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An initiative at the tiny enclave of Puducherry on India’s east coast has set the tone for wider adoption of eco-friendly LED lighting across the country, saving on electricity, emissions and costs

Hotel Palais de Mahe in Puducherry is turning to LED lighting to save on energy costs. (Photo by G. Pattambi)

Hotel Palais de Mahe in Puducherry is turning to LED lighting to save on energy costs. (Photo by G. Pattabi Raman)

On the face of it, 102 million light emitting diode (LED) bulbs for a population of more than 1.25 billion may not seem to be a big number. However, when you consider that this was achieved through a two-year national campaign that grew out of a programme launched in the union territory of Puducherry, the number attains significance.

According to the National Ujala Dashboard created by the Domestic Efficient Lighting Programme (DELP) of India’s Power Ministry, the use of LED light bulbs across the country has led to the saving of 36.36 million kilowatt hour (KWh) of energy every day, which translates to Rs 145.44 million (USD 2.15 million) daily. In addition, 2,657 megawatts (MWs) of peaking power demand has been avoided. An important plus, there was a reduction of nearly 30,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission per day.

Andhra Pradesh has been the leader among states, with 18.96 million bulbs sold. In the small area covered by Puducherry – where it all began in January 2014 – more than 609,000 LED bulbs have been sold.

The Puducherry programme was a result of collaboration between multiple institutions and citizens. According to Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, an energy think tank based in New Delhi, the initiative started with the recognition that “innovative demand aggregation strategies could drive economies of scale and address the high first cost barrier of LEDs, thereby creating an opportunity to transform the LED market.”

The Foundation worked with the International Institute for Energy Conservation to develop the standard offer programme for the LED lights. The model was presented to the Puducherry Electricity Department, which agreed to implement the model for large-scale replacement of incandescent bulbs. The Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), a state-run energy services company, was contracted to implement the project.

State support for LED bulbs

The Puducherry government launched the programme by supplying three LED bulbs to every family in the union territory at a subsidised cost of Rs 10 per bulb. According to a Puducherry government official, the programme for distributing the three LED bulbs has been completed successfully. With a new government in place in the union territory, the proposal in the pipeline is to change all the street lighting to LEDs in Puducherry, plus the three former French-controlled enclaves Karaikal, Yanam and Mahe that are under Puducherry administration.

The proposal is to do this conversion through an investor model, where an investor will pay the upfront cost. The government will then pay back over 60 instalments. With this change over, the Puducherry government expects to reduce the energy consumption for street lighting by up to half, the official told, requesting anonymity.

While purchasing LED bulbs at the subsidised cost, the customers were asked to surrender their incandescent bulbs, According to G. Poyyamoli, an energy expert teaching at Pondicherry University and a consumer. “We have been using the bulbs in rooms that have the lights on for a longer period, and have been saving electricity power costs by around Rs 300, which is between 5% and 10% of our monthly bill,” said Poyyamoli.

The programme helped spread the use of LED bulbs and helped with transforming the market for the product in Puducherry, and later in other parts of the country, said Brahmananda Mohanty, regional advisor for the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME, France) and a visiting faculty at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand.

“As far as market transformation is concerned, one can consider it successful because, thanks to this initiative, EESL could negotiate with manufacturers and divide the cost of LED bulbs by two,” observed Mohanty. “Based on the experience gained through this initiative, EESL has been able to widen the programme all over in India and reduce the cost of LED lamps even more. This huge market for efficient lamps has encouraged companies to produce them in India, thus creating jobs and saving foreign exchange.”

Savings in consumption and costs

It also led to considerable savings in terms of electricity consumption and cost in Puducherry alone, according to Mohanty. With 609,000 LED bulbs being used in the union territory, rough calculations indicate that these lamps would have helped the electricity distributor save around 27,000 megawatt hour (MWh) of energy over the last couple of years. Assuming an average electricity price of Rs 3 per KWh in Puducherry, the savings over the last couple of years would be close to Rs 81 million.

However, the programme’s success was less pronounced in sensitising the home consumer on energy efficiency. According to Mohanty, it was because of the way in which the subsidy was absorbed into the system. The supply of LED bulbs got political patronage because EESL was able to convince the Puducherry government that the bulbs could be given away at Rs 10 each. This was popular with consumers and hence acceptable to the government.

After the success in Puducherry, state electricity boards across the country have been supplying a limited number of subsidised LED bulbs to customers. This bulb was supplied by Kerala State Electricity Board. (Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier)

After the success in Puducherry, state electricity boards across the country have been supplying a limited number of subsidised LED bulbs to customers. This bulb was supplied by Kerala State Electricity Board. (Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier)

The Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission (JERC) permitted EESL to recover the cost from the government’s electricity department, which could claim it as expenditure. “All domestic consumers in the UT (Union Territory of Puducherry) pay a very low electricity price for the first 100 kWh, irrespective of whether they are rich or poor, while electricity is purchased by the electricity distributer at around four times the cost,” Mohanty said.

It would have been better if the subsidy cost was recovered from consumers in instalments, thus encouraging them to move to energy-efficient products using the money saved in electricity charges, he pointed out.

Ashok Panda, Co-Convenor of the Puducherry chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), agrees. “The low power tariff in the union territory has not been an incentive for many consumers to go in for energy saving or renewable energy devices.”

Commercial adoption

Some commercial enterprises are also gradually changing to LED lighting to save energy and electricity costs. Palais de Mahe, a boutique hotel with 18 rooms, has started the migration process from compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) to LED lighting.

“We are changing to LED bulbs because it is environment friendly and there are savings in energy use,” said hotel manager Dinu Ramakrishnan. “We can use a 4 watt LED instead of 8 watt CFL bulb. We use 10 such bulbs in a room. And since the LED lamps are not heat generating, we can save on air-conditioning costs. With the shift to LED adding to process of other management measures initiated at the hotel, the energy costs have been reduced by nearly 25%.”

The energy savings are now standardized across the industry. While a 15 watt CFL gives the same light as that of a 75 W incandescent bulb, the same job is done by a 7 W LED bulb.

According to the Electric Lamps and Components Manufacturers’ Association of India (ELCOMA), the government’s push for promoting LED has helped in increasing demand and decreasing prices. “The government’s programme helped in achieving a high uptake for the LED lights in half the time it would have otherwise taken,” said Sunil Sikka, president of the industry lobby group.

However, the fall in prices in the market from about Rs 400 per bulb two years ago to Rs 100 today has not only been due to increase in demand in India, but also globally, Sikka said. “Globally there has been an increase in demand and because of which the prices have fallen. The main component for the light – the electronic chip – is imported from China, and its prices have fallen in the international market.”

Through the government’s DELP promotion scheme 102 million light bulbs have been sold, another 40% have been sold in the regular market. “While the government scheme avoids the market distribution ecosystem by procuring the bulbs in bulk from the manufacturers, the traditional supply chain is needed to reach those who get left out of the programme,” Sikka added.

Impact on environment

But do LED lamps have a positive impact on the environment in the long run? According to a recent paper in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, the transition to LED lighting till 2050 will result in the reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. There would be an increase in lighting illumination simultaneously. Metal depletion for manufacturing the LED systems, however, will increase till 2030 and then reduce.

Thus, not only in the short run but also in the long one, the transition to LED lighting has a positive environmental and economic impact. In India, this revolution started from Puducherry, a tiny enclave in the east coast of India.

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