Rural cooking: add electricity

The age-old practice in rural households is to use two or more fuels for cooking. One among them becomes the primary fuel, that is the fuel which is used more. The lesser-used fuel is the secondary cooking fuel. In general, firewood is the primary cooking fuel in a majority of rural households. The inefficient burning of solid fuels (firewood, dung cakes and crop residues) has adverse impact on the health of the cook, especially in enclosed spaces.

Recently, the assessment results of Ujjwala Yojna, under which subsidised LPG connections were provided to women of poor households, made frontline news. The study conducted by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics mentioned that 90% of Ujjwala beneficiaries still use solid fuels for cooking.

The choice of primary fuel depends on the availability of the fuel and the ability to pay for it. That is why the share of clean fuels — Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) and electricity -- increases with the increasing affluence of the households. Again, solid fuels are available locally and most of the time free of cost.

The Centre for Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) reports that since 2015, the share of households (in the six major energy access-deprived states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) using LPG as their primary cooking fuel has increased from 14% to 37%. The rate of increase of LPG as the primary cooking fuel among rural households is slow despite the launch of mega schemes like the LPG subsidy since the late 1960s, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna introduced in 2016 and the Rajiv Gandhi LPG Vitrak Yojna.

The reasons are the cost of refuelling LPG cylinders, availability of LPG in the LPG stations and difficulties, such as transportation, faced by the rural LPG connection-holders. These reasons together push LPG to secondary cooking fuel status in a majority of the rural households with valid LPG connections, and solid fuel remains the primary cooking fuel.

There is also a second option. That is to increase the total share of clean fuel, that is LPG and electricity, in rural households. The rate of village electrification and household electrification is increasing in India. Presently, the percentage of electrified rural households is claimed as 99.99.

In recent times, induction stoves have been making entry into urban kitchens. The cost of these devices has also dropped significantly over the last few years. Due to this, the usage of electricity for cooking using energy-efficient induction stoves may also be considered for rural kitchens as an option, along with LPG.

Electricity, if available adequately, partially covers the drawbacks of LPG. One is that the electricity connections are at the consumer’s doorstep. The consumer need not visit the agency, book refills and wait for the same to be delivered or have to transport them herself.

While, there are issues of power availability in the rural areas, the government is committed to providing electricity to the households during the evening hours. However, this has to be backed by adequate infrastructure to support the load required during peak cooking hours. In a village with 50 households, the electricity load for cooking during the peak cooking hours will be around 60 kW.

Electricity expenditure

Second is the economics of it. On an average, a household consumes 60-80 units of electricity in a month if we consider that the household uses induction stove for cooking for about an hour or more in a day at 1,200 watts. The electricity tariff per unit in Indian states for consuming 100-200 units ranges approximately between Rs 2-7.50. Considering this, the average monthly electricity expenditure for cooking using induction stove would be in the range of Rs 120-600, thus making the proposition costlier in states with high electricity tariff. The expenditure will increase with the increasing use of the induction stove.

Induction stoves are popular in the rural areas of states like Himachal Pradesh, where the household electrification rate is high. However, these stoves are either used as secondary or tertiary cooking devices and rarely influence the use of solid fuels.

Considering only LPG or only electricity is ambitious. But these two options collectively could increase the share of clean fuels for cooking and reduce the share of solid fuels. The intensification of the rural electrification programme may include the aspect of electric cooking option as well. This will need strengthening of electricity infrastructure to take up the electricity load during peak cooking hours and stringent metering system to prevent overuse of electricity.

The option also demands more research to develop low-cost, energy-efficient induction stoves. The option of induction stoves becomes more significant as India is emphasising the need to generate more electricity from renewable energy sources.

(Banerjee is an independent consultant on energy access; Natarajan is Director-Energy Efficiency & Clean Energy, Sustainable Communities India)

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