Lighting the way in Central Europe

By bne IntelliNews May 4, 2009

Nicholas Watson in Prague -

If you want to see the fruits of an innovative Central European company's labours, the next time you're in a Tesco in Hungary just look up and, even though there are no windows, you'll see sunlight flooding into the store. How? Tubular skylights.

These special skylights made by the Czech family-owned company Lightway grew out of the firm's roofing business in the 1990s when it was looking for ways of how to illuminate the dark spaces inside that were far from windows and classical skylights. By using different shapes and mirrors, these tubular skylights catch and concentrate daylight, drenching the dark corridors and rooms with natural sunlight.

"When we started with the production and application of the Lightway tubular skylights, there was a call from the first customer and we thought he would complain, but he said: 'I didn't believe it would be so light and lovely and and I really thank you for persuading me to buy the Lightway tubular skylight'," says Lightway's Adela Makovska. "Our customers are people who have paid a lot of money for their houses or flats only to find out that the architects had solved daylight in the inner spaces very badly and the rooms are dark."

The advantages of natural sunlight over artificial means, especially fluorescent lighting, are obvious: it's free and there's no wasting of expensive energy by failing to turn lights off; and it's better for people's emotional wellbeing and health.

From houses, it was a logical step to supply these skylights to commercial enterprises, such as retailers like Tesco. The UK retail chain in April hired Lightway, following a successful pilot project, to illuminate 60 Tesco buildings throughout all Hungary with natural daylight. Tesco was looking to cut its huge energy bill (electricity prices in Hungary have gone up by 15% this year); reduce its absentee and sickness rate among employees (its own studies show that illuminating the workplace with daylight cuts this by 11%); and help attract more customers (studies show natural sunlight improves this by 3%).

In a crisis, any company that helps others to grow their business and cut costs will do well. And so Lightway is planning to set up subsidiaries in Germany, Austria and Hungary this year. For export, Lightway's main aim is to start selling its tubular skylights in the US.

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