LED there be light

Although their low energy consumption made LEDs ideal for diesel and solar-powered lighting in Nepal, they were just too expensive.

Not any more. Prices of LEDs (light emitting diodes) have come down dramatically, and with Nepal’s energy crisis here to stay, these high-tech fixtures have become affordable for home, office, and factory lighting.

Nepal made the switch from incandescent and fluorescent tubes to CFLs some five years ago, but LEDs save even more energy and money. In an LED bulb, electrons hit holes within the device to create electroluminescence, and depending on the quality of LED lights they last up to 40,000 hours – four times more than fluorescent tubes and 10 times longer than incandescent lights.LED bulbs were initially used in rural electrification but are now becoming popular in cities as well.

Illuminium in Kupondole which introduced customised LED lighting three years ago has seen a steady rise in customers with large corporate houses to restaurants and hotels (see box) eager to make the switch from CFL to LED.

“The leap from CFL to LED hasn’t been as swift and massive as the switch from incandescent bulbs to CFL, but the demand for LED lights has definitely increased,” says Anil Karki of Illuminium, who urges that LEDs be arranged sensibly around the home or office to take maximum advantage of the interior.

What has deterred many Nepalis to adopt LEDs so soon after switching to CFL, however, is the cost of the bulbs. Lighting companies believe it will still take some more years for individual households to join the LED revolution.
Many businesses now conduct energy audits to help them make the switch to more energy efficient products. And they have been replacing CFLs with LEDs, covering the initial installation cost through reduced electricity bills.
Raj Kumar Thapa of Solar Solutions says it is best for households with low electricity consumption to wait for a few years before making the jump to expensive LEDs.

“We have installed LED lights mostly for large organisations as it is easier for them to cover the initial cost than for smaller households,” Thapa explains.

Given how the Nepali market is inundated with costly but low-grade LEDs, new companies are stepping in to make sure customers are provided with lights that are worth their price tag.

“People pay almost 10 times more for LEDs than CFLs so they need to get value for their money,” says Shashank Thapa of Tuff Lite which imports LEDs from Malaysia.

Companies in Nepal are hopeful that the gradual phase-out of CFLs across the globe due the health risks will eventually lead to competitive pricing of LEDs.

Says Raj Kumar Thapa: “Once the lights become more affordable I am sure Nepalis here will come flocking for LEDs.”


Taking the lead
As more and more concrete high-rises dominate Kathmandu’s skyline, undermining the Valley’s historic heart, one new tall hotel in Pulchok is trying to be different. The 11-storey Meconopsis Hotel is aiming to be the most energy-efficient high rise in the capital by being powered completely by LED lights: all 2,000 watts of it.

“LEDs are expensive, but they consume less power and are ideal during long hours of load shedding when we have to use diesel generators, they help keep our electricity and diesel bills down,” explains says Bishan Shah (pictured) of Meconopsis. LED lights with their longer lifespans and low energy consumption pay for themselves within a year, making them ideal for an energy-starved country like Nepal.

See also:

Green buildings and climate change

Not many people know that the building sector is the third largest consumer of energy after agriculture and industry.  About 1/3 of all energy related carbon emissions come from the building and construction sector.  The design, construction and maintenance of buildings have a tremendous impact on the environment and natural resources.  Typically buildings consume about 1/6 of world’s fresh water withdrawals, 1/4 of wood harvested and around 1/3 of solid waste generated.  In today’s world of climate change, high energy prices, water stress and rampant deforestation, it is critical to build green and smart.  Green buildings should include both mitigation and adaptation strategies if we hope to reshape the built environment that is responsive and resilient to future climate change requirements.

Experts on climate change say the  building green is one of the least-cost approaches for mitigating climate change.  Green buildings optimise energy efficiency, use less fresh water, conserve natural resources, produce minimum of pollution, produce lesser waste, and provide healthy living spaces for occupants as compared to conventional buildings.  Applying a life-cycle cost analysis, the concept of green building examines the performance of buildings starting from extraction of raw material and tracing all operations until their final disposal as wastes back into the earth.  Energy required to extract, transport and manufacture various building materials like cement, paints, insulation, plumbing & electrical material, etc are all tallied in sum total of energy which is called as ’embodied energy’ of the building.  Green building is becoming popular both among builders and occupants and the Green Council of India has around 1700 eco-friendly building projects registered with it covering around 1.2 billion sq ft of green building footprint which is expected to increase to nearly 2 billion sq ft by 2015.

Says Panaji-based architect  Milind  Ramani who specialises in conservation architecture “Climate has always been integrated into the building profession with building practices typically assuming that the future will be similar to the past,  however with climate change builders have to plan for a range of uncertain futures. Earlier building decisions were based on historic climate data, but today building profession  have to consider climate change projections along with historic trends to arrive at their design, construction & maintenaace decisions.  Building professionals say that though green buildings may cost around 3-5% higher than conventional buildings, it gets paid back within a short period of time due to reduced operational & maintenance costs which continue throughout  the lifespan of the buildings.

Green building functions as a least-cost mitigation strategy  mainly through energy efficiency.  All elements of a building – be the foundation, framing, roof structure, window panes, etc have huge energy saving potential.  Energy used inside a building is the second tier for  energy saving potential.  Potential energy savers include optimal interface with electrical grid, mechanical equipment sized to the actual load of the building, optimum natural day lighting and ventilation which greatly impact the amount of energy used inside the building.   All these elements need to be considered in the early design stage to maintain cost effectiveness. In the West, much investment is put into retrofitting older building due to the compelling evidence that day-lighting greatly improves ventilation and saves much on heating & air-conditioning.

Green building movement has spread worldwide and countries across Asia, Europe, North America and Australia have adopted some form of green building.  India currently has two voluntary building rating systems: 1)  LEED  INDIA  (Leadership in Energy & Environment Development) run by the Indian Green Building Council and focussing on energy-efficiency measures in air-conditioned buildings, and  2)  GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) which is a National Rating System developed by TERI and  Ministry of New & Renewal Sources of Energy.  Since 2007 Bureau of Energy Efficiency has launched Energy Efficiency Building Code applicable for all commercial buildings with minimum conditioned area of 1000 sq mts and a connected power demand of 500 kw or 600 KVA.  The energy performance index under the Code is set from 90 kwh/sqmt/year  to 200 kwh/sqmt/year and any  building falling within the index is termed as EFBC Compliant’.   If fully implemented the EEBC can save around 35-40%  of energy in buildings say energy efficiency experts.

India has vast scope in adopting green building as mitigation & adaptation mechanism against climate change.  Massive funds have been earmarked for improving basic services & infrastructure in 60 major cities under Jawaharlal Urban Renewable Mission as well as for Sustainable Habitat Mission under the National Climate Change Action Plan.  Considering high urbanisation rates, need for providing housing for millions of people, specially the urban poor, there is considerable scope for climate-friendly built environment, which in turn will open wide  opportunities in green construction, engineering design, green building material, equipment like low-emission windows & paints, smart roofs, high-efficiency heating, ventilation & air-conditioning systems, water-saving systems, etc.

However, despite great potential several barriers impede popularisation of green building.  Currently green building is some sort of an elite standard and there is widespread lack of awareness allied to which is lack of incentives like additional floor space index (FSI), rationalisation of property tax and electricity tariffs, reduction of state taxes like VAT on green building technologies, etc.  Presently the grading systems are voluntary and Energy Efficiency Building Code is not strictly & fully implemented.  There is widespread myth that green building is very expensive.  Acutally green buildings now cost not more than 3-5% more than conventional buildings, and the savings over the lifespan of the building is substantial, which fact needs to be widely disseminated among builders and public alike.