The truth behind India’s electricity exporter status

India’s per capita electricity consumption is one-fifth of the global average


India’s efforts to sell electricity to its eastern neighbours might bring strategic and diplomatic benefits and also open new frontiers for exploring electricity generation opportunities in the region. Photo: Mint
India’s efforts to sell electricity to its eastern neighbours might bring strategic and diplomatic benefits and also open new frontiers for exploring electricity generation opportunities in the region. Photo: Mint

The ministry of power last week claimed that India had become an electricity exporter for the first time.

“As per Central Electricity Authority (CEA), the designated authority of government of India for cross border trade of electricity, first time India has turned around from a net importer of electricity to net exporter of electricity,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that upcoming cross-border transmission lines with Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar will continue to increase sales.

India exported around 5798 million units of electricity to Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar, which is 213 million units more than the import of 5,585 million units from Bhutan during the April-February period in fiscal year 2016-17. Exports to Nepal and Bangladesh increased 2.5 and 2.8 times, respectively, in the last three years.

Also Read: India becomes net exporter of power for the first time

Does India’s status as an electricity exporter mean that it has started producing surplus electricity?

The reality is a large number of India’s households are still living without electricity. Available government data shows there is a discrepancy in the percentage of villages electrified as against the share of rural households electrified. The former set of figures is often cited to portray India’s electrification challenge as an already accomplished one.

What explains the wide gap between the share of electrified households and villages? According to the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana website, a village is deemed electrified if basic infrastructure such as distribution transformer and distribution lines are provided in the inhabited locality as well as the Dalit Basti hamlet (where it exists), and electricity is provided in public places like schools, panchayat office and health centres. Here’s another interesting thing. For a village to be considered electrified, at least 10% of total households have to be electrified. But the actual supply of electricity is not mentioned in the definition of electrification.

Such a definition means that village electrification numbers have little bearing on the supply of electricity in reality. Data from 2011 census shows that almost one-third of the households in the country were dependent on kerosene as a source of lighting, with the situation being worse for rural households. This is even as over 84% of villages had been electrified in 2011-12, as per data with the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

International comparison also underlines the fact that Indians consume much less electricity in comparison to their peers. The ratio of domestic and world electricity consumption (per capita) was broadly similar in India and China in 1990. Latest data shows that China has surpassed the global average in terms of power consumption, whereas India is still stuck at its pre-reform relative electricity consumption levels. In 1990, India reported 273 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electric power consumption, as against 511 kWh in China and 2,120 kWh in the world. In 2013, these figures were 765 kWh, 3762 kWh and 3104 kWh, respectively, as per World Bank data.

India’s efforts to sell electricity to its eastern neighbours might bring strategic and diplomatic benefits and also open new frontiers for exploring electricity generation opportunities in the region. Such developments, however, should not make us oblivious to the fact that a large majority of Indians are still living in darkness in villages which have been declared electrified on paper.

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