Faceless mannequins gaze out of showrooms, enjoying the spotlights. They’re also killing the environment.

By keeping lights on all night Bengalurus high-end stores are affecting the environmentImage for representation.
Voices Opinion Sunday, May 28, 2017 - 13:21

It’s 11pm. A typical night in Bengaluru. After meeting with friends, one wanders out of a pub and into the streets, bathed in incandescent glory that cascades down the buildings. As one drives past Indiranagar 100 feet Road, Nike, Adidas, Blackberry, Allen Solly stores, one after the other whizz by.

While drowning in the hallucinogen that is capitalism one can’t help but notice that the stores are desolate, but the lights inside are on. Bengaluru, the IT capital of India, is alight but the teeming workers are long gone. Faceless mannequins gaze out of showrooms, enjoying the spotlights.

A drive post 10pm around the city’s busiest localities, such as the shopping districts of Indiranagar and prominent office areas such as Whitefield and Marathahalli, reveals a strange and recent urban phenomenon. Perhaps emulating the west, most offices and commercial spaces leave their lights on well past business hours, even after the shutters are drawn. The city never sleeps they say. In this age of alarming depletion of natural resources and need for energy conservation, doesn’t this unwarranted usage of energy smack of environmental irresponsibility?

‘Keep your lights on’ is a figurative way to say, ‘keep your business afloat.’ It’s often a tool of marketing or visual merchandising where one hopes that even after business hours are done, passers-by lured by the mannequins or products on display would visit the store next day, presumably to purchase. While marketing is the most common reason for keeping lights on, some showrooms also use it as deterrent for crime since burglaries are less likely to happen in a lighted area.

Bengaluru’s IT capital status and the 24-hour economy means that a lot of companies work according to US or UK timings that necessitates the use of power through the night. Also, several new age companies that offer flexible timings leave their lights on to encourage and help employees who come to work at hours convenient to them, which may include late nights. While some offices claim the lights are left on for the janitorial staff to perform their duties, offices that are part of larger parks or work campuses point out that the control of electricity is operated centrally and that they don’t have the choice of turning off or saving electricity. At the expense of development are our environmental costs escalating?

The main sources of power in the Karnataka are thermal and hydel, followed by alternate sources such as solar and wind. Bengaluru gets its supply largely through thermal power (mostly coal, gas and diesel and sometimes nuclear), which is generated from the various power stations in the state and from centrally owned CGS or Central Generating Stations that are distributed across the country, such as Neyveli Lignite Corporation in Tamil Nadu and Kaiga Atomic Station in North Karnataka.  

Each CGS provides 1000 MW to the state it’s located in.

The other source is NCEP (Non-Conventional Energy Project) that uses wind, solar, and biomass to generate power.

Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) is the state agency that is in charge of procuring power from different stations, including from other states if need be. Another state agency, Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited (KTPCL), then transmits the power to the different ESCOMs.

Typically, Bengaluru is allotted an average of 2000 MW per day, and uses up 45 million unit of power, while the rest of the state gets 6000 MW, consuming 140 million. Bengaluru consumes 1/3rd of the electricity of the state.

Though BESCOM (Bangalore Electricity Supply Company) is allotted 2000 MW per day for the city, most often, the demand exceeds supply by at least 300-600 MW. And following the supposed directions from the government to provide 24-hour supply to the city, BESCOM draws more from the grid.

In Bengaluru, BESCOM provides electricity in two slabs, one for domestic use (residents) and the other for commercial. Commercial spaces may further come under another category called LT users (lower tension, tension being a French word for voltage) that are used by small shops and businesses, and HT (high tension) used by organisations that require high inputs of power such as film studios and big offices.

Of late, gated communities and multi- storied residential complexes have come under HT category.

On April 11, the KERC (Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Committee) announced an 8% increase in tariff, resulting in an average hike in tariff of around Rs 1.48 per unit. As per the new guidelines, one unit (1000 KW) of power for commercial purposes costs Rs 5 for the first 50 units and 7.15 onward for the next 50.

A casual stroll around the city reveals that a showroom, on a minimum, leaves around 6-10 spotlights on during the night. Assuming that the store shuts at 10pm, and opens at 10am the next day, the lights are left on for 12 hours.

A typical spotlight used by a store is a halogen lamp that is available in different wattages, ranging from 3, 5, 8,12, 17, 35, 80 watts etc.

An 80 watts light, used for 12 hour for will consume 960 watt. One unit of electricity is 1000 KW.  Hence one light bulb consumes 0.96 units for the night. In monetary terms, this translates into Rs 6.86 per lamp. Thereby, if the store leaves 6 spotlights on through the night, the total cost would be Rs 41 per day. Subsequently, the monthly expenditure for keeping the lights on through the night would hover around Rs 1235.

While the monetary expense of leaving the lights on may not be a big concern for showrooms or corporates, the environmental costs are a cause for concern.

Environmental experts peg the carbon dioxide emission factor (amount of CO2 released per unit of electricity) for electricity to be around 0.527 kg per unit. Therefore a single store that leaves its 6 spotlights on through the night emits around 3.12 kgs of CO2 everyday. Imagine the number of shops around the city and their respective CO2 emissions. The numbers are staggering.

Unless one is a Trump supporter and strongly believes that global warming is hoax, these numbers are worrying and question our responsibility towards the environment.

Also, when the electricity demand of the city increases and BESCOM is forced to draw more from the grid to feed the city, the rural areas may have to face the brunt.

Most rural areas never have continuous or uninterrupted power supply, with daily power cuts ranging around 4 hours minimum. Though government officials promise that rural power supply is not being compromised for the city, with the rampant shortage of power all through the country especially during summer, the electricity board maybe forced to distribute power unequally.

Solutions include shifting to motion-sensor lights (to discourage criminal activity) and LED lamps that consume less electricity. But the larger question is: Do we want a city that depletes energy on a gigantic scale and contributes to heavy light pollution? Do we need advertising at the cost of our rural population?

Do we really need a city that never sleeps?

Views expressed are the author's own.

Main image by Versesalmio (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.