India CFL Study

March 10, 2007
March/April 2007
A version of this article appears in the March/April 2007 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) combine the energy efficiency of fluorescent lighting with the convenience and popularity of incandescent fixtures. CFLs can replace incandescents that are roughly 3–4 times their wattage, saving up to 75% of the lighting energy. CFLs are most cost-effective and efficient in areas where lights are on for long periods of time. Because CFLs do not need to be changed often, they are ideal for hard-to-reach areas.

CFLs are available worldwide, but some barriers must be overcome before CFLs can increase their share of the residential-lighting market. A large barrier to increased market share is cost. On average, a CFL costs 10 times more than an incandescent bulb. Another large barrier that remains to be overcome is a wide variation in the quality of CFLs.

India’s Consumer VOICE magazine (which is similar to Consumer Reports) recently ran some tests to address these barriers. We hope that our results will be helpful to readers of Home Energy. This was the first time that Indian CFLs have been tested by an independent organization in India. Consumer VOICE based the tests not just on Indian, but also on U.S. certification standards. The tests were carried out at an independent laboratory accredited by the Indian government’s National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL), according to NABL standards. We tested a variety of bulb features, including lumen output and maintenance, time to start-up, and lifetime.

In contrast to our usual practice of testing one sample per brand, we tested up to 25 samples of each brand to ensure that the test findings were completely accurate. In the crucial lifetime test, Consumer VOICE tested 10 samples of each brand for a period of up to 3,000 hours to find out how long the CFLs actually last.

Which CFLs Shine?

The results of our tests are shown in Table 1. Overall, only one brand scored high enough that we rated it as a very good value for the money.   That brand was Philips. Wipro’s maximum retail price is higher than that of Philips, but Wipro does not match the performance either of Philips, or of Halonix, GE, or Havell’s, all of which cost less.

Is the high cost of a CFL compared to an incandescent justified in terms of the number of hours the CFL lasts? It most certainly is if the CFL lasts as long as it’s supposed to last.  While U.S. standards require CFLs to last 10,000 hours, Indian standards require a CFL to last 6,000 hours. Yet many Indian brands fail to do so. Brands that were rated highest because all ten samples lasted 3,000 hours were Philips, Orpat, Osram, GE, and Halonix. At the other end of the spectrum, 50% or more of the samples from Crompton Greaves, Bajaj, Surya, and Cema failed to clock in 3,000 hours.
The quality of a CFL is largely determined by its lamp efficacy, or the number of lumens emitted by the lamp, per watt of energy. The higher the value, the better the performance. Havell’s, the Indian brand that otherwise stands fourth in the overall rating, topped the lamp efficacy test, followed closely by Philips.

A CFL certainly brings down the electricity bills because it emits more light using less watts of energy. However, how much light does a CFL lose as its hours of operation increase? In simple terms, the light emitted (in lumens) decreases as the CFL ages. National standards specify that after 2,000 hours of operation, a CFL should maintain at least 85% of its initial lumens. Out of the ten samples of Philips CFL that Consumer VOICE tested for this parameter, all gave sterling performance with none falling below the minimum specified levels. Wipro, Crompton Greaves, and Orpat disappointed with their performance. The pits, however, were the cheaper brands—Angelo and Leuci—which did not maintain 85% of their initial lumens after 2,000 hours of operation.

If a CFL is labeled as having a certain wattage, it is natural for consumers to assume that the label is accurate. —Not necessarily; some brands flout national standards in this respect. The Indian standards allow brands a leeway of 15% above and 10% below the wattage claimed on the label. Consumer VOICE tested 13 to 15 samples of each brand and then derived a mean for their performance. We found samples of all brands except GE and Cema that exceeded these limits. Leuci and Angelo once again bottomed out, with all their samples flouting the standards.

The Best Buys

If you are looking for the best of the best in the Indian CFL market, and if price is not a consideration for you, go for Philips by all means. This CFL has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of approximately $5 (235 rupees) and with a little persuasion and bargaining, the price can be brought down to about $3.50 (160 rupees). (In November 2006, the U.S. dollar was worth approximately 45 Indian rupees. You know you are no longer in a North American market when people begin bargaining over prices at the local hardware store!) The main parameter in which Philips scores over all other brands is that it consistently lasts for at least 3,000 hours. Another advantage of this brand is that even after 2,000 hours of operation, it maintains its lumens above 90%.

For the price-conscious consumer, Halonix can be considered an intelligent buy. MSRP is approximately $3.30, or 150 rupees; competitive price is approximately $2.20, or 100 rupees. For each Halonix CFL that you buy, you save more than $1 on initial cost, compared to the Philips CFL. Philips comes out top in performance, but Halonix makes up for it by positioning itself as a very cost-effective lamp.

A Maturing Industry

When Consumer VOICE purchased samples of CFLs for testing in 2005, we included samples of the 14 brands with a sizable share in the Indian market. Since that time, the market has increased to around 30 brands. The total production capacity of the eight leading manufacturers is 10 million units per month. Havell’s leads the way, with production capacity of 3 million units per month.

And there are signs that the Indian lighting industry is ready for some improved national standards. The Federation of Industries of India has urged the Department of Consumer Affairs to make the Indian Standards Institute (ISI) mark mandatory for CFLs. The industry has also urged the government to ban the importation of cheap Chinese CFLs, and to remove CFLs from the zero-duty list under the Indo-Srilankan Free Trade Agreement.

There are other positive signs. The Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), as of this writing, will began to promote the BEE label for CFLs in February 2007, and in the next two years, the BEE label for CFLs is slated to become mandatory. This means that no CFL brand will be able to enter the market   unless it bears that label. Consumer VOICE has shared its CFL test findings with the BEE, and the BEE has stated that the labeling standards should include such parameters as power factor, life efficacy, and 9,000-hour lifetime.  Consumer VOICE supports this stand.

Founded in 1992, the U.S. Energy Star program promotes what is perhaps the most successful energy efficiency label—one that has  helped American consumers save $12 billion on their electricity bills. Energy Star products are available in more than 40 categories. Halonix, a CFL manufactured in Dehradun, is the only brand among the 14 Indian brands tested that carries an Energy Star label. In India, where even an ISI label is hard to come by in CFLs, it comes as a pleasant surprise to see a brand that conforms to the popular Energy Star standards.

Energy Star claims that if every household in the United States replaced one lightbulb with an Energy Star-qualified CFL, it would prevent enough pollution to equal removing 1 million cars from the road. Imagine the effect of that simple retrofit in India.

—Roopa Vajpeyi
Roopa Vajpeyi is the editor of Consumer VOICE.


For more information:
To find up-to-date information about home appliance energy use in India, visit the Consumer VOICE Web site at www.consumer-voice.org.
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