Business Today

'Led'ing the way

iGATE has shown the world that LED lighting can be used to illuminate office space. Others are beginning to follow suit.

Nitya Varadarajan | Print Edition: October 18, 2009

The idea first came to him while he was watching television at home. Phaneesh Murthy, CEO, iGATE Corporation, noticed that LED TVs had brighter and whiter light but consumed less energy. This thought led him down a path to do something that probably no one else in the world has dared—use light emitting diodes (LED) to light the office space and conserve energy. Once convinced it was possible, Murthy moved quickly and invested Rs 37 lakh to light 57,000 sq. ft of office space at iGATE’s new development centre inside the DLF SEZ at Manapakkam, Chennai. The benefit: reduction in carbon emission by 78 tonnes annually!

Though LED has been used to backlight flat televisions, digital advertising hoardings, street/passage lightings and in basement car parks, it has not yet been considered for office lighting on a global scale. Says Ashok Shah, Chief Technology Officer, Illumitron International Inc., which engineers LED solutions: “At best…there are a few office floors in Korea and Japan which are LED-lit but none the size of iGATE.’’

“When technology has come into the living room, I thought that we should implement it as part of our Project Green, in our offices,” says Murthy. “After all, we complain so much about lack of power, but we lack the determination to do our bit to bring down power consumption.”

Teething Problems
Being a first mover, Murthy did face many challenges. “We experimented on the solution for one year. We put up some panels, evaluated the effect. There were many failures and delays. At times I had misgivings on account of the time the experimentation was taking. The international environment and Indian environment are completely different. Problems crop up because of voltage cycles and even dust,’’ explains Murthy. But the delays did not deter him. “I made it clear that there would be no pulling out of the project at any cost and that LED would have to be implemented,” he says, underscoring the importance of the top management’s involvement in such initiatives.

The lighting project is not the only way that Murthy will reduce his company’s carbon footprint. Air-conditioners account for about 50 per cent of power consumption in iGATE offices, so the company has connected employees’ entry cards to the cooling system. The cards “activate the air-conditioners only in the sector they work and only after they walk in”, he says. “LED usage will help optimise this as the light is ‘cool’ and dissipates lesser heat.” While AC requirements are down by 11 to 12 per cent, the load will come down further because of LED by 4-5 per cent.

While LED is environmentally beneficial, it’s also costly (especially up front). Typically, a 15-watt LED tubelight can replace the 4-ft. 40-watt tubelight, but a LED tubelight would cost Rs 2,000-3,000 against Rs 50-100 for the ordinary one. However, prices are bound to move southwards soon as LED production has been given a major fillip in countries such as Taiwan, USA and Japan. About two years down the line, prices would be far more affordable with economies of scale, says Kumar Ramachandran, CEO, Vignani Technologies, which implemented the LED lighting at iGATE’s Chennai facility.

Experts say that LED may not be the best bet for retrofits, owing to capital costs incurred for the original fixture and again for the replacement, unless a company is bent on growing green. Murthy says his company will watch how the LED systems work for 3-6 months then retrofit its existing facilities—Bangalore (4,60,000 sq. ft), Hyderabad (1,00,000 sq. ft), Chennai (50,000 sq. ft), and Noida (70,000 sq. ft). The overall cost is likely to be around Rs 3.5 crore.

Another problem with LED technology is its highly pointed nature of lighting. Explains C.B. Raghunandan, GM (Operations), Wipro: “One is not all that comfortable while reading or working under an LED lamp. Just below the lamp the lumination is good but a few feet away the light is bad. It has to be effectively diffused.’’ But not many in the world have the required technology to make sure the lighting works well in an office setting. “LED is not a light that can just replace another light—it is a technology by itself, which is evolving and needs to be perfected over time,’’ says Ramachandran.

Increasing Viability
LED lighting is expensive up front, but in the long-term, Murthy and others like him anticipate a real financial payback apart from the environmental impact. iGATE is expecting a payback in just 30 months. It is using just 17 kilowatts to light the entire facility as against 57 kilowatts required for either CFL or tubelighting. According to Ramachandran, “For a 2,000-fixture LED-lit facility (like that of iGATE in Chennai) working 72 hours a week, the energy savings a year would be Rs 25 lakh and even considering an incremental initial cost, the payback period is 2.5 years.’’

The LED lights also last longer than CFL or tubelighting, according to Wipro’s Raghunandan: “The life of an LED lamp is 5 years, and 2-3 years more than a conventional lamp.” In the future, companies won’t have to spend so much money replacing lamps as they do with traditional lighting, and Raghunandan predicts that prices will fall as the technology develops.

Others are indeed taking to LED lighting slowly but steadily. Set up last year, Wipro’s Eco Energy Division, which offers holistic lighting solutions, already serves more than half a dozen clients. Wipro, which so far has used LED lighting only in the garden and basement at a few of its campuses, plans to use it extensively at upcoming and future software centres. Others like IIT Madras’ IC&SR building had its CFL passage light replaced with LED apart from its sodium vapour street lamps. Velan Hospital at Karur in Tamil Nadu is also going for an LED lighting solution for 10,000 sq. ft of space.

Murthy is also moving this technology forward into iGATE’s future spaces. He is all set to inaugurate a new development facility in Bangalore next month complete with LED lighting (inside, outside and basement). In fact, the facility will be one notch greener than Chennai as its 2,10,000 sq. ft of underground parking and 1,14,000 sq. ft of working area will not only be lit by LED lights but also powered by solar energy.

With inputs from K.R. Balasubramanyam

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