ROLE OF ENERGY IN BRIDGING THE RURAL–URBAN GAP IN INDIA
Umesh Chandra Sharma* and Neetu Singh
Department of Chemical Engineering
University Institute of Engineering and Technology
C S J M University, Kanpur-208024 (India)
* E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org / Phone number: 9454 6282 34
More than two-third of Indian population live in villages and the agriculture sector alone
supports sixty percent of work force in country, but the rural-urban gap in India is widening at a
alarming rate due to strategic failures on account of Indian policy makers and the benefits of
economic development have not reached to majority of these people who are living in miserable
conditions with no access to enough clean water, electricity, roads, hospitals and other basic
facilities. The authors express their view that although energy alone can not reduce the poverty
level from the rural parts, but it can still open many doors of opportunities for these people and
can take away some hardships from their lives and in particular from lives of rural women.
Keywords: Rural-urban gap; Energy scarcity; Income poverty; Cooking fuel; Modern energy.
RURAL-URBAN GAP IN INDIA
Rural – Urban gap in India has long been a cause of great concern for our policymakers.
If we talk on the lines of Charles Dickens’ great novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, it is now “A Tale
of Two Countries” – Bharat and India within the country, where Bharat represents rural part of
the country and India represents urban country. The sharp increase in the rural – urban gap after
six decades of independence is quite alarming, especially in view of the fact that our policy
makers conceived their planning as an instrument to narrow down this rural - urban gap. The
table 1 presents a comparison between rural and urban India on several accounts.
TABLE 1: Comparison between Rural and Urban India*
Population (March 2011)
Average years of education
Regular wage/salaried male worker
Casual male labour
Regular wage/salaried female worker
Casual female labour
Level of poverty line for daily consumption
Average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE)
Per capita food expenses (% of total expenditure)
Average consumption of cereals/month/capita
Percentage share of expense on cereals
Percentage share of expense on education
Percentage share of expense on house rent
Poorest 10% of population (MPCE)
Top 10% of population (MPCE)
Average dietary energy intake/day/capita
Average fat intake/day/capita (gm)
Percentage of households
Average household size
Females per thousand of males
Energy for cooking
Firewood and chips
No arrangement for cooking
Energy for lighting
Domestic electricity consumption/year/capita
Life expectancy at birth (years)
Access to piped drinking water
Infant mortality rate per 1000 births
Improved sanitation facilities (2005-06)
* Unless stated otherwise, all data have been taken for the year 2009-10.
CURRENT STATE OF INDIAN AGRICULTURE SECTOR
The share of agriculture and allied sectors in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has
come down from 19% in 2004-05 to 14% in 2011-12 mainly due to comparatively higher growth
in non-agriculture sectors, but it is still the main source of livelihood for country’s rural
population. The agriculture sector supports more than 60% of the country’s workforce which is
characterized by low income levels, poor quality of life and a weak base of human development.
The agriculture sector has shown an average growth rate of 3.3% annually in the 11th Five Year
Plan period ending March 31, 2012. The slower growth rate of agriculture sector has also serious
implications for the rural-urban relationship. It results in the further widening of the gap .
RELATION BETWEEN INCOME POVERTY AND ENERGY POVERTY
Energy poverty is a direct outcome of income poverty. The major share of country’s rural
population is energy poor. The unaffordability due to poverty and inaccessibility due to
inadequate infrastructure are the root causes of the lack of access to modern energy. This lack of
energy access has major implications for economic development, livelihoods, social dignity, and
environmental sustainability, while access to energy has strong links with poverty reduction
through income, health, education, gender, and the environment .
However, the findings by Khandker et al  are contrary to this common belief and
suggest that energy poverty is not necessarily equal to income poverty. Khandker et al have
found in their study on India that in rural areas some 57% of households are energy poor while
22% are income poor. But in urban areas the energy poverty rate is 28% compared to 20% that
are income poor. Although most of the researchers agree on this point that energy policies play
an important role in mitigating income poverty and reducing income poverty in rural areas
requires support not only from rural electrification, but also from modern cooking fuels such as
LPG. Table 2 gives a brief description of rural energy consumption and supply pattern.
TABLE 2: Demand and Supply of Energy in Rural Areas 
Energy consumption in rural areas
Energy supply in rural areas
• Households are the biggest energy
consuming sector in rural areas.
• Cooking is the major end use, about 85%
of total rural energy use.
• Cooking devices are inefficient,
inconvenient, and dirty.
• Household lighting consumes about 2 to
10% of total rural energy use.
• Energy use for household appliances
(radio, TV, etc.) is insignificant.
• Wood fuels and crops residues meet 80 to
90% of total energy needs in rural
• Kerosene and electricity supply energy
for lighting about 10 to 15% of rural
households have access to electricity.
• Batteries and electricity supply energy for
operation of small appliances.
• The agriculture sector consumes about 2
to 8% of total energy use in rural areas.
• Energy is used for irrigation and
mechanical farm equipment.
• Petroleum fuels and electricity meet
energy needs for irrigation and mechanical
farm equipment use.
• Energy consumption in rural industries,
including both cottage industries and
village level enterprises, amounts to less
• Human and animal power meet bulk of
energy needed for mechanical energy use
in agriculture and other rural activities.
than 10% of total energy use in Asian
developing countries. The low level of
energy consumption is one indication of
the low level of industrial and enterprise
activities in rural areas.
• Energy is used for heating and operation of
mechanical and electrical equipment.
• Wood fuels meet energy for heating needs
of rural industries.
• Electricity also provides motive power for
rural industries, but at an insignificant
NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF ENERGY SCARCITY IN RURAL INDIA
The people in rural areas continue to use traditional biomass fuels like animal dung,
agricultural waste, fuel wood and charcoal for cooking in traditional three-stone inefficient
chulhas (stoves). The high moisture content of the biomass resources and the low efficiency of
the combustion process produce dangerous levels of smoke, particularly when cooking is done
indoors. This creates indoor smoke pollution leading to serious health damage, such as
respiratory diseases, obstetrical problems, blindness and heart disease. Particulate matter in the
Indian households burning biomass is 2000 μg/m3, which is much higher than the permissible
150 μg/m3. Table 3 below gives the number of people world over that rely on the traditional
biomass use as their primary cooking fuel.
TABLE 3: People relying on Traditional Biomass Fuel for Cooking Application (million)
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- Other Asia
About 1.3 million people mostly women and children die prematurely worldwide every
year because of exposure to indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with traditional,
inefficient biomass stoves (Fig. 1). Using World Health Organization figures, it is estimated that
household air pollution from the use of biomass in inefficient stoves would lead to over 1.5
million premature deaths/year (over 4000/day) in 2030, greater than estimates for premature
deaths from malaria, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS .
FIGURE 1: Premature Annual Deaths from Household Air Pollution and Other Diseases
In rural parts of the country, poor people and particularly the women spend up two to
seven hours each day to the collection and processing of traditional fuels for cooking. Aside from
the cost and time, women are exposed to snake bites, threats, assault and health problems like
back pain, neck pain and fatigue from carrying heavy loads for long distances. The time that
women spend finding firewood and water for the household could be used for other productive
activities like farming and education.
Furthermore, the use of firewood and other biomasses for cooking purposes cause
ecological damages like deforestation and soil erosion and local scarcity of wood in some areas.
Plus, it draws agricultural residues and dung away from their use as fertilizer, thus reducing
Lighting in low-income rural households is generally provided by kerosene lanterns.
Kerosene lamps produce better light, but they are uncomfortably hot in a tropical climate and
they also emit smoke. Use of kerosene also imposes health risks through fires and there is
emerging evidence of links with tuberculosis and cancer.
REASONS FOR ENERGY SCARCITY IN RURAL INDIA
A misinterpretation of the term rural energy can be blamed for the current state of affairs
in the rural energy sector. ‘Rural’ is usually equated with ‘agriculture’ and ‘rural energy’ with
‘cooking and lighting’; which undoubtedly misses out the energy requirements of various other
rural facets like rural schools and rural enterprises, etc. As per District Information System for
Education (DISE), around 87% of the schools in the country are located in rural areas. As
reflected in the Economic Census 2005, "there are 42.12 million enterprises in the country
engaged in different economic activities other than crop production and plantation. Out of which,
25.81 million enterprises (61.3%) are in the rural areas and 16.31 million enterprises (38.7%) in
the urban areas." In the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) segment, around 44.52%
of the registered units and around 54.68% unregistered units are in the rural areas. Besides, there
are thousands of rural artisans like weavers who operate as Own Account Enterprises (OAEs)
mainly in the rural areas with erratic power supply.
Government’s rural electrification programs have taken the electricity network
technically within reach of more than 90% of the population, but it has failed to serve any useful
purpose mainly due to two reasons: first, the government efforts are only aimed at that rural houses
are simply connected to grid for the sake of increasing the number of households with access to
electricity, but they do not provide solutions to the basic energy needs for poverty alleviation, which
are mainly cooking and water pumping. The second problem is the high cost of electricity for already
poor rural population. The high transmission and distribution costs in rural areas make it
unattractive, especially since most people are poor and thus unable to pay for electric services. In
other cases, when subsidized grid extension does reach rural areas, the tariffs are too high for
people to pay because the existent demand is too low. In rural areas where electricity is
accessible, connectivity is often severely interrupted, resulting in high rate of burnouts of pumps,
motors and transformers.
BENEFITS TO POOR FROM MODERN ENERGY SERVICES
Electricity and other modern energy sources play a critical role in economic and social
development of rural population. They alone cannot alleviate poverty but they are indispensable
to sustainable development. Modern energy services enhance the life of the poor in countless
Electric light extends the day, providing extra hours for reading and work. Switching to
electricity also eliminates health risks associated with burning kerosene and increases working
efficiency. High-quality compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are four to five times more
efficient than incandescent bulbs and last much longer.
Modern cook-stoves save women and children from daily exposure to noxious cooking
fumes. Refrigeration extends food freshness and avoids wastage. Clinics with electricity can
sterilize instruments and safely store medicines through refrigeration. Manufacturing and service
enterprises with modern energy can be more productive and can extend the quality and range of
their products – thereby creating jobs and higher wages.
SOLUTION OF ENERGY SCARCITY IN RURAL INDIA
It has already been discussed in the same article that grid power is technically within
reach of most of the population, but is hardly available to rural population for a number of
reasons like income poverty or interrupted supply. Therefore, in this section we try to find the
solution of energy crisis from the resources easily available in rural areas.
Energy scarcity in rural India has long been a subject of study for researchers all over the
world. Interestingly all researchers reach on same conclusion that long lasting solution to the
problem of energy scarcity in rural India lie on effective utilization of renewable energy
Decentralized energy planning (DEP) is a new concept for meeting the rural and small
scale energy needs in a reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable way. The concept
has limited applications, but is quite effective for efficient utilization of resources. The central
theme of DEP is to follow an area-based approach to meet energy needs and development of
alternate energy sources at least-cost to the economy and environment. Hiremath et al  have
found in their studies that for a developing country like India biomass-based energy systems
have the potential to meet all the energy needs of a block comprising of several villages.
The current annual usage of woody biomass is estimated at about 200 MT and the
potential for additional production has been estimated at 255 MT. The quantity of cattle dung
produced in India is about 1190 MT/year and the non-fodder dry soft biomass available is
estimated to be between 300 and 600 MT/year. These resources could produce 50,000 MW of
power adequate for meeting the annual lifeline electricity consumption of 365 kWh per
household for about 480 million households and 120 billion m3 of biogas per year sufficient for
meeting the annual biogas requirement of about 320 million households at 1 m3 per household
per day of biogas .
Frauke Urban et al  have undertaken an extensive research to find most viable option
for achieving complete rural electrification in India. The different scenarios were developed for
the period 2005–2030 to analyze the energy supply and demand, primary energy use and costs
and the effects of rural electrification on greenhouse gas emissions. The key assumptions of the
study are displayed in Table 4 and the various scenarios developed for the purpose of study are
shown in Table 5.
TABLE 4: Key Assumptions for Modeling of Non-electrified Rural India
Value in 2005
Total Indian electrification rate
Non-electrified rural households
Energy use per capita
Energy use per household
Increase in energy demand
Population growth rate
GDP growth rate
TABLE 5: Scheme of the Scenarios
Type of scenario
No electrification takes place
Modest electrification takes place with
Renewable energy scenario
Electrification with RE, RE-based end-use
Renewable energy scenario
Electrification with RE, electric end-use
Electrification with decentralized diesel
Grid extension scenario
Electrification with centralized grid
Oil price scenario BAU
Oil price doubles between 2005 and 2030
Oil price scenario DIESEL
Oil price doubles between 2005 and 2030
Oil price scenario GRID
Oil price doubles between 2005 and 2030
Grid distance scenario
Distance from households to grid is 10 km
GRID 15 KM
Grid distance scenario
Distance from households to grid is 15 km
GRID 25 KM
Grid distance scenario
Distance from households to grid is 25 km
This group of researcher has found that rural electrification with primarily renewable
energy-based appliances is likely to be the most cost-effective option and could reduce up to
99% of total CO2 emissions and 35% of primary energy use from the residential sector and
therefore have very high climate change mitigation potentials. However, rural electrification with
renewable energy turns out to be more costly than grid extensions when electric end-use devices
are predominantly used. Electrification with diesel systems is particularly undesirable for
climate, primary energy use and costs. This research therefore suggests that renewable energy is
a viable option for mitigating energy poverty of rural India in which development aid and efforts
made by government could contribute significantly.
The most common applications of renewable energy for rural population are cooking,
lighting, process motive power, water pumping and heating and cooling (Table 6).
TABLE 6: Common Applications of Renewable Energy in Off-grid Rural Areas 
Renewable Energy Applications
stoves and ovens)
• biomass direct combustion (fuel
wood, crop wastes, forest wastes,
dung, charcoal and other forms)
• biogas from household-scale
• solar cookers
Lighting and other small
electric needs (homes,
schools, street lighting,
telecom, hand tools,
• small hydropower
• biogas from household-scale
• small-scale biomass gasifier with
• village-scale mini-grids and
solar/wind hybrid systems
• solar home systems
• small hydropower
• biogas from household-
• small-scale biomass gasifier
with gas engine
• village-scale mini-grids and
solar/wind hybrid systems
• solar home systems
Process motive power
• small hydro with electric motor
• biomass power generation and
• biomass gasification with gas
diesel engines and generators
(agriculture and drinking)
• mechanical wind pumps
• solar PV pumps
Heating and cooling (crop
drying and other
• biomass direct combustion
• biogas from small- and medium-
• solar crop dryers
• solar water heaters
• ice making for food preservation
LPG, kerosene, diesel
The rural poor families use biomass mainly for cooking in conventional chulhas made of
mud and brick which are only 10-15% efficient. Thus, the first technology to be considered for
improved energy access in rural areas is improved chulhas which have much higher efficiency
reaching up to 40%. Apart from being more efficient and thus enabling the rural women to spend
less time in collection of fuel wood, emissions of indoor pollutants are also reduced .
The second technology to be considered for cooking in rural areas is solar thermal
cooking, which uses the direct heat from the sun. Solar thermal cookers can be 30% to 70% more
efficient than regular cooking stoves and the production costs are decreasing dramatically.
In India, where there are large amounts of cattle, biogas holds a great promise in
delivering change in rural areas. Biogas is produced from animal and human waste through a
process known as anaerobic digestion. The methane gas so produced can be used as a fuel
replacing traditional biomass fuel or even kerosene and LPG. The small scale production of
biogas in rural areas is a well-established technology and can be used at low cost.
Agricultural residues, like rice husk and sugar bagasse can be used in place of traditional
fuel wood directly. The biggest problem with the use of agricultural residues for the purposes of
energy is their low energy content per volume, which requires the handling and transportation of
large quantities of these fuels. This problem can, however, be solved by making the briquettes of
condensed agricultural residues.
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) panels are very popular to target energy problems in remote
disconnected areas. PV panels are particularly good for stand-alone systems for the production of
electricity, like street lighting, community facilities, or solar home systems. The main problems
with PV panels are their high capital and installation costs, the need for a battery which only lasts
four to five years, expensive spare parts and the fact that they cannot be produced locally.
Wind energy has also emerged in last few years as an option for rural energy supply. The
power generated by wind turbines can be used for both, a household system, or an integrated
grid. The wind energy is, however, less reliable than other sources and for electricity it might
also be too expensive due to the high replacement costs of batteries. But for other applications
like mechanical energy for water pumping, wind energy can be extremely beneficial.
Small hydropower (SHP) of about 5 kW - 100 kW is a particularly good option for
micro-grids and has huge potential in India. The main advantages of SHP are that the technology
is mature, easy to maintain, reliable and has low operating costs. The only disadvantage is high
RENEWABLE ENERGY-BASED JOB CREATION
Indian agriculture sector is facing the new challenges of diminishing land resources,
productivity decline, loss of bio-diversity, natural resource degradation and widening of
economic inequality. Small and marginal farmers are getting difficulty in meeting the
requirements of the food for their families and fodder for their cattle. As a result, every year
millions of poor families are forced to migrate in search of work due to a livelihoods collapse in
the villages. These distress migrants often lock their homes, take a few meager belongings and
move across long distances. The children accompanying their parents are forced to drop out of
school. The numbers of such children under the age of 14 years is estimated to be around 9
One primary benefit of energy-based economic development lies in its potential for job
creation, shown in table 7, associated with increased investment in energy supply and energy
efficiency. Several researchers have contended that a large percentage of this employment is
made up of jobs that are guaranteed to remain domestic which are not at risk of being fulfilled by
overseas labor, because the installation of energy systems involves site-specific installation and
construction. Another common conclusion of many works in this field is that the creation and
adoption of low-carbon energy technologies aimed at energy generation and efficiency tend to
create more jobs per unit of installed capacity than conventional approaches.
TABLE 7: Measuring Energy-based Job Creation
Economic impact result
0.86 jobs/MW wind
38 jobs/MW photovoltaic
43 jobs/MW solar thermal
4.14 jobs/MW biomass-electric
6.5 jobs/1000 tons/year biofuels
7.5 jobs/1000 m2 solar thermal
13.2 jobs/MW wind
20 jobs/MW hydroelectric
31 jobs/MW biogas
37.3 jobs/MW peak solar photovoltaic
2.57 jobs/MW construction wind
0.29 jobs/MW O&M wind
4.00 jobs/MW construction geothermal
1.67 jobs/MW O&M geothermal
4.29 jobs/MW construction biomass
1.53 jobs/MW O&M biomass
3.71 jobs/MW construction biogas
2.28 jobs/MW O&M biogas
5.71 jobs/MW construction solar thermal
0.22 jobs/MW O&M solar thermal
7.14 jobs/MW construction solar photovoltaic
0.12 jobs/MW O&M solar photovoltaic
15.1 jobs/MW installed capacity of wind
0.4 jobs/MW additional in O&M + other activities
In India, more than 833 million people live in villages which constitute 68.84% of total
population. Not all but majority of this large rural population live in miserable conditions with
poor human development facilities such as health, education, power, roads and marketing
facilities. It is true that energy alone can not alleviate income poverty in rural India, but it can
definitely help in reducing hardships from their daily lives and may open the doors for several
There is a gloomy scenario of energy sufficiency in the rural areas which does not match
with ground realities of rural India. The agriculture sector is already facing many challenges and
its share in GDP is going down, it’s a time for researchers and policy makers to find out –
What’s going wrong on ground? Our policy makers must understand that by stretching
transmission lines up to the villages do not solve the energy scarcity of rural India. When 60% of
country’s workforce is dependent on agriculture and allied sector, it can be said without
hesitation that if our policy makers are able to focus on agriculture sector and energy needs of
rural India, country’s wheel of growth will move at a pace not seen earlier.
The country imports around 70% of its crude oil requirement from international market at
a heavy price for its economy. There is an urgent need to develop liquid fuel production policy
based on ethanol and biodiesel. If the share of ethanol is further increased in transportation fuel
and its use is expanded as cooking and lighting fuel, it is estimated that ethanol production itself
can bring in about Rs 40,000-50,000 Crore wealth to rural India.
The more waste and degraded land should be brought under Jatropha and tree borne non-
edible oilseeds like Neem and Karanja for producing biodiesel. With very little processing
required for biodiesel, the farmers can get substantial remunerations by growing them.
If energy needs of rural women are solved by access to modern energy services like cooking
fuels and mechanical or electrical energy for water pumping, it will have a net positive effect on the
well being of rural families. The women make a huge manpower in our country and they waste large
parts of their time finding energy and also suffer the most from indoor air pollution. If their energy
needs are targeted, the chances of decreasing rural poverty are increased because the time saved can
be utilized in other income-generating activities that keep them busy and allow them to pay for
energy services and earn money for their families.
Most of the rural people have now become accustomed to the hardships of sub-standard
cooking and lighting conditions. They are used to accessing free biomass for cooking and paying
little for kerosene-based lighting. Therefore, it is very important to educate them about the
benefits of modern energy access even at additional cost .
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Please cite this article as: Sharma UC, Singh N. Role of energy in bridging the rural-urban gap
in India. In: Suresh S, Sudhakar K, editors. International conference on global scenario in
environment and energy (ICGSE2 2013), BS Publications, Hyderabad; 2013, p. 15–27.