BBMP plans for LED street lights, yet again. What’s different now?

FACELIFT FOR BENGALURU'S STREETLIGHTS

Sodium vapour lamps still dominate street light scene in Bengaluru. Pic: Shree D.N.

Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has proposed converting street lights to Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights many times in the last 10 years, but none of those plans were executed. Now the BBMP has come up with a new approach to making it happen.

BBMP Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad recently explained that the government would in a couple of weeks call out tenders for the work of replacing street lights with LED light bulbs. It is expected to take a couple of years for the project to be completed.

Why has there been a delay in the  plan for LED lights?

“There is no delay. This is first time that this kind of energy-saving model has been planned through which the BBMP does not have to spend a single paise,” Manjunath Prasad told Citizen Matters.

Nitty-gritty of the design and finances

The concept behind the project seems to be to implement the idea on a Design, Build, Finance, Operate model. Putting out a global tender will kick off the new year. After that, the private company that bags the project would need to build it and then share the amount of the energy that is saved. The BBMP will not invest in it.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a wing of the World Bank, will do a survey of existing lights as well as areas where they don’t exist and prepare a Detailed Project Report. It will help the BBMP in implementation of the project.

The private company that bags the project will spend and install the 4.85 lakh bulbs and get back the investment after 10 years. A lion’s share of the power dues that get saved will be taken by the company as its due.

Earlier plans

BBMP budget for 2016-17 had Rs. 23.25 crore allotted for installing energy efficient LED bulbs. About Rs 15 lakh were planned to be set aside for old wards and Rs.10 lakh for new ones. The execution, though, seemed to have happened in the budget text but did not translate into street lights.

In February 2017, BBMP Commissioner announced that “in the next 15 days, we will announce a tender to change all the existing fluorescent lights to LED bulbs. Around 5 lakh bulbs will be changed in a year’s time.” The LED project, of course, never started then.

In May 2017, it was the Mayor’s turn to declare that the LED bulbs will be installed most probably in collaboration with Philips. That too did not seem to have happened, which has probably led to the BBMP Commissioner again announcing recently that in the following year, tenders will be called out to install the 4.85 lakh LEDs.

Initial plans for LED lights

However, the once-upon-a-time LED story seems to be actually much older. The idea was seeded as far back as 2010, when the BBMP announced that it would try out a pilot project in Nagapura and Sunkenahalli Wards. But it was implemented slowly only in Nagapura ward after nine months.

In October 2015, the government had hoped to change 6 crore bulbs by January 2016. Somehow, that too did not happen. In February 2016, the BBMP did distribute a 100 LED bulbs to underprivileged sections across the wards and BESCOM sold low-priced bulbs.  Apart from that, there were few hopes and announcements but not much action from the BBMP.

Why the delay?

Why have there been so many announcements but little action? BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad says he was not aware of earlier announcements. But the new plan is an energy and money-saving idea that does not require the BBMP to spend, hence, it is novel, he clarifies.

Looking back, there seem to have been some risks associated with LED bulbs, which probably led to the delay in 2010. At the time, while the government was just toying with the idea, the Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd. installed some experimental LED lights on on Richmond Road flyover. Although the government was hopeful that it would help them to cut costs for a decade, they found that in just four months, the lights actually failed, so they had to switch back to regular lights!

Moreover, panels of solar-powered lights near K.R. Circle and Maharani’s College had been stolen, so the switch to energy-efficient technologies posed some tough problems. Unless they provide security, the LED lights may not be safe from thieves. Hence, the BBMP seemed to be ready to install LED bulbs only in parks that had some security.

The BBMP had planned a pilot project on Nagapura and Sunkenahalli wards. But the experience with the Richmond Road project made it go slow on the project.

The Central Power Research in India had said in 2010 that the LED technology was still cutting its teeth. There were no local companies manufacturing LED bulbs in the country then, so the BBMP was relying on international companies.

Current plans and action

Currently, the BBMP Commissioner explains that the energy-saving model is already running in Bhubaneswar, Odisha and Jaipur, Rajasthan, so it is keen to see the LEDs in Bengaluru streets too. The reasons for the delay is not completely clear, though.

Currently, while tenders are being floated for private companies to take up the project, the BBMP has commissioned a survey of the entire city by the International Financial Corporation (IFC), which is a sister concern of World Bank. This project is touted to be the “biggest street light project” in India. With the BBMP having installed Rs. 4.85 lakh street lights so far, the IFC survey would also try to locate areas that do not have the lights.

Multiple companies are expected to bid for the project now estimated to cost ₹560 crore, with a single LED bulb costing around ₹10,000. The IFC will assist the BBMP in the process of selecting the best and most viable bid. The main criterion would be how much the company can save. Hence, it would be the company that is chosen that will be footing the bill even for the IFC.

Unclear financials

LED lights are much more energy-efficient. An LED bulb is just the equivalent of a 60W incandescent bulb, or a 11W CFL bulb. The LED would use up just 0.006W per hour. They consume half the energy of a normal bulb and reduce the strain on the electricity grid as well as the expenses.

The company that wins the tender would need to invest in replacing more than 4.85 lakh sodium vapour street lights. Today, while the BBMP pays ₹12 crore for monthly street lights, the power bill with LED lights would work out to just ₹6 crore. For a decade, the company is expected to maintain the lights, according to the Commissioner. The maintenance on the power bill is also expected to come down to ₹10.5 crore, with an annual saving of ₹30 crore on maintenance.

Currently, the main issues for the city are lack of enough brightness and bulbs. The project is expected to be launched in the entire city, B.M. Vijay Shankar, Special Commissioner, Projects, BBMP, told Bangalore Mirror that there is also a plan to set up central control rooms at different centres that would help to replace or repair bulbs when required, in order to save time and electricity.

While the BBMP’s scheme sounds big, some aspects are not clear. If the firm puts in the investment of 560 Crore, how is BBMP planning to share the amount budgeted for streetlight expenses, with the firm? Because the firm is supposed to save money from lower power consumption and lower maintenance cost. One has to wait for the tender for more clarity on the financials.

About Revathi Siva Kumar 16 Articles
Revathi Siva Kumar is a freelance writer based in Bengaluru.

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