CDM rewards high-quality off-grid lighting products

By Evan Mills, Ph.D.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Few project developers have bothered to qualify their LED lighting programs for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The requirements have been too onerous for companies, while in the eyes of researchers they have failed to address many important realities about LED lighting.

Informed by a Lumina Project study conducted for the CDM Executive Board, the CDM recently released a new approved methodology for small-scale CDM project activities: Substituting fossil fuel based lighting with LED lighting systems.

The guidance from Lumina, and incorporated by the CDM, was to provide a method better suited to LED projects. The method would also need to trim the time and cost of qualifying a project and documenting the carbon savings; require performance disclosure and embed new criteria for minimum product quality; and reward products that exceed these minimums. In most cases, independent testing is required to demonstrate performance.

The key shift from the old method is to allow for baseline assumptions about kerosene use, and shift the focus to the type and performance of the LED replacement. The method requires disclosure of various LED system performance parameters (such as lamp wattage, lamp-rated lifetime, charging system capacity, type of charge controller, type of battery, operating time per full battery charge, charging time, indicators of ruggedness). It also accommodates grid-charging scenarios and requires a minimum one-year warranty.

The method requires embedded LED lamps to have a manufacturer-certified minimum lifetime of 5,000 hours, including lumen depreciation of no more than 30 percent. It also requires manufacturer-certified battery charging efficiency of 50 percent or more, minimum illuminance levels of 20 lux for task lighting and 4 lux for ambient lighting. It requires a renewable charging system and battery size to be properly matched. Batteries must be rechargeable and replaceable, and availability of replacement batteries documented. Also, in the spirit of requiring and rewarding product quality, the method requires dust and water tightness of IP41 per standard IEC 60529.  It is expected that these assumptions will be more fully harmonized with Lighting Africa performance criteria.

The new method is a testament to work that has been done previously by Lighting Africa. The programs  market research helped to support assumptions about off-grid lighting usage. Crucially, requirements for demonstrating product quality are indexed to Lighting Africa’s protocols.  This is reinforced through a default product lifetime of only two years. If manufacturers can document that they have more durable products, then the lifetime can be extended up to seven years. This approach avoids giving excessive (unjustified) carbon credits to low-quality products, while rewarding manufacturers who produce better products.

Based on the minimum performance criteria specified in the new approved methodology, the deemed savings would be 0.16 tons of carbon dioxide per lamp (over a two-year deemed service life), worth $3/lamp at today’s carbon prices. Alternate values for many factors can be used if adequately justified by the project developer, which could significantly raise the level of emissions avoided.

The CDM routinely updates these methodologies and welcomes input from manufacturers and other interested parties on how to improve the method.