The launch of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana in 2016 underlined the importance of providing access to modern and clean cooking technologies for around 150 million households in India. It has triggered renewed interest among private sector stakeholders, including practitioners and financiers, to engage with and influence government policy for cooking access. Even before this scheme, NITI Aayog’s tool to analyse the shifting energy demands of the future, titled “India Energy Security Scenarios 2047”, included different trajectories for the country’s future cooking energy mix. This invited comments from the clean cooking sector in India if not from the larger population.
The lack of adequate access to modern forms of cooking energy is slowly but surely decreasing with increasing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connections and the adoption of other solutions and devices based on renewables such as improved cookstoves and biogas plants. Many private sector stakeholders have invested in these renewable technologies in order to improve access to cleaner and more efficient cooking solutions among the underserved rural as well as urban poor in the country. However, there is a long way to go before every household is provided with cooking energy options regardless of its geographic location or socio-economic profile.
While LPG helps address health-related problems faced by women and children, who inhale the carbon-laden smoke emitted by traditional mudstoves for hours together, as well as issues associated with sustained long-term usage, access and affordability of LPG as well as its implications on the national goals of energy independence and environmental sustainability still remain unresolved. The maximum coverage of women/households under the Ujjwala scheme is limited to 50 million in the next two years. It would, therefore, still leave out around double the targeted number, assuming optimal success in implementation of the current programme. The waiver of the initial cost of connection for the 50 million households notwithstanding, the recurring costs involved in using LPG and the remoteness of many communities in India imply that there is a significant market opportunity for renewable solutions. These include biogas, solar, and sustainably sourced and more efficiently combusted biomass.
Social enterprises and non-profit organisations that provide such renewables-based cooking solutions acknowledge the reality of households that engage in “fuel stacking”, with multiple energy or fuel sources being used to meet their cooking needs. While this is not a cause for concern per se, the challenges related to last-mile delivery and usage associated with LPG and electricity result in rural consumers falling back on the least user-friendly solution, the traditional mudstove, which needs to be phased out by 2020. All private and public sector stakeholders agree with this argument.
Policymakers at the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and NITI Aayog can facilitate large-scale consumer awareness of cooking energy solutions that run on renewables and promote research and development in the sector. Renewable energy practitioners can capture a bigger market share by targeting higher technical performance and user acceptance of their offerings.
Most of these practitioners operating across the length and breadth of the country cannot always catch the attention of decision-makers, including financiers and multilateral donors in New Delhi. Clean Energy Access Network represents their needs, engages with these institutions on their behalf and provides pan-Indian networking platforms such as the annually held India Clean Cooking Forum, the last edition of which was held in December 2016 and witnessed a thought-provoking discussion on fuel stacking. While there is divergence of thought among various technology providers on cooking energy solutions in India, there is no doubt that there is a need to serve the end-user better and provide universal clean cooking access to every Indian.