Why can’t we just ban the incandescent bulb?

Updated on May 23, 2007 09:44 PM IST
A huge saving in power could be achieved by switching from incandescent electric bulbs to the vastly more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps, writes Ravi Srinivasan.
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Hindustan Times | ByRavi Srinivasan, Mumbai

That was the mission with which this newspaper launched its Mumbai edition in 2005. It was a metaphorical statement, of course. Good newspapers attempt to dispel the ‘darkness’ of non-awareness through balanced reportage and informed opinion and analysis.

At the moment, though, maintaining even the literal interpretation of that mission statement — of keeping the city that never sleeps provided with lighting — is proving somewhat difficult for Mumbai.

After enjoying uninterrupted access to electric power for decades, Mumbai is finally struggling to cope with a scenario of power shortages and blackouts, which the rest of the country, including its cosseted capital, have been living with for years.

In a belated attempt at demand-side management, power suppliers are currently running a joint campaign to encourage consumers to reduce consumption, by avoiding unnecessary wastage and shifting to more energy-efficient appliances.

A huge saving in power could be achieved by switching from power-hungry incandescent electric bulbs to the vastly more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). They consume 80 per cent less electricity and last, on an average five to ten times longer than the old-fashioned filament bulbs.

"If each of our 18 lakh consumers replaces one conventional bulb with CFL, it would result in saving of roughly 300 megawatts of power," Vijayendra Kumar, the managing director of the South Haryana electricity distribution utility told this paper in a recent interview.

Haryana is a tiny state. Imagine how much power could be saved nationally, if everybody switched. The union power ministry estimates that energy saving measures could release a potential 23,700 megawatts of power by the end of XIth Plan. There is no break-up of how much of this would come from domestic lighting, but Greenpeace estimates that 3,600 megawatts of energy are being wasted through inefficient light bulbs alone.

So if it’s such a great idea, how come CFLs are not seen in every light fitting in every home?

In the US, the world’s biggest energy consumer, CFLs have a market share of around 6 per cent, though CFLs are as cheap, or cheaper, than conventional bulbs. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released in April showed that while women are more likely than men to say they are "very willing" to change behaviour to help the environment, they are less likely to have CFL bulbs at home. They either disliked the looks, or the colour of CFL light.

Looks are not an issue in India. But prices are. An ordinary bulb costs Rs 10. A branded Indian CFL costs upwards of Rs 130. I can, of course, buy a cheap, Chinese CFL for under Rs 20 off the street, or a slightly better Sri Lankan one (thanks to a zero-duty agreement with Sri Lanka) for Rs 30. Indian bulb manufacturers are naturally upset by this, and have been asking for tax breaks and tariff protection.

I say give them all the tax breaks they want, but nix the duty protection. There is a simpler solution — just ban the regular bulb. The EU and Australia have done it. Even South Africa is phasing out 60 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs.

Our freedom movement originated from South Africa. Can’t freedom from blackouts start from there, too?

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