Study: Improved electricity access has little impact on climate change

From the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

no-partial-Electricity[1]Improving household electricity access in India over the last 30 years contributed only marginally to the nation’s total carbon emissions growth during that time, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Energy access is fundamental to development: it brings improvements to all aspects of life, including education, communication, and health,” says IIASA researcher Shonali Pachauri, who conducted the study.

While increased energy access is widely agreed to be an important goal for development efforts, such as the UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, the climate impacts of increased access to electricity have been unclear. The new study is the first to examine the impact of electricity access on carbon dioxide emissions using two sources of retrospective data.

“This study shows that the climate impacts of expanding access are in fact very small,” says Pachauri. However, she adds, expanding low-carbon energy technologies in developing countries would bring many co-benefits beyond climate mitigation.

Pachauri used India as a case study because while the country still lacks electricity access for much of its population—around 400 million people—it has vastly increased access in the last 30 years. From 1981 to 2011, household electricity access in the country improved from around 25% to between 67-74% of the population, an increase of approximately 650 million people.

“India is at a similar stage to many other developing countries in terms of energy access” says Pachauri, “So we believe that these findings will be applicable on a broad scale to other developing countries.”

Using two data sources, the study found that improved electricity access in India from 1981 to 2011 accounted for approximately 50 million tons of CO2, or 3-4% of the rise in total national CO2 emissions.

Since electrification also tends to lead to increased wealth and participation in the economy, it can also lead to additional increases in emissions from indirect energy use through consumption. Pachauri found that when she took these factors into account, household electricity use would account for 156 to 363 million tons CO2, or 11 to 25% of emissions growth in the country. However, even with increased electricity use, Indian households still use less electricity than Chinese households, and less than 10% of households in the United States.

Researchers say that even though the emissions growth from expanded energy access is small, low carbon energy sources have additional benefits for developing countries and should be encouraged. Previous IIASA research including the 2012 Global Energy Assessment has shown a broad array of co-benefits from expanding low-carbon, sustainable energy technologies.

Pachauri says, “Low-carbon energy sources bring improved health, efficiency, and can also bring benefits to the economy and employment. And if international climate policies are introduced later, more investment in low-carbon energy sources would mean that developing countries are not locked-in to fossil fuel power and higher costs in the future.”



Pachauri, S. 2014. Household electricity access a trivial contributor to CO2 emissions growth in India. Nature Climate Change DOI:10.1038/nclimate2414.

45 thoughts on “Study: Improved electricity access has little impact on climate change

    • From Google,
      Dr Shonali Pachauri is the deputy programme leader of the population and climate change (PCC) programme at the IIASA (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis), and has been since 2008, having joined IIASA as a research scholar in October 2005.
      She is well qualified for her posts She has a background in energy and environmental economics and received her PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) in 2002. She also holds a master’s degree in environmental and resource economics from University College London.
      And it is just a coincidence that she is also the youngest daughter of Dr R K Pachauri – former head of the IPCC.

  1. Why would a study not attempt to say why electricity access has a relatively low impact. Electricity has replaced the need for very inefficient burning of dung, sticks, coal, refuse, etc. among 650M people. There, I’m not even a climate scientist.

    • Really. Power plant that does everything it can to limit fuel use in order to increase efficiency and those evil “profits” vs. thousands of tons of inefficient low temp fires burning wood and dung. Kind of a no brainer… but it’s got to be difficult to track. I mean where’s the nameplate fuel capacity listed for an elephant dung heated home and how do you know how much wood is replaced by an electric hotplate or convection oven in some poor family’s home.

    • “Low-carbon energy sources bring improved health”
      Dung is a sustainable carbon neutral energy source, requiring virtually no government subsidies or carbon taxes. The ideal energy source for the future, because we are never going to run out of dung.

  2. Indeed, strike. Note the reference to “low carbon” power sources. I’m not sure whether this is part of the family wanting to emphasise the necessity for low carbon sources, or wanting to emphasise the need for more sources of any type. Maybe the IPCC head is having second thoughts, and is wanting to gradually provide an escape route from the dead-end he has been heading towards for so long. Either way, it’s probably another good sign that the opposition is crumbling.

  3. Regarding the headline and the first paragraph, what exactly has “carbon emissions growth” to do with “climate change”?
    Inquiring minds want to know.

  4. Note the countries in the world with active Environmental movements….yup they all have electricity!

    • This of course is a no brainer and is what makes me very angry. The double standards of Western green activists is astounding to me as I also live in a low co2 state. Power outages galore. This is one of the reasons why I come to WUWT and do my best to undermine alarmists.

    • The issue here is not really “improved electricity” but increased output of CO2. But we have seen a drastic rise in CO2 over the last two decades while the average global temperature has gone done.
      CO2 has precious little to do with global temperatures. Observations of the real world demonstrate this — and to Fracking Hades with the alarmist computer models.

  5. “….low carbon energy sources have additional benefits for developing countries and should be encouraged” – go on Love, please tell us what they are…..or are you referring to nuclear? cos’ there sure aren’t any other “low carbon energy sources” with sufficient energy density to drag poverty-stricken developing countries out of their desperate holes. Guess that’s why India and Africa aren’t covered in windmills.

    • I’ll note that, once again, this op seems primarily concerned with energy dearth in third world countries, with the U.S. and western European countries not mentioned. The World Bank does not mention them for whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean that we should not. I taught for a year on the Navajo Indian Reservation, where something like 15% of the homes (widely dispersed shacks and hogans out in the Arizona and New Mexico desert), have no electricity. Open pit fires and kerosene lanterns are pretty common, and the “state of the art” in many of these rural homes might be a wood stove. The love for remoteness still burns bright around there. Hopi kids came 60 miles down off the mesas by yellow school buses to get to my school, returning home after dark. Many Navajo came just as far from every direction, over rutted dirk roads, rising and returning home in darkness.
      With the costs of stringing power lines to these remote locations running into the tens of thousands of dollars per mile, I honestly don’t know what the alternative is: gas-powered generators? (Diesel costs close to $7 per gallon) Solar? Wind? There certainly is a case to be made for solar if it is functional and gives them a light to study by. And the wind blows up a dust storm every few days.
      I’m not a solar or wind advocate. I just don’t think we should stiff American kids in redressing green overreach. Distant locations in Appalachia, the desert Southwest, North Dakota and Wyoming are some of the “gray areas” on the World Bank maps – poor communities in an energy-rich nation – which desperately need small, local sources of electrical energy that don’t depend on the urban electric grid. They deserve mention.

      • One of the high points of a vacation long ago was a night at a Navajo run hotel at Marble Canyon at the far end of the Grand Canyon. Remarkable dark, stars, solice, peace…. If I could live there, I would not take modernity with me … kerosene and a wood stove are fine with me. And yes, I have lived with them…

  6. Consider the following technology advances in the developed world over the decades that have dramatically lowered electrical consumption while improving lives and living standards.
    Incandescent > fluorescent > compact fluorescent > diode lighting
    Electrical Cooking:
    electrical resistance heat-elements > microwave + induction + convection.
    CRT with h.v. tube circuits > CRT with transistor-based circuits > flat panel LCD with ICs
    In the developing world, those populations will be able to jump immediately to lowest electrical consuming devices.
    However, the biggest obstacle to widespread electrification in the 3rd world is corruption and theft of services.

  7. I’d be curious to know from WUWT commenters, how their local/national power infrastructure is faring under the Thermogeddonist policies.
    In New Zealand, our power supplies are starting to look shakey on occasion, Thermal generation is a NO-NO, with a major plant being mothballed.
    Ironically a new dam and significant Wind Farm was canned too.
    The Human race is being throttled everywhere.
    More power, cheaper power and access to it is essential to Global prosperity, what the hell is going on?

  8. Real indoor carbon pollution (as opposed to the fake carbon pollution of CO2) kills 4.2 million people per year about half of those in South Asia. Outdoor carbon pollution kills another 600,000 in India.
    I’m certain CO2 has never killed anyone in India.

  9. I have done some work on 3rd world power over the years. Started with plant oil in Diesels before it was trendy back in the 70’s. Most light was kerosene or gas oil lamps (think coleman or petro). Lots of cooking on kerosene and gasoline too. Moving to electricity is a large efficiency win. Which is why I think it criminal that AWG fanatics are thwarting cheap electrification. Oh, and lower carbon too. Not that it matters…

  10. Why does south-east Africa have a gigantic new gulf? Has the rifting accelerated? You would think that would have made the news.

    • The Gulf of Tanzania I think I will call it. How many people were driven from their homes, or worse caught in the floods? Oh, the humanity!

  11. Ok good. So the millions of low income families in India should not stay deprived of reliable non-interrupted electricity thanks to this kind of studies. Western greenies were out for Indian blood with their CO2 obsession.
    Mega polluter China usually gets carte blanche from them, but that is another matter.

  12. It’s so frustrating and infuriating watching inane political hacks and enviro-wackos do a photo-op outside some 3rd-World mud hut with a solar panel stuck on roof and saying “Mission Accomplished” (TM)…
    The ONLY way to get the 3rd World out of poverty is for stupid political hacks to invest in cheap fossil fuel plants that run on either natural gas or coal. PERIOD! (TM).
    Millions of people needlessly die each year because “well meaning” political hacks and enviro-wackos prohibit the development of cheap fossil fuel power generation in 3rd-wold countries. The stated goal of this insanity is to save the world from catastrophic global warming, which isn’t even occurring….
    Historians will not treat this generation well for the millions of needless caused by insane policies in accordance to the CAGW hypothesis.
    The good news is that taxpayers are starting to realize how shattered the CAGW hypothesis has become and hopefully these destructive CAGW policies will end soon.
    The best way for these 3rd-world countries to crawl out of poverty is to implement free-market economic reforms.
    If you look at the poorest countries in the world, they ALL have ONE thing in common, a dismal lack of economic freedom:

    • The second half of your comment invalidates part of the first…namely, that “The ONLY way to get the 3rd World out of poverty is for stupid political hacks to invest in cheap fossil fuel plants”.
      No, as you correctly argued, the only way to get the 3rd world out of poverty is to remove the control over energy that “stupid political hacks” have seized.

  13. “From 1981 to 2011, household electricity access in the country improved from around 25% to between 67-74% of the population, an increase of approximately 650 million people… the study found that improved electricity access in India from 1981 to 2011 accounted for approximately 50 million tons of CO2”
    Average person exhales 8.8 kg of CO2 a day. 650 million Indians exhale 2 billion tons of CO2 a year. If they breathe slowly, 50 million tons would be offset and no increase in CO2 emissions. They can practice yoga breathing exercises.

  14. It’s about time the common folk completely understand that energy is life; cheap energy is prosperity.

  15. Renewables avoid suffering future cost increases for fossil fuels? At the cost of ruinously expensive and unreliable power now and for the foreseeable future. Such a deal!

  16. Livestock’s Long Shadow, released by FAO in 2006, already pointed out the major contributor to climate change – humans, consuming too much meat .
    This report helps the public to wake up that all we are doing, steered by XXXX, are beating around the bushes. Most climate change solution policies are inefficient and will take us to no where.
    As a responsible Earth citizen, one should change to a new lifestyle, to live on organic plant-based diet and to protect all co-inhabitants who are the beings to sustain the balance of the Nature. Thus we can restore the damaged environment in time.

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