Is LPG Part of the Problem or Solution?

Dr. Binu Parthan of SEA discusses the role LPG can play in household energy provision in developing countries:

When I discuss the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as one of the technology options for cooking and heating at the household level in developing countries, it is often met with resistance. I have been challenged on the increased greenhouse gas emissions from introducing LPG into a biomass baseline, on introducing dependency on fuel supplies to areas which are self-sufficient and also introducing the dangers of market and price fluctuations to households with limited incomes.  All of these are valid concerns and should be addressed through the approaches.

I would like to view the indoor-air pollution in the developing country households as a health problem as well as an energy problem. Indoor air pollution from inefficient biomass burning results in pre-mature deaths of 2 million people in developing countries every year. Most of the rural areas I have been to, availability of biomass resources are decreasing and increasingly households have to purchase biomass at fluctuating market prices. In countries with space heating needs in winter such as Lesotho, the expenditure on solid fuels is significantly higher than what is spent by households on kerosene for lighting. So developing country households are already spending considerable share of their incomes on biomass purchases at market prices.

Now regarding increased emissions, if your baseline is biomass which is sourced from non-sustainable forests or woodland (as is often the case) the decrease in carbon stocks as a result of deforestation may offset most or part of the increased emissions from LPG use. Over the years I have seen a number of cookstoves and space heaters from solar cookers to, electric induction cookers efficient biomass stoves which should be all be promoted strongly But I believe LPG should also be part of the menu of options primarily However we should also work on regulatory frameworks for LPG to regulate pricing, have safety standards for stoves and require gas companies to retail small canisters to increase access by poorer households.

So I would encourage a healthier and cleaner thermal energy alternative for developing country households which are technology-neutral. The choice of which technology and fuel to use should be left to the households and users to decide.

– Binu Parthan, SEA

CIMG0262A traditional cook stove in Lesotho. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates


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