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

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CFL bulbIf 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.


They 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.  


ImageBut 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


Originally featured on the Development in a Changing Climate Blog. A big thanks!



Ashok Sarkar

Senior Energy Specialist, World Bank

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