Big push in India to switch to LED bulbs

Govt promotion of energy-saving bulbs vital as country's demand for power surges

A government programme to distribute LED bulbs to every Indian household and replace streetlights with them in cities is an important step for energy conservation in a country where demand for power is expected to double in the next five years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January last year launched the Domestic Efficient Lighting Programme, and described the shift to LED (light-emitting diode) as "an act of patriotism" and "social service" to save the environment

Since then, the government has distributed more than 100 million LED bulbs, and hopes to replace 770 million in all. That would help India free up 20,000MW, which is 7 per cent of the country's installed capacity and nearly four times the peak power demand for New Delhi.

LEDs are 10 times more expensive than normal bulbs but the government has so far been providing bulbs at a subsidised rate of below 100 rupees (S$2.04) each when actual costs can exceed 250 rupees.

Mr Rahul Srivastava bought four LED lights after paying 10 rupees upfront followed by instalments of 10 rupees added to his electricity bill for each bulb over eight months. He has since replaced three other bulbs with LED lights.

"I used to get a bill of around 650 to 700 rupees. Now I get a bill of around 500 rupees," said Mr Srivastava, who works for a non-profit organisation in Delhi. "But I don't know if it is just because of the LED bulbs. I haven't done an analysis."

  • THE FIGURES

  • NUMBER OF CONVENTIONAL BULBS TO REPLACE: 770 million

    NUMBER OF LED BULBS PROVIDED BY GOVERNMENT SO FAR: 100 million

    EXPECTED CUT IN INSTALLED LOAD: 20,000MW

India's power consumption is expected to increase as more and more villages get electricity and its population continues to grow. About 300 million Indians do not even have access to electricity, more than 60 per cent of which is generated by coal plants.

But the government also faces the challenge of protecting the environment at a time when climate change has become a reality.

Last year, Mr Modi called the floods in Tamil Nadu, in which 470 people lost their lives, "climate change's fast-growing impact". This year the country is facing its worst drought in recent times

India is the third-largest greenhouse gas polluter after China and the US. The switch to LED bulbs and greater renewable energy investment are crucial for India to meet its Paris climate agreement commitments.

The LED project, officials said, is part of efforts to cut India's carbon footprint, which includes boosting the share of renewables and other low-carbon sources from 13 per cent to 40 per cent in 13 years.

Still, the programme has faced some challenges.

"The biggest barrier to adoption of LED bulbs was the cost. The second challenge was educating the consumer about the savings. It is difficult to assess the cost and environmental savings and showcase the benefits to the consumer," said Mr Saurabh Kumar, head of Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), the government-owned body behind the programme.

"Therefore, unique methods like avoidance of capacity and reduction in carbon emissions were woven into the campaign, which helped EESL to make consumers relate to the larger narrative, which is the future of the country."

Since the project started, Mr Kumar said, government procurement of LED bulbs in bulk has brought down costs from 204 rupees in 2014 to 104 rupees last year and 54.90 rupees this year.

Two weeks ago, the southern state of Goa, a tourist destination, became the latest of around a dozen states to launch the LED bulb scheme. It is also looking at converting all 160,000 streetlights to LED in two months. A part of the federal plan includes retrofitting the country's 35 million streetlights.

"Goa will be the only state to be entirely covered by LED. Whatever the consumption is now, we will save 50 per cent," said Mr Dipak Bhajekar, Chief Electrical Engineer of the Goa Electricity Department.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Big push in India to switch to LED bulbs'. Print Edition | Subscribe