Georgoutsakou joined LightingEurope in April 2017 and is responsible for the organization’s strategy and impact. Her role is to represent Europe’s lighting industry in the Brussels political arena, liaise with industry executives, and manage the association’s operations. She has over 15 years’ experience in advocating for membership associations, previously working as director of public policy in Europe for SEMI and as senior policy coordinator with the Assembly of European Regions in Strasbourg and in Brussels.

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