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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Lighting the Way

Abhishek Dhulia

Jul. 29, 2015

India’s economy is soaring, and so its demand for electricity. The aging infrastructure isn’t keeping up. This summer’s heatwave and the frequent blackouts showed just how fragile the system is. Leaders have come up with a plan they hope will dramatically cut the demand for power. They want to introduce LED bulbs on a massive scale.

Campaigners wearing T-shirts illustrated with an LED light bulb are at the forefront of the lighting revolution. They’re cheerleading the technology that uses less electricity and lasts longer than incandescent bulbs. They are also raising awareness of a distribution scheme that is part of a government-led energy-saving program. One goal of the project is to prod people to save as much energy as possible.

An LED bulb costs about 5 dollars, a price that’s beyond the budget of many Indians. The government got large discounts by ordering huge volumes, then set the down payment at about 15 cents, adding the balance little by little to monthly electricity bills.

About 1 million bulbs have already been sold since the project launched in New Dehli a month ago. One user said, “the smaller electricity bills will really help a lot.”

Over the next three years, the government plans to replace 770 million incandescent bulbs and 35 million street lamps with LED bulbs. The total reduction in demand is estimated to be about 25,000 megawatts, or about 25 billion dollars.

The campaign has spread to rural areas, such as the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, where hopes are high the bulbs will help solve the power shortage problem in villages and make people’s lives easier. Distributor Mangali Venugopal says the locals have taken a shine to LEDs. “It’s making positive changes in their lives,” he explains. “Their electricity bills have been reduced, and they’re setting up their own home-based businesses.”

One of those people is Syed Sharifuddin, who produces and sells bottled sparkling water. Before he installed LED lights, his family always worried about the cost of lighting and didn’t work late at night. The lower bills mean that now they can work as long as they like.

Syde has been able to boost his production by 50 percent, and has been able to save about 23 dollars over the past 3 months. “We can use the extra money for our children’s education and even for the house,” he says.

Although the campaign has only just begun, leaders are hoping it will alleviate the energy shortage and brighten people’s lives.


Abishek Dhulia joins Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu from New Delhi to discuss the subject further.

Shibuya: Would you say the LED campaign has been a success?

Dhulia: Well, yes, but it’s early stages right now. The government launched the program in January. They’ve introduced it in 5 of the country’s 29 provinces. In New Delhi, the program has been running since June 1st. People have bought more than a million LED bulbs in the two months since then. But not everyone in India is able to buy the cheap LED bulbs, and that has to change. Right now, only property owners who have contracts with electricity companies can buy them. But many people rent their homes, so it’s the landlords who have the contracts. The rules need to change so that subsidized LEDs are available to everyone.

Beppu: How much is this program likely to affect power consumption?

Dhulia: It’s expected to shave about 25,000 megawatts off the peak electricity load over the next three years. That’s about 17 percent of India’s total consumption. But the economy is growing fast and demand is expected to increase by around 20,000 megawatts a year. So this kind of energy-saving effort alone won’t be enough. The Modi administration has also launched the so-called “smart city initiative.” He wants to create 100 energy-efficient cities, using information technology and state-of-art energy storage systems. So the government wants to meet the growing demand with a combination of energy saving measures and investment in infrastructure. And the LED bulbs are a significant first step.