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close this bookEnergy as it relates to Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Protection (UNDP, 1998, 36 p.)
close this folderExamples of Sustainable Energy Strategies that Simultaneously Address Poverty and Environment Concerns
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentImproved cookstoves and modern fuels
View the documentRural electrification - decentralised options
View the documentImproved urban transportation
View the documentModernised biomass


A few examples of measures that will directly improve the level of energy services to those living in poverty and thereby improve the environment are given below.

Improved cookstoves and modern fuels

Since cooking using traditional biomass fuels is both the dominant energy activity in developing countries and is the source of undue hardship to people living in poverty, the dissemination of more efficient cookstoves using traditional or modern fuels is an essential sustainable energy intervention. Depending on relative fuel and stove prices, substantial reductions in both operating costs and energy use can be obtained from switching from traditional stoves using commercially purchased fuelwood to improved biomass, gas, or kerosene stoves.

Several important lessons have been learned from the hundreds of cookstove demonstration and dissemination programmes that have taken place in developing countries, many of which were not initially successful. Cookstove design has since been geared to maximise combustion of fuel, maximise radiative heat transfer from the fire to the pot, maximise convection from the fire to the pot, and maximise conduction to the pot. Most importantly, it aims to maximise user satisfaction by making the stoves convenient to use (with local fuels, cooking pots and utensils) and able to easily prepare local dishes well (Kammen, 1995). Primarily, the end-users (mainly women) must find the stoves easy to use and fuel efficient under a variety of conditions. The stoves must also perform robustly in the environmental and practical constraints of indoor or outdoor kitchens.

In rural areas of developing countries, traditional fuels - wood, crop residues, and dung-remain the primary cooking fuels, while in many urban areas, charcoal is used also. About 2 billion people depend on these crude polluting biomass fuels for their cooking and other energy needs. Higher incomes and reliable access to fuel supplies enable people to switch to more modern stoves and cleaner fuels such as kerosene, gas, dimethyl ether, electricity, and, potentially, to modern biomass - a transition that is widely observed around the world largely irrespective of cultural traditions. These technologies are preferred for their convenience, comfort, cleanliness, ease of operation, speed, efficiency, and other attributes. The efficiency, cost, and performance of stoves generally increase as consumers shift progressively from wood stoves to charcoal, kerosene, LPG or gas, and electric.

Depending on relative fuel and stove prices, substantial reductions in both operating costs and energy use can be obtained from switching from traditional stoves using commercially purchased fuelwood to improved biomass, gas, or kerosene stoves. There may be opportunities to substitute high performance biomass stoves for traditional ones or to substitute liquid or gas (fossil- or biomass-based) stoves for biomass stoves. The key to success in dissemination is persistence and a sound approach, including careful market assessment, product design, production testing, market trials and help with commercialisation. One example of a successful programme has been in Ethiopia, where a British NGO, Energy for Sustainable Development, has developed and commercialised two types of improved biomass cookstoves through an iterative approach of needs assessment, design, product trials, redesign and performance monitoring. The team works with households, stove producers, installers and merchants and pays attention to promotion, technical assistance, quality control and to the provision of business, management and marketing skills to producers. Over 600,000 stoves of one type, and 54,000 of a second type introduced a few years later and using about half the fuel of conventional stoves, have been disseminated, with volumes expected to increase substantially in subsequent years (EC/UNDP, 1999).

Rural electrification - decentralised options

Decentralised sustainable energy can contribute significantly to improving the living conditions of rural populations by bringing energy services to outlying areas that cannot be quickly connected to electricity grids. Improved access to electricity in rural areas need not take place only through grid extension. In recent years, technological developments in small hydropower, biomass utilisation, wind energy and solar photovoltaic systems have created new opportunities for rural development, so that Decentralised Rural Electrification (DRE) is a proven competitor to grid extension. Renewable energy sources are the only ones capable of assuring access of rural populations to essential energy-based services (health, education, etc.) in the near term. Several renewable energy technologies provide cost effective energy alternatives to grid extension or isolated diesel mini grids in rural areas. This is not only by itself extremely important, but by reducing the exodus from rural regions also reduces some of the development problems of cities.

Access to energy services can help the people living in poverty to remedy two of the pervasive problems that keep them in poverty - their low productivity and their limited range of productive options. Many rural enterprises can become viable only once there is access to a reliable modern energy source -mechanical power, electricity, process heat, transport fuel. In fact, decentralised generation and distribution of electricity creates more employment in rural areas than central generation. An energy system can create a net profit by displacing current energy costs, freeing time that can be put to more productive use and by increasing the efficiency of income generating activities. Furthermore, biomass production for energy could be a major source of jobs and revenues for rural populations. Advanced small-scale biomass energy technologies could generate electricity cost-effectively and justify extending power lines to rural areas, with electricity flowing from the rural areas to the cities (thereby, generating rural income), confounding the conventional wisdom about the economics of extending power lines to rural areas.

The government of Argentina has put in place an innovative approach to rural electrification as part of its electricity restructuring exercise, by establishing an electricity concession market for 1.4 million currently unserved inhabitants. Private purchasers of the concessions will provide electricity to dispersed rural residences and public facilities (e.g., schools, medical centres, drinking water services, etc.) through a range of energy technologies determined by what the concessionaire considers to be is the least costly. Solar photovoltaic panels, small windmills, hydraulic microturbines, and diesel-driven generators will compete on the basis of the lowest cost of provided energy. Preliminary analyses show that renewable technologies will often be competitive with diesel generators. Specifically, it is likely that a large share of residences will receive power from household photovoltaic systems (UNDP, 1997).

Improved urban transportation

Since transport is one of the fastest growing sectors of energy use in the developing world and mobility is linked to the basic need of access to jobs, the planning of efficient land-use patterns and transport corridors in urban areas will have significant long-term implications for both energy and poverty. Furthermore, clean fuels and efficient public transportation systems can reduce pollution in urban areas, improving health dramatically. One major technological option to reduce transport demand in developing countries is to improve telecommunication systems, which has had the proven effect of cutting down on trips meant mainly to seek information (Davidson, 1987).

An innovative approach to improved public transportation has been attempted since the 1970s in Curitiba, in southern Brazil. Based on the notion that urban growth ought to take place along planned transport corridors, the city implemented a system of five exclusive busways along radial axes. These were connected with inter-district and feeder bus routes at closed terminals for high-speed transfers. The system implemented a single (social) fare, including transfers, to cross-subsidise the poor who tend to have relatively long commutes. Additional features were special raised boarding-tube bus stops, speed boarding, and extra-long articulated (bus bodies connected by a pivot) buses to increase capacity. A crucial element of the system was its integration with land-use zoning. The structural axes were zoned for high-density land-use, with lower density zoning away from access to public transport. In addition, the government purchased land for low-income housing early on in areas away from the city knowing that transport corridors would be developed there. Special bicycle paths and pedestrian areas were also developed to reduce automobile use. The whole system has been implemented in partnership with private bus companies that buy buses and operate the system, following guidance established by the city.

Curitiba has over 500,000 private cars (more per capita that any Brazilian city except Brasilia). Remarkably, 75% of all commuters (more than 1.3 million passengers per day) use the bus network. This has resulted in fuel consumption rates on the transportation sector that are 25% lower per capita than comparable Brazilian cities and has contributed to the city having one of the lowest rates of ambient air pollution in the country. Finally, the average Curitiba resident spends only about 10% of his or her income on transport, which is a relatively low percentage in Brazil (Rabinovitch and Leitmann, 1993).

Modernised biomass

To assist in providing improved energy services in rural areas, modernised biomass utilisation shows great promise. The widespread use of modernised biomass for cooking and combined heat and power (CHP) generation in rural areas can address multiple social, economic and environmental bottlenecks which now constrain local development. The availability of low-cost biomass power in rural areas could be helpful in providing cleaner, more energy efficient rural energy services to support local development, promote environmental protection, and stem the use of coal as a home fuel. It can also help improve the living conditions of rural people, especially women and children who currently face indoor air pollution associated with open burning of agricultural residues.

Gasification of biomass for energy uses through biomethanation or thermochemical means is an important option that has great potential in rural areas in developing countries. For instance, community biogas plants for power generation using cattle dung as feedstock have been used in villages in Karnataka, India (see Section 2.4 for detailed description of this project). The energy provides lighting and drinking water services at costs that are competitive with other decentralised options like household photovoltaic systems (Shivakumar et al., 1998). Similarly, Jilin province in China has embarked on a program to generate corn stalks producer gas using thermochemical gasification for use as a cooking fuel in village households and for fueling engines for electric power generation.

In Brazil, large scale generation of fuel ethanol from sugarcane began as early in 1975 to reduce the counter-dependence on imported oil, to stabilize sugar production in the face of a volatile international sugar market, and to create employment in rural areas. Ethanol is made from sugarcane for use as a neat fuel (100% ethanol-fueled cars) and for blending with gasoline (up to 22% ethanol). The Brazilian ethanol industry is based on roughly 400 facilities drawing from areas of 5,000 to 50,000 hectares, with cane production carried out by some 60,000 suppliers.