Friday, April 16, 2010

Improved Stoves in Developing Countries by the Numbers

Nepal Improved Stove by Simon de Trey White WWF-UK
There are 3 billion people in developing countries that rely on solid fuels for almost all of their cooking. The question can be asked how many of these over 800 million households cook with an improved stove? The answer comes from a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Like any good mystery story you will have to skip to the end for the answer. All I will say is that the results may surprise you.

Before turning to the numbers, it is important to define an improved stove, and this is actually quite a contentious subject among specialists. The original programs were developed during the energy crisis of the 1980s and stoves were developed mainly to conserve biomass fuels. So energy conservation is the first definition. During the 1990s the literature on indoor air pollution was starting to link smoky stoves and health issues. At the time it was accepted that you need a chimney to remove smoke from the house. Thus energy conservation and smoke removal became a popular mandate. More recently in the last 10 years there is beginning to be evidence that the pollution from incomplete combustion of biomass energy might be the main health issue. Chimneys simply move the smoke to the outside only to drift back indoors. Now let’s add to this mix climate change and green house gases that must be taken into consideration. The demands on the humble biomass stove seem to grow and grow.

More below....

I mention these various definitions of improved stoves because of a very interesting recently released WHO and UNDP report on The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries. So how does this report distinguish itself from the many other documents on energy access? It does so by reviewing actual household surveys for about 140 countries to quantify various aspects of household energy. This new report takes on the monumental task of assembling statistics based on WHO sponsored World Health Surveys, the USAID-sponsored Demographic and Health Surveys, and the UNICEF-sponsored Multiple Indicators Cluster Surveys as well as other international studies such as the World Bank Living Standards Studies.

Questions on stove characteristics were available for only 67 of the 140 developing countries in the study, but this smaller group of surveys does cover over 90 percent of the developing country population. The standard questions included questions on the cooking stove. For this study the improved stove was defined as “closed stoves with chimney, as well as open stoves or fires with chimney or hood, but excludes open stoves or fire with no chimney or hood.” It is likely that these types of improved stoves were either built locally or were installed with manufactured parts such as grills, grates, or even fireboxes. Also, improved charcoal stoves generally have no chimney or hood, so they would not be counted under this definition.

No. of Improved Stoves: Source WHO/UNDP 2009
If you have read this far or cheated by skipping to this point, you are to be rewarded with the answer. The results are that there are about 828 million people using improved stoves in developing countries out of a total solid fuel population of 3 billion people (which includes coal and charcoal). This would amount to roughly 166 million households using these relatively inexpensive improved stoves with 116 million in China, over 13 million in the rest of East Asia, 20 million in South Asia, 7 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, and over 8 million in Latin America and the Caribbean where of course there is extensive petroleum fuel use. One in four developing country households that are dependent of solid fuels for cooking use a stove with either a chimney or a smoke hood.

The new generations improved stoves that are being manufactured in factories to improve the quality of the stoves have a long way to go to catch up to the use of the locally produced stoves. However, most of these new generation stove producers have been in business for only the last 5 years. According the manufacturers numbers, there have been approximately one-half million of these stoves sold to date, with programs in India, South Africa, Uganda, Honduras, and Guatemala among others. Many of these stoves do not have chimneys, so they would not be classified as improved according the admittedly limited questions on stoves in most international surveys.

Consumers presumably consider the simple fact of removing smoke from the house as of considerable value. This also stresses the potential for these marketing these stoves as a alternative to the use of open fires or “traditional” stoves.  With a little more advance in technical designs they may even compete with the use liquid fuels or gas for cooking. Consider that in 2005 India has approximately 16 million improved stoves. This is just less than half that was disseminated under its legacy improved stove program that ended in 2002, so perhaps there were some positives in that India's much maligned program after all. There will be more on this in later blog.

So is the glass half empty or half full? The half empty crowd would say that these stoves only remove smoke from the household (moving it a few meters) and over two-thirds of them are in China leaving the rest of the world with a measly 50 million stoves. The half full optimists would say that some of these stoves not only remove smoke but are more energy efficient and this is an indication that a quite large number of households in developing countries are ready for new ways of cooking.

What do you think? Take the poll and leave your comments.


NCseagirl said...

Thanks Doug this is exactly what we were looking for. Should we take China out and analyse the rest of the picture? lessons, reasons for success, challenges, models....
Love the web site!

Anonymous said...

Excellent update. I would argue however that the term improved should not necessarily be defined by having a flue.

In some contexts (sub-Saharan Africa for example) the way people cook does not favor fixed stoves, and thus flues are not possible. A stove that fully and efficiently combusts the fuel should do the job also.

Faithful skeptic said...

Yeah, right. What's there to celebrate? That people still cook, heat and light with 19th century fuels because some fundamentalist fanatics love to save trees?