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Little Drops of Water Make the Mighty Ocean…

Naomi Ahmad's picture

Saving Electricity–One Bulb at a Time!

Waiting in line to exchange lightbulbs

On a crisp October morning, all across Bangladesh in 39 districts, they flocked to their nearest schools and community centers, clutching their electricity bills and carrying small bags of used incandescent bulbs. There was much excitement and curiosity in the air – people stood in long snaking queues, gathered to chit-chat and watch what was going on. Men, women and even children waited patiently; expectantly.

They were waiting for the second round of free distribution of energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) to begin.

CFLs consume one-fifth energy compared to regular bulbs. At a time when Bangladesh’s power generation capacity is much below the energy demand, using CFLs can significantly help in reducing peak electricity demand.

This is great news for the energy starved people of Bangladesh, many of whom have to endure hours of power cuts every day. During peak hours, the country faces electricity shortages of about 1,500-2,000 MW. In some areas, this means power cuts for at least 6 - 8 hours a day! Using CFLs will save electricity and help the people cut back on their electricity bills.

The CFLs were distributed at over 1,400 rural and urban distribution centers. In the true spirit of community participation, school teachers, utility workers and volunteers from all walks of life pitched in to help with the distribution. One person could collect a maximum of 4 CFL bulbs by exchanging an equal number of used bulbs and showing a copy of their electricity bill.

CFL lightbulb at a tea stall

That evening, returning home from the distribution center, one young man was seen putting the CFL in his sister’s room. “I want my kid sister to be able to study properly, without power cuts, keeping her from finishing her homework. Using CFLs is my little contribution to bringing down our energy demand. I encourage you all to do the same.”

Another young man solemnly pointed to the CFL that he has been using in his small roadside tea stall. “I know this is just one bulb. But together if we all change one bulb at a time, we can certainly be more energy efficient during this time of acute power crisis. This is just a very small gesture on our part – but after all, it is the little drops of water that make the mighty ocean.”

And indeed, for the people of Bangladesh, it is these little efforts which will help inmaking a difference.


The Government of Bangladesh, with World Bank assistance, initiated the ‘Efficient Lighting Initiative for Bangladesh’ program under the ‘Rural Electrification Renewable Energy Development (RERED)’ project.

By October 2010, free delivery of more than 10 million CFLs to the people was completed. The Government of Bangladesh carried out the distribution in two phases. Bangladesh set a world record of distributing highest number of CFL bulbs in a single day when on June 19, 2010 the first round distribution of 5.5 million CFLs took place. On October 23, 2010, the remaining 4.5 million were distributed.

For more information, please read: Bangladesh sets a world record – 5 million CFLs in a day, one bulb at a time!


Submitted by Md. Sohag on
Thanks noami, you picked up very important issue for Bangladesh. Besides this, your use of language and description of the situation is very nice.

Submitted by Shahpar on
thank you very much for writing about this. inspiring story. little steps like this will take Bangladesh a long way.

Thanks Shahpar apu! It certainly was my pleasure to write about such an inspiring initiative...hats off to all the people working behind its success!

Submitted by Kazi on
Great program! I have been using CFLs at my home and am quite pleased with their performance. A 12 watt CFL gives out 60 watt equivalent of light. I also found a significant fall in our electricity bill. Small initiatives like this can certainly take Bangladesh a long way.

Thanks Kazi! Apart from reducing demand for electricity and helping people save on their electricity bills, large-scale distribution and usafe of CFLs will also help the Government earn carbon revenues, which can then be used for other energy efficiency measures. The World Bank is facilitating this process of earning carbon revenues through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) credits under the Kyoto Protocol.

Submitted by Bamandas Basu on
Dear Naomi, A good write-up! I do not think that FREE distribution is a good idea. It may give rise to yet another kind of malpractice/corruption, namely, getting the bulb for free and then selling it for a profit. The government can sell the energy-efficient bulbs at a subsidized price (less than or equal to the price of a regular bulb). A person who needs an electric bulb and can afford buying a regular bulb will also buy the energy-efficient bulb at the subsidized price. I hope I am not way out of line here.

Thanks for raising an interesting point. Given the severe power crisis facing Bangladesh, the immediate conservation of energy has become a matter of urgency. The use of CFLs will contribute to some reduction in load shedding in the short run. The benefits of increased availability of electricity would be much higher. During the design of the project, the option of charging consumers a subsidized price for CFLs was considered. However, the idea was discarded because of the complexities surrounding the collection of money (who to collect from, how to ensure the collected money is not misappropriated etc). The option of charging the consumers by including it in their next month's electricity bill was also considered. However, then the customers would have to be given an option of not receiving the bulbs if they preferred not to be charged. And it would have required changes in the billing software to include a separate line item. It's worth noting here that all the power distribution utilities are involved in the program and they use different systems for billing. After evaluation, it was found that charging consumers a nominal subsidized price for CFLs, would have required more time in designing the collection system and it would have increased the risks of misappropriation. Considering all these factors, and in an attempt to simplify the process and ensure that maximum number of CFLs are being used to save power, the Government of Bangladesh had decided to distribute the CFLs for free (in exchange of incandescent bulbs).

Submitted by Nachiket Mor on
Dear Ms.Ahmad, This is a wonderful effort by the Government of Bangladesh. And, while I agree with Mr. Basu that maybe the product should have been priced, I am not entirely sure what the point of subsidised pricing would have been. Either it is entirely free or it is priced at market. To me personally the market price idea is much more appealing because (a) it allows for unlimited scale; (b) it requires the government to figure out the proper tradeoffs instead of side-stepping them by giving out free bulbs while somebody else is perhaps keeping their water heater on for the entire day because of some of some other subsidy somewhere else or running their Mercedes Benz car on subsidised diesel supposedly meant for farmers. Of'course even if there are market priced products that do add value (and there indeed are despite all the distortions) there is an additional challenge of getting it out there, demonstrating that value to people and then stocking, selling and servicing the product. An enterprise in Chennai: Rural Energy Network Enterprises is trying to do just that with some success ( and is hoping to take this idea to scale in three states over the next twelve months. You may may enjoying reading about this effort as well. Sincerely, Nachiket Mor

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