Tag Archives: thermal energy services

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


Clean Cooking Technologies and Dissemination: Growing Markets

Clean cookstoves, also known as improved cookstoves (ICS) have the potential to significantly change patterns of household and institutional energy use in developing countries. However, access to clean cookstoves for consumers in developing countries remains low, despite high levels of fuel use appropriate to cookstoves being prevalent in developing countries, particularly in rural areas.


Share of population using solid fuels with access to improved cookstoves in Developed Countries (DCs), Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) [1]

The use of clean cookstoves has the potential to improve livelihoods, particularly for women and children, in developing countries through alleviating the time burden of gathering fuel, allowing users to spend more of their time on other activities, for example income generation. Daily collection of firewood for cooking can vary in duration from 3 hours [7] to seven hours [8]. Clean cookstove technologies such as rocket stoves can achieve the same cooking results, in the same time, while using just 60% of the fuel [8]. Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves research has shown that traditional cookstove-using households in India, Bangladesh and Nepal on average spend 660 hours/year on fuelwood collection, while improved cookstove households spend just 539 hours/year [9]. Indoor air quality improvements are another key benefit. Around 3.8 million premature deaths annually are caused by non-communicable diseases, such as heart diseases and lung cancer that can be attributed to indoor air pollution [3].

Removing poorly-combusting, high-smoke fuels such as traditional wood fuels from the household energy mix in developing countries, and reducing indoor air pollution consequently, would have huge positive consequences for public health in the developing world.

Clean cookstoves technologies tend to be demarcated on the type of fuel used, as well as the general design of the cookstove and its technological aims. These cookstoves can also be demarcated through cost, with lower-cost cookstoves made from clay or metal with a clay lining, and higher-cost stoves using factory-machined materials like metals. Differences in cost tend to lead to different target market, with low-cost cookstoves targeting rural consumers, and higher-cost cookstoves focusing on emerging middle classes and high-income employees. Costs for a household clean cookstove can range from US$10 to US$350+, and as such different business models are required to disseminate these stoves to best reach their target markets. High-cost stoves are most commonly directly sold to consumers, whereas low-cost stoves can be available through government or donor programs of dissemination, as well as through direct purchase, vendor-credit or micro-credit models. [4] [6]


Stovetech combined wood/charcoal improved cookstove. Source: http://inhabitat.com/four-cooking-stove-designs-that-can-save-the-world/

Solid fuel cookstoves, for example cookstoves using traditional woodfuels, tend to aim for significantly more efficient combustion of fuels, reducing indoor air pollution in the form of smoke and particulate matter, as well as generating more heat. These efficient designs can focus on combusting fuel more effectively, through designing combustion chambers to allow for more aerobic combustion, whereas others focus on having a heavily-insulated cooking chamber to reduce heat loss, focusing on longer cooking times for the same amount of fuel. Other cookstove designs for developing countries focus on using more efficient fuels with low-cost technology. Some examples of this include efficient charcoal stoves, as well as LPG stoves designed for developing country use.


Lab efficiencies of various established cookstove designs used in the developing world. Table established by D. Kerr derived from http://catalog.cleancookstoves.org/test-results, with standards available online at: http://cleancookstoves.org/technology-and-fuels/testing/protocols.html

However, lab efficiencies do not always translate into real-world efficiencies. A recent Indian cookstoves study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of British Colombia found disparities in real-world use efficiencies in a recent CDM program of cookstove dissemination from the Indian government. Particulate matter emissions especially were higher than expected, which may have been due to the ‘stove-stacking’ phenomenon, where families continue to use traditional cookstoves after receiving an improved cookstove. Some 40% of households in this study were found to be doing this [5].

Dissemination of clean cookstoves, and growth in access to the technologies, has the potential to have a significant positive impact on the sustainability of energy use and improvement of livelihoods of consumers in developing countries. Whilst state-run programs have had some success in directly distributing clean cookstoves, market-based measures have been shown to have significant impacts over the medium-long term, and private cookstove markets have developed in a number of Sub-Saharan African countries, such as Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. Markets across the world have disseminated large numbers of cookstoves, with over 12 million disseminated in China in the 2012-2014 period, 4.5 million in Ethiopia, and nearly 3 million in Cambodia [12]. The Kenyan clean cookstoves market was sized at 2,565,954 units in 2012, with high levels of urban and peri-urban penetration (~35%), but significantly less rural coverage [10]. The Ugandan market by comparison is estimated to be around 600,000 households, with urban areas again dominating this group [11].

This series of posts aims to explore the variety of models that private businesses can use to achieve scale and sustainability in their operations in the clean cookstoves sector [2]. Direct dissemination will be compared to vendor purchase, vendor credit and micro-credit models in the second blog of this series. Post three will explore the clean cookstoves value chain and identify opportunities for business growth along the value chain, and the fourth post in this series will examine the role of government in promoting clean cookstoves businesses.

– Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

[1] Bazilian et al. (2011) Partnerships for access to modern cooking fuels and technologies. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Vol. 3, pp. 254 – 259.

[2] Rai & McDonald, GVEP International (2009) Cookstoves and markets: experiences, successes and opportunities. Available at: http://www.hedon.info/docs/GVEP_Markets_and_Cookstoves__.pdf

[3] WHO Website (2016) Household air pollution and health.  Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/

[4] Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (2016) Clean Cooking Catalog.  Available at: http://catalog.cleancookstoves.org/stoves

[5] University of Washington (2016) Carbon-financed cookstove fails to deliver hoped-for benefits in the field. Available at: http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/07/27/carbon-financed-cookstove-fails-to-deliver-hoped-for-benefits-in-the-field/

[6] Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (2016) Business and Financing Models., Available at: http://carbonfinanceforcookstoves.org/implementation/cookstove-value-chain/business-models/

[7] FAO (2015) Running out of time: The reduction of women’s work burden in agricultural production. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4741e.pdf

[8] GACC (2015) The Use of Behaviour Change Techniques in Clean Cooking Interventions to Achieve Health, Economic and Environmental Impact. Available at: https://cleancookstoves.org/binary-data/RESOURCE/file/000/000/369-1.pdf  

[9] GACC/Practical Action (2014) Gender and Livelihoods Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in South Asia. Available at: https://cleancookstoves.org/binary-data/RESOURCE/file/000/000/357-1.pdf

[10] GVEP/GACC (2012) Kenya Market Assessment: Sector Mapping. Available at: https://cleancookstoves.org/binary-data/RESOURCE/file/000/000/166-1.pdf

[11] GVEP/GACC (2012) Uganda Market Assessment: Sector Mapping. Available at: http://cleancookstoves.org/resources_files/uganda-market-assessment-mapping.pdf

[12] REN21 (2016) Renewables Global Status Report. Available at: http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_Full_Report_REN21.pdf

Supporting Thermal Energy Services in Afghanistan

Binu Parthan from Sustainable Energy Associates writes on the growing support for thermal energy service considerations in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is often in the news for the wrong reasons such as large swathes of migrants on European shores, armed conflicts, loss of life etc. However it is possible that the country might actually be implementing one of the most innovative energy services projects which has just started implementation with support from the STEPs team.

Decades of political instability and conflict has resulted in low levels of infrastructure access levels in Afghanistan. Over 57% of the Afghan population does not have access to electricity and 81% of the population does not have access to non-solid fuels (World Bank/IEA, 2015). The situation is dire in rural Afghanistan where only 4% of the population have access to non-solid fuels. Many such locations in Afghanistan are located in colder regions with more than 6000 HDDs/Year.

Afghan households use a Tandoor, a traditional cylindrical clay or metal oven for cooking and baking an efficient version of which is shown in the Fig. It is reported that 90% of cooking revolves around making bread called Naan, followed by potatoes. Houses also use a Bukhari, a traditional space heater for heating the living spaces in winter. Some of the traditional houses also have a Tawa Khana which circulates the hot combustion gases from the tandoor under the floor of the living room and releases to the outside through the opposite wall.

Households in Afghanistan use firewood, animal dung cakes, charcoal and shrubs for heating and cooking. Traditionally firewood and charcoal were purchased in rural Afghanistan but increasingly shrubs and animal dung cakes also have to be purchased. The thermal energy use of solid fuels also have their serious health effects, the annual number of pre-mature deaths from indoor-air pollution is estimated to be 54,000/Year (WHO, 2009). In comparison the civilian casualties in 2015 from the armed conflict in Afghanistan was 11,002 (UNAMA, 2016). The use of solid fuels are also a financial strain on the Afghan households as the average rural Afghan household spends over $ 90 on fuels of which only 12% is on kerosene/lighting with 88% on thermal energy. The prices of the solid fuels also increase by 15-25% during winter months as well.


An efficient Tandoor in Afghanistan. Image: COAM/Amy Jennings

Since late 2013, since the inception of the STEPs project, till late 2015, Sustainable Energy Associates (SEA), one of the partners have been working with the Ministry for Rural Reconstruction and Development (MRRD) in Afghanistan and UNDP to develop a project to address these rural energy and thermal energy challenges. These efforts have led to development of a new programme – Afghanistan Sustainable Energy for Rural Development (ASERD) which has business model and financial innovation at the core of the programme design and was finalised by SEA in late 2015. The project agreement was signed by MRRD and UNDP in late December 2015 and will be financed by the governments of South Korea and Sweden. The project will have a financial outlay of over US$ 50 million and will be implemented over 4 years during the period 2016-2019.

The ASERD programme plans to establish sustainable rural energy services in 194 rural communities in 4 years, providing both electrical and thermal energy services. The efforts will bring sustainable energy to over 19,500 households providing health, economic and social benefits. However the major contribution the programme will make to rural energy in Afghanistan would be to establish delivery models that are technology neutral, leverage additional local and international resources, mobilise communities, engage the private sector and financiers to establish a self-sustaining delivery model. The thermal energy service model which will be used by ASERD is shown in Fig.1.


Thermal Energy Service Model of ASERD. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates

Past rural energy programmes in Afghanistan have mainly relied on technology driven approaches which have focused on commissioning electricity generating equipment and transferring ownership, operation and utility management responsibilities to the communities. These efforts have also largely ignored the cooking and heating needs of rural population in a country which has cold winters. The opportunities to go beyond household energy to commercial, enterprise and public service use of energy have not been exploited or capitalised effectively. Similarly private sector and financial institutions have only played a limited role in the programme so far and the aspects of policy, regulation, standards and incentive frameworks have also not received considerable attention.

Against this backdrop, the ASERD programme seeks to graduate from the current approach to establish a technology-neutral, sustainable service delivery arrangement to provide thermal and electrical energy in rural areas of Afghanistan for household, social and productive needs. The programme will also provide energy in rural areas to seek agriculture productivity gains, rural enterprise development, income generation, community social empowerment and cohesion as well as to expand public service to improve access to better health, education and security in rural areas. To deliver these services in rural areas in a sustainable manner the programme will seek to engage the national utility and the private sector in addition to community mobilisation.

The programme will also develop capacities of the government agencies, civil society and the, private sector including the financial sector. ASERD will also create frameworks for policy and regulation, testing and quality assurance as well as will also pilot seven innovative energy service delivery models which will leverage skillsets and resources from communities, private sector and financial institutions some of which are linked to global financing mechanisms for climate change and energy. These models will also result in benefits to women and the marginalised nomadic Kuchi communities.

The design of ASERD has benefited from the learnings on thermal energy services offerings, key challenges and solutions gained by the STEPs project team which will now be used to support about 20,000 families in Afghanistan. SEA will be involved during the implementation of ASERD to support MRRD and UNDP.

– Binu Parthan, SEA


Conservation Organisation of Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM), 2012, Shah Foladi Village energy Use Survey

International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank. 2015. “Sustainable Energy for All 2015—Progress Toward Sustainable Energy” (June), World Bank, Washington, DC. Doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648 -0690-2 License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 2016, ‘Civilian Casualties Hit a New High in 2015’ available at  https://unama.unmissions.org/civilian-casualties-hit-new-high-2015

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2015, Project Document: Afghanistan – Sustainable Energy for Rural Development (ASERD)

World Health Organisation, 2009, Country profile of Environmental Burden of Disease: Afghanistan

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

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 ‘Real 5P Model’ in Cinta Mekar

Binu Parthan from SEA writes on the implementation of a pro-poor public-private partnership (5P) model for micro-hydropower in Indonesia.

I first heard about the 5P model or the Pro-Poor-Public-Private-Partnership in 2012 when I was in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa were scoping for an energy centre to be run by a cooperative as a 5P model.  I found the idea of PPPs in rural energy that focused on poverty alleviation quite compelling in the context of the rural energy work I was doing at the time. This approach was reflected in the Lesotho Energy Alternatives Programme (LEAP) that I developed for UNDP and the Sustainable Thermal Energy Partnerships (STEPs) project that Xavier Lemaire of UCL Energy Institute and I developed with during 2012-2013. Fast forward 2 years and the STEPs project is generously funded by UK Aid and on its way, and while responding to the baseline study on the STEPs project, I hear from Hongpeng Liu and Deanna Morris at the Energy Division of UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (UN-ESCAP) about the original 5P model which has been working for over 10 years in Cinta Mekar, Indonesia.

With kind support from Tri Mumpuni of People Centred Business and Economic Institute (IBEKA) (who incidentally is a recipient of Magsaysay award for her work on hydro power for rural electrification), weeks later I find my way to Cinta Mekar, a relatively remote hilly village about 3 hours drive from Jakarta. The Cooperative at Cinta Mekar – Makar Sari is headed by a diminutive Yuyun Yunegsih, a grandmother of three who was elected a few years ago by the 450 members of the cooperative. The cooperative manages the 120 kW hydro power plant which was commissioned in 2003. The investment in the hydro-mechanical and electro-mechanical equipment and the building materials were financed 50:50 by UN-ESCAP and a private company Hidropiranti. The facilitation was by IBEKA and the members of the community and cooperatives contributed labour and local materials for civil construction in a normal PPP mode. Today after 12 years the hydro power system is still working well and generating and selling electricity to the local utility – PLN at slightly over US cents 4/kWh. 40% of the $650-$1100 monthly revenues go to Hydropiranti and 40% to Mekar Sari cooperative while 20% is set aside for maintenance, repairs and replacement.

The Mekar Sari cooperative has done a number of impressive ‘pro-poor’ initiatives over the years with its share of the revenues. It has provided financial assistance to households which could not afford to obtain an electricity connection. The cooperative also provides scholarships to 360 kids from the community, provides a land fund for members who do not have land holdings, provides an allowance for women in the community to cover childbirth related expenses and also pays an allowance to older members in the community. It has plans to construct public toilets, drinking water fountains etc. all of which seems very impressive. This is an impressive ‘pro-poor’ element that I have not seen in energy projects in general. I have seen impressive pro-poor energy initiatives driven by visionary and charismatic individuals but not by organisations for such a long duration and consistent track-record.

While the social development and pro-poor schemes have been very impressive, the business side has been slightly less impressive. The cooperative has not been successful in renegotiating in higher off-take tariffs in the power purchase agreement with PLN which pays almost a three times higher tariff for similar community hydro plants. A major investment in a manufacturing facility to make gluten-free banana flour which would have employed 10 people have not been successful and lies largely unutilised as the supply chain and market prospects were not investigated properly. It’s possible that the cooperative may have benefitted from some hard-nosed business advice. However the initiative can be considered a notable success in establishing a technical and management solution at an institutional level which has worked for over 12 years and has continued to be profitable and having driven social development in the community.

From the STEPs project perspective it was interesting to see that almost all the electrified community was using LP Gas or gathering wood from the forests for cooking, thus affirming our view that the thermal energy aspect is often overlooked and left to individual households to solve. What was interesting was also that many households which could afford were using electric rice cookers for cooking the main staple food, and efficient electric cooking is something STEPs hasn’t paid much attention. For the STEPs project plans, 5P model which combines private sector quality, efficiency and investments with public and community investment and participation, with community organisations managing social benefits and which combines both electricity and gas supply could indeed be a better model economically and socially. The question whether the institutionalised community leadership in Cinta Mekar can be replicated elsewhere remains. After my visit I asked Yuyun what the cooperatives biggest challenge was and contrary to what I expected it turned out to be the efforts by the local government to take over the cooperative. So while technical, economic and social challenges can be overcome in rural energy services, political challenges often pose a greater risk to sustainability.

– Binu Parthan, SEA

Yuyun Yunegsih at the Cinta Mekar 5P Hydro Power Plant
Yuyun Yunegsih at the Cinta Mekar 5P Hydro Power Plant. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates