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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Residential water heating and the rise of the gas-fired economy

When electricity distribution networks fall into place, people start using electricity for everything. Heating, air conditioning, cooking, etc.: electricity is the supple path to all applications. Electricity is conveniently accessed at home, but at a system level, there are problems. Electricity is typically made in big facilities, primarily by burning coal or gas. It is then inefficiently transported to the home. Coal has the worst carbon footprint. Given the domination of coal in Indian electricity production, electricity consumption in India is highly carbon intensive.

Gas delivered to the home is a superior alternative, but this requires gas distribution to the home. A brand-new distribution infrastructure needs to be built, for delivering gas to the home. Once gas is at the home, it can be used for cooking and for heating. To the extent that this is done, it reduces the carbon footprint of residential energy consumption. And, given the way the world is going, gas delivered to the home is likely to be significantly cheaper (per joule) when compared with electricity, even without a carbon tax. (Question: Does someone know the price per joule for residential electricity versus piped gas in India?)

When we think about global warming in India, the dominant impulse is to say to the rich countries "this is not our problem; you guys loaded up the atmosphere with CO2, you guys fix it". While this approach has strengths, it is also important for India to find low-carbon paths to development. We have a problem in having a highly coal-fired economy. We also have the malleability in having the bulk of our energy system of 2050 having not yet been built out: this gives us choices about what should be done. In contrast, most rich countries have less room to maneuver. Policy decisions in India will determine whether cities develop energy-efficient mass transportation systems (such as the Delhi Metro) or not; in contrast, there is no possibility of Los Angeles or the Bay Area developing a good transportation system.

I suspect that gas is likely to be India's low-carbon bridge to renewables and nuclear, exactly as it will be for the rest of the world. From this perspective, we need to start looking for market-based channels to do more on building the gas ecosystem. One interesting litmus test that we can use is the number of households where one sees gas-fired water heating. 

This requires distribution networks for gas, and then households have to switch from electric ovens, water heaters, stoves to gas-fired equivalents. In India, a few cities are now starting to have gas distribution to the home. In time, households should increasingly build up the capital stock of gas-fired appliances, motivated by the superior pricing of gas.

And this gives us an illustration of India's malleability. The CMIE household survey shows that at present, 5.5% of households in India today have one or more geysers (this is for the quarter ended June 2011). For these 5.5% of households, there is the question of junking the existing capital stock and shifting over to a gas-fired appliance. Presumably the differential pricing of electricity versus gas will justify such a shift for the household, but for India, it is a waste when there is such destruction of capital stock. Far more interesting are the remaining 94.5% of households. We should be doing things today, so that over the next 25 years, when 94.5% of India's households will buy a geyser, they will go towards a gas-fired heater rather than an electric one.

From this perspective, I was surprised to see a sales flyer of a small company -- P. K. L. Ltd. -- talking about a gas-fired water header:

This was news, atleast to me. I have never seen a gas-fired water heater being sold to a household before in India. I walked over to the Croma website and they don't have one. Similarly, all the water heaters at ezone are electric. Amusingly enough, the P. K. L. Ltd. website also does not talk about a gas-fired water heater. So either this is vapourware or their website is not updated. Do you know any firm selling gas-fired water heating for homes in India, and do you know any home that has one?


  1. My dad got one installed last year at his house. Since then the power bill has gone down by approx 30-40% depending on the season.

    And the instant water heater is really instant. The heater is attached to a LPG cylinder and one cylinder lasts minimum couple of months.

  2. Look at where you will find hundreds of distributors/importers/manufacturers selling Gas Geyser. Most of these are imported from China and rebranded. Recently, there have been reports of accidental deaths due to Gas geysers and safety is a concern. The gas geysers have been around for quite some time now and I bought one recently. The geyser and related equipment can cost between Rs2500-Rs3200 with a 1 year warranty.
    It was quite surprising why Solar Water heaters were not considered an option while examining this issue.

  3. Almost shocked that you are not aware of this thing. Last few years LPG geysers are outselling electric geysers. there work out cheaper and no issue with power cut also advantage of instant heating.
    Maybe you need to visit few places outside your Metro comfort to understand economics of Bharat

  4. i live in the suburbs of mumbai and nearly all my neighbors have gas mahanagar gas nigam provides piped gas,more and more people are junking their electric heaters for gas ones.
    the good ones are from racold i think.

    i am surprised this seems like vaporware(ha! -steamware) to you.plenty of vendors.btw,i didnt even do much research.i actually called up a number which i saw in a telemarketing SMS i got.all mumbai suburbs sell and service gas geysers these days.costs vary from 1.5k to 5k

  5. In Bombay, my in-laws recently setup a LPG geyser. It was sold by a local company with ISI/safety markings, warranty etc. for around 3-3.5K (w/ fittings). I have used it. It's as good as electric instant heaters.

    I first came across a very 'jugad-ish' LPG geyser about 4-5 yrs ago in a dinky lodge in Alibaug. Infact it was a storage geyser (like they have in Bangalore - where you turn on the geyser and allow a big tank to heat up). It looked like some mechanic rigged it up using whatever was available at hand. On enquiring I came to know that this type of geyser was quite the norm.

    (Many such jugaad-inventions usually happen in small towns and backwaters. Once the middle-classes in metro catches it, it's given a fancy name, a brandplate, ISI markings etc and sold as 'green device' :-) Agriculture is rife with such Indianised innovations)

    Initially it's a bit scary to see that as soon as you turn on the hot-water tap, the geyser makes a 'thak' ignition sound followed by flames inside. Once you get used to it, it's ok though.

    I don't remember the brand nor have I discussed how much they save in power bills. I'll let u know when I do.

    ps: Just came to know you are behind CMIE Prowess db. May have some questions on that too.

  6. Last year we also installed one such geyser.the brand name was a local one. we used it for sometime now but soon started problems of abnormal flaming from safety point of you we discontinued its usage.though the cost of usage as well as the capital cost was not much, still safety concerns made us take that one out and replaced it with an electric one.

  7. My parents have been using gas fired water heater for last 10 years or so. I can find out the company if you are interested. It doesn't look safe though.

  8. It is surprising to know that gas-fired water heaters are little known. As I have seen, at least in north-west parts of India, these are very common, though no big brand name is there. The first demo I saw about it was sometimes in 2002 and they existed much earlier. My parental home at North Rajasthan has got it installed almost during the same time. It is popular for its cost-effectiveness as compared to electric geysers.

  9. Venus has one such product ...even Bajaj electricals also have gas water heater...

  10. One of the most popular one specially in Gujarat state is from Benchmark

  11. As it is, water gets too hot during the day time within tanks in most homes, without any installations. To me, the most economical system of water heating seems to be solar heating. Surprising that you do not discuss it.

  12. A close relative has been using these "gas geysers" for around 8 or 9 years! And the running cost is much lesser compared to an electic one.

  13. Ajay there are plenty of cos selling gas heaters , bajaj etc google gas geysers.

    They are efficient and practical... not often marketed and not the best solution for box apartments of mumbai and need proper installation and safety and a flu vent to exhaust the fumes , else a person can die of gas poisoning.

  14. Even GE has one

    In Bharat these are already popular: Instant water heater are popular because -

    -These are instance,so each family member can take bath when ever they desire.

    -Not dependent on Electricity, so you need not heat water in early morning while electricity is still there.

    -No mixing, if properly used you do not require to heat water first till high temperature and then mix cold water.

    - Better then Chulha in electricity deficient areas.

    it is very simple instrument ..

    a rediator like long folded copper tubes, gas flame passes through it to heat water in tube.

    A spark generator knob.

    Gas controller using know or water flow.

  15. Pl study these advanced models from their sample leaflets

    Instant Gas Water Heater:

    Storage Gas Water Heater

  16. I am from Ahmadabad and want to install solar heater or gas gyser. we are 5 people in family and has 4 bathroom at home.
    I am in confusion which one to install as gas price are comparatively costlier in Ahmadabad.
    Kindly guide us.


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