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This is one of the three articles on crucial challenges facing the Indian energy sector and some concrete ideas to address them. It is a short opinion piece highlighting the need for effective management of increasing demand of energy at residential level and proposes ideas to improve current mechanisms which can address the challenge of increasing demand.

A version of this article appeared in the Hindu Business Line on 07th April, 2019.

Published in Energy Efficiency

Indian electricity sector has been in a state of flux from 1990s, when the reforms started with the entry of private power projects. The Enron power project and Odisha state reforms that followed have thrown up many controversial issues. The Electricity Act 2003, prepared with the reform spirit initiated another major policy upheaval in the sector. Today, Electricity Regulatory Commissions are operational in all the states. With all villages electrified and nearly all households connected to the grid, the demand now is for quality power supply. The whole country is connected to one national grid. Renewable energy is no more on the side-lines, and is expected to be a significant source of power. We are witnessing the entry of many new players, introduction of open access and a movement towards cost based tariff. The trend is towards an increasing role of private sector and markets under a regulatory regime. 

A public-spirited citizen, who wishes to respond to this flux and participate in the policy and regulatory processes, is faced with too many new issues. A basic understanding of the technical and economic aspects of the sector is necessary to gain a foothold. An insight into the policy, planning and regulatory processes, along with an appreciation of their linkages with the technical and economic issues, is essential to equip oneself for meaningful engagement with the sector.

This 3rd Revised Edition of the primer, giving a comprehensive macro perspective of the Indian electricity sector, is part of our attempts to assist such citizens in their efforts.

The electronic version of the Primer will be uploaded soon.

The series of farmers’ loan waivers by different states has focused attention once again on farmers and the economics of farming, however the economics of inputs and input subsidies have gone into the background. On the other hand, discussions around electricity subsidy for agriculture are often centred on the impact of these subsidies on the finances of the distribution companies, and on the sustainability of groundwater. The power sector discourse has largely ignored the crucial place of agriculture in the country - ensuring food security and providing livelihoods for most rural people. This article discusses how the strong and complex linkages between electricity, water and agriculture sectors need to be taken into consideration to understand and address issues around subsidized electricity to agriculture.

A variant of this article was published in the Hindu BusinessLine on 21st January 2019.

Friday, 25 January 2019 17:18

Air pollution: A burning issue in our homes

The problem of air pollution has attracted significant attention in the media and policy discourse recently. However, the focus has predominantly been on outdoor or ambient air pollution though more than half the deaths attributable due to air pollution actually arise from household air pollution caused mainly by burning solid fuels such as firewood and dung-cakes for cooking. A variant of this article was published as an opinion piece in the Indian Express on 25th Jan 2019 to highlight this issue and stress that addressing this challenge requires demand-side interventions in addition to supply-side interventions.

Agriculture occupies a critical position in the country’s economy, ensuring food security, providing livelihoods, and indeed as a way of life for most rural people. Due to many reasons, growth in agriculture has been largely driven by groundwater based irrigation, powered by electricity. It is also certain that the dominance of groundwater will continue in the coming years.

From the early 1990s, a significant thread in the story of reforms in electricity sector has been the financial unsustainability of the distribution sector. One of the reasons cited has been the subsidised supply of electricity to agriculture. Subsidised supply has also been held responsible for poor quality of supply and excessive use of groundwater. Increasing the agriculture electricity tariffs has been a major suggestion for improving distribution sector finances.

In spite of several decades of this approach, the problems persist. An important reason for this is the failure to acknowledge the strong and complex linkages between the electricity, water and agriculture sectors, and to recognise that it is practically impossible to address the issues of one without comprehensively addressing challenges in all the other sectors.

With this in mind, this discussion paper in two volumes brings out the linkages between electricity, water and agriculture sectors. It also highlights the need to take these linkages into consideration when planning agricultural electricity supply.  Volume 1 of the paper focuses on an overview of the linkages and Volume 2 provides a detailed analysis of the electricity sector related issues of the linkage.

It is our hope that this discussion paper would catalyse a healthy discussion among actors in electricity, water and agriculture sectors, towards a better understanding of the challenges and evolving sustainable solutions.

Household air pollution caused by smoke from burning solid fuels for cooking is a major source of mortality and morbidity in India. Recent studies estimate that it is also a major contributor to outdoor pollution in addition to contributing to four of the five leading causes of mortality and morbidity. This problem also has a significant gender dimension. A rapid transition to clean-burning fuels and technologies for cooking can potentially address this challenge.

While the Government has announced programs such as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana and the National Clean Air Program, given the scale of the challenge in India, a coordinated national mission to move towards smokeless cooking would be useful. The note proposes setting up of such a mission and suggests contours of how such a mission could be structured, what its objectives could be, how it may operate and how it may be overseen. This mission proposal has benefited from the views of participants at a roundtable discussion jointly organized by Prayas and the Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre on June 20, 2018 in New Delhi  and discussions with various experts in the relevant sectors.

We hope this mission proposal initiates a conversation on the necessary institutional and policy framework to rapidly transition to smoke-free cooking in India.

Millions of households in India still use solid fuels for cooking today. This is an important energy access, health and environmental problem as household air pollution caused by burning solid fuels for cooking is a major source of mortality and morbidity as well as outdoor air pollution in India. There is also a gender dimension to this as it is primarily women who cook and fetch solid fuels. At the same time, multiple clean fuel-technologies have the potential to address this challenge. Given this multi-dimensional, multi-fuel nature of the problem, there is a need to involve different stakeholders from relevant sectors to accelerate the transition to clean fuel-technologies through targeted policy. It is in this context that a roundtable discussion was organized by Prayas (Energy Group), Prayas (Health Group) and the Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre (CCAPC) to deliberate on the institutional architecture of a mission for clean cooking energy called "Clean Cooking Mission: A way to transition to completely smoke-free kitchens" on June 20, 2018 in New Delhi.

The roundtable began with background presentations by Prayas and CCAPC, which were followed by a discussion among the participants on selected questions. It was attended by representatives from the government, academia, think tanks and practitioners covering the energy, health, environment and gender aspects of the problem.

The report below summarizes the discussions that took place and provides a complete list of participants. The presentations are also available below. The Prayas presentation is based on the Prayas report Fuelling the transition.

It is estimated that more than half of the Indian households use solid fuels for cooking even in 2018. This is not only an important energy access problem but also one with very adverse health impacts.  Household air pollution arising from burning solid fuels for cooking is one of the leading contributors to mortality and disease burden in India. At the same time, India is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals which includes providing clean, modern fuels to all by 2030. The government has launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to distribute subsidised LPG connections to poor households.

In this context, we model and analyse four possible transition scenarios to modern cooking fuels and technologies, which shows that transition to modern fuel-technologies is a very cost-effective health intervention. The most aggressive transition involving a mix of modern fuels not only reduces the disease burden associated with cooking by more than half, but is also the most cost-effective. But if households do not shift to modern fuels completely, the analysis shows that stacking of solid fuels with modern fuels significantly erodes the health benefit of modern fuels.  In order to help complete modern fuel adoption, consumer fuel pricing and targeted subsidies for poor households are necessary as fuel costs dominate the financial costs of the transition. The analysis also considers improved biomass cookstoves and concludes that the adverse health impacts from using even the best-in-class improved cookstoves are non-trivial. However, given their greater efficiency and lower emissions in comparison to traditional stoves, they can potentially be an intermediate technology in the shift to modern fuels.

The cooking fuel access problem is a multi-dimensional problem. Therefore, if India wants to rapidly fuel the transition to modern fuels, the solution should also be multi-dimensional and involve multiple fuels, stakeholders and strategies.

The central government’s flagship programme to provide free liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections to poor women has been in operation for two years, providing more than 3.5 crore LPG connections . This much-needed scheme is a major step to reduce indoor air pollution, drudgery faced by women, and one that promises to extend LPG access with significant potential health benefits. The programme has largely succeeded in disbursing LPG connections to poor households, but little is known about the progress of the scheme with respect to LPG use. Has it led to sustained use of clean fuels among poor households? While this article attempts to answer that question, there is need for more information about the scheme in the public domain for a comprehensive evaluation and mid-course correction to help achieve all its social objectives.

A version of this article was published in the Economic and Political Weekly on 19th May 2018.

Coal India Ltd had uploaded the key highlights and summary of a draft Coal Vision 2030 document and sought stakeholder comments. PEG's submission in this regard is available below. Comments are broken into two categories - overarching comments about the process of drafting the coal vision document, seeking feedback and cross-cutting issues; and specific comments about points made in the draft vision document. The submission was shared with officials of Coal India Ltd. and the Ministry of Coal.

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