Improving household electricity access in India over the last 30 years contributed very marginally to the nation's total carbon emissions growth during that time, says a study published in Nature Climate Change.
From 1981 to 2011, household electricity access in the country improved from around 25% to between 67-74% of the population, empowering almost 650 million people.
Using two data sources, the study done by Shonali Pachauri, a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, found that the improved electricity access in India during the period accounted for approximately 50 million tons of CO2, or a rise of 0.008–0.018 tons of CO2 per person per year between 1981 and 2011.
This is just 3-4% of the rise in total national CO2 emissions.
Even accounting for indirect electricity use embedded or embodied in consumption of goods and services by households, Pachauri told IBTimes UK that household electricity contributed 156 to 363 million tons CO2, or 11 to 25% of the emissions growth in the country.
Even at the increased 900 kWh per household, Indian households use lesser than the 1,200 kWh used in China and 10,000 kWh used by a household in the US.
In the short-term, ending poverty should be an overriding priority for developing countries, Pachauri points out. Even if it is assumed that the carbon intensity of electricity production remains unchanged from its present level, and rural electricity demand grows aggressively over the next two decades, the newly electrified in India are unlikely to contribute significantly to global or even national emissions growth.
The study raises the contentious issue of increasing carbon emissions arising from improved electricity access, one of the factors often raised in comparing lifestyles and calculating planet overshoots.
Low-carbon energy sources have their advantages and can prevent developing economies from being locked into fossil-fuel based growth, the author agrees.
A study by the Norwegian university had shown that low carbon power generation has its material costs but these are manageable and such a system can be in place by 2050.
Power generation and transport sectors contribute the most to carbon emissions.
Around 400 million people still lack access to electricity in India.
In 2011, India emitted 1,745 Mt of CO2 according to the International Energy Agency.
India's per capita emissions are low at 1.9 tonnes, but its total emissions are likely to overtake those of the EU by 2019.
Global carbon emissions grew at the fastest rate for 30 years in 2013, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. Between 1990 and 2013, there has been a 34% increase in emissions.
The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere now stands at 142% of what it was before the industrial revolution, with concentrations reaching 396 parts per million last year and likely to cross the 400 ppm level by 2015.
Experts have calculated that the world will be using up its safe carbon budget in the next three decades, following which it will become difficult to prevent the two degree rise in temperature, triggering irreversible changes.