The goal of this periodic blog (EgyDev) is to promote information exchange on access to quality energy services in developing countries including renewable, modern, biomass and household energy.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

From Traditional to Modern Stoves: A Chronology of Development




India Traditional Stove: Credit C. Carnemark
Recently I participated in a very interesting workshop at Yale University. The workshop was called The Adoption Gap: Design, Development and Diusion of Household Energy Technologies. The focus of the conference was to examine why improved biomass cooking stoves have not achieved widespread adoption even after over 25 years of promotion. Many of the presentations were very innovative. Included among the speakers was Rema Hanna, who is the author of the controversial study Up in Smoke. She talked about her well designed stove impact assessment. Unfortunately, the stove being evaluated was from India's legacy mud stove program, some of which are still being promoted. Hanna made the valid point that many current programs are still supporting such stoves. While this is true, today there are many  better designed stoves compared to those from the 1990s (see commentary on the paper). Unfortunately, public monitoring and evaluation studies of these new stoves are still fairly sparse. The presentations from the conference are not yet available on line, but I will update this blog once they become available.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I am one of a small number of people that have been involved in improved stove development for almost its entire history. I say fortunately because it has been a very interesting to observe the evolution of the programs over the years. I say unfortunately, because even today with the many innovations taking place, most poor households in developing countries still use open fires or primitive stoves for cooking.  Also, in many countries well meaning non-governmental organizations are still promoting the stoves designed in the 1990s.
I prepared a presentation for the conferences with the title, Improved Stoves:  What Have We Learned, How Do We Move Forward? The ideas for this presentation were taken from my recent book Cleaner Hearths, Better Homes: New Stoves for India and the Developing World. For those interested, a free digital copy of the book is available, or for those more interested in print, copies can be purchased online. The book describes the positive and negative aspects of India's legacy improved stove program that was abandoned in 2002. This legacy program now is universally criticized, but most people really don't understand the pros and cons of the old program. Some aspects of the legacy stove program were quite innovative, including working with NGOs, including women's groups, assigning technical agencies to evaluate design issues, and developing commercialization strategies. Many of these innovations are relevant for the promotion and sale of improved stoves today. 
As part of my presentation, I had one slide on the development of stove programs. For those just now becoming interested in the new stoves, this slide provides a historical overview of the 25 year history of improved stoves.  The text below the break is from a glossy insert in the center of Cleaner Hearths: Better Homes that was published in 2012. The rest of the book is based on empirical findings from short questionnaires and focus discussion groups carried out at the very end of India's program. The book takes a more objective approach identifying both what went wrong and also positive contributions of the program for people in India. Anyway, continue after the break to read my short history of improved stoves.