From Carbon to Light: A New Framework for Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reducitons from Replacing Fuel-Based Lighting with LED Systems.

Publication Type

Journal Article


There is considerable well-intended, yet wishful anticipation about reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fuel-based lighting in the developing world with grid-independent light-emitting diode (LED) lighting systems. Most estimates gloss over important practical realities that stand to erode a genuinely significant potential. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is the leading system for quantifying the benefits of such projects in developing countries and embodying them in a market-based platform for trading carbon credits. However, compliance with methodologies for highly decentralized, small-scale energy saving projects currently employed in the CDM is viewed by developers of as onerous, time-consuming, and costly. In recognition of the problem, the CDM has recently placed priority on improved methodologies for estimating carbon dioxide reductions from displacement of fuel-based lighting with energy-efficient alternatives. The over-arching aim is to maintain environmental integrity without stifling sustainable emission-reduction projects and programs in the field. This article informs this process by laying out a new framework that shifts the analytical focus from highly costly yet narrow and uncertain baseline estimations to simplified methods based primarily on deemed values that focus on replacement lighting system quality and performance characteristics. The result—many elements of which have been adopted in a new methodology approved by the CDM—is more structured and rigorous than methodologies used for LED projects in the past and yet simpler to implement, i.e., entailing fewer transaction costs. Applying this new framework, we find that some off-grid lighting technologies can be expected to yield little or no emissions reductions, while well-designed ones, using products independently certified to have high quality and durability, can generate significant reductions. Enfolding quality assurance within the proposed framework will help stem “market spoiling” currently underway in the developing world—caused by the introduction of substandard off-grid lighting products—thereby ensuring carbon reduction additionality (emissions reductions that would have not occurred in the absence of the CDM program).


Energy Efficiency

Year of Publication