India’s Changing Energy Access Realities: Insights from ACCESS 2018 report

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By Johannes Urpelainen

 

India’s energy access landscape is changing rapidly, with progress both in improving the quality of rural electricity service and the use of modern cooking fuels. Rural electricity service has improved and use of clean cooking fuels increased, but sustaining these gains will require emphasis on governance by the central and state governments.

 

India’s most comprehensive energy access survey, ACCESS 2018, was conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP) and the National University of Singapore. CEEW’s ACCESS 2018 report offers a comprehensive overview of the evolving energy access landscape in rural India In this blog, I reflect on some of the emerging findings from the report.

 

Rural Electricity Service Improves

 

The first major improvement is that the daily hours of rural power supply across the six states – Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal – have increased from 12 to 16 hours. This is a major accomplishment, considering the Indian power sector’s continued financial and technical performance problems.

 

These changes are good news for the governance of the power sector in a broad sense. Besides the obvious importance of high-quality electricity service for productive use and quality of life, improved services can contribute to higher willingness to pay and trust in electricity distribution companies. In a virtuous cycle, improved electricity service can contribute to higher payment rates, less electricity theft, and more willingness to accept higher electricity tariffs.

 

At the same time, improved electricity service at a time of chronic financial and technical problems presents risks. If electricity distribution companies are to protect their reputation, they must continue to offer high-quality service. Where inefficiency prevails and electricity tariffs do not cover the real cost, high-quality service increases losses and contributes to debt overhang. The pressure is on state governments and distribution companies to maintain the high level of service, as inconsistent performance would raise doubts among the rural population about the future.

 

Clean Cooking Fuels Are Conquering Rural India

 

The other major improvement we see is access to LPG. Largely thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s Ujjwala scheme, households are using LPG – a clean cooking fuel – at far higher rates than in the past. In fact, the majority of households in our sample now use LPG and every-fifth household uses it exclusively in cooking, with great potential for health improvements thanks to reduced indoor air pollution.

 

The challenge for Government of India is to sustain the success. The cost of LPG provision depends on international oil prices, which have fluctuated significantly over the past decade. If international oil prices increase, either LPG prices or LPG subsidies must increase. In either case, sustaining the growing exclusive of LPG will be challenge unless rural household incomes grow and provide a more permanent solution to the affordability problem.

 

If the government manages to sustain and expand exclusive LPG use, the hope is that this practice becomes a stable habit. Over time, households will grow used to cooking with LPG and may not return to cooking with firewood even at times of higher energy prices. Such a sea change in cooking habits would be a major step forward in public health in rural India.

 

What Next?

 

Over the coming months ISEP will produce a series of research articles, policy briefs, and events based on ACCESS 2018. Together with CEEW and the National University of Singapore, we also plan to make the dataset freely available to anyone, similar to the original ACCESS data.

 

 

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Johannes Urpelainen (@jurpelai) is the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Professor and Director of Energy, Resources and Environment in the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is also the Founding Director of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP).