India’s per-capita deception

Quoting Tulsi Tanti, chairman of Suzlon, from the latest issue of The Week(dated April 6th), “With over 1.1 billion people, we have a per capita use of 660kw, while it is 1,400kw for the US, and the global average is 3,000kw.” This was in reply to the argument that India was growing, hence guzzling up resources. This quote is dejavu from the Fortune Global Forum 2007, where Dr. Manmohan Singh flaunted it in his keynote to the audience, which also included Tulsi Tanti. I especially remember this quote from the PM, because right after the keynote Marc Gunther, who writes on environmental issues for Fortune, had a short discussion on this with a Fulbright scholar, who was working with TERI on energy financing. Since I was sitting between them, clueless about energy, I had a vantage view of what Americans thought of India’s energy attitude. Six months after that discussion, if you corner me on energy, I’ll quote them!

So why is the per-capita figure by Tulsi Tanti deceiving? Because half of the billion people being talked about do not have access to the energy and do not use it or waste it. So most of the energy which is being used is from the urban population aggregates of India. Divide India’s energy use by the urban population and you’ll end up with a number nearly double of the world average. Our urban cities have some of the most inefficient power management systems and unoptimized consumer appliances. Every time somebody tries pointing that out, somebody BIG shoves the 800kw statistic into their face. Thinking about it, we use the 1.1 billion number to our advantage. When it comes to stuff like sports or income or education, the 1.1 billion is immediately replaced by a more convenient number. India is like two countries, one which is as modern and wasteful as the US, the other is poor and backward like Bangladesh. Its time to come up with statistics for both these ‘countries’ so that we can really understand what is going wrong.

I certainly wasn’t expecting Tulsi Tanti, who really impressed me at the Fortune Forum, to hide behind such a statistic. I wonder where I can find more credible statistics regarding India’s energy consumption? Every data I found by Googling had 1.1 billion in the denominator.

11 Responses to “India’s per-capita deception”

  1. April 5, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    My dear friend,

    According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2006, the following is a list of annual per capita energy consumption in some countries:

    India: 631 kWh
    China: 1,900 kWh
    Russia: 5,642 kWh
    France: 7,689 kWh
    Australia: 11,126 kWh
    USA: 13,338 kWh
    Canada: 17,179 kWh

    IEA estimates that the demand for electricity from developing countries may overshoot that from the OECD countries by 2030, if Millennium Development targets were to be achieved. Somebody either spoke the numbers wrong, or you heard wrong.

    India, according to the Census survey 2001, had an urban population of 27.8%, while the US has around 80.6% (2003 Estimates of US Urban Population. United States Census Bureau) living in urban or suburban centres. India’s estimated annual population growth rate is 1.606% in 2007, while that of the US is 0.894%. India’s economy grew by about 8.5% in 2007, while the US economy grew by 2.2%.

    The question here is not of who is using how much today, but of what they would be using, say, 25 years hence. Some more statistics for you to chew upon, from IEA:

    2004 2015 2030
    Total primary energy supply (Mtoe)
    USA (reference scenario) 2,324 2,653 2,929
    USA (alternative policy scenario) 2,324 2,588 2,701

    India (reference scenario) 573 776 1,104
    India (alternative policy scenario) 573 733 964

    Here, the alternative policy scenario is about energy efficiency, pollution control, etc. The key to understanding these figures is three words: context, perspective, and percentage.

    Imagine the resource requirements when India, China, Brazil etc. would demand their place in the sun two decades from now.

    The US, with less than a third of the population of India, uses nearly five times its primary energy. With environmentally conscious policies, a daydream, its 2030 usage projection could be offset by 7.8%. In case of India (92.7-68.2%) growth, better policies could offset it by 12.7%, but it still would be a third of the US’ consumption, with a much, much larger population!

    So who is the real 800 billion pound gorilla here?

    Please stop trying to think so lowly of yourself as an Indian citizen. You are not such a large burden on this world. Rethink what Mr.Manmohan Singh and Mr.Tulsi Tanti said in light of the above, and please, Google before you blog.

    DISCLAIMER: I work for Mr.Tanti, but the post here is strictly my personal opinion.

  2. April 5, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Stargazer your points taken. I should have added little more information and facts, my post was incomplete and quite uninformed. I’ll google tons before posting stuff again. Thank you for taking time to post a long post. It’ll be a little more credible if you give a real name while commenting.

    In my defence, if you let me.
    Firstly I’m surprised, Tanti got the numbers wrong. I’ll call it a journalistic blunder, since I quoted verbatim from a leading weekly.

    Secondly you got the context of the post wrong, I wasn’t talking about US utilizing resources nor their energy. Frankly today I don’t give a damn, there’s hardly anything that I can do to influence the Americans. But what I can do is influence stuff in my own country, which is why I’m worried, when our leaders take a stance of pointing out to a bigger culprit when our mistakes are pointed out. Such an attitude can only be damaging in the long run.

    Third, half of our country still does not have access to electricity and I find it unfair to add them to the denominator of our energy consumption. Adding such a huge number which does not consume electricity is just plainly idiotic.

    Fourth, I hardly ‘think so lowly of myself as an Indian citizen’. I’m proud and do not consider myself a ‘large burden on the world’. I’m absolutely not insecure about exposing weaknesses of my country, it doesn’t make us lesser to anybody else.

  3. 3 duryodhan
    April 6, 2008 at 1:46 am

    “Please stop trying to think so lowly of yourself as an Indian citizen”

    Whatever gave you that idea!?!! Maybe you need to stop thinking that other people think of themselves as lowly Indian citizen.

    Your argument to me seems to boil down to :

    U.S is a big Gorilla. Even if we start guzzling like crazy , in 25 years we will be a big gorilla but smaller than US , so we really shouldn’t care about how wasteful we are.

    Thats just dumb. I won’t even care to explain why it is dumb.

    Abhishek’s point was that most of our energy usage is inefficient. Ofcourse it is. But we still consume less enery. We sit and wash our clothes by hand, our dishes by hand , cycle/bike to work/school , we don’t have lifts everywhere, we don’t have heaters/coolers in every room. So we don’t mind using a bulb instead of a CFL. But as a country , we need to start caring about energy efficiency. This was taken care of earlier, as in general the generation before us was a little careful about using energy ( maybe because they were stingy, I don’t know!), but now so many people are getting good first jobs they really don’t care about their energy consumption. That needs to be stopped/ controlled. As a nation, the more we put our energy consumption in control , the better off we are , economically, politically etc.

  4. April 6, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    abhishek, I think your point is pretty clear. Let’s worry about getting our things in place, no matter who’s the bigger gorilla.

  5. 5 raj
    April 10, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Abhishek, your point is quite relevant. We cannot hide under the cloak of ‘per capita’ figures, as any number on numerator when divided by 1,1 billion will always look small. The system here is so inefficient, right across the chain. Generation efficiency is less than 30%, T&D losses are over 30% and almost all consumign devices are optimised for cost,not efficiency. Besides, it also important to see how the units are produced. Consuming 60 units of power from a central coal plant emits as much CO2 as 120 units from a gas-based, cogen plant, located close to the load. So, there are many variables.

  6. April 16, 2008 at 2:51 am

    There are serious inefficiencies at every level in India. I can’t pinpoint the exact article I read which has statistics, but per capita water consumption is very high in Indian cities, but we don’t have 24/7 water.

    “If you compare Delhi with Paris, Delhi has 220 litres per capita water while Paris has 150 litres per capita. Paris has water 24×7.”

    Some info on Oil subsidies and inefficiencies (comments) at: http://www.deeshaa.org/2008/02/15/how-we-subsidize-the-rich/

    The cost of producing any commodity is cheap, the advances in technology and economies of scale ensure that (let us, for a brief moment, ignore the retarded GoI policies). The problem boils down to distribution costs, which are always 50 – 80% of the cost. The initial cost of infrastructure, maintaining it, cost to run it ..

    For eg, food:
    “The estimated bill for marketing domestic farm foods–which does not include imported foods–was $498 billion in 1999. This amount covered all charges for transporting, processing, and distributing foods that originated on U.S. farms. It represented 80 percent of the $618 billionconsumers spent for these foods. The remaining 20 percent, or $121 billion, represents the gross return paid to farmers.”

    Same thing holds true for technology companies to some extent. Walmart mastered supply chain (another word for distribution costs), hence it is big. Google has figured out how to build the most efficient distributed OS (distributing bits from one point to another), search is the first app they built on it, they can pretty much build any app they want (and they are going to), for other companies it is going to cost them 4 times as much to do the same things, as they don’t have that kind of engineering brilliance. Can someone build a gmail like app? Probably. But the cost of deploying it worldwide requires different engineering skills.

    For a better India, all our mental resources must concentrate on rigorous process engineering.

  7. 7 Chinmay
    April 17, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    You’ve barely uncovered the tip of the iceberg on this one.
    (Albert Einstein: “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies, and statistics!”)

    You must have seen the statistic about “x million people living with wages of less than a dollar a day”.

    Sure, it is a pitiable state. Sure, it gets us the due sympathy. But then, you have to think of dollar a day in terms of cost-of-living. A dollar buys much more in India than in the US. ((un)fortunately, even with these adjustments, the number is still obscenely large)

    In a zeal to make our case, numbers are often mis-quoted. It’s not just India which does it. (Ask any magazine about their subscriber count, for example!)

  8. 8 S D Gupta
    June 8, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    I find it very humourous that India’s elite class (which includes me) are so much into ‘green’ things now a days that we often don’t state the politically incorrect thing in plain words. India’s huge population is the problem here. If no amount of rules, films, coercion, brainwashing, nudging, conferences, discussions could change Indian breeding habits for sixty years, then what makes us think that the very same people will be accepting all this energy conservation mumbo jumbo? Hey! We cannot even keep our holiest river clean a – river which we worship and praise and then dump our sins (garbage, dead bodies, sewerage etc.). Plus remember that many of us elite (with the leftist bent) also want to glorify the living in the dumps scenario. Take for example one of the leading writers of India living in an elite university town. The whole town is surrounded by myopic, garbage ridden, unlplanned urban growth thanks to the board of which she is a big supporter. A few people decided to put in planned growth, but this famous writer is busy organizing protests now a days against planned growth. It seems garbage laden lanes are closer to nature than what the writer brands as the “builder mafia”.

    Good luck to all of us desis.

  9. 9 A.K.Mondal
    January 4, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Came across this blog rather late but I’ll still add my two-penny bit for whatever it is worth –

    Approximately 400 million people in India do not have access to power. This was the figure quoted by the ex-power secretary in an Infrastructure Conference hosted by IDFC in Delhi on 1st and 2nd December – this translates to around 36% of the Indian population of 1.1 Billion

    T&D losses, which also cloaks power theft but is also due to antiquated and inefficient T&D systems, amounts to around 30% today – I suspect it would be around 15-20% if you remove the power theft component.

    Even if you remove both factors from numerator and denominator, it does not make much of a difference since the disparity in power consumption between India and developed countries is multiple times – by an order of magnitude

  10. September 30, 2014 at 5:14 am

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