The Power Minister, R.K. Singh, recently announced the Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020. The rules lay down uniform performance standards for power distribution companies (discoms) and make them liable to compensate consumers in case of violations. The well-intentioned rules come at a time when Indian discoms are struggling to manage their finances. This is partly linked to drop in payment rates, as consumers are struggling to pay their bills amid rising consumption and tight finances. The Indian government has sanctioned liquidity relief to help discoms tide over this crisis, but these are just short-term fixes.
India’s residential electricity consumption is expected to at least double by 2030. As households buy more electric appliances to satisfy their domestic needs, concerns about the ability of discoms to provide reliable supply at affordable rates will also rise. Embracing energy efficiency can be a win-win solution as this can bring down household energy bills and reduce discoms’ financial stress.
Tryst with energy efficiency
In recent years, India has seen significant adoption of energy-efficient appliances, especially those covered under the mandatory labelling programme, according to the India Residential Energy Survey conducted by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy. The survey, covering nearly 15,000 households across 21 States, found that more than 75% of air-conditioners and 60% of refrigerators used in Indian homes were star-labelled. Further, nearly 90% of Indian homes used LED lamps or tubes.
However, there has been limited uptake of energy-efficient ceiling fans and televisions. While 90% of homes use fans, only 3% have efficient fans. Similarly, 60% of our television stock comprises the big old energy-guzzling CRT (cathode ray tube) models. Desert coolers, used by 15% homes, are not even covered under the labelling programme. Significant efficiency gains are also possible for other appliances like water pumps and induction cook stoves.
The way forward
First, we need to improve the availability and affordability of energy-efficient appliances. For instance, despite a voluntary labelling scheme since 2009, less than 5% of ceiling fans produced in India are star-rated. While the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) plans to bring ceiling fans under mandatory labelling from 2022, the high upfront cost will be another barrier. At present, the most efficient fans cost more than double the price of conventional models. We need innovative business models that can attract manufacturers to produce efficient technology at scale and bring it within purchasing capacity.
Second, India needs a nationwide consumer awareness campaign on energy efficiency. Only a fourth of Indian households are currently aware of BEE’s star labels. While awareness levels are high among residents of metros and tier-1 cities, the majority in small towns and rural areas remain unaware. To bridge this divide, we need a decentralised and consumer-centric engagement strategy. State governments, discoms and retailers need to be at the forefront of our renewed efforts to create mass awareness about energy efficiency.
Finally, we need to monitor supply quality and changing consumption pattern on a real-time basis. As discoms in India deploy smart meters, these must be used to measure actual savings and demonstrate the benefits of energy-efficient devices to build consumer confidence. The smart metering network would also be crucial to enforce consumer rights rules.
India has tasted success in recent years by embracing energy efficiency. The government’s UJALA scheme transformed the market for LED bulbs, while also helping India reduce its annual carbon emissions by nearly 82 million tonnes. A similar focus towards other energy-efficient appliances would allow India to ensure 24x7 power for all.
Shalu Agrawal (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Programme Lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water