Category Archives: UCL Energy Institute

Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) Models for Cooking Fuels – Innovation for the Poorest Consumers

Daniel Kerr from UCL writes on innovative pay-as-you-go models in use for cooking energy service provision.

In the last 2-3 years, a handful of thermal energy services companies in the developing world, specifically in Sub-Saharan African countries, have begun to take advantage of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) consumer financing models in their energy businesses. These models have significant advantages in comparison to direct purchase, hire-purchase or micro-credit models when dealing with the poorest consumers in societies, for example those living in informal settlements in urban or rural areas. Some companies are taking advantage of these models for selling clean cooking products, such as stoves themselves, whereas others are using this payment structure for cooking fuels.

One company in Kenya taking advantage of these innovations is KOKO Networks. This organisation seeks to offer an integrated neighbourhood-level clean cooking solution with smart technology, via their KOKO points, cloud-connected commerce hubs where consumers and vendors can come to refill the products on sale or make purchases. Currently the company is offering the SmartCook product at these sales points, which is a two-burner clean cookstove with an integrated fuel canister. The fuel used is marketed as Mafuta smart, which is an ethanol fuel derived from molasses manufacture.

What is particularly innovative about this system is that the sales hubs for the company have in the automated purchasing stations for the fuel for the cookstove system. These dispensers refill the provided fuel canister (known as a kibuya smart canister) with the cookstove system, and customers can refill their canister from as little as KHS30 (US$0.29) at a time, offering significant flexibility for the consumer, without the “poor people’s premium” (higher per-unit prices charged for small amounts of consumable products) seen in other commodities. The company operates on a concession business model, with interested parties either setting up their own fuel supply arrangements for the fuel to service their settlement, or purchasing equipment and fuels from KOKO themselves.

KOKO Networks KOKOPoint in store in Nairobi. Customers can purchase a stove or replacement fuel from the kiosk. Image: http://www.globalhearthworks.org/koko/

Other companies in Kenya are taking advantage of PAYG models to enable greater access to their products and services as well. In Nairobi, PayGo Energy is a distribution service for LPG fuels that is using pay-as-you-go services to bring LPG fuel access to a greater number of consumers. The service begins with the installation of an LPG stove, cylinder and smart fuel meter in the home. This smart meter is at the core of the service the company offers, as it automatically communicates to the company when the fuel level is running low, whereupon the company arranges delivery of a replacement, full cylinder to the household. In addition, the system support mobile payments and ordering of fuel replacements, allowing customers to purchase as little as a day’s worth of LPG (around US$0.50) at a time. This logistics system has been adapted to informal settlements, allowing uninterrupted supply to households in informal settlements via motorcycle.

Other organisations are beginning to see the benefits of integrating mobile payment technology with a pay-as-you-go fuel payments model for energy services. KopaGas in Tanzania are another company using smart LPG metering to minimize the challenges posed by last-mile distribution which are typical in providing thermal energy services to communities. This smart gas meter system allows the company to deliver cylinder filling services or replacement full cylinders to communities efficiently, minimising distribution costs. In addition, the company offers a pay-as-you-go service for LPG fuel, as well as offering pay-over-time services for both fuels and cooking equipment. KopaGas has been partnering with EnviroFit, an established LPG equipment and fuel distributor in East and West Africa, in order to scale their service reach.

Through these cases, the market opportunity for offering clean cooking fuels and technologies as an energy service, using innovative fuel and equipment payment models to enable access for the widest range of consumers, can be clearly demonstrated. KOKO Services and KopaGas/PayGo Energy may be using different technology options, but the commonalities in approach exist: offering consumers the ability to purchase small amounts of fuel at a time, via a convenient payment method (either via mobile, at a central filling station, or both), and in the case of the LPG companies, offering consumers the option of household delivery. Through this combination of factors, these companies are breaking the traditional barriers to household thermal energy service delivery, allowing consumers who previously would not have had the financial capacity to afford modern cooking fuels the ability to access these technologies.

– Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

References

Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves (2017) “Pay-as-you-go” technology to boost access to cooking fuel. Available at: http://cleancookstoves.org/about/news/05-30-2017–pay-as-you-go-technology-to-boost-access-to-cooking-fuel.html

KOKO Networks Home: http://kokonetworks.com/

PayGo Energy Home: https://www.paygoenergy.org/

KopaGas Home: https://www.kopagas.com/

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Solar Water Heating as an Energy Service – Part 1 – Technology Choices and Markets

Solar water heaters as a product have the potential to contribute considerably to energy demand reduction in developing countries. This exists both as a household-scale technology, and in industrial applications such as desalination in countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and industrial process heat in both developed and developing countries. A number of developing countries around the world, notably those in Sub-Saharan Africa, have had success in disseminating solar water heating products on a commercial basis, in addition to a number of large-scale government dissemination programs. Countries such as South Africa (with around 500,000 systems installed as of 2016) and China (which has over 85 million installed SWH units as of 2016) have developed a robust network of commercial installers and manufacturers of solar water heating units and parts, selling products on a market basis to households and businesses.

Solar water heater installed by ESKOM, South Africa. Image: gmourits, Flickr, via http://inhabitat.com/eskom-installs-solar-powered-heaters-on-south-african-roofs/

 

There are a number of opportunities in developing country markets to develop a solar water heating sector. A number of developing countries, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa, have high levels of insolation (sunlight kWh/m2/day), and a consistent demand across income segments of the population for water heating. Industrial process heat is another sector where solar water heating could have an impact, as is institutional process heat, for example heat exchangers for hospital refrigeration, and hot water for use in health centres and schools.

Entrepreneurs and companies looking to enter the solar water heating market space need to consider a number of questions before starting their operations. Firstly, an appropriate technology choice is essential for succeeding in the SWH market, perhaps more so than many other renewable energy technologies. Deciding which consumer segment or income bracket to target informs the technology decision somewhat, but thorough research needs to be done on what the market and consumers can afford before deciding on a technology. Main technology streams for SWH include flat-plate solar collectors, and evacuated tube solar collectors. Both work on similar principles, heating water that passes through the collector, either through capillary action or through the use of an electric pump. Flat-plate collectors can be slightly less efficient than evacuated tube designs due to heat loss through convection, however they are also less expensive and simpler to produce. Evacuated tube designs are generally more efficient at heating water, but are also more expensive to compensate for the increased complexity in manufacture.

Flat-plate solar collector installed on a house in the United Kingdom. Image: uk.solarcontact.com

Flat-plate solar collector efficiency vs evacuated tube efficiency at various temperature ranges for a typical North American location. Source: https://blog.heatspring.com/solar-thermal-flat-plate-or-evacuated-tube-collectors/

 

When designing a new solar water heating business or intervention, therefore, it is important to consider which variant on the technology is to be used, and at what scale (household, institutional, industrial etc.), in order to plan dissemination based on affordability for the consumer. The next blog in this series will investigate business and financing models that can assist in improving the sustainability and replicability of solar water heating energy service companies.

– Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

References

Clean Technica (2015) World’s Largest Solar Powered, Jellyfish-Fightin’ Desalination Plant To Be Built in Saudi Arabia. Available at: https://cleantechnica.com/2015/01/22/worlds-largest-solar-powered-desalination-plant-under-way/

Urban, Geall & Wang (2016) Solar PV and solar water heaters in China: Different pathways to low carbon energy. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol. 64, pp. 531 – 542

EE Publishers (2016) Solar water heater rollout programme gains momentum. Available at: http://www.ee.co.za/article/solar-water-heater-rollout-programme-gains-momentum.html

Solar Cooking and Energy Service Companies: An Unexplored Market Opportunity?

Solar cooking, as a technology and group of products, has existed for many decades, with examples being used in the 1970s. The technology in its simplest form has remained relatively unchanged since then, with the basic premise being either a flat or parabolic reflecting surface, placed in the sun, reflecting sunlight onto a cooking chamber. This can be either below the flat-plate reflector, or at the focal point of the parabolic collector. These types of devices are easy to manufacture and can be extremely cost-effective, with little more than a reflecting surface (for example, foil-backed card) and a cooking vessel needed for a minimum setup. These features give this technology particular applicability for targeting bottom-of-pyramid consumers with sustainability interventions: typical prices for simple designs (such as the flat-plate reflector shown below) range from US$3-5.

Solar box cooker made from carboard boxes and aluminium foil. Image: https://nakazora.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/solar-cooker1.jpg

Parabolic solar cooker in use at an informal settlement in Barcelona. Image: Brinerustle / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

 

A number of companies currently distribute simple kits for creating solar cookers from scratch, usually in the form of a reflective card template for the reflecting surface. However, these pre-packed kits are often more expensive than locally-sourcing materials for manufacture, ranging up to US$30-40, without offering meaningful benefits to the consumer aside from convenience. There are also a number of companies in developing countries that distribute full solar cookers to consumers using a direct-purchase business model, such as SunFire in South Africa and L’Obel Solar Power in India. Prices for these designs, commonly higher-quality parabolic mirror cookers, range up to US$200.

As such, it appears there is an opportunity for low-cost solar cooking business to develop markets for cheap, reliable solar cookers for bottom-of-pyramid consumers. In addition, through using alternative payment models for business, higher-cost designs can become more accessible to a greater number of consumers. Offering micro-credit products for deferred purchasing of solar cookers, or engaging with consumers on a fee-for-service basis with consumers paying a monthly fee for their product, would allow mid-range technologies to become accessible to consumers with lower incomes.

Other opportunities exist in the solar cooking market space for complimentary technologies, in particular heat-retention bags such as the Wonderbag from South Africa. This is designed to fit around the cooking vessel to retain heat and slow-cook the contents, after it has already been heated, reducing the overall energy requirement for cooking. Whilst this technology is perhaps most applicable to wood or charcoal-fired stoves, it can also help improve convenience when using solar cooking products. For example, rather than leaving a cooking vessel in the solar cooker for up to six hours, it can be left there for 1.5-2 hours, then transferred to the Wonderbag for further cooking.

For more information on the Wonderbag and use-case studies, please refer to https://samsetproject.wordpress.com/2017/04/10/energy-poverty-in-peri-urban-communities-in-polokwane-south-africa-part-1-identifying-the-issues/

— Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

References

Teach A Man To Fish (2009) Solar Cooker Business Guide. Available at: http://www.teachamantofish.org.uk/resources/incomegeneration/Solar-Cooker-Business-Guide.pdf

Gautam (2011) Microfinance Intervention for Financing Solar Cooking Technologies – Financing With Savings. Available at: http://www.microfinancegateway.org/sites/default/files/mfg-en-paper-microfinance-intervention-for-financing-solar-cooking-technologies-financing-with-savings-mar-2011.pdf

Solar Cookers International: CooKit. https://shop.solarcookers.org/?pn=CooKit&cn=Solar+Cookers&p=621&c=27

L’Obel Solar Power Systems: Solar Thermal Products: http://www.lobelpower.com/solar_thermal_product.htm

SunFire Solutions: http://www.sunfire.co.za/wp/

Wonderbag World: http://www.wonderbagworld.com/

The Clean Cookstoves Value Chain and Opportunities for Business

The value chain in private markets for clean cookstoves can broadly be categorised into production (either of full cookstoves or materials, such as ceramic liners), distribution and sales activities. For a prospective entrepreneur entering the clean cookstoves market, it is important to identify where business opportunities exist in the cookstoves value chain, and how to target these opportunities with specific business models.

Production of clean cookstoves is most commonly done by private market actors around the world. These companies take raw materials, such as clay or sheet metal, and form either complete cookstoves or cookstove components. Local producers, often clean cookstove product and fuel consumers themselves, feature heavily in the cookstove materials production market, with markets such as Sri Lanka relying on locally-produced clay liners for the dominant Anagi stove design in the country. Through early donor-led cookstove programs in the mid-1980s by organisations such as ITDG (Practical Action), over 200 potters and 2000 stove installers were trained, with over 400,000 stoves disseminated from 1985-1990. This led to a firm foundation for commercialisation and marketization of cookstoves technology. As of 2012, over 300,000 stoves were being produced annually, with 74 distribution companies active in the country [1] [2] [4]

anagistoveproducerMr. Thureirasa Ratnakumar, an ‘Anagi’ stove producer in Sri Lanka. Image: http://unhabitat.lk/news/promoting-energy-efficient-improved-cooking-stoves-for-better-health-in-the-north-of-sri-lanka/

Some distribution companies operate in an integrated fashion with other sectors of the market, such as being manufacturer and distributor or manufacturer and vendor. Generally cookstove products at a pre-distribution level are sold on a direct purchase basis to distributors or vendors, with little in the way of finance on a non-commercial loan basis.

Distribution companies in the cookstoves sector act as intermediaries between vendors and producers, but these activities can be integrated into a single company. Distribution of clean cookstoves is also commonly achieved with a direct purchase model, although costs can be high in distribution if operating outside of areas with suitable transport infrastructure, meaning that distributors negotiating favourable purchase terms with suppliers is not uncommon due to the high up-front costs of the business.

– Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute 

[1] Amerasekera, R.M. (2006) Commercialisation of improved cookstoves in Sri Lanka: A case study. Available at: http://www.inforse.org/Case/Case-SriLanka-Stoves.php3

[2] World Food Program (2012) Sri Lanka: 50,000 Fuel Efficient Stoves Change Lives Of IDPs In The North. Available at: https://www.wfp.org/stories/50000-fuel-efficient-stoves-have-been-distributed-among-idps-north-sri-lanka

[3] BURN Cookstoves: About Us. Available at: http://www.burnstoves.com/about/

[4] [2] Rai & McDonald, GVEP International (2009) Cookstoves and markets: experiences, successes and opportunities. Available at: http://www.hedon.info/docs/GVEP_Markets_and_Cookstoves__.pdf

Direct Dissemination (State Programs) vs Private Sector Models

This post, the second in our business models series, aims to explore the differences between state-led dissemination models and private-sector business models, both in terms of scalability, as well as affordability for consumer and the potential for developing sustainable markets and sustainable businesses.

There are a variety of business models that could be used to develop clean cookstoves businesses, which can broadly be categorised into three spheres: direct dissemination models, where the user receives a cookstove funded by an outside organisation (government, international donors etc.); vendor sales models, where consumers directly purchase a cookstove for a lump sum from a vendor, and micro-credit models, either delivered by vendors themselves or through dedicated micro-finance institutions. [2]

Vendor sales are the most common method of businesses interacting with end-users in the clean cookstoves sphere. These vendors either purchase cookstoves on a wholesale basis from producers or distributors, or are assisted by third-sector financing organisations to enable this purchase. BURN Cookstoves in Kenya, one of the largest integrated cookstoves companies in the country, uses a direct-sales model for its operations.

Micro-credit in the form of dealer credits are another common financing instrument used in vendor purchase models for clean cookstoves, allowing consumers to pay a periodic fee to progressively purchase a clean cookstove. Some vendors have clean cookstoves as their primary business, others use it as an additional income stream to a more traditional goods shop, or as another source of revenue in an energy service company business. For example, some solar home system concessions in South Africa, such as the Nuon-RAPS (NuRa) utility are using clean cookstoves to supplement their business with a smaller, secondary revenue stream, selling both cookstove equipment and fuels. NuRa uses sales of charcoal and ethanol gel cookstoves, as well as integrated fuel/hob LPG stoves, to supplement their main solar home system business.

The Kenyan clean cookstoves market is a good example of one that has transitioned from a direct dissemination model at a donor/state scale to a private-sector led distribution and sales model. Donor/development agency-led clean cookstoves programs in Kenya date back to the 1980s, and designs used in the initial deployment phase, such as the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (KCJ), have become staple designs of the market. Charcoal stoves however are still the predominant cookstove type used in Kenya, with estimates that 47% of the population use some form of charcoal stove, rising to 80% in urban areas such as Nairobi. Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves estimates put the size of the market at 2.5-3 million households using some form of clean cookstove in 2012. As of February 2016, the GACC is continuing to work with partners such as the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) and other governmental and non-governmental organisations, to disseminate 5 million improved cookstoves by 2020.

kcj
Ceramic Jiko stove, often referred to as the Kenya Ceramic Jiko. Image: AFREPREN

The cookstove market is fragmented in Kenya, with the majority of cookstove production done on a small to medium scale. Distribution costs can be high because of this, and with a poor road network in some areas, it becomes more feasible for wholesale buyers to collect directly from producers. Cookstoves are sold through a combination of dedicated retailers and traditional vendors, with wholesale buyers acting as further distribution agents to demand centres. [1]

There are a number of reasons why private-sector models can have advantages over state/donor-led dissemination. The Kenyan market relies on private provision of cookstoves from manufacturers at a local level, with vendors purchasing cookstoves wholesale to be sold later. Whilst this can increase costs to end users due to multiple markups in the value chain, offering micro-finance at a vendor level allows vendors to access wider segments of the consumer market, allowing people who could otherwise not afford a cookstove outright the chance to progressively purchase one. Scalability and flexibility are also advantages to private-sector dissemination, with multiple opportunities across the value chain for businesses depending on local consumer preferences and material availabilities. [3]

The next post in this series will explore the concept of the clean cookstoves value chain further, and identify where potential business might be sited within this value chain.

– Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

[1] GVEP International (2012a) Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves Kenya Market Assessment, Sector Mapping. Available at: http://cleancookstoves.org/resources_files/kenya-market-assessment-mapping.pdf

[2] Gaul (2009) Subsidy schemes for the dissemination of improved stoves. Experiences of GTZ HERA and Energising Development. Available at: http://fsg.afre.msu.edu/promisam_2/references/Gaul_2009_Stove_Subsidies.pdf

[3] SNV (2015) ICS Business Toolkit, Starting, Managing and Growing an Improved Cook Stoves Business in Uganda. Available at: http://snv.org/en/countries/uganda/publications/snv-uganda-integrated-cookstove-business-toolkit

Clean Cooking Technologies and Dissemination: Growing Markets

Clean cookstoves, also known as improved cookstoves (ICS) have the potential to significantly change patterns of household and institutional energy use in developing countries. However, access to clean cookstoves for consumers in developing countries remains low, despite high levels of fuel use appropriate to cookstoves being prevalent in developing countries, particularly in rural areas.

cookstovegraph1

Share of population using solid fuels with access to improved cookstoves in Developed Countries (DCs), Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) [1]

The use of clean cookstoves has the potential to improve livelihoods, particularly for women and children, in developing countries through alleviating the time burden of gathering fuel, allowing users to spend more of their time on other activities, for example income generation. Daily collection of firewood for cooking can vary in duration from 3 hours [7] to seven hours [8]. Clean cookstove technologies such as rocket stoves can achieve the same cooking results, in the same time, while using just 60% of the fuel [8]. Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves research has shown that traditional cookstove-using households in India, Bangladesh and Nepal on average spend 660 hours/year on fuelwood collection, while improved cookstove households spend just 539 hours/year [9]. Indoor air quality improvements are another key benefit. Around 3.8 million premature deaths annually are caused by non-communicable diseases, such as heart diseases and lung cancer that can be attributed to indoor air pollution [3].

Removing poorly-combusting, high-smoke fuels such as traditional wood fuels from the household energy mix in developing countries, and reducing indoor air pollution consequently, would have huge positive consequences for public health in the developing world.

Clean cookstoves technologies tend to be demarcated on the type of fuel used, as well as the general design of the cookstove and its technological aims. These cookstoves can also be demarcated through cost, with lower-cost cookstoves made from clay or metal with a clay lining, and higher-cost stoves using factory-machined materials like metals. Differences in cost tend to lead to different target market, with low-cost cookstoves targeting rural consumers, and higher-cost cookstoves focusing on emerging middle classes and high-income employees. Costs for a household clean cookstove can range from US$10 to US$350+, and as such different business models are required to disseminate these stoves to best reach their target markets. High-cost stoves are most commonly directly sold to consumers, whereas low-cost stoves can be available through government or donor programs of dissemination, as well as through direct purchase, vendor-credit or micro-credit models. [4] [6]

stovetech-combined-wood-charcoal-ics

Stovetech combined wood/charcoal improved cookstove. Source: http://inhabitat.com/four-cooking-stove-designs-that-can-save-the-world/

Solid fuel cookstoves, for example cookstoves using traditional woodfuels, tend to aim for significantly more efficient combustion of fuels, reducing indoor air pollution in the form of smoke and particulate matter, as well as generating more heat. These efficient designs can focus on combusting fuel more effectively, through designing combustion chambers to allow for more aerobic combustion, whereas others focus on having a heavily-insulated cooking chamber to reduce heat loss, focusing on longer cooking times for the same amount of fuel. Other cookstove designs for developing countries focus on using more efficient fuels with low-cost technology. Some examples of this include efficient charcoal stoves, as well as LPG stoves designed for developing country use.

cookstove-blog-table-1

Lab efficiencies of various established cookstove designs used in the developing world. Table established by D. Kerr derived from http://catalog.cleancookstoves.org/test-results, with standards available online at: http://cleancookstoves.org/technology-and-fuels/testing/protocols.html

However, lab efficiencies do not always translate into real-world efficiencies. A recent Indian cookstoves study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of British Colombia found disparities in real-world use efficiencies in a recent CDM program of cookstove dissemination from the Indian government. Particulate matter emissions especially were higher than expected, which may have been due to the ‘stove-stacking’ phenomenon, where families continue to use traditional cookstoves after receiving an improved cookstove. Some 40% of households in this study were found to be doing this [5].

Dissemination of clean cookstoves, and growth in access to the technologies, has the potential to have a significant positive impact on the sustainability of energy use and improvement of livelihoods of consumers in developing countries. Whilst state-run programs have had some success in directly distributing clean cookstoves, market-based measures have been shown to have significant impacts over the medium-long term, and private cookstove markets have developed in a number of Sub-Saharan African countries, such as Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. Markets across the world have disseminated large numbers of cookstoves, with over 12 million disseminated in China in the 2012-2014 period, 4.5 million in Ethiopia, and nearly 3 million in Cambodia [12]. The Kenyan clean cookstoves market was sized at 2,565,954 units in 2012, with high levels of urban and peri-urban penetration (~35%), but significantly less rural coverage [10]. The Ugandan market by comparison is estimated to be around 600,000 households, with urban areas again dominating this group [11].

This series of posts aims to explore the variety of models that private businesses can use to achieve scale and sustainability in their operations in the clean cookstoves sector [2]. Direct dissemination will be compared to vendor purchase, vendor credit and micro-credit models in the second blog of this series. Post three will explore the clean cookstoves value chain and identify opportunities for business growth along the value chain, and the fourth post in this series will examine the role of government in promoting clean cookstoves businesses.

– Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

[1] Bazilian et al. (2011) Partnerships for access to modern cooking fuels and technologies. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Vol. 3, pp. 254 – 259.

[2] Rai & McDonald, GVEP International (2009) Cookstoves and markets: experiences, successes and opportunities. Available at: http://www.hedon.info/docs/GVEP_Markets_and_Cookstoves__.pdf

[3] WHO Website (2016) Household air pollution and health.  Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/

[4] Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (2016) Clean Cooking Catalog.  Available at: http://catalog.cleancookstoves.org/stoves

[5] University of Washington (2016) Carbon-financed cookstove fails to deliver hoped-for benefits in the field. Available at: http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/07/27/carbon-financed-cookstove-fails-to-deliver-hoped-for-benefits-in-the-field/

[6] Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (2016) Business and Financing Models., Available at: http://carbonfinanceforcookstoves.org/implementation/cookstove-value-chain/business-models/

[7] FAO (2015) Running out of time: The reduction of women’s work burden in agricultural production. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4741e.pdf

[8] GACC (2015) The Use of Behaviour Change Techniques in Clean Cooking Interventions to Achieve Health, Economic and Environmental Impact. Available at: https://cleancookstoves.org/binary-data/RESOURCE/file/000/000/369-1.pdf  

[9] GACC/Practical Action (2014) Gender and Livelihoods Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in South Asia. Available at: https://cleancookstoves.org/binary-data/RESOURCE/file/000/000/357-1.pdf

[10] GVEP/GACC (2012) Kenya Market Assessment: Sector Mapping. Available at: https://cleancookstoves.org/binary-data/RESOURCE/file/000/000/166-1.pdf

[11] GVEP/GACC (2012) Uganda Market Assessment: Sector Mapping. Available at: http://cleancookstoves.org/resources_files/uganda-market-assessment-mapping.pdf

[12] REN21 (2016) Renewables Global Status Report. Available at: http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_Full_Report_REN21.pdf

What Business Model is Best for LPG Dissemination?

In the previous two posts of this series on LPG in developing countries, we have examined the concepts of fuel-switching to LPG from other, less sustainable fuels, and some ways of promoting LPG access in developing countries through government interventions. However, the development of LPG markets with private and public-private participants in developing countries has been slow, and few interventions attempted by governments and third-sector actors have had success in developing these markets.

Developing a private market for LPG in developing countries requires the existence of business models that are relevant to the technology and fuel source, as well as adaptable to changing consumer and market conditions.

Is fee for service a good model for LPG?

Fee-for-service business models, where consumers pay a monthly fee to an energy service company for their energy services, whilst the company maintains ownership of the system and maintenance/operations responsibility, have been used to great effect in other renewable technology sectors in allowing users to access energy services at a significantly reduced up-front cost, removing one of the primary barriers to business success and market development for renewable technologies.

Applying a fee-for-service business model to LPG equipment and fuels could help to promote the development of an LPG services business in developing countries. The high up-front cost of converting from other fuels to LPG can be mitigated through a monthly payments scheme, allowing the user to access the technology where otherwise they could not. This can be applied to LPG fuels as well as LPG-utilising equipment, such as water heaters or cooking equipment. However, there are disadvantages to the fee-for-service approach as a transaction model for LPG also. Equipment costs for LPG are generally low, particularly for cooking use, with the majority of the cost coming in fuels. Fuel costs are generally very high compared to other renewable thermal technologies. As such, direct purchasing of LPG equipment is within reach of a large proportion of consumers, mitigating the usefulness of a fee-for-service approach to spread out high equipment costs. Applying a fee-for-service transaction model is an approach that has been tested in rare cases: LPG fuel financing is used by some companies, for example VidaGas in Mozambique, where users can pay off cylinder purchases over a period of 2-3 months.

LPG business model table

Appropriateness of the most common thermal energy fuel types for common renewable energy business transaction models. Source: Robert Aitken, 2016. [1]

Other models for LPG dissemination

Some countries, for example Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria, have started implementing a cylinder exchange model for LPG fuels, as opposed to previous models where cylinders were bought as a unit for a much higher price. These cylinder exchange models have been used in the domestic LPG sector in Europe for many years, and involve exchanging empty cylinders at central locations for full cylinders, with the user only paying for the fuel in the new cylinder. This involves the energy service company retaining ownership of the cylinders in circulation, allowing the user to access fuel at a lower cost.

kenya lpg cylinders

A vendor inspects cooking gas cylinders at a cylinder exchange site in Kenya. Source: http://empoweredweb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/opportunities-in-gas-business.html

Whilst this model benefits the users greatly, from a company perspective it is challenging, requiring a large up-front investment in terms of cylinders and filling equipment for LPG, as well as bulk purchases of the fuel itself, and the need for safe and secure storage of the fuel. However, with policies to promote business development in place, for example start-up grants or low-interest credit underwritten by governments/NGOs, this model has the potential to greatly increase access to LPG in developing countries.

– Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr, UCL, February 2016

[1] Aitken  Robert (2016), Technology and Business models for thermal energy services, STEPs toolkit, Under print.