A comfortable living is a pretty relative and subjective term. What is comfortable to a hermit is not the same to a householder. So is the difference between a toddler, a teenager and a septuagenarian.
Clearly, if a per capita energy need of a human is to be arrived at, then it cannot be a single figure but a range with an upper and a lower limit and shall also be dependent on whether you are a city, village, or forest dweller in say Siberia or in central India.
So while the sun, the primary source of all energy, is pretty cosmopolitan along similar latitudes, its conversion into food as energy (for conducting physical functions) and electricity as energy (for lighting, cooking, transportation, etc) are of different scales.
But here we are dealing primarily with the latter form, namely the electricity. So let us rephrase and focus better. How much electricity is much for an average Indian for leading a life of comfort?
As an individual
As an individual one’s electricity footprint is sourced within and without our homes.
If I pitch myself (in my sixties and dweller of a non-metro city) as an average Indian, then could I possibly determine my ‘comfort’ level of electricity use. I think I am living a pretty ‘average’ but comfortable life in a 3bhk flat in an average society. I use a 5-star (low electricity use rating) fridge, a 5-star washing machine, a mixer, fans, a room-cooler in summers (no AC), a heater in winters, a laptop with an internet connection, a mobile phone with few applications, LED bulbs and no TV. There are LED street lights on my society campus but there are no lifts.
So let me look at my annual electricity consumption at home and factor in my electricity use away from home to arrive at my per capita electricity footprint. I sometimes travel (say 3-4 times in a year) long distances by electricity-driven train. Anything major happening in my city, utilizing electricity and which might be made available to me for use also carries my footprint. It requires it to be factored into my electricity footprint.
For example, my city is building a metro system; the railway station has been upgraded as has the airport. Roads continue to be re-laid from time to time. There is a bank ATM for my monetary transactions and a supermarket that I often visit to purchase provisions.
I also need to visit a hospital where I refer a specialist from time to time. I also drive a personal car that has an electricity footprint from the time it was manufactured and now when it is either driven (associated with the electricity footprint of the petroleum industry) and when it is serviced. So my electricity footprint extends much beyond my home. Then there is a distinct electricity footprint of the food industry (cultivation, production and transportation) portion of which could be attributable to me, meeting my consumer needs as an individual.
Now is it possible to convert all this electricity dependence into a per capita use basis required for a comfortable living? While it would be straightforward to determine the power used by me within my home by dividing the total annual units/wattage (accessed from the monthly bills) by two (the other being my mother) the same may not be so easy with respect to my electricity footprint outside of my home.
One way to factor that could be to look at the nation’s industrial power demand, which is about 30-40% of the nation’s overall power demand. So let me add this to my annual power consumption.
On computing my household annual electricity I find it to range from a low of 1,047 to a high of 2091 units. (1 unit of electricity equals 1 kWh). Divided by two my personal annual household level electricity footprint ranges from around 525 – 1,050 units. Now if I add 40% of it to account for my share of industrial use which meets my out-of-house footprint then my annual power consumption could range between 735 to 1,470 units. Averaging it on the higher side let us consider my yearly power consumption to range from 800-1500 units or 2 to 4 units every day.
India’s energy production
Now against the above per capita ‘average’ power needed for a comfortable living, we as a nation of 1.38 billion (2022) are already producing 1,356 billion units of power from all sources (2021-22). So in effect, our energy needs for a comfortable living are already being met. And this could increase considerably without adding any more generation capacity if only the following official recommendations could be put into practice:
- The Bureau of Energy Efficiency has concluded that at the prevailing cost of additional energy generation, it costs a unit of energy about one-fourth the cost to save than to produce it with new capacity.
- Planning Commission in its Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) has said that CO2 generated from energy use can be reduced by 35% through effective deployment of efficiency, DSM (demand side management) measures and renewable energy sources.
- IEP also considers the “relentless pursuit of energy efficiency and energy conservation as the most important virtual source of domestic energy”.
Ideally, we as a nation amongst the most vulnerable to the ill effects of climate change should seriously consider putting a moratorium on any new electricity generation projects which come at the cost of our critical ecosystems like the rivers (hydro-power); forests (thermal power); agricultural lands (nuclear power) and coasts and deserts (large sized solar and wind power) and invest all our energies and resources in improving the efficiencies of our existing power plants, its distribution infrastructure and demand side management.
Acknowledged the world over for our brave climate-related pronouncements, can we now add one more to the list, namely “India declares a moratorium on new power generation projects”?
This article was first published at The Dialogue as How Much Energy Do We Need For A Comfortable Living? on July 25, 2022.
Read another piece by Manoj Misra on the wasteland problem of deserts- Deserts and Ravines are not Wastelands in IMPRI insights.
Read another piece by Manoj Misra- Reducing Water Footprint in Electricity Production in IMPRI insights.
Read another piece by Manoj Misra on Can Compensatory Afforestation cure all woes? in IMPRI insights.
About the Author
Manoj Misra, former member of the Indian Forest Service (IFS), and Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (Living Yamuna Campaign) a civil society consortium. Member of Water Conflicts Forum and the India Rivers Forum, Organising Committee
(With inputs from Shankar Sharma, an independent power expert.)