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Energy Poverty in India: State of Play & Progress

Group of school children in India with solar lights

SolarBuddy’s work has so far taken its operations and distributions to 21+ countries. The challenge of energy poverty in India is especially important to SolarBuddy. Not only is energy poverty persistent in India, but the prospect of making a difference is substantial. This is why SolarBuddy has also separately established a dedicated manufacturing hub in Ahmedabad for production of its FamilyBuddy lights, and is working hard to build strategic partnerships in India, on top of its existing NGO partnership with United Way.

The good news is that India has made great strides in addressing the challenge of energy poverty over recent decades, but there is still so much work to be done. Many households in India remain energy impoverished, and continue to rely on traditional technologies (wick lamps, petromax, lanterns, and traditional cookstoves) and use of lower-rung fuels (wood, charcoal, agricultural residues, animal dung, and kerosene) for cooking, heating, and lighting. The lack of access to clean modern energy sources has severe health, environmental, social, and economic implications. It has also been shown to have a disproportionately negative impact on women. The importance of addressing energy poverty is evidenced by the fact it is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Global Goal #7, ‘Access to Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable, and Modern Energy for All’ (UN, 2015). It underlies the achievement of many Development Goals.

In 2018, it was estimated that out of 2.8 billion people in the world primarily using solid fuels for cooking, almost 700 million are in India alone. Similarly, out of 1.3 billion people in the world without electricity, India houses a staggering 244 million people (International Energy Agency, 2016). A more recent estimate was that up to 400 million people or one-third of the population in India today do not have access to reliable electricity.[1]

The Indian government has made substantial efforts to address energy poverty, along with non-profit agencies and private organisations. There have been numerous interventions by the Indian Government at the macro and micro levels to address energy poverty. Policies to reduce energy poverty include support for widespread rural electrification, the promotion of more modern cooking fuels (biomass and LPG), and encouraging greater adoption of improved biomass stoves (through subsidies for cost and dissemination programs) and, more recently, renewable energy initiatives (solar and wind). The National Solar Mission has set a goal of 100,000 MW of installed capacity through grid-connected solar power projects by 2021-22, and the government has targeted solar off-grid technology in rural areas and low-income households. Lack of awareness, negative perceptions and perceived high costs have been impediments to adoption of solar, which accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation, while coal is close to 70%.[2] A recent report, ‘Mapping India’s Energy Subsidy 2020: fossil fuels, renewables, electric vehicles’ found that subsidies for fossil fuels are still over seven times more than subsidies for alternative energy in India.[3]

According to some experts (Kumar, Rao and Yadama, 2019), there has been a sluggish decline in the rate of energy poverty in India over the last few decades despite government and other programs.[4] As the graph below shows, there have been successes in reducing use of traditional biomass since the early 2000s. Progress in increasing solar and renewables has been slow but it is improving.

Regarding rural electrification, the SDG High level Political Forum proceedings in 2018 reported that India had one of the “largest electrification successes” in the world, with almost 500 million people having gained access to electricity since 2000.[5] In 2018, the Prime Minister of India announced that village electrification had achieved full coverage.

However, it is important to note that not all villages have 100% household connectivity. The government records the village as electrified if 10% of households are electrified. Moreover, not all of those connected have access to a consistent reliable supply. There is an unaccounted portion of households that do have electricity connections but have unreliable and sporadic access to electricity, and of course, there is the issue of affordability. A recent (2020) report found that 65% of households in India continue to suffer extreme energy poverty. The analysis of the geographical spread of energy poverty found that Eastern states and North-Eastern states are more vulnerable in terms of energy poverty.[6] A recent study by Smart Power India (SPI), “Electricity access in India; Benchmarking Distribution Utilities”, points out the lack of adequate electricity infrastructure is limiting electricity customers connecting to the national grid and that the grid is unreliable. Hospitals, farms, schools and education centres have been forced to invest in expensive and polluting diesel generators to ensure a reliable supply of energy.[7]

Key focuses of government policy in this context are shifting to: ensuring ongoing sustained use of new technologies, such as improved cooking stoves, not just their initial adoption; extending electrification to all households within villages; and, providing a consistent supply of electricity to all rural households. There is also a call to shift more resources to renewables, particularly grid-independent solar energy. [8] This is where SolarBuddy can help in a rapid and scaled-up way. SolarBuddy’s various products are designed for free distribution to the most needy children, and the SolarBuddy lights are long-lasting and free to operate. SolarBuddy is looking forward to partnering with key players in India to jointly address this enormous challenge.


[1] [2] [3] International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), 2020. , ‘Mapping India’s Energy Subsidy 2020: fossil fuels, renewables, electric vehicles’. Available at: [4] Praveen Kumar, Smitha Rao and Gautam N. Yadama, 2019. Energy Poverty in India, Available at: [5] - p. 12. [6] Srishti Gupta, Eshita Gupta, Gopal K. Sarangi (2020) Household Energy Poverty Index for India: An analysis of inter-state differences, Available at: [7] [8] See also


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