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Household electricity access a trivial contributor to CO2 emissions growth in India


Impetus to expand electricity access in developing nations is urgent1. Yet aspirations to provide universal access to electricity are often considered potentially conflicting with efforts to mitigate climate change2. How much newly electrified, largely poor, households raise emissions, however, remains uncertain. Results from a first retrospective analysis show that improvements in household electricity access contributed 3–4% of national emissions growth in India over the past three decades. Emissions from both the direct and indirect electricity use of more than 650 million people connected since 1981 accounted for 11–25% of Indian emissions growth or, on average, a rise of 0.008–0.018 tons of CO2 per person per year between 1981 and 2011. Although this is a marginal share of global emissions, it does not detract from the importance for developing countries to start reducing the carbon intensities of their electricity generation to ensure sustainable development and avoid future carbon lock-in3,4. Significant ancillary benefits for air quality, health, energy security and efficiency may also make this attractive for reasons other than climate mitigation alone5,6.

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Figure 1: Estimates of rural, urban and national household access rates, and average direct household electricity use per connected household between 1981 and 2011 from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and National Sample Survey (NSS) data sets.
Figure 2: Decomposition of changes in CO2 emissions from direct household electricity use.


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This work uses data from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation of the Government of India, the Census of India, and India’s Central Electricity Authority. I thank my IIASA colleagues in the Energy (ENE) program for useful discussions and comments, and my colleagues in the Communications Department for help with the figures. I am also grateful to A. Grubler, K.R. Smith and D. Spreng for valuable feedback on initial drafts.

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Correspondence to Shonali Pachauri.

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Pachauri, S. Household electricity access a trivial contributor to CO2 emissions growth in India. Nature Clim Change 4, 1073–1076 (2014).

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