Saurabh Kumar is a name to reckon with when it comes to changing the mind-set of people about lighting and energy savings at a rather broader base. Kumar, a 1992 batch IRS officer, is currently the managing director of Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), an entity formed by the government in May 2013 to undertake the project of supporting, financing, and installing the LED lighting system in the country.
The Government at the Centre is determined, so are the ESCOs to cut down energy demand by not less than 10,000MW during peak hours following a planned shift to LED lights in streets as well as residences within the given time frame i.e. by 2018. In line with this objective, a journey was flagged off with the introduction of Domestic Efficient Lighting Program (DELP) and Streetlight National Program (SLNP) with a set target to replace 77 crore incandescent bulbs and 44 crore CFLs in domestic usage and more than 3.5 crore conventional streetlights, with LEDs – all within the span of three years. Of these, conversion of 15 crore light points in domestic usage and of eight lakh streetlights have been reportedly completed till date.
Going forward, in its quest to keep its readers updated on the development at EESL, LED World met Kumar after a year. Unlike last meeting, this time he had aplenty to share in the name of achievements than merely speaking on planning and scheduling. In a candid conversation that lasted for around an hour, he took us through a yearlong onerous journey, wherein he didn’t miss to mark the labyrinth of targets achieved, and shared as how the process-bound bottlenecks created numerous challenges in this jaunt. Following are the excerpts of what he shared out of his plan & execution on SLNP & DELP, respectively, till date:
To start with, please share the progress on SLNP.
In the public lighting space, 70-80 thousand streetlights were replaced last year, while this year the number has already crossed 8,00,000. We are currently working with 80 urban local bodies including municipalities and urban metropolises. So far, we have completed the replacement job in 48 such bodies including Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), Hyderabad (Telangana), Agartala (Tripura), South Delhi (Delhi), etc. In South Delhi alone, we have replaced two lakh streetlights. We hope that other states particularly, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Telangana (including Hyderabad), and Tripura (beyond Agartala) – would jump into the bandwagon soon. Meanwhile in the north-eastern states, we have started in Guwahati (Assam); while in Bihar, we are in touch with 3-4 municipal corporations.
How has your experience been so far? What particular challenges did you come across?
By and large, we are very happy with the outcome. The response is satisfactory except for maintenance hiccups at a few places. As far as challenges in the SLNP are concerned, it lies in implementation and in the fact that LED lights are pretty sensitive towards any variations in the electrical system. In addition to this is the lack of dedicated light poles that has made installations even more crucial. In fact, keeping aside Delhi and Mumbai, 80% of the streetlights are installed on electricity poles, enmeshed in a web of wires for various purposes besides lighting. Such arrangements are prone to faults in any electrical system. Though we have not encountered any massive scale failures so far, the challenge still exists.
Amidst these odds, what steps are you taking to sail smoothly?
We can’t simply wait for every state to get streetlight poles installed as it may take ages. So, we request the respective state governments or the concerned local munici-pal bodies to at least ensure that 440V or 11kV lines are shifted slightly away from the luminaire so that the system is ready to ac-cept the technology in its right format.
In the meantime, we are happy in noting a very healthy trend among many municipal bodies like that in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu who have started utilising very similar practices like us are procuring services on their own. In either case, we are meeting our objective of conversion irrespective of who’s taking it forward.
How has DELP progressed over the year?
DELP is a program we are very proud of. The kind of scaling that has been reported under this is simply phenomenal. The program, which was launched in January, last year, ac-tually started rolling from 1st May onwards. In this short span of eight months (i.e. from May 2015 to March 2016), we, at EESL, have noted a distribution figure of 9 crores, while the industry recorded a sale of 5.7 crore LED bulbs. This clearly indicates that the scheme has been instrumental in driving the demand in retail. Though the current figure with EESL surpasses that of the industry, we would like the industry to take it over from us next year. We are not here to compete against anyone but to transform the market in such a way that LED bulbs become affordable to the general people.
What are the implications for both the industry and end-consumers?
This has had many positive implications both on the industry and consumers. The ability of manufacturers to produce huge quantities of LED lights has increased tremendously. Take for instance, initially we ordered 6 lakh LED bulbs; it took six months to supply. Today, we are distributing close to 8 lakh LED bulbs per day, and this number is constantly on the surge.
On the consumers’ front, DELP has let the industry bring down the retail price of a LED bulb significantly. While Philips has reduced the MRP to Rs. 300, other brands have come down to as low as Rs. 150. Hopefully, six months down the lane, the MRP of LED bulbs will go down further to make it affordable to all. For now, we’ve brought the prices down to the level of a CFL. At EESL owing to bulk orders, we are sourcing at Rs. 64/ unit, in which after adding distribution cost and taxes, we pass it to the end-consumers at just Rs. 93, a price that is pretty much in the industry’s reach.
EESL has recently tied-up with Snapdeal. How is this helping EESL in meeting its objective?
Well, we did the tie-up with Snapdeal a couple of months back but only to bring onboard those consumers who are unable to avail the benefits just because their respec-tive state governments have not yet decided on DELP, for a variety of reasons, which ultimately is leading to an unnecessary delay in the process.
Though it’s a very good initiative from us, we are focusing more on direct distribu-tion. The testimony of the fact is that in the last two months the e-commerce route garnered a sale of just two lakh units, while our daily distribution average is eight lakh bulbs per day.
How do you ensure the quality of your offerings for such huge quantities?
We have adopted the BIS specification, which is an improved version of the IEC i.e. international standard. Further, we follow three-tier of testing before the bulbs actu-ally reach end-consumers. In the first level, we have NABL across the country, wherein bidders get their bulbs tested and carry the certificate along, the absence of which will disqualify them from bidding. Second level of testing is done before the bulbs are dispatched from the factory. Following international protocol, we send our team to the bidders’ facility to test samples before the dispatch is done. The third level of test-ing is done at the point of distribution where the kiosk is located. We randomly select 50 bulbs for every five lakh, which are then sent to NABL for testing purposes. If at any stage the sample doesn’t pass, the whole lot is rejected. Besides, we do keep a bank guarantee of 20-30% for any default from the suppliers’ side. Total failure at DELP, so far, is recorded at 0.3%.
What will happen to the manufacturers’ excess capacity after meeting the set target in 2018?
The construction activities are on the up. A new market is under process for those who have escalated their capacity multi-fold. This apart, India is the only country across Asia with such a huge capacity and if our manufacturers agree to provide LED bulbs at an average international retail price which as of now is in between $3.5 and $4 per unit, a huge market is waiting for them outside.
We observe that you succeeded in creating awareness at the mass level. Which measures worked for you the most?
The promotional strategy which worked best was the ground level awareness campaign entailing concept selling. A fair amount of awareness has been created by a variety of means including efforts put forward by the private sector. Besides, for our program, we also need to inform general people about the location of the nearest kiosk, and the required papers/documents needed for the purchase of LED bulbs. For that, the most effective tools were local haulers and pamphlets, which helped us record excellent distribution in that area.