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Capital cost subsidies through India’s Ujjwala cooking gas programme promote rapid adoption of liquefied petroleum gas but not regular use

Although India’s Ujjwala programme has encouraged adoption of modern cooking gas, households have not shifted away from using highly polluting solid fuels. Additional incentives to encourage regular use of cooking gas are necessary to enable a more rapid and complete transition to clean cooking fuel among poor rural households.

Messages for Policy

  • Capital cost subsidies are necessary for LPG adoption but not sufficient to motivate regular LPG use in low-income rural families. Additional policy instruments to promote LPG use are needed.

  • Any new policy instruments (financial incentives, behaviour change communications, and so on) for PMUY beneficiaries should also be extended to general rural LPG consumers who do not use LPG regularly.

  • LPG sales records can be leveraged beyond accounting purposes to conduct valuable large-scale impact evaluations. The research community would benefit greatly from the availability of anonymized sales datasets.

  • Additional policy instruments to promote LPG should be tested using experiments and randomized controlled trials that account for consumer purchase history and the potential effects of seasonality.

  • India’s initiatives to extend its supply infrastructure and computerized sales record system should be used as learning opportunities for other countries expanding access to clean cooking.

based on A. Kar et al. Nature Energy (2019).

The policy problem

Approximately 2.9 billion people across Asia, Africa and Latin America burn solid fuels like firewood to meet their cooking energy needs. This has significant negative implications for public health, the environment and societal development. In response, India, through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), has provided capital cost subsidies to poor women to adopt a clean-burning cooking fuel (liquefied petroleum gas; LPG). Within the first 40 months of the scheme, more than 80 million households obtained LPG stoves. However, the full benefits of LPG adoption are contingent on near-complete replacement of polluting fuels with LPG, and this cannot be assumed solely on the basis of LPG presence in the household.

The findings

We estimate that an average rural family needs to purchase five 14.2 kg cylinders annually to meet half of their cooking needs. We find that just 7% of PMUY beneficiaries in Koppal district in Karnataka, India, purchased five or more cylinders annually, suggesting that the beneficiaries seldom use LPG (Fig. 1). The general (non-PMUY) consumers in this region use on average two times more LPG cylinders than PMUY beneficiaries. Yet, only 45% of general consumers use five or more cylinders per year, even after several years of experience with LPG. We also find that LPG consumers are sensitive to price and seasonality: LPG cylinder refill rates are lower in the summer when agricultural activity is limited and cash is scarce. These findings suggest the need for additional measures to promote regular LPG use for all rural populations. Although the findings come from a single district in Southern India, they may also apply to other areas with similar socio-economic conditions. A more expansive evaluation of PMUY would help inform the design of targeted incentives to transform infrequent users to regular users.

Fig. 1: LPG refill sales in rural Koppal for general and PMUY beneficiaries (2016–2018).

Because the total number of consumers increased every month, the monthly sales are standardized as monthly sales per 1,000 consumers. Exclusive, primary, secondary and rare use are defined as 10–12 (blue shaded), 5–9 (green), 2–4 (orange) and 0–1 (red) 14.2 kg cylinder(s) purchased in one year by an average rural household of five members. The baseline all-India (Urban + Rural) average purchase was 7.3 cylinders per household in 2015–2016 (blue dashed line). Reproduced with permission from Kar, A., Pachauri, S., Bailis, R. & Zerriffi, H. Nat. Energy 4, 806–814 (2019); Springer Nature Ltd.

The study

We analysed LPG sales data for over 25,000 consumers including PMUY beneficiaries as well as general rural LPG consumers in the Koppal district in Karnataka, India. We employed data covering all LPG purchases of PMUY beneficiaries through their first year in the programme and the general rural population’s purchases during their first five years as consumers to assess the effect of experience on use. We also assessed price and seasonal factors affecting LPG use among the general population over a three-year period. Using LPG sales data to analyse consumption overcomes potential recall issues and inherent biases in previous analyses based on self-reported survey data. For instance, respondents may misreport in an attempt to create a “good” impression in front of outsider researchers or may forget past purchase history.


Further Reading

  1. Goldemberg, J., Martinez-Gomez, J., Sagar, A. & Smith, K. R. Household air pollution, health, and climate change: Cleaning the air. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 030201 (2018). An overview of clean cooking benefits.

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  2. Jain, A. et al. Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity: Survey of States 2018 (Council on Energy, Environment and Water, 2018); Largest survey of clean cooking practices in India.

  3. Harish, S. and Smith, K. R. (eds) Ujjwala 2.0: From Access to Sustained Usage Policy Brief CCAPC/2019/03 (Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre, 2019; Policy recommendations to promote sustained LPG use in India.

  4. Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Report no. 14 of 2019 (Union Government (Commercial) Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, 2019); Audit of PMUY at the national level.

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This article was developed under Assistance Agreement no. 83542102 awarded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to R.B. (sub-award to H.Z.). The EPA has not formally reviewed it. The views expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Agency. EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication. Part of the research was developed by A.K. during his time in the Young Scientists Summer Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria, with financial support from the German National Member Organization. A.K. and H.Z. acknowledge support from the Wall Solutions Initiative provided by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, the ‘Collaborative Research and Training Experience Atmospheric Aerosol Program’ (CREATE-AAP) at the University of British Columbia, and the Clean Cooking Alliance (United Nations Foundation).

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Correspondence to Abhishek Kar.

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Kar, A., Pachauri, S., Bailis, R. et al. Capital cost subsidies through India’s Ujjwala cooking gas programme promote rapid adoption of liquefied petroleum gas but not regular use. Nat Energy 5, 125–126 (2020).

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