Bangladesh sets a world record – 5 million CFLs in a day, one bulb at a time!


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If you were in Bangladesh in June, you would have found teachers in schools, preachers in mosques, and ads in newspapers, television, loudspeakers and pamphlets, encouraging people to bring in their incandescent bulbs to exchange with new Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) – and encouraged they were! On Saturday, June 19th 2010, at over 1,400 rural and urban distribution centers spread across 27 districts, manned by teachers, utility workers and other volunteers, Bangladeshis collectively took home about five million high quality CFL bulbs, in the first round of distribution.


CFL bulbThey broke a record set by the British in January of 2008, for the most number of CFL bulbs distributed in a single day―some 4.5 million. In June, the Government and people of Bangladesh were inspired to do even better … and they did!


I was there to witness and watch this remarkable moment. What struck me as most impressive was that the entire process had the air of a popular election campaign. The mood throughout the country was festive, and people were happy to switch to CFLs and to help do what they could to improve the delicate electric power situation in Bangladesh.


The story begins in early 2009 when the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, and the Rural Electrification Board (REB) with the World Bank came up with the “Efficient Lighting Initiatives of Bangladesh (ELIB)” program to help bridge the supply-demand imbalance in the Bangladesh’s power sector. The key to the program was the high quality CFLs that are 4-5 times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and last much longer, and as demonstrated in many countries by the World Bank, large-scale deployment of CFLs can help reduce peak electricity needs. In the first phase of ELIB, 10.5 million CFLs were to be distributed by REB and four other participating utilities to their residential consumers free of cost which, according to conservative estimates, would reduce electricity demand by 300MW.  


But the CFLs have another benefit: ELIB earns carbon revenues. So the challenge was not just in distributing the energy saving light bulbs, but also doing so in a well-documented manner to fulfill the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) methodology requirements. Through an agreement with the Infrastructure Development Company Limited, a government-owned financial institution which is working as a coordinating entity under a programmatic CDM approach, the World Bank is helping register the emission reduction rights, and has recently signed an Emission Reduction Purchase Agreement for over €6.5 million of carbon credits for a period of three years.   


With a high annual growth rate of 9 % in electricity demand, Bangladesh is currently facing an energy crisis. Against a daily peak demand of 6,000 MW  during the summer Boro (irrigation) season, the power system can generate only 4,000 MW. The country faces crippling power outages, which brings life to a halt, and economic development to a crawl, and “load-shedding” has become a routine phenomenon. Bangladesh is expanding its grid, and building new powerplants, but also investing in off-grid electrification through solar home systems in remote, rural areas. In the short term, however, Bangladesh is pushing the boundaries to also make energy “use” more efficient, and that is where ELIB fits in, with support from World Bank-financed Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development project.  


More is yet to be done in Bangladesh. There are five million more CFLs to distribute in September, under the first phase of ELIB.  An additional 17.5 million CFLs are expected to be deployed in the next phase.  Collectively, ELIB could nearly halve the current supply-demand gap in Bangladesh’s power sector. It is doing this quickly and inexpensively – at $1 for the CFL and about $0.35 per bulb for other costs like distribution, awareness building and administration in the first phase, it would cost the Government well under $50,000 per “Negawatt” (saved MW), even without factoring in the potential carbon finance revenues. Considering that adding new power generation capacities could be 20 times more expensive and could take 5 times longer to implement, the savings are not a trivial matter.


For more information, including pictures and videos from the project, please visit



Ashok Sarkar

Senior Energy Specialist, World Bank

Suranjan Chowdhury
August 16, 2010

CFL efficiency is perhaps true in US environment. But in third world countries are CFLs the correct solution? I do not think so, mainly for two reasons (a) disposal of mercury in CFL is a problem area (b) life span of CFL, which is the saving element that every body advocates, is not applicable for third world countries, because of poor quality of power supply. Most of the time lifespan of CFL works out to be the same as that of incandescent light bulbs.

Ashok Sarkar
August 25, 2010

I agree that mercury content and performance of CFLs (vis-à-vis poor power quality of some developing country electricity grids) are important factors for consideration in large-scale deployment of CFLs. These are addressed within both the programmatic approaches, such as the one implemented in Bangladesh, and through policy-based interventions, wherein the highest level technical specifications and threshold benchmarks for CFLs such as ELI (, IEC, EST, etc are generally adopted. Please see the “CFL Toolkit”… prepared by our team earlier this year, which provides some relevant links and references about both these issues. CFLs with less than 5 mg of mercury, and with 6,000 to 10,000 hours life are becoming the norm. Similarly, on the power quality front, CFLs which can withstand wide voltage fluctuations (150-250 V), have minimum efficacy of >55 lumens/watt, have high power factor (>0.8) and entail lower harmonics are now readily available at affordable prices, as have also been used for the ELIB program in Bangladesh. One of the primary objectives of the World Bank –funded efforts in developing countries as well as similar initiatives being pursued by partner countries themselves [like - Government of India’s 400 million CFL program, "Bachat Lamp Yojana"… ] and those pursued by other organizations such as the ADB, UNEP, GEF, etc. is to introduce, create demand, and transform markets for highest quality CFLs at affordable prices. At the same time, long-term CFL’s mercury disposal and recycling options are also addressed under these initiatives, sometimes incentivized through potential carbon revenues.

Given the high energy efficiency benefits of CFLs compared to incandescent lamps, their application for mitigating electricity crisis have been pursued in many countries. As a result of the popularity and affordability of this technology, the worldwide demand for CFLs have grown rapidly . Over 3 billion CFLs were produced globally in 2009 compared to only 500 million in 2000. European Union, Australia, Canada, USA and some developing countries have actually started banning incandescent lamps altogether in favor of CFLs, through phase-out policies and mandatory regulations.

With the ongoing lighting technology revolution, it is expected that within the next 4-5 years, LED based systems – which do not entail the mercury problems at least and have longer life (and which are currently being applied cost-effectively for off-grid solutions) will start becoming viable for household lighting amongst grid-connected customers also. But, for now, it appears that CFLs outweigh both LEDs and incandescents, as a cost-effective option for widespread application of household lighting energy efficiency improvements.

Peter du Pont
April 08, 2011

Have you contacted the people at Guinness, to make this a duly recorded World Record?