Skylights have been brightening buildings since at least Roman times, but it’s a good bet no skylight has ever been as effective as the Lightcatcher.
What’s different about this very modern invention from Belgium is a couple of things. First, it actively tracks the best source in the sky, capturing maximum possible daylight. And second, it’s linked to a building’s conventional light fittings. When daylight is available, the system automatically shuts down indoor lighting, thus boosting energy savings.
“In Belgium, we almost never see the sun, but we can track the optimal light spot, which is very often between clouds,” says Maarten Michielssens, founder of EcoNation, the company behind the technology. “If you’re somewhere like Singapore, with lots of high-rise buildings, it’s going to be next to the building. Wherever it is, we measure the light intensity and move the mirror.”
The Lightcatcher’s mirrors funnel light into a shaft where it’s filtered for UV and heat. An optical system then distributes light across a room below. Michielssens says the four-foot panel can brighten a room 100-feet wide.
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Michielssens is confident enough in the unit’s energy saving ability that he offers the Lightcatcher for nothing upfront. Customers can lease the unit like a solar panel, paying off the cost in installments. The exact payback period varies depending on the type of lighting a building has and the amount of time it’s used for, Michielssens says. A commercial building with old lighting could make back the full price–roughly $1,750–within a year. A building with more efficient LED lighting might take up to five years. (You can also buy the product outright.)
Energy savings may not be the only incentive, though. “In Sweden, it’s not so financially interesting, because in winter it’s dark 20 hours a day. But there you have a comfort and health issue,” Michielssens points out. “People get depressed when they don’t get enough daylight exposure. We can bring them daylight for as long as possible.”
The Lightcatcher has its own solar panel and needs no external power. It communicates with the indoor lighting through a wireless connection, so there’s no need to rip out any lights to install it.
Since coming to market in 2010, Michielssens has picked up 120 customers in Belgium and opened offices in South Africa, Morocco, and China. If you’ve got a dark room needing extra daylight, it could be just the thing.