Friday, April 30, 2010

Rural Electrification in Developing Countries by the Numbers

Rural Electrification Lineman Bangladesh
Photo by WB Dhaka
The rural electrification figures in developing countries are pretty well known by now. There are now an estimated 1.5 billion people without electricity in developing countries, and 85 percent of them live in rural areas. However, I am going to give a brief history of the context in which these numbers were compiled. So this post will discuss rural electrification numbers with a twist.

In the early 1990s, several ESMAP energy staff including me were asked to complete a rural energy strategy for the World Bank. One the first things we were asked to do was to find out how many people in the world were without electricity and cooked with biomass fuels. Believe it or not this had never been done in a comprehensive way. This was before the age of instant access to facts and figures over the internet, so it was not an easy task. For the electricity figures we looked at surveys, examined power company annual reports, consulted with those involved in rural electrification projects, and contacted statistical departments in country governments. After well over a year of compiling the data we presented them to our very supportive managers. I remember them saying, “These figures better be right!” Knowing the uneven quality of the sources we were nervously confident. The document was published in 1996 with the title Rural Energy and Development: Improving Energy Supplies for Two Billion People. Yes the answer for data mostly from the early to mid-1990s was two billion people without electricity and coincidentally just over two billion people dependent on biomass fuels.

These figures were widely quoted at the time, but they were not updated annually. Around 2000 the energy group decided that it was time for an update of these figures. I was not directly involved with this effort, but was asked to review the numbers as they collected the information. A new set of figures were published informally in 2002 with the new level of 1.7 billion people without electricity, and most of the progress that had been made during the previous decade was in China. After taking population growth into account this meant that over the previous decade about 1 billion people had gained access to electricity.

Much more below the break.....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Comparative Cooking Costs in Developing Countries

By Douglas Barnes and Keith Openshaw

Kerosene Lamps and Stoves, Hyderabad, India by D. Barnes
Recently we have just reviewed many of programs for improved stoves in developing countries, and we were quite surprised to find that there were few analyses of comparative cooking costs. In the glory days of country energy assessments comparing the cost of cooking to enlighten energy policy makers was very common. Today we stress energy efficiency, combustion, emissions, and carbon. However, if people are going to adopt these stoves the comparative cooking costs are an obvious important place to start. Keith Openshaw who has extensive experience with improved stoves is a coauthor of this posting. 

To revive this lost art, we will explain the steps for calculating comparative cooking. The first step is to assemble the necessary data. This includes:

  • Cost of the stove;
  • Lifetime of the stove;
  • Efficiency of the stove;
  • Price of fuels used burned by the stove including wood or other biomass fuels;
  • Fuel collection hours for biomass fuels;
  • Quantity of fuel consumed in the household per month; and
  • Average wage of agricultural workers.
One caveat is that the comparative costs in this analysis are hypothetical because they assume that families cook exclusively with one fuel. Also, we use world market prices and average fuel consumption levels as defined by many different household energy surveys. Thus, these figures can be considered as typical but they do not relate to any one country due to various policies to tax and subsidize household fuels. They at least give us some perspective on the comparative costs of cooking in developing countries.

For much more continue below....

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....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Facing Rural Energy Realities in Bangladesh

Adult Literacy Class, Bangladesh by Shehzad Noorani
People often forget that once Bangladesh was close to being the poorest country on the planet. Things certainly have changed in recent years. Bangladesh has always had policies for open trade that have helped the country become an exporter of manufactured goods, much of which has resulted from allowing investments by multinational firms.  Generally economic growth has been very positive in recent years.

The country also has a very ambitious and successful grid rural electrification program that was modeled after the USA rural electric cooperatives which is considered a “best practice.” Even for those rural households distant from the electricity grid, since 2002 there has been a very successful rural energy fund that is administered by a government bank. This fund along with prominent non-governmental organizations such as Grameen Shakti (part of Grameen Bank) and BRAC have been very active in promoting solar household systems for basic electric lighting and communications services for those out of reach from the grid electricity system. In recent years they also have been expanding to other rural energy technologies such as biogas and improved cookstoves.

Much more below....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rural Electrification and Communication

Vietnam Rural Television Viewing: Photo by WB Hanoi
Today most of us take electronic communications for granted. We are tethered to our emails, televisions, and computers.  Facebook, Twitter, sports and entertainment all are made possible by a combination of electricity and technology. Does this improve our productivity?  The answer is a resounding yes. Does it also make life more complicated? You bet. In fact, sometimes we feel that the world is getting too interconnected. This raises the question about how to value the electronic communication benefits of modern communications, and it is not an easy issue to tackle.

For the 1.6 billion people in this world who do not have access to electricity their electronic communication needs are more basic. People without grid or off the grid electricity often rely on battery powered radios for their communication devices. For people that adopt electricity for the first time, after household lighting the next most commonly purchased electronic device often is a television or a fan. Therefore in this blog, I am going to concentrate on televisions use and their implications for households with and without electricity.

For more on this issue continue below.....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Household Energy Emissions and Climate Change

LPG Tanks Photo Bharat Tanks
Not being a climate change specialist myself, I have been wondering why biomass energy burned as fuel in households generally does not show up in the climate change calculations. For instance typical families burning 0.18 tons LPG for cooking per year actually gets included in the estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and yet a similar family burning close to 2 tons of fuelwood per year is not considered as producing any greenhouse gas emissions.

According to my back of the envelope calculations people mostly in developing counties burn about 730 million tons of biomass per year for cooking and this amounts to about 1 billion tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. This burning emits about 3%-4% of the world’s total CO2 emissions which according to some estimates is about 28 billion tons per year coming mostly from developed countries. World experts generally do not include the emissions from burning fuelwood, straw or dung because they are renewable. Thus, putting black carbon, health and other benefits aside, from a climate perspective the emissions from burning biomass are generally are considered to be climate neutral.

Continue reading and comment or take the poll below....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New Generation Wood Stove Evaluation in Dabaab Kenya: Review Series

I just read a very fascinating report called Evaluation of Manufactured Wood-Burning Stoves in Dabaab Refugee Camps Kenya by the Berkeley Air Monitoring Group. This report compares the performance of many of the stoves that were mentioned in a previous post on next generation stoves. As part of this blog, from time to time I will provide a brief review of interesting studies or conferences. This is not meant to be a peer review, but rather the remarks will be my own personal views. Others can express their opinions by commenting on these review postings.

This study reminded me that measuring the efficiency of improved stoves is not a simple task, but it is quite necessary. Often there are evaluations of single stove interventions, but comparative reviews are not as common. Testing methods actually have been a point of great contention and debate because some favor certain types of stoves over others. Such a lack of objective information or comparative testing results has been hampering improved stoves in developing countries for many years. Millions of dollars are given for stove programs and the monitoring and evaluation is often not very credible.
This study actually lays out its methods very clearly describing the testing environment in detail. There also were focus discussion groups with the cooks, a research technique that is highly recommended and often lacking in other work on stoves. The technical part of the study evaluates multiple manufactured stoves using a method called the controlled cooking test. Under this test the same amount of typical local food is cooked with measured amounts of fuelwood. The results are reported in kilograms of the fuelwood required for standardized cooking of one kilogram of food. Again, this is obviously a contrived environment, but it is a standard method that has been used for more than 25 years.

See more below.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Eight Steps to Successful Rural Electrification Programs

The pace of rural electrification over much of the developing world has been painfully slow, especially in South Asia and Africa. Rural electrification programs can undoubtedly face major obstacles. The low population densities in rural areas result in high capital and operating costs for electricity companies. Consumers are often poor and their electricity consumption low.  This post is on grid rural electrification and there will be a similar future post on offgrid rural electrification.
The Challenge of Rural Electrification:  D. Barnes

Yet in spite of these problems, many countries have been quietly and successfully providing electricity to rural areas. In Thailand, well over 90 percent of rural people have a supply. In Costa Rica, cooperatives and the government power utility provide electricity to nearly 100% percent of the rural population. In Tunisia, over 90% percent of rural households already have a supply. In studying countries like these and others there appear to be 8 steps to achieving successful rural electrification. These steps are taken from my book called The Challenge of Rural Electrification: Strategies for Developing Countries. that examined 10 successful programs from around the world including the developed countries of the United States and Ireland. I know that it appears these programs are in middle to high income countries, but many were low income when they initiated their programs. 

To read more click below to continue.