Category Archives: SEA

Thermal Energy Services and Technology Neutrality

Dr Binu Parthan from Sustainable Energy Associates writes on technology neutrality in thermal energy services, and how this can approach can be used to further access to clean thermal energy.

When the STEPs project was conceived in late 2012 and early 2013, one of the key aspects we emphasised was the principle of technology neutrality. We thought it important to include all possible energy conversion and end-use technologies that can provide thermal energy for cooking, space heating and other household, commercial and industrial uses. We were always clear about the role of LPG as a thermal energy fuel and technology to be included. This was also one of the arguments we used to encourage a technology neutral approach to thermal energy to the projects eventual funders DfID and EPSRC. Once the research project started in early 2014 the role of electric cooking also emerged slowly as an option worth considering. During the global survey we carried out during 2014-15 it emerged that electricity was already being used for thermal purposes by some practitioners in several operating contexts. In early 2015, I visited the Mekar Sari cooperative at the Cinta Mekar 5P project in Indonesia to understand the workings of the 5P model – a blog about this visit available here. During this visit I came across the extensive use of electric rice cookers which were being used alongside LPG. Almost all houses in Cinta Mekar was using efficient rice cookers to prepare rice and keep it warm.

A Household at Cinta Mekar, Indonesia Cooking with an Electric Rice Cooker (Credits: Sustainable Energy Associates)

The questions around electric cooking started recurring again during 2015. In mid-2015, at the Asia Clean Energy Forum at ADB in Manila where we presented the STEPs model, there were some interesting discussions about the need to include all possible technologies for cooking, including LPG and electricity. Later in 2015, DfID and Evidence on Demand published three interesting reports on electric cooking using solar photovoltaics and batteries in the African context. One of these publications (Leach and Oduro, 2015) also highlighted that majority of cooking is being using electricity in advanced African countries such as South Africa. Later in 2015 while I was in Nepal I realised that electric cooking option was already promoted by Intermediate Technology (Now renamed Practical Action) over 25 years ago in the 1990s with micro-hydro projects in a village called Ghandruk. The project used electric storage cookers – Bijuli Dekhchis for electric cooking in Ghandruk. The experience with electric cooking in Nepal did not turn out to be a success and perhaps was an idea ahead of time. My efforts to contact the people who ran the project to learn from their experience with the technology wasn’t successful as many of them had moved on or retired.

Rice Cooker and Electric Kettle being used by Households at Barpak in Nepal (Credits: Bir Bahadur Ghale)

There has also been questions raised regarding the health benefits of efficient cookstoves such as the reduction of pulmonary diseases due to reduced indoor emissions from improved cookstoves. LPG based cooking offers significant indoor emission reductions and electric cooking produces no indoor pollution at all. A publication in the Lancet in late 2016, which was highlighted by the BBC seemed to indicate no significant health benefits as a result of efficient biomass stoves (Mortimer. 2017).  I also see a renewed interest in electric cooking again especially with the availability of electromagnetic induction cookers which are available at lower prices of about US$ 20 in many locations in the developing world. Efficiency of rice cookers have also improved and many of the efficient rice cookers now use electro-magnetic induction. Induction cookers are about 14% more efficient than ordinary electric cookers and are increasingly available globally at competitive prices.

In this context, I heard about Bir Bahadur Ghale, owner of Barpak Rural Electrification Pvt. Ltd in Nepal – a community owned mini-grid operated by micro-hydro. After several efforts and with support from Dipti Vaghela at the Micro-Hydro Power Network, I was able to meet with Bir in December 2016.  The experience of Barpak Micro Hydro with electric cooking has been quite impressive. The mini-grid powered by hydro has offered a lower off-peak tariff from 8 AM to 5 PM encouraging households to cook with electricity during this period. These efforts resulted in about 2/3rd of the 1200 households served by the 133 kW hydro system now using electric cooking during the day. In addition the Barpak hydro also offers lower tariffs to industries during the day time, to encourage the use of electricity for productive uses. These efforts have resulted in the utilisation levels in the Barpak hydro to increase to 47% or 0.47 Plant Load Factor (PLF) which is almost 3 times the levels seen in similar hydro powered mini-grid systems in Nepal and elsewhere. Bir believes that the convenience of electric cooking, low-cost of cookers, reduction in drudgery of collecting firewood and the low off-peak tariffs offered by the Barpak hydro has been the reason behind the uptake of electric cooking. I believe this is a good approach which is valid in many locations around the world which addresses indoor air pollution, deforestation, provide a convenient and modern cooking alternative to households, especially women and improve the business viability of mini-grid operations. I am also beginning to notice more and more electric cooking appliances as I travel and recently in Laos I even see a shop which is specialising in electric cooking. So this market segment is getting quite interesting indeed with more product offerings that are affordable.

Electric Cooking Appliances for sale in Vientiane, Laos (Credits: Sustainable Energy Associates)

Also in a recent visit in summer of 207 to a village in the Ayeyarwady delta in Myanmar electrified by a gasifier powered mini-grid, I was able to see the widespread use of electric rice cookers and electric frying pans on a regular basis in homes. What was interesting was that despite the high local electricity tariffs at $ 0.44/kWh, the households preferring electric cooking to biomass based cooking.

Electric Cooking in rural Myanmar (Credits: Sustainable Energy Associates)

As more un-electrified areas get electrified and as cost of cooking with firewood and charcoal increases, we would expect LPG and electricity to increasingly displace biomass stoves. Where conditions for promotion of LPG exist such as local availability of natural gas, existence of LPG distribution networks, government programmes that offset the cost of access (like in Indonesia) etc. we are likely to see increased uptake of LPG. However many countries to do have domestic natural gas reserves and establishing a nation-wide LPG distribution network is capital intensive and government finances are often stretched. Therefore there is a tendency for LPG distribution networks to be limited to urban areas where there is a high concentration of users. Electric induction cooking can be an alternative in rural and decentralised areas which are electrified where products such as induction cooktops and electric rice cookers are available in the markets. With the right regulatory instruments that ensure tariffs that encourage electric cooking and electric space heating and with efficient and low-cost induction cooking devices, the share of electric cooking in developing countries will increase. While this does not call for shifting the focus away from efficient biomass cookstoves, the option of electric cooking needs to be in the menu of options for practitioners, development agencies and enterprises active in the energy access space. We will also need to think in terms of programme frameworks, financing, policy & regulation that promotes efficient electric cooking alongside LPG, efficient biomass stoves and other options.

Dr. Binu Parthan


Matthew Leach and Richard Oduro 2015, Preliminary design and analysis of a proposed solar and battery electric cooking concept: costs and pricing, Evidence on Demand, DOI:

Mortimer, K et al, 2017, A cleaner burning biomass-fuelled cookstove intervention toprevent pneumonia in children under 5 years old in rural Malawi (the Cooking and Pneumonia Study): a cluster randomised controlled trial, Lancet, 389: 167–75


Kitonyoni Solar Mini-grid and Integration of Thermal Energy Services

Binu Parthan from SEA writes on his recent visit to the Kitonyoni Solar Mini-Grid project, part of the University of Southampton’s efforts for the Energy for Development (E4D) project they lead.

The solar mini-grid at Kitonyoni near Machakos in Makueni County was financed by the UK government and commissioned in 2012 by the STEPs partner The Sustainable Energy Research Group at University of Southampton. The Kitonyoni Solar mini-grid is managed by Makueni County Solar Energy Co-op Society Ltd which is owned and managed by the community.


Management of the Solar Electric Cooperative and manager of the mini-grid business. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates

In July 2016, I travelled to Kitonyoni to visit the solar min-grid and meet with the community. While at Kitonyoni, I met with Joseph, Monicah, William and Shadrack from the management Makueni County Solar Energy Co-op Society Ltd and also with Stephen, the manager of the mini-grid and energy service business. With the community leaders and the manager of the mini-grid, I visited several businesses and households that were consuming electricity from the cooperative to understand the business model. The solar electric cooperative seems to be professionally managed and financially sustainable. They operate on a for-profit business basis and the financial accounts reveal that the operation is financially sustainable. The electricity cooperative uses a pre-paid card system for electricity sales and payments which seems to be working well. The electricity consumers are more conscious of energy use and payments and the cooperative is also happy with the upfront collections. The number of shops in the Kitonyoni market has significantly increased since the solar mini-grid was commissioned and the value of the land in the area has also almost tripled. However, the tariff charged by the solar electric cooperative is considerably higher than the public electricity utility but the community has been willing to pay a higher tariff due to better availability and reliability.


One of the new businesses established in the Kitonyoni market powered by the solar mini-grid. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates/span>

STEPs project team at University of Southampton had carried out a survey to examine the possibility of integrating thermal energy services into the existing electrical energy service business model. The results showed that 90% of the households in Kitonyoni use firewood for cooking which is available without cost to the community (Bahaj and Kanani, 2016). While the households spends over 5 hours to gather firewood, there is limited interest in switching to cleaner cooking options such as LPG which involve additional financial expenditure. The opportunity to integrate a solar thermal energy service along with the electricity service seems rather limited due to limited scope and demand for commercial fuels. The firewood is available freely in the area and LPG distribution networks are not available in the village.  Therefore currently, there does not seem to be a business case for introduction of an LPG franchise model and integrate the model into the solar electricity business. However some thoughts that I shared with the community were:

Since households and restaurants are cooking in separate rooms than their houses and as there is a preference for community schemes, will a community electric cooking scheme succeed? This may be relevant as on most days the battery bank of the solar mini-grid seems to be fully charged in the early afternoon and this could provide an opportunity for a central cluster of electric induction cookers which people can use to cook on a pay per use basis(similar to battery charging) to the cooperative.

It is possible that people may opt for efficient Cookstoves/Jikos if available on a hire-purchase/PAYG basis and reduce the amount of firewood to be collected resulting in time savings. An efficient Jiko will cost 45 $ which could be offered on a loan basis with daily/weekly/monthly payments to people by the cooperative for 6 months to 1 year tenure. These funds could be revolved over the time period to reach other members.

A differential tariff with a lower tier-tariff for the shops and establishments that use electricity during the day will likely improve the revenue model of the cooperative and can increase the utilisation levels. Such a tariff regime could allow the use of induction electric cookers at households during the day. Such a development could result in increasing sales and revenue and improving the business viability.


Cooking using firewood and a metallic stove in Kitonyoni. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates

Therefore the technology options for thermal energy and cooking in Kitonyoni is electric cooking or efficient Cookstoves with the possible business models of pay-per-use or hire-purchase respectively. A differential tariff with lower off-peak tariff could also allow electric cooking during the day time and improve the business model. These options are not entirely obvious and needs to be investigated and defined. This approach will certainly face stiff competition from free biomass availability and availability of free time for fire-wood collection.

Dr. Binu Parthan

Remembering Gill Owen

The STEPs project team would like to express our profound shock and disbelief at the passing away of Dr. Gillian Owen, Fellow at University College London. While Gill did not have a direct role in the STEPs project she was well known to all the STEPs project partners – Econoler, Restio, Southampton and SEA though the association of all organisations directly or indirectly with Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and its Sustainable Energy Regulators Network (SERN) which Gill established and lead. Xavier Lemaire and I met through Gill and SERN and it is plausible that the STEPs project would not have been developed except for SERN and Gill.


Binu Parthan, Gill Owen and Gill’s husband David Green, World Forum on Energy Regulation, Athens, October 2009

I recall from my REEEP days that Gill was always the key voice on the role of energy regulation and energy regulators in promoting clean energy in developing countries.  Gill was probably the most active among REEEP advisers and she had built SERN with support from Xavier dividing her attention and time between the academic requirements at Warwick and the demands of keeping an international network operational. We developed the policy and regulatory toolkits for all countries with SERN which helped the REEEP’s search engine –Reegle attract much internet traffic. We also developed a regulatory toolkit with SERN and UNIDO which after over 10 years still remains relevant today. We also organised a very impressive event on energy regulation with Wilton Park where SERN and Gill played a pivotal role in setting the agenda and ensuring high-level participation.

I had always found Gill to be an active participant and a leader on issues relating to sustainable energy regulation. She had a large professional network of energy regulators and regulatory agencies who respected her views. She had always been a pleasure to work with and will be dearly missed by the STEPs team.


Gill Owen, World Forum on Energy Regulation, Quebec City, May 2012.

So thank you Gill Owen for your highly valuable contributions highlighting the role of energy regulation in clean energy promotion in developing countries. I for one would not have grasped this key link except for Gill and SERN. Gill is probably responsible indirectly for the partnership that led to STEPs and we want to thank you for this opportunity as well. You will be dearly missed by all of us who knew you professionally.

Dr. Binu Parthan

Supporting Thermal Energy Services in Afghanistan

Binu Parthan from Sustainable Energy Associates writes on the growing support for thermal energy service considerations in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is often in the news for the wrong reasons such as large swathes of migrants on European shores, armed conflicts, loss of life etc. However it is possible that the country might actually be implementing one of the most innovative energy services projects which has just started implementation with support from the STEPs team.

Decades of political instability and conflict has resulted in low levels of infrastructure access levels in Afghanistan. Over 57% of the Afghan population does not have access to electricity and 81% of the population does not have access to non-solid fuels (World Bank/IEA, 2015). The situation is dire in rural Afghanistan where only 4% of the population have access to non-solid fuels. Many such locations in Afghanistan are located in colder regions with more than 6000 HDDs/Year.

Afghan households use a Tandoor, a traditional cylindrical clay or metal oven for cooking and baking an efficient version of which is shown in the Fig. It is reported that 90% of cooking revolves around making bread called Naan, followed by potatoes. Houses also use a Bukhari, a traditional space heater for heating the living spaces in winter. Some of the traditional houses also have a Tawa Khana which circulates the hot combustion gases from the tandoor under the floor of the living room and releases to the outside through the opposite wall.

Households in Afghanistan use firewood, animal dung cakes, charcoal and shrubs for heating and cooking. Traditionally firewood and charcoal were purchased in rural Afghanistan but increasingly shrubs and animal dung cakes also have to be purchased. The thermal energy use of solid fuels also have their serious health effects, the annual number of pre-mature deaths from indoor-air pollution is estimated to be 54,000/Year (WHO, 2009). In comparison the civilian casualties in 2015 from the armed conflict in Afghanistan was 11,002 (UNAMA, 2016). The use of solid fuels are also a financial strain on the Afghan households as the average rural Afghan household spends over $ 90 on fuels of which only 12% is on kerosene/lighting with 88% on thermal energy. The prices of the solid fuels also increase by 15-25% during winter months as well.


An efficient Tandoor in Afghanistan. Image: COAM/Amy Jennings

Since late 2013, since the inception of the STEPs project, till late 2015, Sustainable Energy Associates (SEA), one of the partners have been working with the Ministry for Rural Reconstruction and Development (MRRD) in Afghanistan and UNDP to develop a project to address these rural energy and thermal energy challenges. These efforts have led to development of a new programme – Afghanistan Sustainable Energy for Rural Development (ASERD) which has business model and financial innovation at the core of the programme design and was finalised by SEA in late 2015. The project agreement was signed by MRRD and UNDP in late December 2015 and will be financed by the governments of South Korea and Sweden. The project will have a financial outlay of over US$ 50 million and will be implemented over 4 years during the period 2016-2019.

The ASERD programme plans to establish sustainable rural energy services in 194 rural communities in 4 years, providing both electrical and thermal energy services. The efforts will bring sustainable energy to over 19,500 households providing health, economic and social benefits. However the major contribution the programme will make to rural energy in Afghanistan would be to establish delivery models that are technology neutral, leverage additional local and international resources, mobilise communities, engage the private sector and financiers to establish a self-sustaining delivery model. The thermal energy service model which will be used by ASERD is shown in Fig.1.


Thermal Energy Service Model of ASERD. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates

Past rural energy programmes in Afghanistan have mainly relied on technology driven approaches which have focused on commissioning electricity generating equipment and transferring ownership, operation and utility management responsibilities to the communities. These efforts have also largely ignored the cooking and heating needs of rural population in a country which has cold winters. The opportunities to go beyond household energy to commercial, enterprise and public service use of energy have not been exploited or capitalised effectively. Similarly private sector and financial institutions have only played a limited role in the programme so far and the aspects of policy, regulation, standards and incentive frameworks have also not received considerable attention.

Against this backdrop, the ASERD programme seeks to graduate from the current approach to establish a technology-neutral, sustainable service delivery arrangement to provide thermal and electrical energy in rural areas of Afghanistan for household, social and productive needs. The programme will also provide energy in rural areas to seek agriculture productivity gains, rural enterprise development, income generation, community social empowerment and cohesion as well as to expand public service to improve access to better health, education and security in rural areas. To deliver these services in rural areas in a sustainable manner the programme will seek to engage the national utility and the private sector in addition to community mobilisation.

The programme will also develop capacities of the government agencies, civil society and the, private sector including the financial sector. ASERD will also create frameworks for policy and regulation, testing and quality assurance as well as will also pilot seven innovative energy service delivery models which will leverage skillsets and resources from communities, private sector and financial institutions some of which are linked to global financing mechanisms for climate change and energy. These models will also result in benefits to women and the marginalised nomadic Kuchi communities.

The design of ASERD has benefited from the learnings on thermal energy services offerings, key challenges and solutions gained by the STEPs project team which will now be used to support about 20,000 families in Afghanistan. SEA will be involved during the implementation of ASERD to support MRRD and UNDP.

– Binu Parthan, SEA


Conservation Organisation of Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM), 2012, Shah Foladi Village energy Use Survey

International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank. 2015. “Sustainable Energy for All 2015—Progress Toward Sustainable Energy” (June), World Bank, Washington, DC. Doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648 -0690-2 License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 2016, ‘Civilian Casualties Hit a New High in 2015’ available at

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2015, Project Document: Afghanistan – Sustainable Energy for Rural Development (ASERD)

World Health Organisation, 2009, Country profile of Environmental Burden of Disease: Afghanistan

The Emerging Impacts and Evolving Development Framework for Thermal Energy Services

Binu Parthan of Sustainable Energy Associates writes on developmental frameworks and the emerging sphere of thermal energy services in them.

When the STEPs project received the nod from EPSRC and DfID in 2012, energy access in developing countries was all about electrification and Cookstoves. The assumption was that if you provide an efficient biomass Cookstove to a household and the thermal energy access problem was solved. So lot of the focus in 2012 was on cooking and Cookstoves. Efforts then were essentially focussed on developing more efficient Cookstoves and reducing the cost of Cookstoves. In addition to Biomass Cookstoves, there were also efforts which were focussed on solar cooking focussed. So the space was divided between different technologies and limited to biomass and solar energy technologies.

When STEPs project was proposed in 2012, where we encouraged to consider thermal energy as a service for cooking, space and water heating and applications, the typical reaction was that it was a just another Cookstoves project. Often the challenge was that people – both practitioners and researchers had not heard about the concept and were often quick to dismiss it. Another challenge was when we advocated technology neutrality meaning that the thermal energy services may be delivered through renewables, LPG or electricity there was certainly a lot of discomfort as if was always been about Cookstoves and technologies. There were also suggestions that cooking technologies should be limited to renewable energy and LPG was fossil fuel based and was not an option for developing countries etc.

BP cookstove lesotho

A traditional wood stove for space heating in Lesotho. Image Credit: Sustainable Energy Associates

The STEPs project team has since made a number of efforts to increase awareness about the need to look at thermal energy as a service rather than a product. We spoke at several events that had linkages to the energy access agenda and targeting development agencies and governments. Our team reviewed and commented on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) drafts and objected to the emphasis on Cookstoves in the earlier drafts. We also emphasised the need for considering space heating and sanitation energy needs and the need for technology neutrality.

We also carried out a questionnaire survey during second half of 2014 to early 2015 with 2 objectives 1) to popularise the project and the idea of thermal energy services and 2) to gather data for the project outputs. The questionnaires that were sent out to 64 experts drawn from development agencies, practitioners and researchers with response collected through Survey Monkey, response forms and through phone interviews. The STEPs team also held discussions with two South African rural energy enterprises to encourage them to consider an energy service offering. We reviewed and commented on the Global Tracking Framework (GTF) and the multi-tier framework for energy access for the UN’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All).

We also continued to look for opportunities to pilot the STEPs model in an actual implementation context and continued our discussions with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Lesotho. It was important for us that STEPs as an effort to go beyond a collection of publications and outputs to an effort which will make a tangible impact on public policy as well as thermal energy use in developing countries.

Now with the project in its third and final year we are seeing the impact of the some of our persistent efforts:

  • The current and final text and the background narrative on SDG 7 on energy talks about cooking and heating and the targets for SDG 7 is technology neutral, silent on technologies and talks about energy services. The final target reads as ‘By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services’. As the global development agenda on energy during 2016-2030 will be guided by the SDG framework, this will allow a level playing ground for thermal energy services and hopefully attract more resources to support thermal energy services in developing countries;

  • The SE4All GTF update in 2015 is more technology neutral and includes space heating. The multi-tier frameworks also place an emphasis on service, fuel supply etc. and a new multi-tier framework has been included for space heating. As the GTF and multi-tier framework is likely to be used by World Bank and other development agencies for energy access projects/programmes, this may support the implementation of more thermal energy access initiatives.

  • We have had one South African private enterprise – AES requesting the project for business advice on offering an energy service business proposition;

  • Responses from 32 out of 64 organisations to the questionnaire survey including development agencies such as World Bank, IFC, UNIDO, UN-ESCAP, GIZ practitioners such as NuRa Energy, Practical Action, Selco, Simpa, BGF, S3IDF, ECS, ACE, practitioner networks such as GVEP, GACC, Ashden and energy research organisations such as IIASA, Imperial College, Stellenbosch University, TERI etc and the World LPG Association. Many of these organisations expressed a desire to be updated on the STEPs project details.

  • Although we faced delays in implementation with the UNDP Lesotho project where we wanted to integrate the STEPs model for thermal energy services, we have managed to integrate the STEPs thermal energy services model into a much larger project in Afghanistan. The project which began implementation in 2016, will implement the thermal energy services model in about 200 villages benefitting about 20,000 households;

During this final year in 2016, we will continue to focus on disseminating results from the research and deepening our influence and impacts with actual on the ground projects.

– Binu Parthan, SEA

The ‘Real 5P Model’ in Cinta Mekar

Binu Parthan from SEA writes on the implementation of a pro-poor public-private partnership (5P) model for micro-hydropower in Indonesia.

I first heard about the 5P model or the Pro-Poor-Public-Private-Partnership in 2012 when I was in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa were scoping for an energy centre to be run by a cooperative as a 5P model.  I found the idea of PPPs in rural energy that focused on poverty alleviation quite compelling in the context of the rural energy work I was doing at the time. This approach was reflected in the Lesotho Energy Alternatives Programme (LEAP) that I developed for UNDP and the Sustainable Thermal Energy Partnerships (STEPs) project that Xavier Lemaire of UCL Energy Institute and I developed with during 2012-2013. Fast forward 2 years and the STEPs project is generously funded by UK Aid and on its way, and while responding to the baseline study on the STEPs project, I hear from Hongpeng Liu and Deanna Morris at the Energy Division of UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (UN-ESCAP) about the original 5P model which has been working for over 10 years in Cinta Mekar, Indonesia.

With kind support from Tri Mumpuni of People Centred Business and Economic Institute (IBEKA) (who incidentally is a recipient of Magsaysay award for her work on hydro power for rural electrification), weeks later I find my way to Cinta Mekar, a relatively remote hilly village about 3 hours drive from Jakarta. The Cooperative at Cinta Mekar – Makar Sari is headed by a diminutive Yuyun Yunegsih, a grandmother of three who was elected a few years ago by the 450 members of the cooperative. The cooperative manages the 120 kW hydro power plant which was commissioned in 2003. The investment in the hydro-mechanical and electro-mechanical equipment and the building materials were financed 50:50 by UN-ESCAP and a private company Hidropiranti. The facilitation was by IBEKA and the members of the community and cooperatives contributed labour and local materials for civil construction in a normal PPP mode. Today after 12 years the hydro power system is still working well and generating and selling electricity to the local utility – PLN at slightly over US cents 4/kWh. 40% of the $650-$1100 monthly revenues go to Hydropiranti and 40% to Mekar Sari cooperative while 20% is set aside for maintenance, repairs and replacement.

The Mekar Sari cooperative has done a number of impressive ‘pro-poor’ initiatives over the years with its share of the revenues. It has provided financial assistance to households which could not afford to obtain an electricity connection. The cooperative also provides scholarships to 360 kids from the community, provides a land fund for members who do not have land holdings, provides an allowance for women in the community to cover childbirth related expenses and also pays an allowance to older members in the community. It has plans to construct public toilets, drinking water fountains etc. all of which seems very impressive. This is an impressive ‘pro-poor’ element that I have not seen in energy projects in general. I have seen impressive pro-poor energy initiatives driven by visionary and charismatic individuals but not by organisations for such a long duration and consistent track-record.

While the social development and pro-poor schemes have been very impressive, the business side has been slightly less impressive. The cooperative has not been successful in renegotiating in higher off-take tariffs in the power purchase agreement with PLN which pays almost a three times higher tariff for similar community hydro plants. A major investment in a manufacturing facility to make gluten-free banana flour which would have employed 10 people have not been successful and lies largely unutilised as the supply chain and market prospects were not investigated properly. It’s possible that the cooperative may have benefitted from some hard-nosed business advice. However the initiative can be considered a notable success in establishing a technical and management solution at an institutional level which has worked for over 12 years and has continued to be profitable and having driven social development in the community.

From the STEPs project perspective it was interesting to see that almost all the electrified community was using LP Gas or gathering wood from the forests for cooking, thus affirming our view that the thermal energy aspect is often overlooked and left to individual households to solve. What was interesting was also that many households which could afford were using electric rice cookers for cooking the main staple food, and efficient electric cooking is something STEPs hasn’t paid much attention. For the STEPs project plans, 5P model which combines private sector quality, efficiency and investments with public and community investment and participation, with community organisations managing social benefits and which combines both electricity and gas supply could indeed be a better model economically and socially. The question whether the institutionalised community leadership in Cinta Mekar can be replicated elsewhere remains. After my visit I asked Yuyun what the cooperatives biggest challenge was and contrary to what I expected it turned out to be the efforts by the local government to take over the cooperative. So while technical, economic and social challenges can be overcome in rural energy services, political challenges often pose a greater risk to sustainability.

– Binu Parthan, SEA

Yuyun Yunegsih at the Cinta Mekar 5P Hydro Power Plant
Yuyun Yunegsih at the Cinta Mekar 5P Hydro Power Plant. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates

A Man and an Island Called Pediatorkope

Dr Binu Parthan from Sustainable Energy Associates writes on his recent visit to Pediatorkope in Ghana.

The man was old and frail but had a commanding presence and a strong voice despite needing a walking stick to move around. I suspect that he was in his late 80s or early 90s but looked a lot younger, was strategic and spoke intelligently. His name was Chief Nene Pediatorkope IV – the supreme chief of the island of Pediatorkope in Ghana whom I met last week.

Pediatorkope is an island in the Volta River inhabited by agricultural and riparian fishing communities. After the Akosombo dam was built in 1966, water levels downstream decreased significantly and with it the fish catch also dropped just like the water level. Many of the men left the village moving upstream to continue fishing or migrated to nearby cities to find other jobs. There is still limited amounts of agriculture and fishing in the Island but more at a subsistence level. The island now has a government supported school and a health centre but the houses do not have electricity or water supply. Once darkness sets in, the village life literally comes to an end. Some of the wealthier households have either a solar home system or a battery power pack, primarily for lighting, phone charging and for powering radios or televisions. Those with the battery power pack recharge their batteries periodically at the village solar kiosk operated by an NGO – Empower Playgrounds. Income from agriculture and fishing has also dwindled over time due lack of irrigation and absence of a cold storage.

The situation in Pediatorkope where absence of energy constrains social and economic development is very similar to the situation in remote communities I have seen. Availability of modern energy allows such villages to irrigate fields which are not cultivated, have cold rooms and freezers to store poultry, milk and fish and also find other productive uses for energy. This also allows children to read and study in the evenings and have shops and markets open into late evening. The Chief was very sure that the Pediatorkope island community will grow from strength to strength once there was energy supply.

The village also had some feedback on the way rural energy programmes should be implemented. Rather than government institutions installing solar home systems or street lights which fail in a matter of time, their preference was for the energy to be delivered as a service to them for which they will pay. What the villagers were willing to pay was the avoided cost of what they were already paying for dry cell batteries for torches. They also did not want the community themselves to manage the energy systems as they thought the social compulsions would result in inadequate revenue generation and eventual failure. They wanted the systems to be managed by professional enterprises and that people in Pediatorkope were available to be employed by such companies.

For me it was interesting to hear people preferring paid energy service over hardware donations, like I have heard in the Sunderbans villages in India few years ago. It was also interesting to hear that they also wanted an external enterprise to manage the service arrangements like I have found out in Mokhotlong in Lesotho last year. I can see an increasing desire in remote rural village communities to received energy services than products and pay for these. This will be one of the issues that the STEPs project will seek to understand better and provide new approaches and solutions.

Once back in Accra, I spoke to my friend Wisdom who is the Director at the Ministry of Energy about the island and its electricity needs. Wisdom thought that it should be possible to get grid electricity to the village through overhead cables or a mini-grid system to meet the household and productive needs in the village.  Either way, I do hope that Pediatorkope will be electrified soon as part of the government’s rural electrification efforts. Next time someone visits Pediatorkope, I hope they will be able to see a more prosperous island, where men stay on in the village, children doing better academically and agriculture and commerce prospering.

– Binu Parthan, SEA

CIMG3672Chief Nene Pediatorkope IV on Pediatorkope Island – Image: Sustainable Energy Associates