Tag Archives: indoor air pollution

Thermal Energy Services and Technology Neutrality

Dr Binu Parthan from Sustainable Energy Associates writes on technology neutrality in thermal energy services, and how this can approach can be used to further access to clean thermal energy.

When the STEPs project was conceived in late 2012 and early 2013, one of the key aspects we emphasised was the principle of technology neutrality. We thought it important to include all possible energy conversion and end-use technologies that can provide thermal energy for cooking, space heating and other household, commercial and industrial uses. We were always clear about the role of LPG as a thermal energy fuel and technology to be included. This was also one of the arguments we used to encourage a technology neutral approach to thermal energy to the projects eventual funders DfID and EPSRC. Once the research project started in early 2014 the role of electric cooking also emerged slowly as an option worth considering. During the global survey we carried out during 2014-15 it emerged that electricity was already being used for thermal purposes by some practitioners in several operating contexts. In early 2015, I visited the Mekar Sari cooperative at the Cinta Mekar 5P project in Indonesia to understand the workings of the 5P model – a blog about this visit available here. During this visit I came across the extensive use of electric rice cookers which were being used alongside LPG. Almost all houses in Cinta Mekar was using efficient rice cookers to prepare rice and keep it warm.

A Household at Cinta Mekar, Indonesia Cooking with an Electric Rice Cooker (Credits: Sustainable Energy Associates)

The questions around electric cooking started recurring again during 2015. In mid-2015, at the Asia Clean Energy Forum at ADB in Manila where we presented the STEPs model, there were some interesting discussions about the need to include all possible technologies for cooking, including LPG and electricity. Later in 2015, DfID and Evidence on Demand published three interesting reports on electric cooking using solar photovoltaics and batteries in the African context. One of these publications (Leach and Oduro, 2015) also highlighted that majority of cooking is being using electricity in advanced African countries such as South Africa. Later in 2015 while I was in Nepal I realised that electric cooking option was already promoted by Intermediate Technology (Now renamed Practical Action) over 25 years ago in the 1990s with micro-hydro projects in a village called Ghandruk. The project used electric storage cookers – Bijuli Dekhchis for electric cooking in Ghandruk. The experience with electric cooking in Nepal did not turn out to be a success and perhaps was an idea ahead of time. My efforts to contact the people who ran the project to learn from their experience with the technology wasn’t successful as many of them had moved on or retired.

Rice Cooker and Electric Kettle being used by Households at Barpak in Nepal (Credits: Bir Bahadur Ghale)

There has also been questions raised regarding the health benefits of efficient cookstoves such as the reduction of pulmonary diseases due to reduced indoor emissions from improved cookstoves. LPG based cooking offers significant indoor emission reductions and electric cooking produces no indoor pollution at all. A publication in the Lancet in late 2016, which was highlighted by the BBC seemed to indicate no significant health benefits as a result of efficient biomass stoves (Mortimer. 2017).  I also see a renewed interest in electric cooking again especially with the availability of electromagnetic induction cookers which are available at lower prices of about US$ 20 in many locations in the developing world. Efficiency of rice cookers have also improved and many of the efficient rice cookers now use electro-magnetic induction. Induction cookers are about 14% more efficient than ordinary electric cookers and are increasingly available globally at competitive prices.

In this context, I heard about Bir Bahadur Ghale, owner of Barpak Rural Electrification Pvt. Ltd in Nepal – a community owned mini-grid operated by micro-hydro. After several efforts and with support from Dipti Vaghela at the Micro-Hydro Power Network, I was able to meet with Bir in December 2016.  The experience of Barpak Micro Hydro with electric cooking has been quite impressive. The mini-grid powered by hydro has offered a lower off-peak tariff from 8 AM to 5 PM encouraging households to cook with electricity during this period. These efforts resulted in about 2/3rd of the 1200 households served by the 133 kW hydro system now using electric cooking during the day. In addition the Barpak hydro also offers lower tariffs to industries during the day time, to encourage the use of electricity for productive uses. These efforts have resulted in the utilisation levels in the Barpak hydro to increase to 47% or 0.47 Plant Load Factor (PLF) which is almost 3 times the levels seen in similar hydro powered mini-grid systems in Nepal and elsewhere. Bir believes that the convenience of electric cooking, low-cost of cookers, reduction in drudgery of collecting firewood and the low off-peak tariffs offered by the Barpak hydro has been the reason behind the uptake of electric cooking. I believe this is a good approach which is valid in many locations around the world which addresses indoor air pollution, deforestation, provide a convenient and modern cooking alternative to households, especially women and improve the business viability of mini-grid operations. I am also beginning to notice more and more electric cooking appliances as I travel and recently in Laos I even see a shop which is specialising in electric cooking. So this market segment is getting quite interesting indeed with more product offerings that are affordable.

Electric Cooking Appliances for sale in Vientiane, Laos (Credits: Sustainable Energy Associates)

Also in a recent visit in summer of 207 to a village in the Ayeyarwady delta in Myanmar electrified by a gasifier powered mini-grid, I was able to see the widespread use of electric rice cookers and electric frying pans on a regular basis in homes. What was interesting was that despite the high local electricity tariffs at $ 0.44/kWh, the households preferring electric cooking to biomass based cooking.

Electric Cooking in rural Myanmar (Credits: Sustainable Energy Associates)

As more un-electrified areas get electrified and as cost of cooking with firewood and charcoal increases, we would expect LPG and electricity to increasingly displace biomass stoves. Where conditions for promotion of LPG exist such as local availability of natural gas, existence of LPG distribution networks, government programmes that offset the cost of access (like in Indonesia) etc. we are likely to see increased uptake of LPG. However many countries to do have domestic natural gas reserves and establishing a nation-wide LPG distribution network is capital intensive and government finances are often stretched. Therefore there is a tendency for LPG distribution networks to be limited to urban areas where there is a high concentration of users. Electric induction cooking can be an alternative in rural and decentralised areas which are electrified where products such as induction cooktops and electric rice cookers are available in the markets. With the right regulatory instruments that ensure tariffs that encourage electric cooking and electric space heating and with efficient and low-cost induction cooking devices, the share of electric cooking in developing countries will increase. While this does not call for shifting the focus away from efficient biomass cookstoves, the option of electric cooking needs to be in the menu of options for practitioners, development agencies and enterprises active in the energy access space. We will also need to think in terms of programme frameworks, financing, policy & regulation that promotes efficient electric cooking alongside LPG, efficient biomass stoves and other options.

Dr. Binu Parthan


Matthew Leach and Richard Oduro 2015, Preliminary design and analysis of a proposed solar and battery electric cooking concept: costs and pricing, Evidence on Demand, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12774/eod_cr.november2015.leachm

Mortimer, K et al, 2017, A cleaner burning biomass-fuelled cookstove intervention toprevent pneumonia in children under 5 years old in rural Malawi (the Cooking and Pneumonia Study): a cluster randomised controlled trial, Lancet, 389: 167–75


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

Clean Cookstoves and Entrepreneurship in Kenya

Daniel Kerr from UCL reports on recent partnerships for clean cookstoves in Kenya.

A number of international organisations are realising the benefits of cleaner methods of cooking in developing countries. In particular, the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP) are continuing to make progress in providing clean cookstoves and cleaner cooking fuels in Africa, through an ongoing partnership with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC). A recent conference in Nairobi, the National Stoves and Fuel Conference, was co-hosted by the GACC and the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya, where GVEP was able to highlight the progress made under the Spark Fund Program, an initiative from the GACC under which GVEP was awarded US$375,000 in July 2013.

Under the Spark Fund Program, GVEP is working with local producers of clean cookstoves in the Central and Kisumu areas of Kenya to develop new stove designs with improved performance, particularly in terms of thermal efficiency and emissions reduction. Partnerships with local testing centres and universities are also in place to quantify these reductions and efficiency gains, with the aim of optimising designs whilst maintaining local manufacturing ability.

The Spark Fund Program is an effort to address the research and development gap often seen in micro-enterprise, due to the lack of funding and expertise. Engaging micro-enterprises in the development of new cookstove products is seen as a key step to further developing the clean cooking market in Kenya. As explained by Laura Clough, a technical specialist at GVEP: “As the sector looks towards developing new standards for improved cookstoves and making them cleaner and more efficient, it is important that local enterprises are able to participate fully in this process”.

Entrepreneurship and market development are both relevant to the STEPs project. Through the establishment of public-private partnerships with private organisations and entrepreneurs, and the development of market mechanisms and a market-oriented approach to program development, a faster pace of model penetration and a more sustainable, cross-applicable model will be developed.

– Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

More information on the National Stoves and Fuel Conference and GVEP’s participation can be found here: http://www.gvepinternational.org/en/business/news/gvep-called-showcased-its-work-cookstoves-international-conference-kenya

Global Village Energy Partnership on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gvepintl?fref=ts

GVEP Home: http://www.gvepinternational.org/

Is LPG Part of the Problem or Solution?

Dr. Binu Parthan of SEA discusses the role LPG can play in household energy provision in developing countries:

When I discuss the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as one of the technology options for cooking and heating at the household level in developing countries, it is often met with resistance. I have been challenged on the increased greenhouse gas emissions from introducing LPG into a biomass baseline, on introducing dependency on fuel supplies to areas which are self-sufficient and also introducing the dangers of market and price fluctuations to households with limited incomes.  All of these are valid concerns and should be addressed through the approaches.

I would like to view the indoor-air pollution in the developing country households as a health problem as well as an energy problem. Indoor air pollution from inefficient biomass burning results in pre-mature deaths of 2 million people in developing countries every year. Most of the rural areas I have been to, availability of biomass resources are decreasing and increasingly households have to purchase biomass at fluctuating market prices. In countries with space heating needs in winter such as Lesotho, the expenditure on solid fuels is significantly higher than what is spent by households on kerosene for lighting. So developing country households are already spending considerable share of their incomes on biomass purchases at market prices.

Now regarding increased emissions, if your baseline is biomass which is sourced from non-sustainable forests or woodland (as is often the case) the decrease in carbon stocks as a result of deforestation may offset most or part of the increased emissions from LPG use. Over the years I have seen a number of cookstoves and space heaters from solar cookers to, electric induction cookers efficient biomass stoves which should be all be promoted strongly But I believe LPG should also be part of the menu of options primarily However we should also work on regulatory frameworks for LPG to regulate pricing, have safety standards for stoves and require gas companies to retail small canisters to increase access by poorer households.

So I would encourage a healthier and cleaner thermal energy alternative for developing country households which are technology-neutral. The choice of which technology and fuel to use should be left to the households and users to decide.

– Binu Parthan, SEA

CIMG0262A traditional cook stove in Lesotho. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates