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[BENGALURU] Electric induction stoves have limited potential to replace firewood as primary cooking fuel in India but hold promise in replacing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as the secondary fuel, says a study by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi.

In the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where hydro-electric power is abundant, about 90 per cent of the population lives in electrified rural villages. Despite this, 63 per cent of rural households use firewood for cooking, and almost none use electricity, says the study to be published January in Energy Policy.

Experts say India’s plans to cut down emissions must cover kitchens, though this is a daunting task. According to the World Energy Outlook 2012, published by the International Energy Agency, 772 million Indians (66 per cent of the total population) use biomass as fuel for cooking.

India’s 2011 census also showed 63 per cent households using firewood for cooking and 23 per cent relying on crop residue and cow dung. The inefficiency of the fuels coupled with substandard design of stoves and chimneys and poor ventilation in rural kitchens tell on the health of women who are mostly tasked with cooking.

Of the several programmes to introduce cleaner cooking programmes, one coordinated by TERI in electricity–surplus Himachal Pradesh relies on the popularisation of electric inductions stoves.

TERI sold four thousand induction stoves at wholesale prices through local entrepreneurs, but a survey of a 1,000 users a year later revealed that electricity replaced firewood as the primary cooking fuel in only five per cent of the households. On the other hand, electricity replaced LPG as the secondary cooking fuel in 84 per cent of the households.

While induction stoves may be the right choice for Himachal Pradesh, they may not be suitable for other states. “We need to try different interventions depending on the geographical, social and economic contexts,” Manjushree Banerjee, an author of the study, tells SciDev.Net. “One needs to assess the demand as well as supply patterns and potential of the cooking fuel in any locality before proposing any cleaner or clean cooking technology such as biomass-based improved cook stoves, LPG, or induction stoves,” she said.

Ashok Srinivas, senior research fellow at Prayas, a non-governmental organisation that works on energy and health, thinks that the results are on expected lines. “The study provides evidence for what one would expect — that people would prefer to shift to modern and cleaner fuels, if they have affordable and reliable access to it,” he says.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South Asia desk.