One of the hardest hit sectors during the recent economic meltdown has been the building industry. And it's not just the construction side of things that has suffered, designers have felt it, too—no matter the discipline, architecture or lighting.
As a way to temper the pressure of these times, everyone has been looking to see what piece of the stimulus pie might be available to them. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has been charged with distributing $787 billion allocated by Congress. Transparency has been one of the greatest concerns underlying this entire process, and to ensure that the funds get to where they need to go the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board was established. It oversees the allocation of funds and reports its findings on the website recovery.org. As of Oct. 8, 2009, $173.2 billion has been spent via the three formats for distribution: grants, funds, and contracts. Reportedly, this has resulted in the creation of 30,383 new jobs for federal contract projects.
But how is this money being spent? The U.S. Department of Transportation has made $48.1 billion available for infrastructure projects across the nation to construct and repair highways, roads, mass transit, bridges, tunnels, and airports that are sorely in need of refurbishment and, in some cases, complete overhaul. Other initiatives include energy-efficiency programs, weatherizing of homes, and water system upgrades. When all is said and done it should be one of the most comprehensive face-lifts the nation has seen since the implementation of New Deal programs such as the Works Progress Administration.
Where does lighting fit into the stimulus agenda? It is a beneficiary of this money, but lighting is usually only one component of a project. Thus, monitoring funds spent on lighting can be a challenge. In addition, much of the initial stimulus funding has gone to projects that were “shovel ready,” meaning they were either about to start construction or had already begun. Whether these projects had a lighting component is unclear, but for those projects that will commence because of the stimulus funding, there is a better chance for a lighting component to be included.
In fact, energy efficiency is the real calling card that will see the lighting industry through these tough times, long after all stimulus money has been spent. An October 2009 report issued by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory titled “The Shifting Landscape of Ratepayer-Funded Energy Efficiency in the U.S.” indicates that subsidies for energy-saving light bulbs, home energy audits, and commercial building retrofits will increase over the next 11 years anywhere from $5.4 billion to $12.4 billion, up from the $3.1 billion that was spent in 2008.
Regardless of funding from the federal government, the lighting industry already has its own stimulus mechanism of sorts. It's what I call lighting's hat trick: energy-efficient products, lighting controls, and new technologies such as LEDs. The lighting industry has the ability to generate its own success by reaching out to every sector and offering the products and technologies it produces as a means to achieve energy efficiency, cost savings, and eco-friendly design. The need to retrofit and renovate buildings, coupled with energy-efficient lighting strategies, makes it easy for lighting manufacturers and designers to step in and fill the gap between shovel-ready projects and projects that are still in the specification stage. The lighting community should not fall victim to the current economic pressures, the tools for recovery are already there.