How to Save Lives and Lower Fuel Consumption: Clean Cookstoves

22 June 2012

Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires – the primary means of cooking and heating for nearly 3 billion people in the developing world – causes 2 million premature deaths annually, with women and children the most affected.

Reliance on biomass for cooking and heating means that women and children spend many hours during the week collecting fuel. This increases their personal security risks and creates opportunity costs. Cookstoves also increase pressures on local natural resources (e.g., forests, habitat) and contribute to climate change globally.The use of clean cookstoves and fuels can dramatically reduce fuel consumption and exposure to cookstove smoke.

Investing in a Market-Based Approach

In 2011, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves brought together more than 350 sector experts for an unprecedented consultative process that led to the development of Igniting Change: A Strategy for Universal Adoption of Clean Cookstoves and Fuels. This document identifies the sector’s primary gaps in awareness, investment, research, standards, technology, distribution, and other key areas. It advocates for a market-based approach to switching to clean cookstoves.

Past attempts to deliver clean cookstoves and encourage the use of clean fuels have failed because of a lack of understanding of consumer needs. Giving away cookstoves has also proven ineffective.

But progress is happening as cookstove designs that better reflect consumers’ needs are developed, better data become available showing the harmful effects of traditional cookstove use, innovative business models and financing mechanisms come into play, and better testing and monitoring systems are put into place at a national level.

Without a proper market, it will be impossible to adequately and sustainably address the vast cooking needs of more than 600 million of the world’s households still using solid fuels in inefficient cooktsoves and open fires.

The Alliance commissioned assessments of the cookstove and fuel markets in 16 countries. Draft Market Assessments have been completed in the following countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, East Timor, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam.

Innovative financial products

Persuading people to make the shift from a way of cooking that their families and communities have used for generations to a clean cookstove is a major challenge.

Sometimes reluctance stems from low awareness of the benefits of clean cookstoves in terms of health, time, and economic savings. In addition, cookstoves are a ‘push’ instead of a ‘pull’ product such as a mobile phone or a computer; and a lack of clear understanding of the sector about who in the household ultimately makes the decision to purchase a clean cookstove.

Consumer financing is therefore an important tool for creating a thriving market for clean cookstoves and enabling families to move up the energy ladder and invest in cleaner cooking solutions. The Alliance is poised to work with microfinance institutions around the world to help them develop new financing products for cookstove users as these are currently not available.

Microloans can enable families to invest in a clean cookstove. Over time, the fuel savings benefits will be real and significant. Another way of facilitating this type of financing is to bundle a variety of energy solutions that serve the needs of the users and ultimately lower the overall cost of each technology.

Driving Investment to Strengthen the Sector

Creating a thriving global market for clean cookstoves and fuels will require a significant infusion of capital from a range of players in the financial sector at each stage of the cookstove supply chain: research and development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, consumer financing and adoption.

The type of financial support needed ranges from early stage catalytic grant funding for start-up costs, to subsidized capital, angel equity investment (individuals who provide capital for a start-up), and ultimately commercial capital.

Carbon finance can become a game changer in the development of a global market for clean cookstoves and fuels. The revenue generated from the sale of carbon offsets resulting from cleaner cooking solutions is one of the best near-term means to make clean cookstove and fuels affordable to the poor.

While clean cookstoves can conservatively save one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions per year under the right conditions, many models can save up two to four times that amount. These emission reductions are then valued and sold through carbon markets, generating significant revenue for the project and providing options for keeping prices low for the consumer.

Collaborating to Create a Favorable Environment

Documenting the evidence base is one way to foster an enabling environment for a thriving clean cookstove and fuels market. This entails conducting targeted research to address the impact of cookstove use in the areas of health, environment and women’s empowerment in order to identify the best policies and programs to undertake in developing countries. The Alliance is funding research to examine adverse pregnancy outcomes, including low birth weight, pre-term birth, and birth defects; and/or severe respiratory illness, including pneumonia and other acute lower respiratory infections in children under five years of age.

For climate research, the initial focus is on filling gaps in the sector’s understanding of the impact that fuel collection for cooking has on environmental degradation, including deforestation, soil erosion, and other natural resource impacts.

We look forward to sharing the results of these studies as soon as they come in.

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