Energy Access in India
8th Nov, 2021
In August 2021, India achieved the milestone of installing 100 GW of renewable energy generation capacity. However, India’s clean energy transition must engage beyond greenhouse gas emissions and gigawatt targets to ensure a nurturing and equitable future for its people and the planet.
Therefore, it’s important to analyze the current scenario of ‘energy’ in India.
The energy framework
- Energy is essential in raising standards of living and enhancing development.
- It is imperative in promoting and saving lives — in situations of intense heat, for instance, access to air cooling systems is imperative.
- Energy access is also required to improve worker productivity.
- According to the World Bank estimates, 750 million people live without adequate access to basic electricity and live with energy poverty. The majority of them are from low and middle-income countries.
- On the other hand, the rich countries easily avail relative energy affluence in energy usage. This draws attention towards the energy crisis the world is facing today and the need for reducing energy poverty.
What are energy equity and energy poverty?
- Energy inequality leads to lower living standards, which hurts the poor acutely. There are a couple of dimensions to this.
- The first is inequality within the energy systems, manifest in underprivileged people who don’t have access to energy like electricity.
- The second, at a worldwide level, there exists a global energy inequality, with wealthier countries consuming extra energy, per capita and in absolute terms, compared to poorer countries.
- Note: In 2019-20, India’sper capita electricity consumption was at 1208 kWh.
- If a section of people has a lack of access to sustainable modern energy services and products, then the World Economic Forumterms the condition as energy poverty.
What is the link between energy access and the poverty cycle?
- Energy access is requisite for poverty mitigation. Energy inequity traps poor people in the vicious cycle of poverty. Inequality in energy access undermines economic activity and efforts to lift people out of poverty.
- There are circumstances where poor people spend more of their incomes on energy than affluent families — at times, the poor spend more per unit of energy than wealthier people. For example,
- energy transferred through a grid is less costly than using batteries to power appliances.
- Poor people also usually have older vehicles that are less fuel-efficient. So, they use extra fuel to travel the same distance as others.
- Thus, the poverty-stricken people spend more on energy and can’t save or invest in other major areas.
- Moreover, energy inequality spins out cycles of poverty — the UN finds worldwide, women pay the heaviest price for energy poverty. For example, Girls in households depending on unclean fuels lose up to 30 hours each week gathering wood or water — this impacts their education and livelihoods.
- This is why access to affordable, inclusive, and clean energy is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).
How does energy access improve standards of life?
- Energy is the bedrock humans need to achieve their potential through education and economic productivity.
- Consistent energy availability shores up essential social services, including life-saving healthcare.
- Energy access makes people demand the right to electricity. The electricity connection is the first step that leads to the use of appliances and services associated with electricity like TVs, electric cookers, refrigerators, mobile phones, etc.
- State regulations significantly shape energy access.
- There are regulations in many countries which stipulate one needs to be a house owner to have an electricity connection. Now, in many such countries, people tend to own houses.
How does the pandemic highlight the importance of energy access?
- The World Bank finds that the Covid-19 pandemic’s harsh impacts have made basic electricity unaffordable for 30 million more people worldwide.
- The pandemic has also had an impact on poor sections of people living in developed countries.
- For example, even in the US, poorer communities suffered more because of working conditions that exposed them to the virus. The poor couldn’t stay at home, working on their computers remotely. Lacking energy access, they had to go out to earn their livelihoods.
- In many countries, the poor received inadequate healthcare, due to lack of quality energy and associated power outages, etc.
What are the challenges India faces in ensuring energy equity?
- Policy Uncertainty is bad for Economy: The section on legal systems and contract enforcement in the Economic Survey 2018–2019 emphasized the importance of policy certainty for the enforcement of contracts and the rule of law. The value of the certainty of contracts and the importance of consistency and stability in rules and policy cannot be overstated in the energy sector in India.
- Heavy dependence on fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas are the most important primary energy sources in India. But due to inadequate domestic supplies, India is importing them, which will limit India’s ability to provide energy access.
Important Government Schemes to enable universal energy access
- Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY)
- Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY)
- Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana or Saubhagya scheme
- Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana
What can India do to provide energy access?
- Focus on basic energy access: The government has to find the energy gap and keep the focus on efforts to resolve it. For that, India needs to prioritize basic energy access, from electricity to cooking technologies, etc., for the extremely poor. Alongside, developing countries need to broaden energy access for businesses and the middle class.
- Better planning: In 2018, India reported around 35.2% of its population of 1.38 billion people live in slums. India will see a massive urban housing construction in the next ten years at a scale no other country has seen.
- India has to plan the projects with adequate natural ventilation or sunlight access. Else it will lead to a host of issues. Such as an increased purchase of highly energy-intensive cooling devices, the rise of urban heat islands, microclimatic conditions, etc.
- Focus on Marginalised sections: India made a concerted effort to provide hundreds of millions of people access to electricity through schemes such as PM Saubhagya Scheme. Now, it’s important to engage the energy marginalized and understand their needs.
- Focus on energy-related meetings: To avoid gender bias in appliance selection, India can create energy centers and conduct energy-related meetings at local levels. This will create a focus on women’s energy needs and empower women. Thus improving equity in society.
- Make energy production climate-resilient: One of the world’s greatest challenges is to reduce energy poverty while supporting economic growth. On the other hand, India has the largest projected energy demand globally. So, India must plan to transition as rapidly as possible while securing its ability to generate electricity in the near future.
India has already set an example for emerging economies by reaching 100GW of renewables, and India’s goal of reaching 450 GW of renewable energy (RE) by 2030 is doable now. However, efforts are required to bridge the energy access gap.