Tag Archives: thermal energy services

A Man and an Island Called Pediatorkope

Dr Binu Parthan from Sustainable Energy Associates writes on his recent visit to Pediatorkope in Ghana.

The man was old and frail but had a commanding presence and a strong voice despite needing a walking stick to move around. I suspect that he was in his late 80s or early 90s but looked a lot younger, was strategic and spoke intelligently. His name was Chief Nene Pediatorkope IV – the supreme chief of the island of Pediatorkope in Ghana whom I met last week.

Pediatorkope is an island in the Volta River inhabited by agricultural and riparian fishing communities. After the Akosombo dam was built in 1966, water levels downstream decreased significantly and with it the fish catch also dropped just like the water level. Many of the men left the village moving upstream to continue fishing or migrated to nearby cities to find other jobs. There is still limited amounts of agriculture and fishing in the Island but more at a subsistence level. The island now has a government supported school and a health centre but the houses do not have electricity or water supply. Once darkness sets in, the village life literally comes to an end. Some of the wealthier households have either a solar home system or a battery power pack, primarily for lighting, phone charging and for powering radios or televisions. Those with the battery power pack recharge their batteries periodically at the village solar kiosk operated by an NGO – Empower Playgrounds. Income from agriculture and fishing has also dwindled over time due lack of irrigation and absence of a cold storage.

The situation in Pediatorkope where absence of energy constrains social and economic development is very similar to the situation in remote communities I have seen. Availability of modern energy allows such villages to irrigate fields which are not cultivated, have cold rooms and freezers to store poultry, milk and fish and also find other productive uses for energy. This also allows children to read and study in the evenings and have shops and markets open into late evening. The Chief was very sure that the Pediatorkope island community will grow from strength to strength once there was energy supply.

The village also had some feedback on the way rural energy programmes should be implemented. Rather than government institutions installing solar home systems or street lights which fail in a matter of time, their preference was for the energy to be delivered as a service to them for which they will pay. What the villagers were willing to pay was the avoided cost of what they were already paying for dry cell batteries for torches. They also did not want the community themselves to manage the energy systems as they thought the social compulsions would result in inadequate revenue generation and eventual failure. They wanted the systems to be managed by professional enterprises and that people in Pediatorkope were available to be employed by such companies.

For me it was interesting to hear people preferring paid energy service over hardware donations, like I have heard in the Sunderbans villages in India few years ago. It was also interesting to hear that they also wanted an external enterprise to manage the service arrangements like I have found out in Mokhotlong in Lesotho last year. I can see an increasing desire in remote rural village communities to received energy services than products and pay for these. This will be one of the issues that the STEPs project will seek to understand better and provide new approaches and solutions.

Once back in Accra, I spoke to my friend Wisdom who is the Director at the Ministry of Energy about the island and its electricity needs. Wisdom thought that it should be possible to get grid electricity to the village through overhead cables or a mini-grid system to meet the household and productive needs in the village.  Either way, I do hope that Pediatorkope will be electrified soon as part of the government’s rural electrification efforts. Next time someone visits Pediatorkope, I hope they will be able to see a more prosperous island, where men stay on in the village, children doing better academically and agriculture and commerce prospering.

– Binu Parthan, SEA

CIMG3672Chief Nene Pediatorkope IV on Pediatorkope Island – Image: Sustainable Energy Associates

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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