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Lead with LEDs

According to reports, at the end of March 2013, 26 power plants with a combined capacity of 37,000 MW or more than one-third of the total capacity monitored by Central Electricity Authority (a statutory body responsible for technical co-ordination and supervision of power generation in India) had coal supplies of less than seven days. This was a critical situation as a power generation unit should have at least 15-days’ coal supplies to operate comfortably. The main reason for the low stock of coal was below-target supply from Coal India.

The power sector has been in news for the last two years due to shortage of coal supply and the increasing dependence on imported coal. As imported coal is expensive, the power generation units have to sell their output at a higher price. But the same can’t be recovered fully by State electricity boards as the power tariff for end consumers is low. Recently, authorities have allowed partial pass-through of the increased cost to consumers. A radical decision to prevent the SEBs from closure, and the resultant blackout!

But all this misses the point: While the government is looking at improving the supply of electricity even at a higher cost to consumers, not much is being done to bring in efficient use of electricity. An incredible quantity of electricity can be saved if one starts looking at new efficient ways of using electricity. One of these ways is increasing the reach of LED lights.

An LED bulb consumes at least 50 per cent less energy than CFLs and around 80 per cent less than mercury. An LED bulb consumes 6 watts power in giving an output of 500 lumens against 11 watts by CFL and 40 watts by a traditional bulb. A simple multiplication of this saving with the number of households in India (i.e. 19.27 crore) shows that the country can save up to 675 MW. In other words, the output of a large power generation unit can be saved for more productive industrial use by replacing CFL and mercury bulbs with LEDs. For a layman – this power is enough to meet the peak demand of five Chandigarhs or one-sixth of Delhi.

An individual could benefit by lower electricity bills. Incidentally, CFL and mercury have also been recognised as environmental hazards, given the poisonous effects of mercury.

But for this change to happen, the government has to facilitate reduction in the price of LED bulbs, which currently sell for Rs 450-Rs 650 each. Reduction in import duties and value-added taxes could act as an initial impetus to the indigenous production of LED and its distribution to the remotest corners of the country. Currently, most of the inputs used in production of LED bulbs are being imported at a high import duty of 10-15 per cent.

The government can also make LED lights mandatory for all government and private office buildings. Taking these steps will increase industrial production, thereby increasing LED industry’s contribution to GDP and employment. In addition to this, these measures will also ensure reduction in market price of LEDs to an affordable level.

We should also look at expanding alternative sources of energy like solar power. Two years back, the government had also announced plans to promote solar power generation and the private sector lapped up the projects. However, the procurement price of solar power was not enough to make up for the high capital expenditure and new companies are now reluctant to join the bandwagon.

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