Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent

Saubhagya and Ujjwala make on-ground impact; affordability and reliability remain key bottlenecks – CEEW study

New Delhi (21 November 2018) – Since 2015, an estimated 32 million rural households have moved up from the bottom of the energy ladder across six major energy-access-deprived states, namely Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. However, around 66 million rural households still remain at the bottom of the energy ladder in these six states – according to the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) which published its findings today from the second round of India’s largest multidimensional energy access survey. The recent progress is primarily due to the rapid advances in access to electricity and clean cooking energy for rural households, aided by government schemes including Saubhagya and Ujjwala Yojana. The study released today found that 75 per cent of rural households in these six states relied on grid electricity for their primary lighting needs in 2018, up from 42 per cent in 2015. Rural households primarily relying on Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) for cooking increased to 39 per cent in 2018, up from 15 per cent in 2015. Affordability of clean cooking energy and reliability and quality of electricity supply remain key bottlenecks to achieving universal energy access.

The Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity – Survey of States (ACCESS), an independent CEEW study supported by the Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation (SSEF) and the National University of Singapore (NUS), covered more than 9,000 households, in 756 villages and 54 districts, across India’s six major energy-access-deprived states. Following up on the first round of the ACCESS survey conducted in 2015, The Council revisited the same households in the six states in mid-2018 to evaluate the changes in their energy access situation over the past three years.

Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW, said, “Using more than 5 million data points, ACCESS provides a nuanced understanding of the evolution of energy access in rural India. While government schemes such as Saubhagya and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana have had noticeable impact, policymakers now need to look beyond providing connections to households and turn their attention to ensuring affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy for all. Energy access across rural India must be further improved to improve the standard of living, meet rising aspirations, and fulfil economic potential.”

Abhishek Jain, Senior Programme Lead, CEEW, and lead author of the study, added, “While connections for both electricity as well LPG have massively increased, we also observe a substantial improvement in hours of supply and use of LPG. However, affordability of LPG needs to be addressed to enable sustained use of the clean fuel and reduce indoor air pollution. For electricity, addressing low-voltage issues and improving maintenance services would foster better consumer experience and satisfaction. Further, improving metering rates and strengthening on-ground billing and collection efforts would improve the financial performance of utilities.”

State of electricity access

Over the last three years, electricity access has improved in most of the six states. West Bengal continued to perform the best among these states, despite a marginal decline in reliability and quality of electricity supply in the state.

In 2018, less than 20 per cent rural households in the six states used kerosene as a primary source of lighting, in comparison to over 50 per cent of rural households in 2015. Over the last three years, the median hours of daily electricity supply in the six states together have also increased from 12 to 16 hours. Bihar and Madhya Pradesh especially showed notable improvement as the median value for duration of supply increased from 8 to 15 hours and 12 to 18 hours, respectively. Further, despite the increasing electrification rates under Saubhagya, electrified rural households equipped with meters increased from 53 per cent in 2015 to only 66 per cent in 2018 across the six states. Metering, in particular, requires attention in Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

Although many rural households reported progress in electricity access, several issues remain unresolved. Day-long blackouts and voltage fluctuations, though reduced, were still widely reported. Also, many rural households still reported frequent low voltages that limit appliance use. In most states, rural households that did not have an electricity connection reported high upfront cost as the key deterrent. Given the provision to secure a connection at no up-front cost under the Saubhagya scheme, such perceptions indicate either lack of consumer awareness or implementation gaps at the ground level.

According to the government, as of November 2018, close to 95 per cent of rural households across India have been electrified. The Saubhagya scheme aims to achieve 100 per cent household electrification by March 2019. However, for the six major energy-access-deprived states, 91 per cent rural households have connections so far.

State of clean cooking energy access

The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) has been a major driver behind the improvements reported in clean cooking energy access across the six states. Between 2015 and 2018, of all the rural households that received LPG connections, more than 50 per cent received them under PMUY. In 2018, 58 per cent of rural households across the six states were using LPG, up from 22 per cent rural households in 2015. More importantly, one-third of these 58 per cent households were exclusively using LPG for cooking, thus eliminating adverse health impacts arising from using traditional fuels. However, 81 per cent rural households continue to use biomass for at least some of their cooking needs.

CEEW also found that the LPG distribution network had expanded and strengthened between 2015 and 2018, with a higher proportion of rural households in the six states getting LPG cylinders delivered at their doorstep. However, except for West Bengal, in all other states, less than 50 per cent of the rural LPG households received LPG cylinders at home. Again, barring West Bengal, the median household that does not receive LPG home-deliveries has to travel four kilometres one-way to procure a cylinder. This distance has reduced from 2015-levels but remains a barrier to continued use of LPG in rural households.

The Council’s study found that PMUY has helped reduce the disparity in access to LPG among social groups. The proportion of Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) households reporting use of LPG increased from 12 to 45 per cent and from 8 to 32 per cent, respectively, between 2015 and 2018.

While PMUY attempted to increase the agency of women by providing connections in the name of the female lead of the household, the study found that only in a third of LPG households women participated in decision-making regarding LPG refills. Understanding and attending to intra-household decision making and associated gender dynamics would be critical to ensure sustained use of LPG among rural households.

According to the government, as of November 2018, more than 57 million LPG connections have been provided under PMUY. The scheme aims to provide 80 million connections to socioeconomically weaker households by 2020.

For any further queries, please contact Arsheen Kaur (arsheen.kaur@ceew.in) / (mihir.shah@ceew.in).