Rising electricity bills of Mumbai slums threaten India’s energy security, reveals Cambridge study
The household energy bills of India’s poorest city dwellers is likely to rise, posing a threat to India’s energy security due to a series of factors that lead to their greater use of electrical appliances, a new study by experts at the University of Cambridge and IIT Bombay says.
The study exploring the effect of slum rehabilitation in Mumbai on appliance ownership and its implications on residential electricity demand finds that slum rehabilitation leads to a shift of certain household tasks being performed indoors.
This leads to increased reliance on electrical appliances such as fans and fridges, and greater electricity consumption, the first such study by Ramit Debnath, Ronita Bardhan and Minna Sunikka-Blank says.
The situation calls for more policy focus on energy-efficient building design in slum areas, the researchers say.
Over the last 30 years, Mumbai has undergone rapid expansion - including a programme to rehabilitate slum areas by moving residents to new high-rise buildings, a continuing process built on the back of tax incentives for developers.
The researchers surveyed 1,224 households in Mumbai for the study and conducted empirical analysis using covariance-based structural equation modelling. They found that that factors such as housing design, household practices and the affordability of appliances influence ownership of appliances and therefore energy bills.
For instance, they found that changes in household practices shift activities like cooking, washing and cleaning from outdoor to indoor spaces that significantly influences higher appliance ownership.
Issues such as poor indoor air quality, heat, hygiene and the cost and ease of use of appliances such as fridges and fans lead to higher ownership and greater electricity usage.
The researchers say their findings published in journal ‘Energy Policy’ could help policymakers to design better regulatory and energy efficiency policies for low-income settlements.
Debnath, a Gates Cambridge Scholar in the department of Architecture, says: “Sub-standard design of social housing like slum rehabilitation housing not only poses health hazards to the occupants, but our findings indicate the possibility of energy burden on them through higher electricity bills”.
The researchers say that there is a significant gap in current policy discussions as the low-income population is assumed to consume the least energy. The gap, if not addressed, could pose a threat to India’s energy security, especially when two-thirds of the building stocks are yet to be built, the researchers say.
“While India will pull millions of its citizens out of extreme poverty in the coming decades, the future of urbanisation will primarily belong to the low-income strata. Understanding their practices and energy choices will be critical in determining future energy sustainability”.