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close this bookBoiling Point No. 43 - Fuel Options for Household Energy (ITDG - ITDG, 1999, 44 p.)
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Household energy - Choices for the new Millennium

by Elizabeth Bates, ITDG, Schumacher Centre for Technology & Development, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, CV23 9QZ, UK. E-mail <elizabethb@itdg.org.uk>

THEME EDITORIAL

Energies domestiques: choix pour le prochain millire

Il y a une apparente contradiction entre pays en voie de dloppement et pays industrialises dans les modes de dloppement de l'rgie domestique. Alors que ceux qui utilisent le foyer trois pierres sont en train de considr les rgies fossiles pour rire les ssions de fumdans les cuisines, le monde industrialise est en train de considr les rgies renouvelables. Le mnisme de dloppement propre pourrait e un moyen afin de rire les ssions de gaz qui sont dommageables pour la sant

Priorities for household energy in the developing world

For countless thousands of people, household fuel will inevitably mean biomass residues or dung, as there is nothing else available. Even where these fuels are used, people will find ways of making them more efficient or convenient (see cover photo). Where biomass residues are used, they can be either burnt directly, converted to briquettes, or else converted to biogas - a technology that is becoming increasingly important for 'wet' residues.

As wood becomes scarce, initiatives for producing it renewably take on a new importance. Gebrehiwot (1) and Carneiro de Miranda (2) describe very different ways in which fuelwood can be produced commercially. Another effect of wood scarcity is that, especially in urban areas, other fuels are becoming more competitive. The articles by Khennas and Stokes et al (this edition) describe factors that inhibit the growth of liquid fuels use.

Then there are the 'clean', small-scale technologies, where no greenhouse gases are emitted. Apart from solar cookers, (see the article by D'Sena, this edition), solar and wind power are usually used for lighting, radio, TV and other low-energy uses. Two case studies (Hammonds, this issue) describe situations where the rapidly decreasing cost of photovoltaics has been put to good use. Papers by Scott and Dunnett (this edition) show that wind power too, is becoming more popular.

Reconciling the needs of the industrialized and the developing world

In 1997, international governments drew up the Kyoto Protocol, which looked at the effect of environmental pollution on climate change. One of the most controversial parts of this agreement allowed rich countries to pay for reductions in pollution in poorer countries. The richer countries would then share part of the 'credits' gained by this pollution reduction.

To many developing countries, the question posed was 'Why should we try to reduce our pollution levels whilst rich countries continue to pour out toxic emissions from their industries?' Although the justice of this question is clear, a more positive one is, 'Are there any immediate benefits for us if we choose to adopt this clean development mechanism?' Improved air quality is one obvious benefit, and if this improvement can be focused on household emissions, then a reduction in illnesses caused by smoke can be expected to follow.

Every time fuel is burned, it emits the greenhouse gases (GHG) which are the main targets of the Kyoto Agreement. However, burning fuel also emits health damaging pollutants (HDPs), and it is a reduction in these that will provide immediate health benefits.

Health benefits from reducing HDP emissions in people's houses are much greater than those achieved by reducing the same amount of emissions away from the home, such as from power plants (3). Since people's health will be affected proportionately, it can be argued that the cost of having people in poor health should also be 'costed' in terms of the number of days in which people are off work etc.

The health benefits from some of these technology changes would benefit the country in which the interventions took place, as well as achieving the global benefits of greenhouse gas reduction. However, it essential that the choice of technology is the right one; otherwise only the global warming problem will be addressed.

References

1. Gebrehiwot, A. 'Fuelwood as a source of urban household energy in Ethiopia; a supply perspective' Boiling Point 39, 1997

2. Carneiro de Miranda, R 'Deforestation and forest degradation by commercial harvesting for firewood and charcoal in the Pacific region of Nicaragua' Boiling Point 42, 1999

3. Wang, X. and Smith, K. Secondary Benefits of Greenhouse Gas Control: Health Impacts in China, Environmental Science and Technology, 33/18,1999