Tag Archives: thermal energy access

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 – Part 2

Following our previous post on cooking, this post will investigate space and water heating/space cooling needs.

Space and water heating/space cooling

Heating can be an important source of energy consumption in a number of developing countries located far from the Tropics. This function is often associated with cooking, where a central heating point is used both to cook meals and heat the house. Bio-digesters in countries like China, India or Nepal have been able to provide heat on top of cooking.

Another energy service which is more widely used – even if often not considered as a priority – is domestic hot water which can be provided with a solar water heater. South Africa has some very large programmes of dissemination of solar water heaters, notably in townships. Half of the population of Barbados has a solar water heater. Solar water heaters are a mature technology, which can be easily manufactured locally and relatively cheaply, most of the time sold on a cash basis or with a consumer credit.

david monniaux 2005 swh

Solar water heater used in the Cirque de MafateRéunion. “Solar heater dsc00632”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_heater_dsc00632.jpg#/media/File:Solar_heater_dsc00632.jpg

Cooling renewable energy technologies are less available. For instance solar thermal cooling systems seem to exist mainly as large-scale technology; they tend to be complex to design and generally are quite costly. They are not considered in the STEPs project, which deals with the large-scale dissemination of medium scale collective or individual small-scale mature technologies.

Heat pumps imply dwellings of good quality with good insulation which is not a common occurrence in the case in poor communities.  Nevertheless ground-source heat pump could potentially be used at a larger scale (http://unu.edu/publications/articles/geothermal-energy-in-developing-countries-and-the-mdgs.html).


Energy-efficient insulation and passive housing have traditionally been the preserve of developed nations (for example, the developed German passive housing technology sector). However, the potential for efficient insulation and space temperature management with locally-sourced, low-cost renewable materials has been realised in a number of countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. This includes both traditional methods for adapting households in temperate developing countries, such as cladding and thatch roofing, as well as the more modern concept of passive housing, where thermal energy inputs (for example, from the sun) are used as part of the building’s thermal energy regime, enabling a reduction in the use of air conditioning methods.

Traditional housing for example in Lesotho is adapted to the variable temperatures of the mountain climate the country resides in, with rondavels (traditional huts) having conical thatched roofs and daubed exterior walls for insulation against the often cold climate, and warm air retention.


By K. Kendall (originally posted to Flickr as Rondavel, Gisela) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Business model examples and projects for efficient insulation in developing countries are few and far between. For instance, the iShack project in Enkanini, an informal settlement in Stellenbosch, South Africa in partnership with the University of Stellenbosch, is predominantly a fee-for-service solar home system project, where users pay a small monthly fee on top of a fixed installation cost for small (50-80W) solar home systems. However, the organisation is also expanding into sustainable insulation and other household services, particularly sustainable wastewater treatment and household-scale biogas installations for cooking.


Enkanini, Stellenbosch from the steps of the iShack hub. Image: Daniel Kerr

– 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

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.

Indicators of Access to Modern Thermal Energy Services from the Perspective of Households in West Africa

Luc Tossou from Econoler writes on the importance of data collection in assessing clean energy access project performance.

An estimated 2.6 billion people do not have access to clean thermal energy services and rely on solid fuels (wood, charcoal, crop residues and animal dung) to meet their thermal energy needs. Most of these people live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). According to a projection by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the situation will worsen in SSA, resulting in a 20% increase by 2030 in a business-as-usual scenario [1]. Several ongoing initiatives have therefore been established to improve access to clean thermal energy services. Clear and relevant indicators must be developed to adequately measure progress in SSA, especially in West Africa with which I am more familiar than the rest of SSA.

Presently in West African countries, quantification of access to clean thermal energy services only focuses on the percentage of households using clean fuels for cooking, such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and biogas. In fact, national surveys and censuses only provide data on types of cooking fuel and disregard conversion technology efficiency (stoves), indoor air pollution levels, along with fuel collection and stove preparation time. Furthermore, national statistics do not provide data on access to clean thermal services such as water and space heating, since these are much less needed than cooking.

In addition to simply representing a measure of access to clean cooking fuels, aspects such as the technical performance of stoves and the time needed for fuel collection and stove preparation must also be considered in determining indicators for projects aiming at promoting access to clean thermal energy services. Integrating all these aspects in such projects is likely to effectively reduce indoor air pollution and alleviate households’ exhausting, lengthy traditional fuel collection and stove preparation effort.

In conclusion, to determine whether or not projects designed to improve access to modern thermal energy services have achieved their goal from the perspective of West African households, key indicators that should be measured include the number of households with access to both clean fuels and efficient stoves, the time spent by households on fuel collection and on stove preparation, as well as indoor air pollution levels. Data on these indicators can be collected by integrating relevant questions in regularly conducted censuses and household surveys.

– Luc Tossou, Econoler

[1] Koffi Ekouevi, 2013, « Scaling Up Clean Cooking Solutions » at http://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/84f1630042bd9584b2e3be0dc33b630b/Scaling+Up+Clean+Cooking+Solutions+-+Koffi+Ekouevi.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

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/

From Off-Grid Electrification to Thermal Energy Services

Xavier Lemaire from the UCL Energy Institute offers his thoughts on the current state of research in the field of the STEPs project.

There have been quite a few pieces of academic research conducted recently on business models for off-grid electrification. Of particular note is a previous DfID-EPSRC funded project entitled “Decentralized off-grid electricity generation in Developing countries: Business Models for off-grid electricity supply”, which has led to special issue of the Energy for Sustainable Development journal on off-grid electrification in developing countries. Another DfID-EPSRC funded project, “Rural off-grid electricity generation for communities in Africa”, is led by one of STEPs project partner institutions, the University of Southampton.

Numerous reports and market surveys have also been written, notably by the Alliance for Rural Electrification, the Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme ESMAP-World Bank, or Lighting Africa.

One of the unique features of the STEPs project is the focus on thermal energy services like heating or hot water, and not electricity services. The fact is, currently there is very little literature on thermal energy services in developing countries.

Research questions this project will try to answer include: can business models for off-grid electrification be extended to thermal energy services, or should business models be completely different? Can the same actors propose both kinds of services? But, linked to the issue of how to structure an offer of thermal energy services is the question of demand: is there a sufficient demand for thermal energy services in rural areas of developing countries to justify the establishment of specific rural thermal energy services companies, or should thermal energy services be sold by non-specialised rural energy services companies?

– Xavier Lemaire, UCL Energy Institute

STEPs Poster at the Asia Clean Energy Forum

A poster on the STEPs project was presented in the Marketplace of Ideas segment in the Asia Clean Energy Forum during June 2013. The Asia Clean Energy Forum over the last 8 years has emerged as one of the key clean energy event in Asia. This year’s forum held during 25-28 June attracted 640 participants from 55 countries and was held at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in Manila, Philippines. The forum was organised very well and had a good selection of speakers. The participation was mainly from business and governments followed by development agencies. The forum was supported by ADB and a number of governments including the UK government.

A poster was developed by UCL and SEA highlighting key aspects of the project. The poster and the idea about the use of PPPs for thermal energy service delivery were received well at the market place with several delegates stopping to study the material and seeking clarifications. Most questions I received were more about the problem of thermal energy service than the approach we are proposing. So this seems to be a problem which needs more attention from development policy and academic research. I also joined the panel discussion at the main conference on maximising energy access focusing on financing issues. During the panel discussions, I also flagged the challenges with thermal energy access and the need for more efforts to address this problem. This view was also supported by interventions from the floor.

So the participation at Asia Clean Energy Forum provided an opportunity to highlight the challenges with thermal energy access in developing countries and to introduce the STEPs project to clean energy, energy access and development practitioners in Asia.

Dr. Binu Parthan, SEA

CIMG2180STEPs poster at the Asia Clean Energy Forum 2013. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates