Kerosene Use by Off-Grid Households in Rural Uttar Pradesh

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by S.P. Harish

We recently conducted a pilot survey of off-grid households in the state of Uttar Pradesh. In this post, I discuss some thoughts on the preferences, needs and concerns of such households. Off-grid households in India still predominantly use kerosene for their lighting needs. While they find the light provided by these wick lamps insufficient for their lighting needs, they are resigned to its use till such time they identify and adopt a better lighting solution around the same price point. They want to keep any government subsidy for kerosene though they seem open to moving the subsidy to other government provided goods like the grid and solar lighting. While they have all heard of grid electricity, knowledge and comfortability about the use of solar lamps is still absent.

Despite the extension of the main electricity grid to all villages in India, there are still a number of households that remain without electricity access. These households are not connected to the grid for various reasons: grid electricity is not available in their area; they are not aware of the process to take up a grid electricity connection; or they find grid electricity too expensive and unreliable. In such an environment, their main source of lighting is kerosene. Households typically buy subsidized kerosene from the Public Distribution System and store it in makeshift containers (insert picture of makeshift container at the end of this paragraph). They then transfer it to wick lamps (insert figure of wick lamp at the end of this paragraph) for their lighting use.

 

One aim of the survey was to understand the preferences of these off-grid households. In general, many households we visited understandably wanted to keep the subsidy from the government. While a small fraction of households wanted to keep the subsidy specifically for kerosene, others were more open to transfer these subsidies to other government provided goods like the grid. Rarely did a household prefer to do away with the subsidy entirely. This points to an important aspect for weaning households away from kerosene – we need to provide them with a solution that retains their current subsidy levels. The transfer of the subsidy to solar lamps is definitely attractive, especially after households become more familiar with its use.

While these households struggle with the meager light provided by the kerosene lamps, it does not mean that it is all the light that they need. In our discussions with households, we find that having more light is important to them, especially for cooking and households with kids. While some households are aware of solar lamps, their impression of the light from such lamps is poor. One reason is that their exposure to very small solar lights (insert picture at the end of this paragraph). Another is that they are either unaware or uncomfortable using larger solar lamps. Lighting needs aside, some households also spoke about the need of electricity beyond lighting and their desire to own appliances.

 

This does not mean that they have no concerns. Their biggest unease is with the cost of any new technology, especially if it is unreliable. Another concern about grid electricity for households is that they are worried about safety in the form of electrical fires. These concerns make an off-grid lighting solution attractive for these households. But what is holding them back? Some of the households told us that they are hesitant to adopt solar technology since they were not sure about its operability. This also points to a way forward – if they are able to experience and use solar lamps for an extended period of time, we can help them reduce their kerosene consumption.

 

Giving up kerosene for rural Indian households is hard. It is possible that households with some level of income elasticity will tend to stack their fuel use. But given their preferences, needs and concerns they are clear policy options to make progress.

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