From Carbon to Light

A New Framework for Estimating Greenhouse-Gas Reductions
from Replacing Fuel-based Lighting with LED Systems


Prepared for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Small Scale Working Group Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board


Evan Mills, Ph.D.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, USA

Lumina Project Technical Report #8

April 9, 2010

Full Report (13MB) [PDF] • Low-Res version (3MB) [PDF]

Journal Version, with Arne Jacobson [PDF]


Official UNFCCC CDM Methodology based on this report



Executive Summary

There is massive need for improved lighting services in the developing world. Current efforts to provide those services involve the use of highly inefficient liquid and solid fuel combustion, which results in substantial greenhouse-gas emissions as well as other adverse impacts such as compromised indoor air quality. Grid-independent lighting systems based on light-emitting-diode light sources (LEDs) are the most promising alternative for simultaneously improving lighting services and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Developers of projects to promote this technology seek to monetize the carbon emissions reductions that are achieved. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) offers the best available system for doing this, but the current requirements are highly onerous and do not consider a number of important determinants of project success and impact. This is one reason that CDM has scarcely been applied to date for small-scale technologies.

A more accurate and effective CDM methodology can eliminate the need for costly field investigations by relying instead on certain deemed baseline parameters combined with consistent adjustments based on more readily available market data and quality assessment of the incoming LED technologies. These adjustments manifest largely with respect to effective product lifetime and thus its cumulative emissions reductions, and can lead to much more robust and internally consistent estimates of carbon savings than is the case at present with divergent methods designed by project developers.

Aside from its traditional role of directing capital from wealthy countries toward highly cost-effective carbon-reduction projects in the developing world, in the case of off-grid lighting systems the CDM can play a highly meaningful role in promoting improvements in the quality of products offered to the marketplace thereby stemming the growing problem of market-spoiling. The logical outcome would be significantly higher uptake and end-user satisfaction with improved lighting systems than could occur through sole reliance on existing imperfect market forces.


Acknowledgments: This report was prepared at the request of The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Small Scale Working Group of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board. This work was funded by The Rosenfeld Fund of the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, through the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231. Art Rosenfeld has been a key supporter of this work. This project benefitted from valuable collaborations with Arne Jacobson, Peter Ahlstone, Kristen Radecsky, Jennifer Tracy, and Dustin Poppendieck at Humboldt State University; Jessica Granderson, Jim Galvin, and Francis Rubinstein at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Maina Mumbi and Francis Ngugi in Kenya. Mark Wilson provided editorial assistance. Cover photos: Evan Mills (left), NASA (center), and The Economist (right). Other photos by Evan Mills unless otherwise noted. Dedicated to Roy Mills on his 80th Birthday.