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close this bookBoiling Point No. 44 - Linking Household Energy with other Development Objectives (ITDG - ITDG, 2000, 44 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPreface
View the documentTheme editorial: Integrating household energy into wider development objectives
View the documentInterlinkages of household energy with the environment
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View the documentHealth and household energy - the need for better links between research and development
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View the documentCarbon trading: a new route to funding improved stove programmes?
View the documentGTZ Pages
View the documentThe integrated approach to link household energy with other development objectives - Some organisational experiences from the ProBEC demonstration project in the Hurungwe District of Zimbabwe
View the documentThe ecological cost of increasing dependence on biomass fuels as household energy in rural Nigeria
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View the documentWhat's happening in household energy?
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Interlinkages of household energy with the environment

by Grant Ballard-Tremeer c/o Intermediate Technology, The Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton Hall, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, CV23 9QZ, United Kingdom. Email: [email protected]

Energie domestique et environnement

Cet article examine les liens entre l'utilisation des rgies domestiques et l'impact potentiel sur l'environnement. Les comportements sociaux ainsi que les inter-actions entre le milieu naturel et l'homme sont des composantes importantes rendre en considtion par des ipes disciplinaires travaillant avec les communautintss. Des solutions traduisant les aspirations des gouvernements des communautainsi que les aspects financiers devraient favoriser les options ayant un impact positif sur l'environnement.

This article describes some of the links between household energy use in less developed countries and potential environmental problems. By solving these problems in an integrated way, problems can be reduced and solved more effectively.

In a dictionary, the word environment is defined as 'surroundings especially as affecting people's lives; conditions or circumstances of living.' This makes clear the connection between physical conditions and human activity. There are three aspects to consider:

· social behaviour; the way people act and affect their surroundings
· physical nature; the way the physical world responds to human influences
· values; what society thinks of the effect

For example, air pollution is a problem because:

· humans burn fuels that emit gases
· natural forces (air movement, wind etc) cannot disperse the emissions adequately
· exposure to the gases is harmful and people recognise the health problems from exposure

Because there are three parts to the problem, people from different backgrounds (economists, engineers, ecologists, sociologists, health workers) and different stakeholders (government, communities, non-governmental organisations) need to co-operate to analyse and solve environmental problems. The first step in a co-ordinated (integrated) approach is to define the problem carefully.

Defining the problem

The method used here follows a path from the human activity, through its impact on the physical world, to its ultimate impact on human values. Figure 1 shows, in a simplified form, some of the potential environmental links with a particular type of household energy use. Starting at the centre of the picture, the human activity is the burning of wood, crop residues and dung for cooking, room heating, or water heating. Four environmental effects are a direct result of the activity:

· loss of soil nutrients from the burning of dung and crop-residues (Figure 2)
· local deforestation from the non-sustainable cutting of wood (Figure 3)
· air pollution from the burning of biofuels
· emission of greenhouse gases

Figure 1: Potential links between environment and household energy use

Figure 2: Making dung-cakes for burning

E5 Dung X21.00.10

Figure 3: Logs collected unsustainably for making charcoal

E5 Charcoal X20.01.01

Table 1. Feasible options and motives for a particular activity

Activities Cooking


heating water

heating home

feasible options

open fire


Open fire

Open fire

paraffin cooker

Paraffin lamps

Paraffin cooker

Coal brazier

Battery lamps

Paraffin cooker


cost of fuel

cost of fuel

cost of fuel

cost of fuel

cost of appliance

cost of appliance

cost of appliance

cost of appliance

speed of cooking

amount of light


culture and tradition

amount of smoke

cleanness of flame

ease of use

amount of heat

ability to control temperature

quick but costly

amount of smoke

ease of use


possibility of maintenance

availability of fuel

culture and tradition

As shown in Table 1, the price of paraffin depends on at least two secondary activities, each of which itself has associated options and motivations.

· the price the shop charges for the paraffin

- barter
- buy in bulk
- buy in small quantities

· the cost of travelling to the shop

- walk
- cycle
- bus

The shop-keeper bought the paraffin from a distributor (and added a profit margin), and this is a third level activity.

Following the diagram out to the outside of the outermost circle, one can see the long-term or large scale potential impacts. The exact effects depend on the scale of the activity and the capacity of nature to deal with the effect. Although at first glance these long-term impacts appear very distant from day-today domestic energy use they are important aspects of the problem and understanding them will help one to find the best solutions.

Approaches and Strategies

Once the basis of the environmental problem is understood, the next step is to understand the social context. Too much, or the wrong type of human activity causes environmental problems and therefore studying it is important in finding solutions, as described below.

First one lists possible options and the factors which make people choose one option over another. In less developed countries people usually have very few options; they do what they do because they do not have any feasible alternatives. A simplified example for a particular South African poor household (which is fairly typical of many South African households) is shown in the Table 1.

Clearly the table is a very simplified version; in reality when designing practical interventions, more detail is required. Remember that some options or motives will be influenced by other activities with possibly different people doing them. These secondary activities are also selected from a number of feasible options - activities and options and motives spread out from the original activity like branches from a tree, as in the example described in Box 1:

It is important to think through the various levels of activities (with their associated options and motivations). For example, if I thought that increasing the use of paraffin for cooking was a good idea, telling the home owner again and again would possibly have little effect; their motivation for using paraffin does not depend so much on their knowledge, but more on the price of the fuel. Having a good feel for the relative importance of the motivating factors is obviously important; it might be better to address the motives that the government has for setting (high) taxes on paraffin. In reality, a project needs to be thought through very carefully by a multidisciplinary team.

Potential options

The next step in describing the social context is to work out a similar table listing potential options. Potential options are those that are possible technically, but not feasible for the people concerned. An example for the 'heating water' activity is a solar water heater. It is a good option technically, but it is certainly not feasible for the household described in Table 1; they maybe would like to have a solar water heater but they do not have the money. The degree to which a person can do what she or he would like to do is sometimes called autonomy. Autonomy is increased with resources (money, information, appropriate technologies and so on) and decreased with restrictions (laws, cultural limitations, community restrictions). Sometimes options need to be worked on by engineers and technologists before they become feasible.

To sum up the approaches and strategies:

· try to understand the three parts to the environmental problem; social behaviour, physical nature, human values

· examine the social context (the feasible options motives and the potential options).

Both these steps should be carried out with a team comprising experts with knowledge of all three aspects of the problem.


If people are empowered to choose the most environmentally friendly option, many environmental problems associated with household energy will be solved. Implementation will usually be carried out on many levels, such as: lobbying government to change some policies; informing people about environmentally friendly options; providing micro-financing; and starting a stove-building cottage industry. It requires engineers, ecologists, policy makers, economists (just to mention a few) and of course the people within the community themselves. Consultation and communication are key words. Plans should be repeatedly evaluated during implementation to keep them on track. A good example is PEER Africa, whose work is described elsewhere in this journal.

Resources: finances, personnel and time

It is difficult to define what resources will be required for interventions, since they depend very much on the context in which they are implemented. An integrated approach to the environmental problems of household energy use in less developed countries can, however, potentially be a source of financial resources.

Environmental problems make their impacts on various geographical scales. Some environmental problems are local, such as carbon monoxide emissions in a room. Some impact a region, some a continent and some environmental problems have a world-wide impact.

One area of funding from international funders is growing; this is funding to tackle world-wide environmental problems, especially global warming. Many countries are worried about it and have set up initiatives for reducing world-wide emissions of the gases that contribute to this warming.

The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) is one example. It is a funding organisation jointly administered by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Environment Programme. It has over US$2000 million to invest in projects to address the problems of global warming, destruction of bio-diversity and ozone depletion. Another example is Joint Implementation which is all about cooperation between a more developed country and a less developed country to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. By connecting the household energy activities to the worldwide environmental problem described above, additional funding opportunities could become accessible.

Dr Ballard-Tremeer is Director of eco Ltd, a company specializing in project financing and market development in the field of household (renewable) energy. He is also Internet host/designer of the household energy network HEDON.