| Boiling Point No. 20- December 1989 |
Because of the large amount of material received by the editor some articles not related to the theme of BP20 have had to be held over to BP21.
Given the opportunity and means, most women involved in cooking the family meals will choose either gas or electric stoves. When they are able to make this choice, established habits and conventions will not deter them. For many developing nations which aspire to achieve this transition, the prospects and methods of doing so are complex and varied. It is worthwhile considering the reasons motivating this desire to move toward higher grade fuels.
Electricity has the advantage of being delivered right into the house once it is distributed and connected to the house and the supply is assured. It is clean, produces no fumes at the point of use, is easy to control and has many other uses, particularly for lighting. The environmental problems of generation must not be overlooked and fuel for thermal stations may be imported.
Natural gas or LPG are more flexible for cooking but have fewer other uses. They depend on local availability but this can be extended to meet the demand without large capital investment. They may have to be imported. Kerosene offers some advantages but is less clean. Coal may have a potential for the future where there are indigenous supplies but is not easy to use for domestic cooking and like all combustible fuels produces fumes which are harmful in the kitchen and to the environment.
Stove user surveys show that saving time, improved kitchen convenience and cleaner and healthier kitchen conditions rank high among peoples preferences. No wonder then that people always look towards the best fuels available. However, the fuel and appliance actually adapted depend upon a number of factors. Fuel prices and levels of incomes play a key role in the decision making process but are not the only factors.
It has been shown that in many instances, the energy costs of cooking food can be lower for some of the non biomass fuels because of the inherently higher efficiences of electrical and gas stoves; respectively 70-90 % and 40- 60% compared with 10-25% for traditional fuel stoves. The crucial factor then is not so much the price of fuel as the cost of the stoves. Associated factors cannot be ignored - traditional pots and cooking equipment may not be suitable for modern stoves - for example a new stove may necessitate new pots and pans with flat bottoms.
Purchasing such fuels as electricity and gas often require high initial outlays and bulk buying in the form of cylinders or monthly or quarterly bills can bring cash flow problems to householders who's incomings and outgoings are on a day to day basis, kerosene, charcoal and wood are more appropriate in these circumstances because they can be sold in small quantities.
But what are the implications for energy demand and environmental protection? Where trees are actually felled for firewood, substitution with alternative, non biomass fuels can have a greater impact on deforestation and atmospheric pollution than more fuel efficient stoves. Alternative fuels can aleviate the drudgery of collection of distant fuelwood. However, the overiding question has to be, can people afford to change and how can they be helped to do so?
In 1983, the FAO estimated that if half the world's population (say 2,500 million people) who then relied soley on woodfuel were to switch to kerosene, this would result in an increase in world oil consumption of only 9%. The availability of oil was not therefore seen as a major global constraints although the local problems in some countries would be their ability to afford the cost of importing fuels. Countries such as Sri Lanka and Kenya which already spend about a third of their export earnings on oil imports would have serious problems with their balances of payment.
For the potential users of modern fuels an even greater problem is the cost of the new stoves to use these fuels. Subsidising kerosene tends to benefit mainly the better off, so governments should perhaps consider subsidising local stove production. The non monetary benefits of changing from biomass fuels, in particular, avoidance of the very serious health problems now being recognised should not be ignored by stove programmes.
In this issue we look at non biomass stoves and fuels in the hope that stove practitioners and energy planners will widen their perceptions of alternative domestic fuels.