CFL is a leapfrog option for India as it increases efficiency, but the lack of regulations is jeopardising the programme

New Delhi, February 4, 2009: The burgeoning compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) sector in India is faced with some key concerns, and the most critical of them is the problem of disposal of mercury used in CFLs: this was the consensus at a Round Table meeting on the sector, organised here today by the New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The meeting, chaired by CSE director Sunita Narain, was attended by key representatives from regulatory agencies such as the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Planning Commission, and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), as well as industry and civil society representatives.

CSE has recently done a review of the CFL business in India, and has found that despite their higher cost, CFLs have been making an impressive headway in India. But non-existent and weak regulatory controls could prove to be a death-knell for the sector.

“The introduction of energy-efficient appliances like CFLs are critical elements of our energy security and climate change strategy,” said Sunita Narain, director, CSE. “But what will be key to the success of our CFL programme is the regulatory and enforcement systems we put into place to ensure the power quality of the appliance, as well as the system for management and disposal of mercury.”

High penetration, increasing popularity
CFL, an advanced lighting device, has become an alternative to incandescent bulbs. Published estimates show that India, in 2007, sold roughly 165 million CFLs – which is half the number of pieces of CFL that were sold in the US (340 million) in that year. This, when India has a much smaller energy appliances market, clearly says a lot about the way we are re-inventing our carbon trajectory.

The reason is clear: these energy-efficient appliances, running on battery, provide a large number of people who have no access to reliable energy, better options for lighting. A 15-watt CFL produces as much light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. In terms of money, a Delhi consumer can save up to Rs 300 in a year by using a 15-watt CFL instead of a 60-watt incandescent bulb.

Narain points out: “The poor of India, in fact, are providing the biggest market for the penetration of this high-end technology. It is this ‘leapfrog’ – towards higher efficiency -- that is important to understand and to further incentivise.”

And the incentives are coming, partly through a number of innovative government programmes. For instance, Sirsa in Haryana has become the first district in the country to completely switch over to CFL-based lighting – all thanks to the Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam’s scheme of selling CFLs at half the price. In Himachal Pradesh, the state government has introduced the Atal Bijli Bachat Yojana to give each household four CFLs free of cost – over 6 million CFLs will be distributed under this programme. There is also the BEE’s Bachat Lamp Yojana, which hopes to populate 400 million houses with CFLs at the cost of incandescent bulbs.

But all in a regulatory void
The key question that the CSE review asks is, will these incentives and programmes succeed? “No,” answers Narain, “because there is a massive weakness and an urgent need for policy change in the regulatory framework of this industry.”

Quality control is a major concern. In November 2008, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) had revised the standards for CFLs – it increased the power factor of CFLs from 0.5 to 0.85 and fixed 6,000 hours as the minimum life for all CFLs (The power factor of a CFL, measured on a scale of 0 to 1, indicates the efficiency of the lamp. Bulbs of lower power factor increase transmission and distribution loss). The standards should have come into effect from January 1, 2009, but there is strong industry pressure to push back the regulations for another six months.

The CFL market in India is complex, comprising of 12 major brands and hundreds of small players. About 40 to 50 per cent of the market is dominated by the unorganised sector. The industry depends on large amounts of imports, with even branded products using large amounts of imported components. “It is the unorganised and import-based nature of the industry which makes the regulatory and quality control challenge difficult but critical. It is important to set the best standards for power factor for these high-end appliances and ensure their certification for quality,” says Narain.

The question of mercury
Another challenge is the regulation and management of the mercury used in CFLs. Mercury is a small but essential component of the lamp, but its quantity can be reduced. CFLs sold in India have mercury content ranging from 3 to 13 milligramme (mg); in the US and Europe, CFLs with 1 mg of mercury are also available.

India has no standards -- mandatory or voluntary -- for regulating mercury in CFLs. A task force set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in August 2007 had recommended that the BIS should draw up standards for regulating the quantity of mercury in the lamps – but the move has not gone down well with the industry.

Moreover, there is no system for proper disposal of mercury. None of the CFL manufacturers have registered with the CPCB for disposal and recycling of mercury waste. “This is an important issue and one, if not addressed, could put large numbers of Indians at risk, as mercury is a proven neurotoxin,” said Narain.

The Indian CFL market is catching up with that in bigger countries like the US, even though the per capita power consumption here is much less. “It is high time that we addressed these issues, which could literally make or break the CFL programme in the country,” says Narain.

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Souparno Banerjee or Shachi Chaturvedi on 9910864339 or 9818750007. You can also write to them at or