A Light Bulb Moment: Promoting Energy Efficient Lighting


Develop the marketing channels and financial mechanisms that open access to efficient lighting in small cities and rural communities.

Imagine if New York decided to eliminate all of its cars and factories or to simply switch off its entire energy use, and in so doing remove all of its carbon emissions by 2012. That is about the same effect that China's transformational Green Lights Project is set to have, cutting the country's electricity consumption by 48 billion kilowatt hours per year. This bold move is set to reduce China's carbon dioxide emissions by up to 48 million tonnes annually. Only a handful of other countries in the world have been so forward in their plans to cut emissions within such a brief span of time.

Highlight

  • The three-year US$84 million Green Lights Project (or 'PILESLAMP', 2009-2012), co-sponsored by UNDP and NDRC, is assisting Chinese manufacturers to increase their capacities to produce energy saving lamps, as well as working with them to meet national targets to phase out production and sale of incandescent lamps.

It is widely recognised that one of the most significant drains on energy demands is lighting, with most conventional incandescent light bulbs typically require four times the energy of their more efficient counterparts. In China, continued use of these light bulbs currently translates into some 12 per cent of national energy supply and generates high levels of carbon emissions that lead to significant pollution. Yet despite the highly visible effects of high energy usage on society and the environment, lighting is an essential part of life.

With this in mind, eliminating and replacing the sale and use of traditional light bulbs in China has been identified as an important step in reducing energy consumption, without impacting on development. Successfully implemented, this simple, cost effective change will lower small business and household utility bills, improve business opportunities and reduce poverty in poor areas. It also stands to have a domino effect on countries around the globe, not least because China is the world's leading manufacturer of traditional light bulbs. Transforming China's lighting industry has therefore assumed international significance.

As climate change and the frequency and diversity of extreme weather conditions continue to remind societies around the world of the need to live more sustainably, China has recognised the need to tackle unnecessary excessive energy consumption and relieve the pressures that economic growth has placed on its natural and human environments. Driven by this challenge, UNDP and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) are combining their efforts to transform China's lighting industry one light bulb at a time, as it seeks to move towards its vision of a low carbon society and economy.

The three-year US$84 million Green Lights Project (or 'PILESLAMP', 2009-2012), co-sponsored by UNDP and NDRC, is assisting Chinese manufacturers to increase their capacities to produce energy saving lamps, as well as working with them to meet national targets to phase out production and sale of incandescent lamps. To achieve this, the project has been supporting the development of energy efficient industrial supply chains by working with light bulb production companies to replace or modernise outdated technologies.

To compliment this process, imports and sales of incandescent light bulbs are to be eliminated over a period of a three year phase-out, including the banning of incandescence light bulbs that exceed 100 watts from October 2012. Those of 60 watts and above will be banned from October 2014, while incandescent lights of 15 watts or higher will be banned from 2016.

Transforming production capabilities is, however, only one part of the challenge. In a country where attitudes towards initial purchase prices often take priority over reduced long-term costs, and where millions of poor consumers lack the resources to access more expensive energy-saving lamps, a key focus of the Green Lights Project has been to change consumer attitudes and increase overall access to this new technology. Part of this process has seen the project test incentive schemes to determine what level of financial subsidies would be required in order to achieve high levels of market penetration. This analysis is being combined with consumer subsidies to ensure that even the poorest consumers have the capacity to play their part in solving China's energy and environmental challenges.

Partnering with the private sector has been another important element in the project's success. Seizing the opportunity to work with companies interested in developing their corporate social responsibility strategies, UNDP has provided advice on balancing environmental sustainability with the demands of modern business practices and corporate ethics. UNDP has also partnered with the private sector to overcome the obstacles of cost and reach out to consumers in lower income towns and cities. For example, the project donated 100,000 energy saving lamps to Dingxi City in Gansu Province, of which 40,000 were donated by Zhejiang Yankon Group and Philips (China) Investment Company.

At the practical level, these consumers will recognise early on the advantages of the new technology as their need to change their light bulbs becomes less frequent. Meanwhile, switching to an energy efficient light bulb is a cost-effective means of promoting simple lifestyle changes that offer the same opportunities for development provided by traditional light bulbs, but at a significantly lower cost to end-users and the environment.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted at the outset of the project, "By changing a light bulb, and changing our mindset, we can change the world".