An Indian woman dries cow dung cakes for use as cooking fuel in Phoolpur village, about 45 kilometers east of Allahabad, India, June 8, 2008.
"The Status of Rural Energy Access in India: A Synthesis"
Discussion Paper 2010-09, Energy Technology Innovation Policy Project, Belfer Center
Author: Balachandra Patil, Former Research Fellow, Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program/Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, 2009–2010
India is facing a formidable challenge as it works to ensure the availability of a reliable source of modern energy carriers to the majority of its rural population. In 2005, in a rural population of about 809 million, approximately 364 million were without access to electricity and approximately 726 million were using biomass for cooking. These figures reflect the failure of various policies and programs implemented by the government over a period of time. The data also suggests that it is time for India to adopt a more radical approach if it is to bridge this energy access gap. However, before the government can address this challenge, it is essential that it gain a deeper insight into the prevailing status of energy access in India. This knowledge will enable the design of targeted policies, programs, and institutional mechanisms. As a contribution to this knowledge, we present a detailed analysis of the temporal and regional dynamics of the rural energy access situation in India. The results indicate that the energy deprivations are highest for the households belonging to the poorest strata with 93% of them depending on biomass for cooking and 62% living without access to electricity. For the high income rural households, these levels were 54% and 18% for cooking and electricity access respectively. The past trends suggest that the annual rate of expansion is gradually declining over the years. Growth rates in cooking access levels came down from a very high rate of 16.4% during pre-1991 period to just 3.8% in the post-2001 period and that for household electrification, declined from 9.7% to 4.3% during the same period. Regional variations indicate that the differences in achievements of the top five and the bottom five states are starkly contrasting. The five states with highest cooking energy access level have been categorized as "successful states" and the remaining five states with low access level as "failure states." On an average, the cooking access levels were 5.3 times higher in successful states compared to failure states whereas this ratio was 3.4 for electricity access.
India's energy crisis is defined by the fact that the major share of its rural population is energy poor. Energy poverty, indicated by the lack of access to modern energy services, is a direct outcome of income poverty. The poor cannot afford to pay for the services of the modern energy carriers and they live in sub-standard buildings/houses, which are unfit to be connected to the modern energy systems. Similarly, any poor nation will be constrained by inadequate access to both energy and financial resources, and therefore will be unable to build an adequate infrastructure that would facilitate connectivity to modern energy carriers. Thus, "un-affordability" due to poverty and "inaccessibility" due to inadequate infrastructure are the root causes of the lack of access to modern energy. This lack of energy access has major implications for economic development, livelihoods, social dignity, and environmental sustainability, while access to energy has strong links with poverty reduction through income, health, education, gender, and the environment (Saghir, 2005). It is a vicious cycle of linked events, one leading to another and finally getting back to the original positions of "poor individual" and "poor country." The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) millennium development goals (MDGs) reflect the desires of the suffering humanity. Thus, it would not be an exaggeration to state that expanding energy access is at the core of achieving MDGs. Many of the stakeholders, including national governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have recognized these linkages as well as the need for expanding energy access. However, both experience and research suggest that the gap between the recognition of the need for expanding energy access and the action toward achieving energy access for all is very wide and ever expanding. The issues of energy access are only treated superficially in national and international development plans (UNDP, 2007). Partially, this is because energy governance is always biased towards "supply-side" and suggested solutions always revolve around "hardware" aspects. The "demand-side" aspects of energy have always been neglected. Energy service for sustainable development has never been the focus of energy planning. The focus of the energy sector is usually on expanding electricity generation and oil refinery capacities, on transmission and distribution lines, and on maintaining a steady supply of fossil fuels.
India is facing a formidable challenge as it works to ensure the availability of a reliable source of modern energy carriers to the large majority of its predominantly rural, population. The findings of the National Sample Survey (NSSO, 2007) indicate that although 74% of the Indian villages were electrified as of 2005; only 54.9% of the households had access to electricity and the remaining depended on kerosene lamps for lighting. With respect to access to modern fuels for cooking, in 2005, only 9% of the rural households had access to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and about 84% were still depending on biomass for their cooking energy needs, with only 1.3% having access to kerosene. Thus, bridging the access gap in modern energy services for cooking and lighting is a major challenge for India. However, before the government can address this challenge, it is essential that it gain a deeper insight into the prevailing status of energy access in India. This knowledge will enable the design of targeted policies, programs, and institutional mechanisms. Keeping this in mind, in the present paper, we have presented a detailed analysis of the temporal and regional dynamics of rural energy access situation in India.
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