Tag Archives: households

Energy Access in Uganda – The Effect of PAYG Models on Adoption

UNCDF’s Clean Start Programme, in conjunction with SolarAid/Acumen and the Schatz Energy Research Centre (SERC), are currently conducting a research project in Uganda based on identifying whether innovative financing models, such as pay-as-you-go (PAYG), can enable higher levels of access to renewable energy technologies, as well as the “solar ladder hypothesis”. This hypothesis states that users who gain access to solar energy technologies will then continue to adopt higher levels of technology to further improve their energy access over time, continuing to use solar technology whilst doing so. Some sources reject the solar ladder hypothesis, and suggest that low-income households can “leapfrog” to higher levels of solar energy access directly if appropriate financing mechanisms are made available, and this project aims to investigate whether the hypothesis holds true in the face of innovative end-user financing for solar energy technologies.

This project exists under the purview of the UNCDF’s co-investment initiatives in innovative and novel financing mechanisms and business models for off-grid energy access. In Uganda, the organisation is particularly promoting energy service company models offering asset financing for users, using a digitally-enabled pay-as-you-go model through proven mobile money technologies. The technologies used in this project are well-proven, such as small portable solar lanterns, and small- and large-scale solar home systems. The substitution of solar energy for unsustainable fuels is demonstrated well by the research so far: 55% of respondents to the 600 phone interviews and 114 face-to-face interviews conducted by the project to date say they have completely substituted fuels such as kerosene and dry-cell batteries, as well as services such as paid mobile phone charging, with solar energy use.

Of particular interest to the research conducted under the STEPs project, however, is the demonstration that PAYG models offer significant benefits over traditional financing and purchasing models, such as cash-purchase or deferred-purchase. The PAYG model investigated under the Ugandan research has led to households with lower incomes being able to afford proportionally-larger systems: household incomes for purchasers of small-scale solar home systems under the PAYG model were comparable to those who were outright purchasing portable solar lanterns, with the model enabling a higher level of access.

Entrepreneur and solar home system purchasers in Uganda. Image: Goyal, Jacobsen & Gravesteijn (2017)

However, whilst the PAYG model enables users to access higher levels of service immediately, it does not have any effect on the payback period for the larger systems. Net-present-value analysis conducted under the project suggested that whilst solar lantern outright purchasers paid back their initial costs quickly, small- and large-scale solar home system users experienced a net cash outflow for the warranty period of their systems, in the region of $130-$740 per year depending on system size. This suggests that economic concerns are possibly lower on the priority list of users than previously thought in other projects, and that levels of service may be more important to users than initially suspected. The project conclusion on this point is that adopters of small- and large-scale solar home systems make the purchases to achieve quality-of-life improvements, rather than as an economic investment.

In addition, the research so far has suggested that the introduction of mobile money systems as a method for both payments for systems and savings for users has been equally adopted throughout household income scales. This suggests that potential co-benefits of a PAYG model when targeting poorer consumers, such as improving financial inclusion and money-saving access through the mobile payments scheme, may not be realised in actuality, given the equal adoption across household income levels. However, an encouraging sign is that mobile savings are being used by a very large proportion of the respondents to the research: 83%. In addition, new systems such as the MoKash savings option launched by mobile money pioneers MTN in Uganda recently may further increase this proportion.



Goyal, Jacobsen & Gravesteijn (2017) Spotlight: Does PAYGO unlock energy access and financial inclusion? Available at: https://spark.adobe.com/page/iGBgXjIQIGG9F/ [Accessed 11th March 2018]

UNCDF (2018) UNCDF CleanStart. Available at: http://www.uncdf.org/en/cleanstart [Accessed 11th March 2018]


Taita Taveta County, Kenya – Biogas Partnership for Farming Communities

Taita Taveta county lies approximately 150km northeast of Mombasa and 300km southeast of Nairobi in Kenya. Residents of Wundanyi subcounty were approached in 2013 by a newly-formed NGO, Taita Biogas, to pilot new biogas installations, due to the high prevalence of cattle farming in the region. This gives ready availability for high-quality feedstock for biogas digesters in the form of cattle manure. To date, the NGO has installed over 600 household-scale biodigesters in the country, and has completed two institutional biodigesters for schools in the region, with a third under construction. These institutional-scale installations will use human and food wastes as feedstock rather than cattle wastes.

The business model for the NGO provides an opportunity for consumers who would not be able to afford a biodigester installation outright to install a system. Taita Biogas covers half of the cost of installation, and also arranges contractors to construct and commission the system. The households then pay the remaining amount for installation, usually in the region of KSh145,000 (GBP1,035). In recent years the NGO has expanded operations through partnership with the Micro Enterprise Support Project, another Kenyan NGO supporting farmers venturing into macadamia nut and French bean farming. Whilst this partnership has not been successful to date, due to MESP pulling out in 2017, a new partnership with the organisation is to be formed with additional funding, and a loan finance option provided through the MESP to members for biogas installations.

Household biodigester user Honorata Nyange cleaning utensils at her Lushangonyi home in Taita Taveta County, Kenya. Photo/Malemba Mkongo, star.co.ke

There are a range of benefits available to the farmers who have installed these biogas systems, as well as the institutional-scale digesters installed by regional schools. Households have reported a huge reduction in the amount of money and time invested in collecting firewood and purchasing charcoal, and the institutional users have reported a 50% reduction in the cost of purchasing firewood for cooking since installation of the digesters. In addition, this scheme is innovative in that householders are coordinating with the NGO to apply for regulatory permission from the Energy Commission of Kenya to bottle and sell biogas on the local market, as self-producers. Biogas sells for comparable prices to natural gas on the Kenya market (KSh200/kg (GBP1.43/kg), compared to KSh175-250 (GBP1.25-1.78/kg) for natural gas), and should regulatory permission be granted, these biogas installations have the potential to become an additional revenue stream for the farmers. Finally, household users have reported significant improvements in both cooking quality and ease of use when using biogas compared to firewood or charcoal, with a reduction in combustion residues and ease of lighting when using biogas as a fuel source.

The NGO is currently expanding its operations both on a geographical and technology-focused scale. As well as its operations in Kenya, the NGO is conducting feasibility studies for joint biogas/solar photovoltaic/solar water heater applications in Ethiopia, as well as local training workshops in partnership with an Ethiopian NGO, MCMDO-REESDE, for solar water heating technology, both in terms of installation and local construction.

Star.co.ke (2017) Taita Taveta Dumps Firewood for Biogas. Available at: https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2018/02/12/taita-taveta-dumps-firewood-for-biogas_c1707691 [Accessed 10th March 2018]
Taita Biogas (2018) What We Do. Available at: http://biogas-taita.de/home.php [Accessed 10th March 2018]

Why Isn’t There Greater Adoption of Biogas Technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa?

There are issues surrounding the lack of willingness to finance biodigester projects at all scales in many SSA countries particularly at the household level, lack of financial arrangements for poorer households where technology is most viable, prevailing climatic conditions beneficial but socio-economic conditions (particularly availability of feedstock and financial capacity of rural users) can be problematic.

Household-scale biodigesters can be an effective solution to providing thermal energy services to rural poor communities in the developing world. However, successful examples of biodigester programs in the past at a government or development-agency scale have mostly been confined to China, India and South-East Asia more widely. Notably, there has been a distinct lack of experience of successful biogas projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. The STEPs research project aims to address some of the reasons behind this, and propose potential solutions.

In theory, the prevailing conditions in Sub-Saharan African countries are mostly beneficial for the introduction of biogas digesters. Climatic conditions, on the whole, are suitably warm, with minimal cold periods to impact digester efficiency. In addition, target users are in abundance in rural areas, if considering the local feedstock regime. Small cattle farming is prevalent in a number of SSA countries, and subsistence farmers in rural areas often keep a small head of cattle. Given also the distributed nature of rural populations in a number of SSA countries (particularly, for example, in Eastern South Africa), household-scale biodigesters are an excellent solution for providing thermal energy services to households.

Sovacool Kryman & Smith 2015

Potential uses for biogas and waste products. Sovacool, Kryman & Smith (2015) Scaling and commercializing mobile biogas systems in Kenya: A qualitative pilot study. Renewable Energy, Vol. 75, pp 115-125, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2014.10.070

However, the lack of successful experience of biogas dissemination programs or businesses can be attributed to a number of factors, first and foremost of which is the cost of biodigesters (ranging from US$30 for a rudimentary drum-type system to over US$700 for a larger household system) [1] [2], and the lack of credit facilities/service regimes to enable access to the technology for the poorest consumers. Biodigester technology still represents a significant upfront cost to a typical rural household, and micro-credit services for clean energy technologies are still in their infancy in SSA countries, with some successful experiences in countries like Kenya or South Africa for solar home lighting or electricity systems in Kenya for example, but little widespread knowledge.

This lack of end-user credit is mirrored in a general lack of energy service companies or institutions offering biodigester services, with the cost issue again a driving factor behind this. Given how critical the maintenance factor is in biodigester installations (an issue which will be explored in the next blog), this lack of service companies, integrating credit or fee-for-service business models with a maintenance and servicing regime, has hampered uptake significantly in the region. The final negative factor is in fact the converse of an advantage: whilst some households will have suitable feedstock availability, compared to average heads of livestock or agricultural waste availability in South-East Asia, SSA has a much lower proportion of households with viable feedstock availabilities. Targeting consumers and areas where feedstock regimes are good is a critical step in ensuring the success of programs or business around biogas digesters in SSA.[2]

The next post in this series will investigate maintenance of biodigesters, and the necessity of maintenance and service arrangements with end-users to ensure efficient and successful operation of biodigesters.

– Xavier Lemaire & Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

[1] Hojnacki et al, MIT (2011) Biodigester Global Case Studies. Available at: https://colab.mit.edu/sites/default/files/D_Lab_Waste_Biodigester_Case_Studies_Report.pdf

[2] Raha, Mahanta and Clarke (2014) The implementation of decentralised biogas plants in Assam, NE India: The impact and effectiveness of the National Biogas and Manure Management Programme. Energy Policy, Vol. 68, pp. 80-91

What Could The Energy Transition Be For Thermal Energy Services in the Global South – Part 3

Following our previous post on heating, this last post will investigate other energy service needs linked notably to farming activities.


Refrigeration in developing countries in remote areas is rarely found except for specific needs like to keep vaccines for health centres. A number of possibilities exist to provide refrigeration with LPG, with passive solar, and again using ground-source heat pumps, but it seems solar PV is the most economical one. Various attempts have been made at renewable refrigeration over the past 30 years, predominantly focusing on solar collector designs, although photovoltaic vapour compression systems are the most commonly found for vaccine refrigeration. The high cost of these systems can often be justified by the importance of the application.

Larger refrigeration systems based on solar collection/kerosene/LPG power using different absorption refrigeration cycles (for example the Platen-Munters ammonia-water-hydrogen continuous diffusion absorption cycle) have been tested for ice-making in developing countries, but the lack of constant heat sources in renewably-powered systems has made reliability and efficiency a concern. Alternatives do exist to LPG-powered refrigeration in the form of solar refrigeration however, and with the current global lowering of photovoltaic and other solar components, the technology is becoming more cost-effective and viable to small entrepreneurs.


Platen-Munters absorption refrigeration system and cycle. Image – centrogalileo.it

Drying is to be found in agriculture, but not at a small scale for individual households. Tray design solar dryers can be useful for small agricultural businesses to increase productivity, and are often easy to construct from locally-sourced materials. Updraft-style solar dryers are more complex from a design perspective, requiring specific attention to be paid to air flows and moisture extraction from the heating areas.


Solar drying for chilli pepper crop in Peru, with locally-produced equipment. Image: Carlos Bertello, GIZ EnDev Peru.

Other Agricultural Uses

Milk pasteurisation is a critical issue for dairy farmers in the developing world. It has been estimated that over 50% of an average rural dairy farmer’s milk crop in Kenya will spoil before it has been sold, which has a severely detrimental effect on their livelihood and income generation. Modern pasteurisation equipment using steam boilers and batch-type pasteurisers can significantly increase output and income from a rural dairy farm in the developing world.

These steam boilers can be renewably powered, for example through biomass from animal/crop waste. Low-temperature (70-80°C) water can be substituted for steam in the pasteurisation process with only slight plant modifications, and this allows the potential for greater renewable energy use in the process, for example through flat-plate solar collector water heating, or cogeneration/recuperation from electricity generation or refrigeration equipment condensers. Whilst renewable pasteurisation technology has not been a focus of many organisations, the FAO have produced a report on the potential uses and processes for the technology, which is available here (http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/t0515e/T0515E03.htm).


Potential for novel pasteurisation technologies in the developing world, to be powered by renewable electricity from solar or biomass digesters. Image: Openideo, Sarah Rizk, Stanford University.

In conclusion of this series of three posts, there exists vast potential over the wide range of available thermal energy services for the residential, industry and commercial sectors, notably in the Global South in general, and Sub-Saharan Africa specifically. The STEPs project will specifically be working most on the services that appear most viable in the Sub-Saharan African context: cooking/heating services for household needs, and low-temperature hot water production for households. The need for sustainable cooking and household thermal energy is a pressing one, and the STEPs project, through investigating a technology-neutral approach to thermal energy services and business, hopes to address this need.

– Xavier Lemaire & Daniel Kerr – UCL

What Could the Energy Transition Be for Thermal Energy Services in the Global South

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.

biodigester in cantonment

Biogas construction in cantonment (4971874669)” by SuSanA Secretariat – https://www.flickr.com/photos/gtzecosan/4971874669/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

africa biodigester

Prefabricated biodigester being installed in South Africa. Image: popularmechanics.co.za

agama biogas

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.

ikiwaner solar oven 2008

A solar oven being demonstrated in Ghana. Credit: Ikiwaner / Licensed under CC BY 2.0 by Wikimedia Commons

– Xavier Lemaire & Daniel Kerr – UCL

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

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