Let there be CFL

See the light CFL is becoming popular in India with a little help from government schemes. But its wide-scale use requires regulation

Published: Saturday 31 January 2009

Let there be CFL

Arnab Pratim Dutta

When the kerosene supply went down sharply in Nagpur four years ago, Bharat Parihar's business of renting out Petromax lamps to vegetable vendors began to look fragile. But then he hit upon a solution that not only saved his business but also pleased his customers. He began to rent out portable compact fluorescent lamps known as cfls. "Earlier, we paid Rs 20 for hiring a Petromax lamp. Now the cost has come down to Rs 15," said Deepak Chacherkar, one of Parihar's clients.

In Bengalooru, the lamps with thin white tubes have turned business brisk for about 60 vendors at the semi-urban Nagnathpura market who had switched over to energy-efficient cfls from kerosene lamps. "It is easier for my customers to choose vegetables in cfl light," said Gangadhar G K, sitting on the pavement with the white lamp beside him.With the number of customers increasing, he now does business till late in the evening. Two years ago, an entrepreneur rented Gangadhar a battery-operated cfl, for which he pays Rs 20 a day, almost as much as he was spending on kerosene in the black.

Move to the Northeast. Uday Kumar Das, a shopkeeper of an electrical goods store at Dispur in Guwahati, said his customers prefer cfls for their efficiency even if they have to pay more. "I have been selling cfls since 2003. Then, only a few bulbs would leave the shelf, but for a year now I have been selling about 300 bulbs a month," he said.

Surender Sharaf, who owns a petrol pump at Sirsa in Haryana, knows what difference cfl's energy efficiency can make. "I had four 200-watt and 70-odd 60-watt incandescent bulbs (the common round ones) at my petrol-filling station. In 2006, I replaced them with cfls. The change in my electricity bill was amazing. From about Rs 15,000 a month it came down to Rs 10,000," he said.

The most advanced lighting device, cfl has become an alternative to incandescent bulbs, also known as general lighting system or gls. Estimates by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, a statutory body under the power ministry, show that 600-800 million cfls have entered homes, business establishments and government offices in India. Government schemes plan to populate another 400 million light points in houses with cfls.

There is very little data on the number of cfls used in the world. The Washington-based independent research institution Worldwatch Institute estimates that 3.5 billion cfls were used globally in 2003. It notes that reliable data on use of cfls since 2003 does not exist but sales trends indicate the lamp's growing popularity. It says that in the US between 2000 and 2004 cfl sales went up from 21 million to 93 million pieces and in 2007 sales reached 343 million. In Western and Eastern Europe the number of cfls sold in 2004 was close to 232 million units and 56 million units respectively. China, produces about 85 per cent of all cfls worldwide. In 2006, it produced about 2.4 billion pieces, the institute said.

In comparison, India, with a much smaller market for electrical appliances, consumed about 165 million cfls in 2007. The poor in the world are leapfrogging from kerosene or inefficient lighting to the most advanced.

What propelled the growth of cfl is its energy-saving quality. A 15-watt cfl produces as much light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb, and a 20-watt cfl can replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb. Lighting efficiency of a bulb is measured in lumen per watt. In case of a cfl it ranges from 45 lumen per watt to 60 lumen per watt. An incandescent bulb converts about 95 per cent of electricity into heat and only five per cent is converted into light, therefore, it generates only 14 to 16 lumen per watt.

Take the example of Delhi where the domestic consumer pays Rs 4.5 per unit of electricity (kilo watt hour). A 60-watt incandescent bulb burning for 4 hours a day will consume 87.6 kwh in a year, whereas a 15-watt cfl in a similar condition will use 21.9 kwh, saving the consumer Rs 296. A comparison between a 20-watt cfl and a 100-watt incandescent bulb shows that the cfl will consume 116.8 kwh less, saving Rs 526.

Now suppose the government added 300 million cfls of 15 watt and 200 million cfls of 20 watt, the energy saved would be 31.4 billion kwh a year, nearly half the power deficit India faced in 2007-2008. How much money will that save? Rs 14,125 crore, enough to build a 3,139-mw power plant.

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