Tag Archives: developing countries

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


Promoting LPG Uptake in Developing Countries

Increasing the use of LPG fuels as a means of achieving greater sustainability has been a targeted policy for a number of developing countries in recent years. However, projects to promote LPG access have met with mixed success. The barriers to increasing the use of LPG in developing countries, particularly for poorer communities or those in rural areas, are numerous, including issues of price of fuel, access considerations and the reliability of supply, and the price of LPG-using equipment, for example stoves..

A number of projects have endeavoured to mitigate these barriers and improve the state of LPG markets in their respective countries and regions. The Ghanaian LPG sector is often cited as an example of a successful government-level intervention to develop LPG markets.

The case of LPG in Ghana

The earliest government programs in the sector began in 1989, and recent government policy on energy has put access to LPG for households and institutions and security of LPG supply as high priorities in the national energy strategy. Government strategy has addressed two key themes: increasing indigenous production, storage and equipment production capacity for LPG, and removing barriers to access for both the urban and rural populations of the country. Results of these interventions have included improving the production and storage capacity of the Tema oil refinery, re-capitalising the Ghana Cylinder Manufacturing Company to indigenously produce LPG cylinders, and price-levelling the cost of LPG fuel across the country to promote rural market growth.

However, direct subsidies such as those used in Ghana for levelling the price of LPG fuel can have unintended consequences and distort markets. There has been seen in the rise of LPG conversions for taxis and minibuses in the country, taking advantage of the newly-subsidised LPG fuel for transport use. The rise in LPG use in road vehicles was also due to increased government taxes on transport fuels in 2012 and 2013, which do not include LPG in their remit. The combined effect of being able to avoid taxation on petrol or diesel, as well as take advantage of subsidised domestic LPG, has led to increased LPG use in the automotive sector. More recently, from 2013 onwards, supplementary imports to the Tema Oil Refinery’s LPG output, as well as the government’s scaling back of price controls and subsidies, have reduced automotive LPG use. [3]

Other countries, such as Indonesia and India, have also implemented direct subsidy models, such as the Indonesian kerosene conversion megaproject from 2007-2009, and the Indian LPG sector, which as of 2015 was offering direct subsidies to consumers for the purchase of LPG fuels and equipment through the government’s Direct Benefit Transfer system. Both of these projects have seen a huge shift from the use of kerosene for cooking and heating to the use of LPG, and both projects have achieved this through re-targeting government subsidies towards LPG, and away from other fuel sources. In the case of Indonesia, LPG use following the conversion project rose to over 80% of rural and 90% of peri-urban and urban households by 2013. The Indonesian program also intervened in the equipment sector, distributing 44 million LPG conversion kits to 15 provinces in the country, enabling consumers to convert to LPG fuel without the high initial investment in LPG-using equipment. [1] [2]


Increase in LPG usage before and after the kerosene-LPG conversion project in Indonesia. Source: Pertamina, 2013, http://www.pertamina.com/en/

However, experience with developing a functional private market for LPG in some developing countries is limited, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The persistent issues of access to the LPG fuel and reliability of supply, as well as transport considerations for rural areas and a lack of a distribution network, can hamper the development of markets. The next post in this series will investigate business models for use in the LPG sector by private or public-private participants.

– Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute, February 2016

[1] Budya & Arofat (2010) Providing cleaner energy access in Indonesia through the megaproject of kerosene conversion to LPG. Energy Policy, Vol. 39, pp. 7575 – 7586.

[2] Andadari et al. (2014) Energy poverty reduction by fuel switching. Impact evaluation of the LPG conversion program in Indonesia. Energy Policy, Vol. 66, pp. 436 – 449.

[3] Biscoff et al. (2012) Scenario of the emerging shift from gasoline to LPG fuelled cars in Ghana: A case study in Ho Municipality, Volta Region. Energy Policy, Vol. 44, pp 354 – 361.

“Fuel Switching” To LPG: Substituting More Sustainable Fuels

‘Fuel switching’ has achieved some prominence in the sustainable energy for development discourse. Fuel switching is usually used to define situations where end-users transition from less-sustainable traditional fuels, such as fossil fuels like kerosene or paraffin, or traditional woodfuels, to more sustainable sources of fuel used for the same purpose. For example, kerosene for lighting may be substituted for electric lighting from a solar home system, or woodfuels used for cooking or heating may be substituted for LPG.

Fuel switching has been particularly put forward when relating to LPG uptake in developing countries, as LPG fuel has significant benefits over other modes of fuel used for similar purposes. These can include superior combustion properties, producing less indoor air pollution with the attendant co-benefits in terms of public health. Fuel switching can lead to a reduced burden on the end-user for energy resource acquisition, such as alleviating the time burden of collecting woodfuels or purchasing charcoal/kerosene.

STEPs LPG Blog 1 Graph 1

Time spent collecting wood fuels per day by women in different African countries, 1990-2003, World Bank 2006. Source: http://ourworldindata.org/data/environmental-change/indoor-air-pollution/

Fuel switching (combined with the use of efficient cookstoves) can also lead to improved performance resulting from the use of a more energy-dense fuel, such as reduced cooking times.

STEPs LPG Blog 1 Graph 2

A comparison of different types of clean cookstoves and their relative energy consumptions and times to boil water. Source: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2014/06/thermal-efficiency-cooking-stoves.html

But fuel switching is not a one-way process where energy users switch to modern fuels and never come back to traditional fuels. Energy stacking is defined as when end-users in developing countries engage in multi-modal fuel usage depending on a variety of factors (e.g. variances in household income seasonally or over time), or utilising certain fuels for specific purposes (e.g. using kerosene for lighting and woodfuels for cooking).

Creating the incentive for a household, commercial enterprise or industry to engage in fuel switching can be challenging. The barriers to increased uptake of sustainable energy sources and more-sustainable energy equipment, such as solar home systems or LPG cooking apparatus, are well-documented [1] [2]. These can include higher costs for fuels, high initial investment costs putting systems/equipment out of reach of users, and problems with fuel availability, for example in distributing LPG fuels to remote rural areas.

These issues will be addressed in the next article in this series on the STEPs Blog, “Methods of Promoting LPG Uptake in Developing Countries”.

— Xavier Lemaire & Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute, February 2016

[1] Pandey & Chaubal (2011) Comprehending household cooking energy choice in rural India. Biomass & Bioenergy, Vol. 35, pp. 4724 – 4731.

[2] Rai & McDonald (2009) Cookstoves and Markets – Experiences, Successes and Opportunities. Available at: http://www.hedon.info/docs/GVEP_Markets_and_Cookstoves__.pdf#

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

How to Evaluate the Impact of Research Projects?

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from University College London attended the first annual workshop of the Understanding Sustainable Energy Solutions (USES) Network, held at the Wellcome Trust, London, UK on the 8th July 2014. The workshop was designed to give insights into how best to achieve impact and engagement with beneficiaries in the USES Network projects, which cover a wide variety of aspects of low carbon energy research in developing countries, from institutional networking assistance and business support, to technology dissemination for thermal and electrical energy, to institutional and residential energy efficiency. A number of sessions took place, with an aim to convey insights into how funders and research users engage with academic institutions and organisations conducting research; theories of change and the impacts, both potential and real, that past projects have achieved/failed to achieve; and how best to plan for and assess the impact of the USES projects, and what shared experiences could be brought to bear for the good of all involved projects.

The day began with three presentations on impact, engagement and theories of change. Ed Brown from Loughborough University, in conjunction with Alison Mohr from the University of Nottingham, led off with an introduction to the Participatory Impact Assessment (PIPA) methodology. Adrian Ely from the STEPs Centre at the University of Sussex, and Duncan Green from Oxfam also contributed via video presentations.

Of particular interest was the PIPA methodology for assessing impact, which seeks to identify the inter-linkages in the goals and priorities of all actors in research projects, for example funding agencies, research institutions, local and national governments, community organisations, NGOs and the wider population. Through identifying the synergies in these groups’ priorities and needs, the methodology hopes to provide a clearer insight into the potential impacts of research projects, and the methods needed to achieve them.

The following session saw a number of representatives from the Department for International Development and the Department for Energy and Climate Change, as well as the UKCDS and the Knowledge Transfer Network, conduct a roundtable discussion on the experiences of funding agencies and other organisations in engaging with research and researchers. Broad themes included the importance of quantitative measures of impact and results in the view of the funders and their objectives, as well as highlighting the divergence on timescales for results between public sector projects and research projects.

The whole-room discussions sessions that followed, as well as in the case study presentations, brought forward a number of recurring points. The importance of stakeholder engagement from the very beginning of a project  in achieving impact in research projects, particularly in developing country contexts, was consistently highlighted as a key factor. In-depth knowledge of local country contexts, as well as sectoral expertise in key project members, was identified as a useful factor in achieving project impacts. These factors, along with the targeting of invitations to actors based on their expertise, were also identified to be critical in the creation, funding and initial engagement of projects.

The final session focused on the proposed framework for reporting project impacts to DFID, and how shared experiences within the USES project could help to facilitate greater impacts for all involved projects. Finally, the day concluded with contributions from participants on how the USES network can support the involved projects, predominantly focusing around networking via social media and web networking spaces provided through the USES portal on the LCEDN website.

LCEDN Meeting July 2014Roundtable discussion at LCEDN USES Network Meeting, July 2014

– Xavier Lemaire & Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

Side-Stepping the Energy Ladder

For decades now there has been talk of a hierarchy of energy use or ‘ladder’ which defined levels of development as well personal aspirations. Occupying the bottom of this ladder were primary fuels such as biomass, dung, etc. Moving towards the middle we had kerosene and LPG which were considered ‘modern fuels’ because of their comparative convenience as well as fairly sophisticated refining process associated with hydro-carbon fuels. And of course, at the top of the ladder was electricity, the most versatile and modern energy source of them all.

There have been many articles published about the energy ladder, some supportive of its clear albeit simplistic representation of how households progress in terms of fuel use while others have been more critical altogether of its rigidity and inability to accommodate variables such as culture,  differing socio-economic and geographic contexts. How this is playing out in South Africa today is quite interesting. Looking at South Africa’s energy policy, it is highly orientated towards developing the ‘top of the ladder’ options. Policy and regulations abound when it comes to nuclear, coal, large scale renewable, LPG gas, etc. But there is little regulatory interest when it comes to wood. Perhaps its posturing (Africa’s largest and most sophisticated economy requires nuclear not biomass regulations) or perhaps that’s the reality (the energy service activities are at the top of the ladder).

Despite this there are a number of inconsistencies emerging;

  • Electricity is becoming increasingly expensive (above inflation increases for over 5 years already with about the same to come) so many poorer households are having to ‘back-switch’ to LPG and paraffin.
  • Many middle class households that have been electrified for decades are opting to cook on LPG gas (on stainless steel hobs for sure) and heat their houses in winter using wood (up-market fireplaces).
  • Millions of households still cook with wood although they have access to electricity. The energy source is simply uneconomic to support the full range of thermal services households require.
  • High oil prices (think kerosene and LPG) and increasing electricity prices are putting strain on the ability of people to use fuels which they have access to. Access and utilisation have become two different issues
  • Political promises which have for decades reinforced the energy ladder now cannot be met as lower-income households cannot afford to utilise these fuels for all services required.
  • Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs has put out a tender for improved cookstoves, a technology that has never appealed to the Department of Energy because of the ‘poverty’ stigma associated with wood. Or, “people did not struggle [against Apartheid] to use wood” the former Minister of Energy [Dipuo Peters] once said to this blogger [African Minister’s Meeting, Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, 17th September 2011].

Without significant subsidies, the lower-income households will find ascending the so called energy ladder increasingly difficult to achieve. The progressive notion of the ladder had much to do with the assumption that it was simply a matter of time before households, given broader economic growth, would progress up the ladder. However such economic growth hasn’t quite materialised and the associated costs of using these fuels has become increasingly exorbitant. Perhaps the middle-class should be used to assist in de-stigmatising the use of biomass fuels and the like which will at least assist in addressing some of the indignity associated with being trapped at the ‘bottom of the ladder’. Third generation improved cookstoves instead of open fires should go a long way in terms of doing just that.

– Robert Aitken, Restio Energy

Global Tracking Framework Report

Released in May 2013 under the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, the report is the result of an analytical study conducted by a team of energy experts from fifteen (15) agencies under the leadership of the World Bank and the International Energy Agency. The report providesna comprehensive picture of more than 170 countries with respect to the three SE4ALL objectives (universal access to modern energy services, and doubling of both the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix). It also describes how to measure progress towards achieving the three objectives.

From the perspective of the Sustainable Thermal Energy Service Partnerships (STEPs) project, the report also provides a reliable source of baseline data on access to primary non-solid cooking fuels as they were at the start point of the SE4ALL initiative (2010) for each of the 170 countries under study. However, the report does not provide any data on energy for heating, as none were available. According to the report, the measurement of access to heating represents several challenges. The SE4ALL initiative envisions the development of a framework to adequately measure access to heating.

– Luc Tossou, Econoler

Follow this link for more information on the Global Tracking Framework report: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/05/17765643/global-tracking-framework-vol-3-3-main-report.