Binu Parthan of Sustainable Energy Associates writes on developmental frameworks and the emerging sphere of thermal energy services in them.
When the STEPs project received the nod from EPSRC and DfID in 2012, energy access in developing countries was all about electrification and Cookstoves. The assumption was that if you provide an efficient biomass Cookstove to a household and the thermal energy access problem was solved. So lot of the focus in 2012 was on cooking and Cookstoves. Efforts then were essentially focussed on developing more efficient Cookstoves and reducing the cost of Cookstoves. In addition to Biomass Cookstoves, there were also efforts which were focussed on solar cooking focussed. So the space was divided between different technologies and limited to biomass and solar energy technologies.
When STEPs project was proposed in 2012, where we encouraged to consider thermal energy as a service for cooking, space and water heating and applications, the typical reaction was that it was a just another Cookstoves project. Often the challenge was that people – both practitioners and researchers had not heard about the concept and were often quick to dismiss it. Another challenge was when we advocated technology neutrality meaning that the thermal energy services may be delivered through renewables, LPG or electricity there was certainly a lot of discomfort as if was always been about Cookstoves and technologies. There were also suggestions that cooking technologies should be limited to renewable energy and LPG was fossil fuel based and was not an option for developing countries etc.
A traditional wood stove for space heating in Lesotho. Image Credit: Sustainable Energy Associates
The STEPs project team has since made a number of efforts to increase awareness about the need to look at thermal energy as a service rather than a product. We spoke at several events that had linkages to the energy access agenda and targeting development agencies and governments. Our team reviewed and commented on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) drafts and objected to the emphasis on Cookstoves in the earlier drafts. We also emphasised the need for considering space heating and sanitation energy needs and the need for technology neutrality.
We also carried out a questionnaire survey during second half of 2014 to early 2015 with 2 objectives 1) to popularise the project and the idea of thermal energy services and 2) to gather data for the project outputs. The questionnaires that were sent out to 64 experts drawn from development agencies, practitioners and researchers with response collected through Survey Monkey, response forms and through phone interviews. The STEPs team also held discussions with two South African rural energy enterprises to encourage them to consider an energy service offering. We reviewed and commented on the Global Tracking Framework (GTF) and the multi-tier framework for energy access for the UN’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All).
We also continued to look for opportunities to pilot the STEPs model in an actual implementation context and continued our discussions with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Lesotho. It was important for us that STEPs as an effort to go beyond a collection of publications and outputs to an effort which will make a tangible impact on public policy as well as thermal energy use in developing countries.
Now with the project in its third and final year we are seeing the impact of the some of our persistent efforts:
The current and final text and the background narrative on SDG 7 on energy talks about cooking and heating and the targets for SDG 7 is technology neutral, silent on technologies and talks about energy services. The final target reads as ‘By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services’. As the global development agenda on energy during 2016-2030 will be guided by the SDG framework, this will allow a level playing ground for thermal energy services and hopefully attract more resources to support thermal energy services in developing countries;
The SE4All GTF update in 2015 is more technology neutral and includes space heating. The multi-tier frameworks also place an emphasis on service, fuel supply etc. and a new multi-tier framework has been included for space heating. As the GTF and multi-tier framework is likely to be used by World Bank and other development agencies for energy access projects/programmes, this may support the implementation of more thermal energy access initiatives.
We have had one South African private enterprise – AES requesting the project for business advice on offering an energy service business proposition;
Responses from 32 out of 64 organisations to the questionnaire survey including development agencies such as World Bank, IFC, UNIDO, UN-ESCAP, GIZ practitioners such as NuRa Energy, Practical Action, Selco, Simpa, BGF, S3IDF, ECS, ACE, practitioner networks such as GVEP, GACC, Ashden and energy research organisations such as IIASA, Imperial College, Stellenbosch University, TERI etc and the World LPG Association. Many of these organisations expressed a desire to be updated on the STEPs project details.
Although we faced delays in implementation with the UNDP Lesotho project where we wanted to integrate the STEPs model for thermal energy services, we have managed to integrate the STEPs thermal energy services model into a much larger project in Afghanistan. The project which began implementation in 2016, will implement the thermal energy services model in about 200 villages benefitting about 20,000 households;
During this final year in 2016, we will continue to focus on disseminating results from the research and deepening our influence and impacts with actual on the ground projects.
– Binu Parthan, SEA