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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

Lights out

By Chandra Mohan - Syndicate Features

People in India, long used to long and frequent power cuts, are probably surprised and amused when an outage hits the headlines in Europe as it did on November 4 when many West European countries like Italy, Spain, Belgium, France and Germany, were plunged into darkness--for nearly two hours. The central heating system stopped functioning and high-speed rail traffic came to a halt. In Delhi, the capital of the rising India, a two-hour power cut will probably not find even a mention in the next day’s newspapers, no matter how extensively it affects life, and, as for any suspension of rail traffic, well, that makes news when it lasts 12 hours or more.

That is because people in India (Delhi included) are used to putting up with poor services. At best they make a noise—often at the instance of a political party--about it and then forget it. ‘Bijli’ along with ‘sadak’ and ‘paani’ was an election issue in a central Indian state that saw the incumbent government thrown out for its poor record in providing these facilities. Things are back to ‘normal’ (same shortage and inadequacies) in that state despite a regime change. Not so in Europe where people expect service when they pay for it. A power failure is still a rare occurrence in developed countries and if it occurs in winter, it is certainly page-one news.

However, the November 4 outage, which began with the failure of two high voltage transmission lines in Germany and spread to many other countries in the continental Europe that included ‘gay Paris’, also brings alive certain related issues like efforts to contain ‘light pollution’ and new measures to cut down light energy wastage.

Most Indians may find it difficult to believe that there can be a ‘light pollution’ when the country faces such a great shortage of electricity throughout the year. Scientists say that badly designed lights have an adverse affect on both environment and health while also restricting visibility to the beauty of the night sky.

But ‘light pollution’ does exist in India, along with a plethora of other types of pollutions which are tolerated in everyday life by the stoic Indians. It may also surprise many in this country who know that pollution laws are observed only in breach that there are countries like the Czech Republic, Italy and Chile which have laws against light pollution. Italy dims the streetlights after midnight and these cut down the municipality’s electricity bill by almost 40 per cent.

One light related law that most Indians in urban areas might know but are most reluctant to honour is the restriction on the use of the beam light in motor vehicles. Will it be an exaggeration to say that Indians are no strangers to wastage and misuse of electricity? If no, include electricity theft to that list!

The only reason why Indians are not too despondent about erratic electricity supply may be that unless it has been an exceptionally extended hour of darkness, most streetlights as well as homes, offices and shopping centres, do manage to dazzle---just enough to drown the twinkling of stars. it is ‘light pollution’ when one cannot see the ‘landscape’ above as much of the artificial light produced on Earth moves towards the empty space above. It is wastage when the artificial light reaches a space where it is not needed or wanted.

Scientists and environmentalists see this—artificial light travelling to unintended direction--as wastage. Half the light bulbs in the world are still of the conventional incandescent type which have filament inside. This kind of conventional lighting equipment throws a lot of light beyond the area or the building it is intended for—into the sky.

Only about 5 per cent of the energy these bulbs use is converted into light; the rest is wasted. It is estimated that lighting appliances consume 19 per cent of all electricity produced. The International Energy Agency sees a growth of around 80 per cent in energy needs for lighting before 2030. This can be checked only with serious efficiency efforts.

New scientific advances make it possible to achieve more efficiency to get the same service from lesser energy. One of the better-known advances in lighting technology is the light-emitting diodes (LEDs) which are small and can be put into optical systems to direct the light. The LEDs can be placed in efficient optical systems to significantly reduce wastage of light. Some estimates suggest that 50 per cent of the light that is wasted at present can be thus saved.

The LED devices may be costly at the moment but scientists say they will become economically attractive within two years by when conventional light bulbs may become obsolete, at least in the advanced countries. In the US, the price of LED devices that seek to replace the conventional bulb has been rapidly falling. Consumers will surely be drawn to these energy saving devices which can last 100000 hours or more.

One of the problems of light pollution is that a lot of electricity in the world continues to come from coal-fired power stations, which considerably add to pollution of air. It is believed that global carbon emissions from these power stations can be cut by 28 million tonnes a year—equal to 50 million barrels of oil.

There are easier ways to avoid wastage of light that is produced on Earth, by being more selective in using the daylight. It requires turning off the lights when not needed—in offices and homes—as well as using the technology that automatically dims the artificial lighting systems with the rise of daylight levels.

One of the new technologies is the ‘occupancy sensor’ that turns off the lights when people have left a particular place. A well-known lighting company in the West is promoting an automated lighting control system which turns on and off the lights depending on whether people are around or have left. Such a device can lead to a saving of up to 50 per cent.

It may be that light pollution is contained in the near future. Indians would still be debating the more fundamental issue: are we going to generate enough electricity to meet the needs of all consumers before we think of ways to check light pollution.

- Syndicate Features -

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