Promoting Clean-burning Cooking Fuel in Rural India

November 30, 2019

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, the Indian government through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), 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. While this is a significant number, the full benefits of LPG adoption are contingent on near complete replacement of polluting fuels with LPG. It was clear that many households have not entirely shifted away from using highly polluting solid fuels. Supported by a 2015 Wall Solutions award, researchers Hisham Zerriffi and Abishek Zar aimed to understand social, cultural and economic factors affecting the uptake of the program and transition to cleaner cooking technologies and fuels.

Researchers estimated that an average rural family needs to purchase five 14.2 kg cylinders annually to meet half of their cooking needs. However, only 7% of PMUY beneficiaries in the rural Koppal district in Karnataka, India, purchased five or more cylinders annually, suggesting that these households seldom use LPG. In contrast, the general (non- PMUY) consumers in this region used an average of twice the number of LPG cylinders, than PMUY beneficiaries. Furthermore, only 45% of general consumers use five or more cylinders per year, even after several years of experience cooking with LPG.

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. This demonstrated the need for additional measures to promote regular LPG use for all rural populations. Although these findings came from a single district in Southern India, they may also apply to other areas with similar socio-economic conditions. Researchers evaluated the PMUY process to inform the design of targeted incentives to transform infrequent users to regular users.

Capital cost subsidies are necessary for LPG adoption but are not sufficient to motivate regular LPG use in low-income rural families. Researchers proposed additional policy instruments to promote LPG use in rural Indian communities. 

For more information, see Kar, Zerriffi, et al. Nature Energy 5, pages 125–126 (2020).