Press Trust of India: Improving household electricity access in India over the last 30 years contributed only marginally to the country’s total carbon emissions growth during that time, according to a new study.
While increased energy access is widely agreed to be an important goal for development efforts, such as the UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, the climate impacts of increased access to electricity have been unclear.
The study is the first to examine the impact of electricity access on carbon dioxide emissions using two sources of retrospective data.
“This study shows that the climate impacts of expanding access are in fact very small,” said Shonali Pachauri, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, who conducted the study.
However, she added, expanding low-carbon energy technologies in developing countries would bring many co-benefits beyond climate mitigation.
While India still lacks electricity access for much of its population – around 400 million people – the country has vastly increased access in the last 30 years, researchers said.
From 1981 to 2011, household electricity access in the country improved from around 25 per cent to between 67-74 per cent of the population, an increase of approximately 650 million people.
“India is at a similar stage to many other developing countries in terms of energy access, So we believe that these findings will be applicable on a broad scale to other developing countries,” said Pachauri.
Using two data sources, the study found that improved electricity access in India from 1981 to 2011 accounted for approximately 50 million tonnes of CO2, or 3-4 per cent of the rise in total national CO2 emissions.
Since electrification also tends to lead to increased wealth and participation in the economy, it can also lead to additional increases in emissions from indirect energy use through consumption.
Pachauri found that when she took these factors into account, household electricity use would account for 156 to 363 million tonnes CO2, or 11 to 25 per cent of emissions growth in the country.
However, even with increased electricity use, Indian households still use less electricity than Chinese households, and less than 10 per cent of households in the US.
Researchers said that even though the emissions growth from expanded energy access is small, low carbon energy sources have additional benefits for developing countries and should be encouraged.
“Energy access is fundamental to development: it brings improvements to all aspects of life, including education, communication, and health,” said Pachauri.
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