The STEPs project (Sustainable Thermal Energy Service Partnerships) funded by Dfid-DECC-EPSRC is about the design of public private partnerships for the provision of thermal energy services targeting the poorest in developing countries. The STEPs research focuses on thermal energy services for households and small producers. The following posts describe what the main needs are in terms of thermal energy services, and with which technologies they could be provided.
Households and small producers in developing countries have needs in terms of cooking, heating/cooling, refrigeration and drying which vary according to the geographical, socio-economic and cultural conditions found in their locations, and can be satisfied in a very different manner than in industrial countries. Not only can the technologies used be different, but the entrepreneurial model which can help to disseminate these technologies is particular to the Global South: social entrepreneurs, cooperatives, informal groups or established small rural companies acting like utilities have to be involved.
The sustainability of their business models implies the need to find the right mix between different technologies and services provision adapted to the context they evolve in.
Currently cooking in developing countries is mainly done using non-efficient cook stoves using traditional biomass (wood, charcoal) or fuels like coal or paraffin. More infrequently efficient cook stoves, bio-digesters or more rarely LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) are used for cooking in rural areas.
Improved cook stoves have been tried to be disseminated for several decades now with mixed results. It seems cook stoves of all kind of shapes and made of all kind of materials have been conceived without being able to reach their intended market. Improved cook stoves fall broadly into two categories – cook stoves that use traditional wood fuels more efficiently, or cook stoves that use improved fuels such as unprocessed charcoal, briquettes or pelletised fuelwood.
A small selection of the diverse design options for clean cookstoves. Image credit: GIZ
One of the aims of the STEPs project is to understand if public-private partnerships similar to the ones established for rural electrification could facilitate the dissemination on a very large scale of improved cook stoves. This is done by reviewing the (few) successful experiences of large-scale dissemination of improved cook stoves, for example the National Biogas Cookstoves Program (NBCP) in India (http://www.mnre.gov.in/schemes/decentralized-systems/national-biomass-cookstoves-initiative/), and determining how private business can take charge of the distribution and the marketing of improved cook stoves.
Another way of facilitating the energy transition in terms of cooking facilities is to encourage the use of LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). LPG may not be a very low-carbon energy but it is considered a lot cleaner/less damaging for the environment and efficient than the use of traditional fuels. Unfortunately, the logistics of distribution in remote places makes it unaffordable for the poorest unless a program of subsidies is also implemented, which experiences show are difficult to target. For example, the Ghanaian LPG distribution and promotion program started in the 1990s, and continuing today, has experienced difficulties through cross-subsidising LPG, intended for cooking, through gasoline sales. This led to a rise in LPG transport use and conversions, particularly in urban taxis, skewing sales towards transport use and not rural cooking use as intended by the government program.
Bio-digesters can produce methane for cooking. This technology is widely disseminated in few countries like China or India, but not so much in sub-Saharan African countries. Various reasons have been invoked to explain this situation – low density of population/small size of holdings notably. It seems nevertheless than even if conditions may be less favourable in African countries than Asian countries, there could be specific services organised around collective use of bio-digesters (e.g. cooking in a school by collecting waste from a community).
There are two main approaches to household biodigester construction. The traditional technology is a dome-type biodigester, with the digesting chamber constructed from compacted earth or brick. These are cheap and easy to construct, but are prone to failure and require significant maintenance for good efficiencies. Modern household biodigesters are made from prefabricated plastic digesting chambers, which only require maintenance to maintain the digestion process, and are significantly more durable than the traditional type.
Biogas construction in cantonment (4971874669)” by SuSanA Secretariat – https://www.flickr.com/photos/gtzecosan/4971874669/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Prefabricated biodigester being installed in South Africa. Image: popularmechanics.co.za
Prefabricated biogas digester being constructed by AGAMA Bioenergy worker in South Africa. Image: Agama Biogas PRO via Youtube
Solar cooking and solar ovens are another technology that can be used for cooking in rural areas of developing countries. The Global South, and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, generally has a good level of insolation for the use of solar technologies. Solar cooking technology however has struggled to find a foothold in Sub-Saharan African markets, and is at a low level of dissemination despite the maturity of the technology. A number of factors could be behind this, most notably the lack of convenience associated with solar cooking and the long cooking times and forward planning associated with using the technology.
A solar oven being demonstrated in Ghana. Credit: Ikiwaner / Licensed under CC BY 2.0 by Wikimedia Commons
– Xavier Lemaire & Daniel Kerr – UCL