Tag Archives: cookstoves

Partnerships and Opportunities for Clean Cookstoves Support from Governments

This post aims to discuss where the opportunities may lie for governments and private sector organisations to enter partnerships for clean cookstoves market development. Both public and private sector actors have advantages and disadvantages in the approaches generally taken by such bodies in the clean cookstoves market space.


Map of stakeholders in the clean cookstoves sector in Ghana. Image: http://cleancookstoves.org/binary-data/RESOURCE/file/000/000/311-1.pdf

Public-sector operations have the ability to achieve scale quickly and effectively, however are often lacking in terms of lasting presences in markets due to the financing models (direct dissemination, direct subsidy) used most commonly in these circumstances. These models tend to lead to consumers failing to maintain use of disseminated equipment, leading to a shrinking of the market presence for cookstoves technologies in the longer term. Private sector market actors, conversely, can take longer to achieve scale in their operations, and have to contend with acquiring financing, either through their operations or donors, to continue maintaining their market presence.

Hence, there are significant, proven opportunities for the combination of approaches. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have the potential to alleviate the negative aspects of both public and private approaches, with private sector actors operating as delivery agents for overarching public-sector objectives, or public sector operators supporting the development of a functioning private market.

The development and marketization of the Sri Lankan clean cookstoves sector, with donor agencies, the state electricity agency, and private sector companies all collaborating to develop a functioning private cookstoves market, is a good example of how PPPs can achieve successful results in the clean cookstoves market context. Support from the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) in distributing clean cookstoves to their existing customers allowed the development of functioning private production enterprises across the country, with a guaranteed market for their produce. Local production of clay stove liners is still continuing in the country. [1]


Steps in improving the enabling environment for clean cookstoves. [2]

The creation of an enabling environment for new businesses to enter the clean cookstoves market is another crucial role of governments in developing a clean cookstoves sector. The above image shows a number of pertinent steps that can be taken to do this. Starting at a consumer level, raising awareness of the benefits of a clean cookstove technology, through to allowing small and large businesses to access financing to scale their operations, and enabling credit facilities either through public or commercial banks, governments have the potential to significantly contribute to the ease of starting and maintaining a functioning private clean cookstoves market.

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


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.

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.


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 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.


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

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

SMEs and Clean Energy for Emerging Markets Event – London, UK

STEPs project partners attended an event, jointly run by the DECC, Knowledge Transfer Network, Loughborough University, the LCEDN and the UKCDS, entitled “SMEs and clean energy for emerging markets: challenges and opportunities”. This event was held on the 29th September 2014 at the Wellcome Trust, London, UK. This event sought to bring together representatives from the academic, government, non-government and private sectors, to discuss the current situation, opportunities and challenges to the growth of small and medium enterprise in the clean energy sector for developing economies. Several plenary sessions were held over the course of the day, and stalls were also present from a wide range of institutions, organisations and companies, including Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL, presenting the STEPs project.

The day began with an establishing session on the global opportunities for SME development in emerging markets. Presenters from Knowledge Transfer Networks Ltd, SolarCentury and SolarAid highlighted a number of challenges facing clean energy provision in markets globally, particularly in developing economies. These ranged from the challenges of replacing aging infrastructure in developed economies, to those of reaching consumers in poverty in rural areas of developing countries. Consistently highlighted were the sobering figures accepted by the international community on energy access: with over 1 billion people still lacking electricity access, and 2.6 billion projected to lack clean thermal energy access by 2020, the presenters made clear the vast potential for SMEs to bridge the gap in energy services provision to emerging markets.

Following this was a session on innovation in energy services for emerging economies. The presenters, representing X-wind, Buffalo Grid and Renovagen, were all private-sector participants in the event, being entrepreneurs involved in SMEs for clean energy development. The presentations focused on the efforts of the companies to develop products and services for emerging markets. X-wind is a company producing resilient, vertical-axis wind turbines for community-scale deployment. Buffalo Grid produces pay-as-you-go solar-powered electricity and wireless internet base stations for deployment in off-grid communities. Renovagen is a new start-up producing fast-deploying PV micro-grids for off-grid communities, as well as in disaster relief and industrial applications, based on a novel flexible PV array. These organisations shared a number of features: all were looking to expand energy services access in developing economies, and they also all identified the need to tailor the product or service to the challenges of emerging market contexts. For example, resilience was a key feature of X-wind turbines, with low maintenance requirements improving reliability. The prevalence of mobile connectivity in the developing world, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, was also incorporated into the Buffalo Grid product design, with mobile charging being identified as a key service to offer for increased take-up of the product. This point was also discussed in more detail in the fourth session.

Participants were encouraged to network over lunch and visit the presentation booths. The STEPs project booth received a good amount of interest from researchers and entrepreneurs interested in thermal energy access, and business models for energy access more broadly.

The third plenary session focused on financing and support for SMEs, and access to finance. Representatives from the Shell Foundation, UKTI and Enclude Capital Advisory presented on available and appropriate financing routes and the challenges to financial access in emerging markets, as well as the support available for SMEs from financial, governmental and non-governmental institutions. Appropriate finance for SMEs was a key point of the presentations. In the design of financing mechanisms for small and medium enterprise in developing countries, the type of financial assistance can have a significant effect on the impact of the financing on the company, particularly in transition points between sizes of companies. For example, donor funding is most useful to start-up companies that may not be able to afford market loans for growth, whereas commercial or governmental loans/financing schemes are more useful to more established organisations.

The fourth session sought to clarify the realities of energy services for emerging economies through presentations from a number of organisations and companies with experience in emerging market projects, ranging from humanitarian and aid-sector solar lighting organisations to distributed wind generation providers. Two themes were recurrent in the presentations: the necessity of assessing the nuances of the local and regional market in designing products and services for emerging markets, and the huge potential to be found in integrating products and services in a ‘smart’ fashion, most notably through the use of mobile technology. Mobile signal access has developed significantly faster than electricity access in many emerging markets, and with the immense success of the M-PESA and M-KOPA systems, integrating financial transactions into mobile systems has been proven to be a workable business model. The design of clean energy products is also key to their success in supplanting established traditional technologies in emerging markets. This can be as simple as reducing the height of a cookstove so that it can be used more easily, but can have a significant impact on market penetration.

The final session of the day focused on the impact that academic research and evidence can have in supporting the activities of SMEs working in emerging economies. Speakers from SolarAid, Oxford University’s Power and Energy Group and DFID engaged in discussions with the room on how academic research can assist in the design of business models and market research for SMEs, as well as in simulation, social and demographic analysis and other areas. The concept of innovation synergies with academic research was also highlighted, with the academic sector being able to assist in all stages of product and service development, from needs assessment to testing and evaluation of products, to effective deployment strategies and models.

– Daniel Kerr, UCl Energy Institute

The Woman and Child in Bondo and Modern Thermal Energy Access

She was weak and frail, with her baby on her back and a large and unusually long log of wood on her head. You could sense that she was struggling to move under the weight of the log on her head and the baby on her back, but perhaps the promise of the large firewood and promise of less trips to gather wood egged her on. The water channel on her path was shallow but the fall was very steep, probably 40 m or more, she would have crossed the channel quite easily without the load. She jumped across, didn’t make it, slipped but fortunately held on to the brickwork and then pulled herself and her baby out and moved on. I had my heart in my mouth for a few seconds and was greatly relieved that she and her baby was safe. The women with her baby (see picture) could have easily slipped and dropped 40 m down with grave consequences.

This is a scene I witnessed two weeks ago at Bondo in Southern Malawi –one of African countries where over 90% of the population lack energy access. Several millions of women in Sub-saharan Africa and South Asia make such risky trips every day to gather firewood, twigs and shrubs for household thermal energy use, often putting themselves at physical risk. Such trips often expose these women to rough terrain, natural elements and attacks from animals and sometimes fellow humans.  Most of these women then cook food or boil water using inefficient traditional stoves or keep the fire burning through the night to keep themselves warm or wild animals away. These traditional thermal energy use results in major indoor air pollution which slowly kills them and their children through lower respiratory diseases. So women are exposed to health risks during the collection and use of traditional biomass for thermal energy.

Against this backdrop, last week, I was pleased to learn from the launch of the decade of SE4All from New York that the first two years of the decade will be dedicated to ‘Energy-Women-Children-Health’ nexus. This is a very welcome development and I applaud the SE4All leadership and partners for the attention to this space. However to be able to effectively address health related challenges of women and children in areas without energy access, electrification alone is not sufficient and providing modern and thermal energy to rural women is central to this issue. Providing modern thermal energy needs to go beyond a product delivery approach which often focuses only on efficient cook-stoves. While energy for cooking is important, hot water for sanitation and space heating are also quite important. While biomass – solid and liquid fuels, electricity and solar thermal could all play a role, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) can also play a supplementary role. The business of providing thermal energy as a service is likely to a low-return, long-term business and may need to be combined with electricity or agro businesses to increase viability. There are also important roles that public sector, private sector, Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) and the international community should play. Solutions will need to go beyond technology to address, financing, supply chain, institutional arrangements as well as policy and regulations. So all of us need to chip at this problem from all possible angles and the attention and support in this space in the next two years due to SE4All is very welcome.

As for the anonymous woman and her child, Peter Killick of Mulanje Energy Generation Agency, the micro-grid electricity service provider for Bondo who witnessed the scene with me, kindly offered to put a footbridge across the channel. While I am relieved that her future journeys to gather fuel will be safer, I hope to be back in Bondo in the future to see that she has access to cleaner energy technologies and fuel supply at her doorstep.

Dr. Binu Parthan, SEA

The Woman and the Child at Bondo

The Woman and Child in Bondo. Credit: Sustainable Energy Associates