Kerosene vs. Klean. Lighting up rural India: Cost and Emission Analysis

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it” – Michelangelo

As of now, there are around 1.5 Billion people in the world without access to electricity grid, out ot which the share of India would come to around 400 Million people or around around 100 Million families. Majority of them live in the 80000 or so non grid connected villages in India.

They all depend mainly on Kerosene lanterns as the source of light. That makes Kerosene a very sensitive commodity in India. Kerosene is sold as a subsidized fuel in Government run ration shops for the poor people. Currently it is sold for around Rs. 12.50 per litre, but government gives around Rs.19.60 as subsidy on top of that to meet the actual open market price of around Rs. 32.00 Poor families are eligible to get around 6 lites per month at this subsidized rate.

Around 12 Billion litres of Kerosene are supplied to Ration shops annually and as much as 40% of that which is around 5 Billion litres are getting stolen to black market. The money lost by Indian government is around Rs. 10000 Crore (US$ 2.2 Billion) in subsidy itself. That gives around 7 Billion litres for the actual use.

There is another dimension for the “lost” kerosene. It is mainly used to adulterate petrol and diesel fuel. Adulterated petrol and diesel causes less mileage, higher maintenace cost, higher smoke and particulate pollution and emission.

Kerosene Usage Statistics

Summarizing Kerosene usage, Carbon Dioxide Emission and actual costs data.

Table1: Kerosene Statistics

Usage 7 Bn Litres Black 5 Bn Litres Total 12 Bn Litres
Energy Content KWh 70 Bn 50 Bn 120 Bn
CO2 Emission 17.5 MMT 12.5 MMT 36 MMT
Total Cost
(Rs 32.00/Litre)
INR 22400 Cr
USD 5000 Mn
INR 16000 Cr
USD 3560 Mn
INR 38400 Cr
USD 8540 Mn
Subsidized Cost
(Rs 12.50/Litre)
INR 8750 Cr
USD 1950 Mn
INR 6250 Cr
USD 1390 Mn
INR 15000 Cr
USD 3340 Mn
Govt. Subsidy
(Rs 19.60/Litre)
INR 13720 Cr
USD 3050 Mn
INR 9800 Cr
USD 2180 Mn
INR 23520 Cr
USD 5230 Mn

* Assuming: kerosne has an energy density of 10KWh/36MJ per Litre and it produces 2.5Kg of CO2 per Litre. USD 1.00 is around INR 45.00

* CO2 emission of India is around 1800 MMT, so this figure is around 2% of that.

Kerosene Lamp Efficiency

As per a study conducted by Lawrence Berkey National Labaratories, kerosene lamps energy consumption and light output vary a lot. In fact, a lot of kerosene is evaporated through the wick without getting burnt. Typical kerosene lanterns use around 5mL to 42mL of kerosene per hour, whereas light outputs vary from around 8 Lumens to 67 Lumens. This corresponds to light efficiency of 935 Lumen.Hour/Litre to 1914 Lumen.Hour/Litre. This leads to an energy efficiency of just 0.1 to 0.2 Lumen/Watts.

As a comparison, even an average incandescent lamp which many countries want to ban is more than 50 times better than these kerosene lamps. !!!!! To put it better, kerosene lamps are the costiest and dirtiest way to generate the same light output.

Apart from wastage of fuel, other problems like smoke, safety, burning hazard, pollution etc. associated with kerosene lamps are not discussed here. Also cost of kerosene lamps, running cost to buy wicks etc. are not mentioned.

Assuming average of around 1428 Lumen.Hour/Litre of Kerosene and 7 Billion Litres of usage, the total light produces is around 10000 Billion Lumen.Hours

Table 2: Electricity requirement from a baseload plant to generate the same light

Light Source Incandescent
10 lumens/Watt
60 lumens/Watt
100 lumens/Watt
Energy Usage
1000 Mn 166 Mn 100 Mn
Energy Usage
2750 x 1000 455 x 1000 275 x 1000
Constant Baseload
114 MW 18.9 MW 11.4 MW

This tables summarizes the power requirement of Incandescent, Fluorescent and Light Emitting Diode to produce the same amount of light. Light is normally required only in the evening time for around 5 hours. So 5 times peak power requirement could be assumed during evenings, where as no power is required for the rest of the time.

That means with a power plant of 1000 MW operating in the evening for 5 hours and using standard CFL lighting, 10 times more light could be delivered to the same people. (18.9 MW x 5 x 10 times light) This is not even 1% of the electricity production capacity of India. That is around 600 lumens of light per family compared to the meager 60 lumens which a kerosene lamp could provide.

Table 3: Power produced if the same kerosene is diverted to baseload power plants

7 Bn Litres
12 Bn Litres
Energy Content 70 Bn KWh 120 Bn KWh
Energy Content
in MW.Year
7985 MW.Year 13689 MW.Year
Standard DG Output
at 20% efficiency
1600 MW.Year 2700 MW.Year
Combined Cycle Gas Turbine Output
at 50% efficiency
4000 MW.Year 6800 MW.Year

This shows that the same kerosene could drive a 6800 MW Combined Cycle Gas Turbine based Power plant continuously for one year.

Using Clean Technologies for the same lighting scenario

As seen from above, to produce 10 times more light output using CFL, we require 4.55 Million KWh of electricity per day (189 MW baseload power plant equivalent).

Using Solar Photovoltaic
Being a tropcial country, India gets very good solar insolation of 5.5 KWh/m2/day or 2000KWh/m2/year average. Generating 4.55 Million KWh requires 830 MW Solar Panel. Currently solar modules are available below $2 per Watt. Maximum Power Point Trackers and inverters are available at around $0.60 per Watt and $0.75 per Watt respectively. Considering around $4 per Watt for all of these, it would lead to $3320 Million

Using Small Wind Power
With a capacity factor of 25%, the name plate capacity required to generate 189 MW of baseload power is 756 MW. Normally 2MW turbines are available at around $2 Million per MW. But small ones which generate a few KW are more expensive at around $4 per Watt. That comes to $3024 Million

Storage using Batteries
Standard Lead Acid Batteries cost around $200 per KWh. Assuming a depth of dischare of 50% it is required to have double the name plate capacity, so assuming $400 per KWh for the name plate capacity of 4.55 Million KWh, the requirement would be around $1820 Million.

Other Costs
There are many other expenditures associated like installations etc. In this case, many of them could be shared among different users. Assuming a cost of $40 associated with these, the total cost for 100 Million users would be $4000 Million.

Table 4: Summary of Clean Technology Costs

Energy Requirement
per Day
4.55 Mn KWh
Using Solar Systems 830 MW
at $4.00 per Watt
$3320 Mn
Using Windpower Systems 756 MW
at $4.00 per Watt
$3024 Mn
Storage Batteries 4.55 Mn KWh
at $200 per KWh
$1820 Mn
Other Miscellaneous 100 Million users
at $40 per user
$4000 Mn
Total Using Solar $9140 Mn
Total using Wind $8844 Mn


To rephrase what Michelangelo said: “Money is there with the people, it is the task of the Government to reprioritize it”

References Table 1/Page 4

Edited on 26/07/2011:
I got a couple of comments about using biomass. Actually biomass gasifiers or digesters could be used to produce electricity also. One advantage of using this methods is that electricity could be generated as and when it is required. In many cases, this could be cost effective compared to solar or wind coupled with energy storage. Around 200 Million tonnes of biomass is used in India for cooking purpose itself.

Published by Anand Sivaram (आनन्दः )

7 thoughts on “Kerosene vs. Klean. Lighting up rural India: Cost and Emission Analysis

  1. Great article and calculation… Only one question, it the kerosene used only for light? isn’t it used for cooking? that might reduce the 1-on-1 comparison size of kerosene for lighting & equivalent cost of clean lighting… Still a great work..

  2. Valid question. You are right, kerosene is used for cooking also. I did a bit of analysis about that and found the following. < 5% rural household and around 20% urban household use kerosene for cooking purpose. Rural people predominantly use fire wood, agricultural bye products and cow dung cakes for cooking purpose. More and more urban and affordable rural families try to use LPG nowadays. I am sharing a couple of interesting links I found.

    Page 30, 70, 89
    4. Resolving India's oil crisis – Google books's+oil+crisis&source=bl&ots=rbP1m_zaJ7&sig=rt0Gi_mEyQu4x8h-S6iuC0l5jtI&hl=en&ei=t-cuTqX7I9HRrQfnir2vAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCMQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=resolving%20india's%20oil%20crisis&f=false

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