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close this bookEnergy as an Instrument for Socio-economic Development (UNDP, 1995, 114 p.)
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Edited by
Josoldemberg and Thomas B. Johansson

Executive Editor
Rosemarie Philips

The views expressed in this volume are those of the authors and not necessarily those of UNDP.

This publication should be cited as:
J. Goldemberg and T.B. Johansson
"Energy As An Instrument
for Socio-Economic Development, "
United Nations Development Programme,
New York, NY,

Cover photo shows biogas plant at
Pura Village, South Karnataka, India;
discussed in
Chapters 2 and 8.

Copyright © 1995
by the United Nations Development Programme
1 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY, 10017, USA


One of the main goals of the United Nations Development Programme is to help the entire UN system become a unified and powerful force for sustainable human development.

Sustainable human development is people-centered development. It generates economic growth and equitably distributes the fruits of that growth. It empowers people, expands their choices and opportunities, and involves them in decisions that shape their lives.

For UNDP, sustainable human development means focusing resources on four key areas: eradicating poverty, increasing women's role in development, providing people with income-earning opportunities, and protecting and regenerating the environment.

Initiatives in the energy sector are an important means to achieve sustainable human development. After all, as countries develop, their energy-service needs evolve and expand. And, the production and consumption of energy has a tremendous impact on economies, environments and industrial development. Energy should, therefore, be taken into account in any development strategy.

If current patterns of energy production, distribution and consumption continue, progress in a number of countries could slow dramatically, or even come to a halt. We must, therefore, reconsider the way we use energy. This is not only important for developing countries, but for industrialized ones as well. The challenges before us will not be met by making minor adjustments to countries' conventional energy systems. Instead, a major shift away from business-as-usual is needed.

A number of ideas for this shift were presented to the international community at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. An action agenda - known as "Agenda 21" - issued at the conclusion of the conference, called on nations to find more efficient systems for producing, distributing and consuming energy, and for greater reliance on environmentally sound energy systems, with special emphasis on renewable sources of energy.

Renewable energy is extremely important to development because it can offer people income-earning opportunities. In Brazil, for example, a programme to produce ethanol from sugar cane helped create about 700,000 jobs in rural areas. The Brazilian example shows how an innovative energy strategy can be instrumental in achieving a country's goals for sustainable human development.

UNDP, especially through its Initiative on Sustainable Energy, is helping countries implement national energy policies that support their development strategies. This initiative is demonstrating how the energy sector can be a tool for development by giving people income-earning opportunities, building up government institutions' capacities for protecting the environment and increasing energy efficiency, and accelerating technological development. UNDP, which has funded many energy-development projects, continues to formulate new ways to address this important issue.

The authors of this volume describe the important links between energy and development, and show how energy can be used in ways that improve people's lives. Their work, therefore, contributes to the global debate on energy and offers us insights into the complexity of the challenges we face. I congratulate their effort and am confident that it will benefit decision-makers, policy-makers, academics, and the international development community.

James Gustave Speth
New York, July 1995



A better life and an improved standard of living are the fundamental aspirations of the 70 per cent of humanity living in the poor countries of Africa, Latin America, Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and socio-economic development is a means to achieve it. It is estimated that worldwide 2 billion people live below the poverty line. This situation is fertile ground for political unrest. Hopelessness and despair also lead people to emigrate to the industrialized countries in search of a better future.

For the poor, a better life first means satisfying the basic human needs, including access to jobs, food, health services, education, housing, running water, sewage, etc. In providing for these needs, energy is an important element.

To help solve the poverty problem is a major objective of the United Nations. A series of Intergovernmental Conferences, and the on-going work between them throughout the U.N. system, address sustainable socio-economic development issues. However, the role of energy tends to be left out. For these reasons, UNDP, decided to prepare a document dealing with (a) the links between energy, socio-economic development, and wider social issues, and (b) ideas on how changes in the way energy is produced and used can be instrumental in socio-economic development, poverty alleviation, and social change, as well as in improving the living conditions of women.

Energy was an area of intensive debate at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. In Agenda 21, chapter 9, it was agreed that current patterns of production and utilization of energy cannot be sustained, and that one of the ways of promoting sustainable development is to reduce adverse effects on the atmosphere from the energy sector. Agenda 21 identified two directions in which the energy system could evolve: (1) toward more efficient production, transmission and distribution, and end-use of energy, and (2) toward greater reliance on environmentally sound energy systems, particularly new and renewable sources of energy. Of course, the two approaches are related. Coupled with high energy end-use efficiency, renewable sources of energy are capable of covering a larger share of the world's energy needs.

Figure 1 - The energy system, from extraction of primary energy to energy services. The energy system encompasses the chain from extraction of primary energy to energy services. Examples are given of specific chains. The energy sector is identified as part of the energy system.

Energy is of little interest in itself. However, it is an essential ingredient of socio-economic development and economic growth. The objective of the energy system is to provide energy services. Energy services are the desired and useful products, processes, or services that result from the use of energy, for instance, illumination, comfortable indoor climate, refrigerated storage, transportation, appropriate temperatures for cooking, materials, etc. The energy chain to deliver these services begins with the collection or extraction of primary energy, which is then converted into energy carriers suitable for the end-use(s). These energy carriers are used in energy end-use technologies to provide the desired energy services (see Figure 1). Thus far, most discussions of the energy sector have focussed on supply-side issues. However, the energy system involves much more than what is conventionally considered the energy sector and unless the scope of discussions about energy is extended, energy efficiency will receive less attention than it deserves.3

The efficiency of energy conversion is one characteristic of each step of the energy chain. It is measured through the concept of specific energy use, which is the energy used per unit of an energy service. For instance, in the case of illumination, specific energy use is measured by lux levels per kWh; in the case of refrigeration, it is measured by the number of kWhe per liter of refrigerated volume per year; when the service is a product, specific energy use is measured by the energy used per unit quantity of product (e.g., kWh per kg of steel). Energy efficiency can be improved in each step of the energy chain. Energy efficient technologies, therefore, lead to a lowering of the specific energy use for an energy service.

This paper only addresses energy conservation measures that result in the use of less energy to provide the same energy service, or to achieve more energy services for the same energy. An illustrative example of this is the switch from kerosene wick-lamps to fluorescent tubelights in villages in developing countries. Experience from Pura Village in South India shows that the household expenditure for lighting was cut in half despite the fact that illumination increased by a factor of about 19, and the energy input decreased to one ninth compared to the kerosene originally used.4 This stress on energy services is crucial in developing countries where the current levels of energy services are unacceptably low.

The importance of energy in socio-economic development was first emphasized in work of the Bariloche Foundation in Argentina, that pioneered studies on the role of energy in socio-economic development, using the Latin American World model.5 The energy requirements of this approach have been developed further to estimate the energy requirements to satisfy basic human needs.6 Figure 2 shows a plot of social indicators such as illiteracy rate, infant mortality, life expectancy and total fertility rate versus commercial energy consumption per capita, which is used as a proxy for energy services, for which data are not available. Because the efficiency of energy use in countries with the lowest per capita energy use is much lower than in countries with higher per capita energy use, the relative level of energy services is even lower in the low per capita energy use countries. This inefficiency is large enough to also compensate for the omission of non-commercial sources of energy in Figure 2. Therefore, Figure 2 presents an understatement of the real situation.

Figure 2 - Life Expectancy, Infant Mortality, literacy, and Total Fertility Rate as a Function of Commercial Energy Consumption Per Capita.

Note: Non-commercial fuels are not included.

Sources: World Energy Council, Energy for Tomorrow's World, Kogan Page Ltd, London (1993), and J. Goldemberg (unpublished).

In the majority of the developing countries, where commercial energy consumption per capita is below 1 ton of oil equivalent (toe) per year, illiteracy and infant mortality as well as the total fertility rate are high, while life expectancy is low. Surpassing the annual 1 toe per capita energy use level, therefore, seems to be an important ingredient of development.

Low energy consumption is not the cause of poverty. However, it is an indicator for many of its elements, such as poor education, bad health care, the hardship imposed on women and children, etc. As annual commercial energy consumption per capita increases and surpasses 2 toe per capita (or higher) in industrialized countries, social conditions improve considerably. Average annual energy consumption per capita in OECD countries is approximately 5 toe per year. It should be noted that these graphs illustrate a covariation, and that they relate to energy, not energy services. Also, the relationships are shown for averages of 10 countries, and are not without exception for individual countries.

Energy in itself is not a basic human need. However, it is required in meeting any and all of the basic needs (food, shelter, health, education, employment, etc.).7 Most conventional energy strategies fail to help meet basic human needs for the poor majorities in developing countries. Analysis indicates that energy becomes an instrument for the eradication of poverty only when it is directed deliberately and specifically toward the needs of the poor.8

Energy use varies considerably in the world. Table 1 shows some energy use per capita data on a regional basis. There is a 20-fold difference between North America and South Asia. Fossil fuels contribute 78 per cent and renewable sources of energy 18 per cent, 60 per cent of which is traditional biomass. The biomass contribution in industrialized countries is below 2 per cent, while reaching 46 per cent in South Asia and 53 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Also in developing countries, differences in energy use are large. People in urban areas use more energy than in rural areas, the relatively few rich use not only more energy, but also shift towards larger fractions of modern energy carriers, especially oil products and electricity. Again, the differences in energy services are larger than the differences in energy use.

Energy and Sustainable Development

In order to gain additional insights into the relationship between energy consumption and social conditions in general, and particularly the situation of women, we asked a number of leading specialists around the world to prepare papers on:

1. the level of energy use necessary for meeting basic human needs and achieving sustainable human development;

2. how the lack of energy, and its inefficient use, constitute obstacles to improve living standards; and

3. how such obstacles can be removed, either by improving the efficiency of energy use or by using new, environmentally benign sources of energy

Ten essays were prepared and they contain a wealth of documented information on particular countries that represent a good sample of the situation in the developing world.

Carlos Suz, along the lines of the classical work conducted at the Bariloche Foundation more than twenty years ago on the Latin American World Model, plots the Human Development Index (HDI)9, as a function of commercial energy consumption with results rather similar to the ones indicated in Figure 2. He also points out that "the developing countries and particularly their lower income sectors, are all located in the first part of the curve (below 1 toe/capita/year). It is, therefore, indispensable to find the ways to increase their (useful) energy availability."

Srilatha Batliwala and Daniel Kammen review, in their respective papers, the costs of obtaining energy services in rural areas, and highlight the fact that the poor pay a much higher price for the energy they need than any other sector of society since energy is used very inefficiently. In Batliwala's words: "In the face of inadequate inanimate energy and a lack of access to efficient technologies of energy use, the poor are forced to depend on their own labour, on animal power, and biomass energy resources, to meet their survival needs."

Table 1 - Primary Per Capita Energy Consumption in Different Regions in 1990 (toe/capita)

Fossil Fuels

Nuclear Energy

Renewable Energy




Nat. Gas




North America









Latin America









Western Europe









C&E Europe


















M.E. & North Africa









Sub-Saharan Africa


















(of which CPA)









South Asia


















Source: World Energy Council, Energy for Tomorrow's World, Kogan Page Ltd, London (1993).

The price is paid in the form of: human time and labour; economic cost; health costs (both in cooking and malnutrition due to energy scarcity); and social and gender impact of scarcity of energy services.

The most salient aspect of the energy problem in low-income rural areas in Africa and Asia is the importance of traditional biomass fuels for cooking. Roughly half of the world's population relies on such fuels, mainly fuelwood. The gathering of such fuel is becoming more difficult as land degradation spreads. According to Ndey-Isatou Njie, in the year 2000, the world deficit of fuelwood will reach 960 million cubic metres per year, the energy equivalent to 240 million tons of oil per year. The consequences of such deficit in increasing drudgery and time of collection of fuelwood is staggering. Women are already often forced to walk 10 km per day carrying loads of up to 35 kg of fuelwood. Also very serious are the health hazards of inhaling the smoke from biomass fuels used for cooking, as discussed by Deng Keyun and Daniel Kammen. The supply of fuelwood, especially to urban areas, is a contributing factor to deforestation and land degradation, as discussed both by Ndey-Isatou Njie and Daniel Kammen, although the major cause thereof is expansion of agricultural activities.10

The linkage between poverty, human conditions, and the way energy is used is clear from the observations above. Given the magnitude of these problems and issues, are there ways forward?

Laura Nader makes a number of sobering points, stressing the need for a holistic approach to the energy problem. She states that "anthropologists first defined the energy problem as a social and cultural problem rather than technological. This approach forces a recognition of the roles that values play in planning sustainable futures." This is a rather important point: although the capacity of humans to change the globe in irreversible ways was limited in more primitive societies, that is no longer true today. In addition, citizens are losing control to large structures and bureaucracies because "modern cultures do not provide the necessary cultural knowledge for people to participate in choosing technologies." All this points in the direction of the need to avoid an unduly large energy consumption "by decoupling notions such as high energy expenditures and quality of life." There is no compelling reason for developing countries to imitate the industrialized countries in some of their extravagant ways of using energy, and social and cultural values are very important to that end.

Energy End-Use Efficiency Improvements

The first area to consider is more efficient use of energy. In the case of extraction and conversion of primary energy and the transmission and distribution of energy carriers, the specific energy use can be reduced by about 10 to 40 per cent (with respect to the energy use levels of the present average stock of equipment in industrialized countries). The corresponding figure is 20 to 50 per cent in the case of efficiency improvements in existing energy-using installations and 50 to 90 per cent in the case of new installations. These reductions can be achieved by using the most efficient technologies that are available today. They are less expensive than increasing energy supply on a per unit of energy basis, even when external environmental impacts are not accounted for. In developing countries, the potential for demand reduction is often even larger. The potential for further efficiency improvements through continued research and development is large because physical (thermodynamic) constraints are far away.

Energy needs in the South are also different from those of the North because of differences in climate (e.g., space heating is not required in most of the South) and because satisfaction of basic human needs and infrastructure building must be given paramount attention in the South.

The poor often do not have access to the technology or cannot afford it and have to depend on their own labour, on animal power or fuelwood, and other types of biomass which have a high price in terms of human time and labour. They also have health and gender impacts, which are usually more severe on women.

These hardships are illustrated by the problems associated with cooking, which, in many developing countries, adds to land degradation and is a heavy burden on women and children who gather the fuelwood for primitive cooking stoves. Traditional methods of cooking have dismally low efficiency rates, converting only about 10 to 15 per cent of the energy contained in the fuelwood into useful energy in the pot.

As cooking energy changes from animal dung ® agricultural waste ® traditional woodstoves ® traditional charcoal stoves ® improved wood stoves ® improved charcoal stoves ® kerosene wick stoves ® kerosene pressure stoves ® LPG stoves ® electric hot plate, the efficiency for cooking increases by approximately a factor of five.11 This is the meaning of "climbing the energy ladder." The technical opportunities in this area are large.12 As one climbs the ladder, capital costs also increase, from zero to $50 or more per stove, posing severe problems for the poor. However, this is the direction in which to move, and a large number of programmes in Africa, Asia, and Central America have been successful in disseminating many millions of more efficient stoves used in rural areas and cities. "Climbing the ladder" to higher efficiency applies not only to cooking stoves but is a general strategy that could have dramatic and positive consequences in developing countries.

The potential impact of energy-efficient technologies on total energy use has been studied in great detail. In fact, analysis shows that by shifting to high-quality energy carriers and by exploiting cost-effective opportunities for more efficient use of energy, it would be possible to satisfy basic human needs and provide considerable further improvements in living standards without significantly increasing per capita energy use above the present level. For instance, developing countries could achieve the West European material standard of living during the 1970s with energy requirements as low as 1 kW13 per capita, which is only about 20 per cent higher than the 1985 level in developing countries.14 This remarkable result could be achieved because of the extremely inefficient use of energy today, especially traditional sources of energy, and because of the high energy efficiency obtainable with modern cost-effective energy end-use technologies available today. With a path of development that makes use of technologies with such energy performance, energy supply need not become a constraint on development.

The energy problem of developing countries is not primarily a problem of the scarcity of energy per se, but inefficient energy conversion to obtain the desired services. Non-commercial fuels represent approximately 30 per cent of the total energy use in developing countries as a whole, but more than 50 per cent in many of the poorest countries. Such energy is used in extremely inefficient fashion; similarly, end-use efficiency of commercial energy could be significantly increased as well.

Let us then turn to some integrated demand and supply side opportunities.

Integrated Demand and Supply Opportunities

This volume discusses in detail some of the integrated demand and supply side opportunities available today. Amulya K.N. Reddy and his collaborators describe a successful decentralized community-based biogas facility for electricity generation in Pura Village (approximately 500 inhabitants) in South India. The electricity produced provides both lighting and water pumping. What is interesting in this case is the high degree of cooperation required to supply and operate the biogas plant on the basis of the convergence of individual and collective interests. The electricity is used in high efficiency end-use equipment, making it go further in meeting energy service needs. The Pura Village story is now being replicated in many-villages in India.

In China, in particular, the adoption of biogas at the house- hold level is proceeding rapidly, as pointed out by Deng Keyun. In 1993, some 5.25 million farm biogas digesters were in use, as well as integrated "four-in-one" (solar energy, biogas, crop planting, and animal breeding) biogas, which were digesters developed and popularized as a good example of ecological agriculture with excellent results for the economy and the health of the populace.

Josa. Blanco discusses decentralized small-scale renewable energy systems (photovoltaic, wind and small hydro) for electricity production in Central America; these are benefiting a number of villages which have no hope of being linked to centralized systems in the foreseeable future. Although initial costs of such systems are high, life-cycle costs are often competitive. These systems have a tremendous impact in improving living conditions in small villages or isolated households, especially when combined with energy-efficient end-use technologies.

The chapters by Kammen, Blanco, Deng, and Reddy all deal with small-scale approaches to the energy problem. There is, however, another approach - a large scale approach - in which high quality energy carriers (electricity and liquid fuels) are produced from biomass.

Eric Larson and Robert Williams point out that the popular idea that biomass is the "poor man's oil," because of its widespread use for cooking (with low efficiency), can be radically changed by converting biomass into more desirable forms of energy (like electricity and liquid and gaseous fuels). In particular, the gasification of biomass, coupled with aeroderivative gas turbines, can prove to be an extraordinarily attractive solution for the generation of electricity. Larson and Williams estimate that the recovery of marginal lands in developing countries with high-yield forests (energy plantations) might generate as many as 13 million direct rural jobs in developing countries by 2050 under acceptable environmental conditions. There is need for more work on the availability of marginal land for large-scale biomass plantations, and on their reclamation for productive purposes:

Isaias Macedo shows that the production of ethanol from sugar cane to replace gasoline as fuel for transportation on a large scale in Brazil had important positive social consequences. It helped to create higher quality jobs (some 750,000 in ten years), helped to reverse migration to large urban areas, and to increase the overall quality of life in many small towns.

The approaches outlined by Macedo, and Larson and Williams address social problems in a different way from most of the other contributions in this volume, since the large amounts of energy produced from energy plantations and sugar cane can also address urban energy needs in addition to generating rural jobs and income.

Some Points of Discussion

Although there is substantial agreement between the results and insights presented in the different chapters, it is interesting to note some differences. Srilatha Batliwala and Ndey Isatou Njie observe how the fuelwood crisis has increased the hardship, drudgery, and time involved in the collection of fuel-wood, and how it affects women. Obviously, an increase in the energy efficiency and new energy carriers in cooking would alleviate this problem. Deng Keyun goes as far as stating that biogas digesters, which improve cooking conditions in China, have become important items in marriage dowries. Laura Nader, on the other hand, argues that there is evidence to the contrary and that technological progress has not eliminated the drudgeries of women's work, but has actually increased it, through, for example, cash cropping. If "amenities in the home make life easier," she argues, "paying for these amenities may require working double shifts."

Carlos Suz discusses institutional policies and is very critical of the "current environment in which governments and international organizations are promoting privatization, deregulation, and indiscriminate access to other countries...". However, it is well known that heavy government subsidies to conventional sources of energy in many countries is one of the obstacles to a sustainable energy strategy since they make it harder to introduce energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. Such subsidies are likely to be reduced in a more competitive market economy.

Ndey Isatou Njie states that "there is still too little understanding of the potential impact of emissions from wood stoves." This has both a scientific and an access to information dimension. That health impacts result from the exposure and inhalation of smoke is clear from Daniel Kammen's review of the voluminous literature on the subject. There might well be more to come with continued study, and the level of understanding of the issues in local areas is not well known.

The small-scale versus large scale approaches are not explicitly discussed. However, the choices of authors were intended to expose the existing debate on this issue. Putting side by side the large-scale opportunities of Eric Larson and Robert Williams, and Isaias Macedo, and the biogas approach of Amulya Reddy and Deng Keyun, and the dispersed electricity generation discussed by Josa. Blanco, we intend to show the complementarity of these approaches to the overall development context, and that both are needed.

Finally, such questions as the sometimes advanced desirability of going back to decentralized systems - considered more adequate to rural areas - and self-sufficiency schemes, were not addressed. The contributions here address the question of what can be done now, and why it should be done, and point to the opportunity of making energy policy an instrument for increasing energy services to improve socio-economic conditions.

An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Energy

The conclusion that emerges from this rich collection of essays is that energy use, as practiced today, is indeed a serious obstacle to development and to the improvement of living standards. It is also clear that improved energy end-use efficiency and increased use of renewable sources of energy would go a long way in solving the energy problems of developing countries.

What strategies and public policies could lead to the growth of energy services, and not necessarily growth of energy consumption available to the poor, in a manner that is compatible with sustainable development? Clearly, the international financial agents, multilateral organizations, national governments, institutions of teaching and research, transnational companies, and other economic agents are the ones that determine the evolution of the fluxes of production, trade and technology.

Areas of action include15:

· rural development (by adapting renewable forms of energy that can increase the amount of daytime available for economic activity and employment generation);

· improved quality of life for women and children (particularly the poor in both rural and urban areas);

· industrial development (by introducing advanced technologies that reduce energy requirements in both the basic materials industries and the manufacturing industry, as well as by enabling the production of more energy-efficient products); and

· agriculture and forestry (through the use of biomass waste streams and biomass plantations that, in turn, help restore degraded land while providing employment and sustainable energy supplies).

Strategies to achieve success in these areas are:

a) building indigenous human capacity;

b) creating the policy environment that will promote sustainable energy development. What this means is that policies should be designed to both protect access to energy services for the poor, and to encourage prices that reflect the true costs of energy, in which factors that are now external to the pricing structure are internalized (for example, environmental effects). Too often, subsidies for energy prices counteract efforts to make energy use more efficient and to introduce renewable sources of energy Government subsidies for energy in developing countries were over $50 billion in 1992, more than the total ODA (official development assistance) to these same countries. This banner to sustainable energy should be gradually reduced in a way that takes care of the situation of the poor, who now benefit from these subsidies.

c) "leapfrogging" past old, unsustainable technologies and patterns directly to newer, more sustainable approaches.

Paramount in these strategies is the concept of "leapfrogging" to new technologies and approaches. Developing countries have the option to "leapfrog" past the methods used by today's industrialized countries, moving quickly and directly to the highest performance technologies and institutional arrangements. In many cases, the available new technologies will require some adaptations to the specific conditions of developing countries. Because they were developed in industrialized countries, where labour is expensive and capital relatively cheap, new technologies tend to be labour-saving and capital-intensive. In developing countries, where capital is expensive and labour relatively cheap, there are different technological requirements. Despite the need for adaptation, however, new technologies and institutional arrangements offer the best hope for today's developing countries to move toward sustainable energy development.

Specific areas of action are:

· technology demonstration projects;

· institutional and regulatory demonstration projects; and

· accelerated development of new technologies through temporary subsidies when required.

The examples and strategies above indicate how energy can be used as an instrument for development. These approaches will not alone lead to sustainable human development; however, they are a necessary element thereof. A fundamental task ahead of us is to make use of these opportunities..


1 University of SPaulo, SPaulo, Brazil

2 Energy and Atmosphere Programme, SEED/BPPS, United Nations Development Programme, New York, U.S.A.

3 J. Goldemberg, T.B. Johansson, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, Energy for a Sustainable World (New Delhi: Wiley-Eastern, 1988).

4 Reddy, A.K.N., Electricity Planning: Current Approach and Resulting Problems. Module M2, Course Materials for Workshop for Policy-makers on Electricity Planning and Development, January 4-5 (Bangalore, India: International Energy Initiative, 1994).

5 Fundaciariloche, Catastrophe or New Society: A Latin American World Model, IDRC-064e (Ottawa: International Development Research Center, 1976).

6 H. Krugmann and J. Goldemberg, "The Energy Costs of Satisfying Basic Human Needs," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 24, (1983), pp. 45-60; and J. Goldemberg et al., Energy for a Sustainable World.

7 Paul Streeten with Shahid Javel Burki, Mahbub ul Haq, Norman Hicks, and Frances Stewart, First Things First - Meeting Basic Needs in Developing Countries (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1981) and Goldemberg et al, Energy for a Sustainable World.

8 J. Goldemberg et al., Energy for a Sustainable World.

9 The HDI is calculated in the Report on Human Development (UNDP, 1994) as the simple average of Life Expectancy, Educational Level and GDP per capita (in parity purchase power dollars).

10 "Assessment of Desertification and Drought in the Sudano-Sahelian Region 1985-1991," The United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office, UNDP New York, 1991.

11 S.F. Baldwin, Biomass Stoves: Engineering Design, Development and Dissemination. (Arlington, VA: VITA, 1987).

12 G.S. Dutt and N.H. Ravindranath, Bioenergy: Direct Applications in Cooking, in T.B. Johansson et al. (eds.), Renewable Energy: Sources for Fuel and Electricity (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993).

13 kW here represents the average energy use over one year. It is a shorthand for kWyr/yr. 1 kW equals 0.753 toe/yr.

14 J. Goldemberg, T.B. Johansson, A.K.N. Reddy and R.H. Williams, "Basic Needs and Much More with One Kilowatt Per Capita," Ambio, Vol 14, No. 4-5 (1985).

15 This discussion draws on the emerging UNDP Initiative for Sustainable Energy (UNISE). Information on UNISE may be obtained from the Energy and Atmosphere Programme, UNDP One United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017.

1. Energy Needs for Sustainable Human Development


During the 1970s and 1980s, it became fashionable to think of energy as a goal in itself. The vagaries of the international oil market put energy development on a par with socio-economic development and environmental protection. More recently, many people take the opposite position that energy is simply one more product to be obtained through the market. My view, despite being an energy specialist, is different from both of these extremes. The most important goal is integrated sustainable human development for each and every person, male and female.

Energy is a fundamental and strategic tool to attain a minimum quality of life. This chapter examines how and why energy can contribute positively to sustainable development, and assesses how the potentially negative impacts of energy systems on human and natural environments can be minimized.

Human Development and Energy Consumption

The Human Development Index (HDI) developed by UNDP is one way of measuring how well countries are meeting, not just the economic, but also the social needs of their people, that is, their quality of life. The HDI is calculated on the basis of a simple average of life expectancy, educational level, and per capita gross domestic product (as measured by purchasing power).2 The HDI measures performance by expressing a value between 0 (poorest performance) and 1 (ideal performance).

It is useful to look at the historical influence of energy consumption on the achievement of certain levels of human development or quality of life. For this purpose, HDI values were analyzed in relation to per capita commercial energy consumption for all countries, developed and developing, for which data on both variables were available. Only commercial energy was used for this analysis because the data available for non-commercial energy (mainly biomass) are not of the same quality. Moreover, because non-commercial energy sources are used with low efficiency, the results of combining the two could be contradictory.

Figure 1.1 - Estimated Relationship Between HDI and Per Capita Energy Consumption 1991-1992

Note: Data for 100 developed and developing countries.

Source: Author's calculations based on data in United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report, 1992, 1993, 1994 editions (New York: Oxford University Press).

The statistical analysis presented shows clearly that energy has a determinant influence on the HDI, particularly in the early stages of development, in which the vast majority of the world's people, particularly women and children, find themselves (see Figure 1.1). It also shows that the influence of per capita energy consumption on the HDI begins to decline somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 kilograms of oil equivalent (koe) per inhabitant. Thereafter, even with a tripling in energy consumption, the HDI does not increase.3 Thus, from approximately 1,000 koe per capita, the strong positive covariance of energy consumption with HDI starts to diminish. Additional increases in HDI are more closely correlated to the other variables chosen to define it (life expectancy, educational level, and per capita income).

A similar diagram for the period 1960-65 for the same countries makes the point even more dramatically (see Figure 1.2). During this period, HDI also increased more rapidly than energy consumption and then stabilized, beginning at about 3,000 koe per capita.4

Figure 1.2 - Estimated Relationship Between HDI and Per Capita Energy Consumption 1960-1965

Note: Data for 100 developed and developing countries.

Source: Author's calculations based on data in United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report, 1992, 1993, 1994 editions (New York: Oxford University Press).

Figure 1.3 - Comparison of HDI/Per Capita Energy Consumption Relationship, 1960 and 1991

Note: Data for 100 developed and developing countries.

Source: Author's calculations based on data in United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report, 1992, 1993, 1994 editions (New York: Oxford University Press).

Figure 1.3 shows the distribution curve for the two periods (1960-65 and 1991-92). Although there is a general increase in HDI in the thirty years between the two periods, the level of energy consumption, at which further increases in HDI no longer occur, is virtually the same. On the other hand, a level of 1,000 koe per capita per year could be enough to support a reasonable level of development if it could be used efficiently from a technological point of view in both developing and industrialized countries.5

The developing countries are all located in the first part of the curve; this is particularly true of the lower income sectors in developing countries. It is, therefore, essential to find ways of increasing their (useful) energy availability On the other hand, the industrialized countries are located in a section of the curve where an increase in energy consumption not only does not improve life quality, but can even deteriorate it; this is also true of the higher income sectors in some developing countries. Thus, there is need for strict energy conservation policies in high-energy-consumption areas.6

In the face of these realities, does it make sense to continue to project increases in commercial energy consumption for the countries that consume the largest amounts of energy (sometimes estimated to reach 10,000 to 15,000 koe per capita by the year 2025)? Today, there are still 81 countries, with a total population of 4,750 million people (87 per cent of the world's population) that have not yet reached 3,000 koe per capita, and 62 countries, with a combined population of 3,800 million people (70 per cent of the world's population) that do not use even 1,000 koe per capita and have an HDI ranging from 0.19 to 0.80.

The duality that already exists between rich and poor will only increase if the world does not secure a more equitable distribution of resources in general, and energy in particular. The result will be a majority that cannot meet even its most basic needs and a minority that diminishes its quality of life (as measured in HDI and other indicators) through overconsumption and the resulting environmental deterioration. This reality can already be observed today in large urban areas, which are being choked by air pollution.

The trend toward increased duality and inequity is already evident. Income disparity, in both developing and industrialized countries, is growing, as studies on HDI and distribution of wealth have demonstrated.7 In 1960 and 1970, the ratio of the world income share between the richest 20 per cent and the poorest 20 per cent of the world's population was approximately 30 to 1, during a period when there was a high rate of global economic growth. In 1980, that ratio increased to 45 to 1, and by 1990, it had reached 61 to 1, with a simultaneous decrease in global economic growth (see Figure 1.4).

This means that inequity in income distribution has grown almost constantly since 1960, but especially since the 1980s. Moreover, this deterioration has not only affected the poorest 20 per cent; the next 60 per cent have drastically reduced their participation in the economy as well (see Table 1.1). If the socio-economic and energy strategies of the last ten or fifteen years are not rapidly modified, it will be impossible to lower the income and energy consumption gaps between the highest and lowest income level.

These analyses of income distribution and relative levels of consumption in developing and industrialized countries do not, in any way, mean that rational use of energy, or conservation based on efficient energy use, is not a necessary policy for developing as well as industrialized countries, in order to avoid repeating in the future the mistakes made in the past by the industrialized countries.

Figure 1.4 - Evolution of Global Per Capita Income Disparity, 1960-1991 (poorest 20% = 1)

Table 1.1 - Global Income Disparity, 1960-1991 (percentage of international income)

World population percentage





Poorest 20%





Middle 60%





Richest 20%





Gini's coefficient





Richest 20%

Poorest 20%





Richest 20%

Middle 60%





Source: Author based on United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report, 1992, 1993, 1994 editions (New York: Oxford University Press).

Energy Consumption and Population

One issue that has received much attention during recent years is the relationship between population size and growth rate on the one hand, and energy production and use on the other. This issue has been particularly raised in the context of gas emissions contributing to the greenhouse effect. Figure 1.5 shows the relationship between energy consumption and per capita income for an urban area of Ethiopia in the early 1980s. It illustrates the inverse relationship that exists between family size and per capita energy consumption for the same income level; the smaller the size of family, the larger the total energy consumption in a system with a similar number of people with a specific income level. Those advocating population control measures should recognize that the consequence of aggressive policies to reduce population size may not produce a proportional decrease in the consumption of energy and other resources.8

In addition, the strong urbanization process taking place in nearly every developing country will lead to additional increases in energy needs. Urbanization creates substantial increases in energy consumption per capita, particularly of commercial energy; this is due to residential consumption as much as to transportation and production activities. This increased consumption is generally accompanied by a change in the structure of energy sources, increasing the demand for oil products, gaseous fuels, and electricity.9

Figure 1.5 - Relationship Between Consumption of Useful Energy and Per Capita Monthly Income, Ethiopia, Urban Area

Notes: Mcal = Mega calories = 1 billion calories. Birr = local currency in Ethiopia.

Source: Author's elaboration based on Energia Domani, CESEN, Vol. VI, No. 31/32 (February 1983).

These problems are not new, but analysis of the population problem and its deep roots seems to be moving backward instead of forward in recognizing them. Attention to population in recent years has moved too much toward simply promoting birth control, by more or less voluntary clinical methods; it has moved away from a comprehensive approach to human development. Even the attention to the need for improved education for women is more related to the possibility of success in using clinical birth control methods than to a vision of total and sustainable human development.

Twenty years ago, the Latin American World Model, developed by Fundaciariloche under the direction of Dr. A. Herrera, clearly set forth this issue: ".... the demographic variable is influenced by concrete factors like housing, education and food. Therefore, for economic growth to have an influence on population evolution, it is necessary to direct it specifically to the satisfaction of the basic needs of the majority of the community members.... Historical evidence and demographic development in the countries... suggest that the improvement of general welfare conditions is the most important factor in order to reduce fertility." The report's conclusion stated: "The model also shows that population growth can be controlled until it reaches the state of equilibrium, by means of a general improvement in life conditions, especially those related to basic needs. "10

Unfortunately, during the last twenty years, the world has pursued a different path. It would be most desirable if the United Nations would take steps, beginning at the U.N. Conference on Women and Development in Beijing in September 1995, to move toward a path of sustainable human development for the majority of the world's people.

To move in this direction, economic growth must be oriented to the satisfaction of basic needs, and not to overconsumption. This will require an adequate quantity of useful energy (i.e., energy services) that is not substantially higher than the present world average (1,500 koe per capita). This, however, is much higher than the global average for developing countries (500 koe per capita).

Energy Requirements in Developing Countries

In developing countries, energy requirements must be distinguished from energy demand, which only reflects transactions taking place through a market. However, a large proportion of total energy consumption in developing countries does not take place through commercial markets. Additionally, some requirements are not met because of supply restrictions or because potential consumers have physical or economic restrictions that make access to energy sources impossible.

Social and economic systems and conditions in developing countries are highly diverse, and these distinctions must be taken into consideration in discussing energy needs. Conditions vary between urban and rural areas and between income levels, with marginal sectors having totally different requirements. Modes of production vary considerably. In rural areas, they may range from subsistence farming, to intermediate commercial systems that supply local requirements, to modern export-oriented systems. In manufacturing, modes of production can range from craft activities, to small- and medium-sized industries, to large high-technology industries. Transportation can range from traditional informal systems based on human and/or animal energy, to organized public and private systems using modern technology in large urban areas. Similarly, the services sectors include everything form informal, individual activities to modern services utilizing sophisticated technology.

This diversity means that analyses that consider developing-country energy needs simply in terms of cooking and fuel-wood use miss the full scope of the energy problem. They cannot possibly recognize the enormous gap that exists between current consumption levels and the minimum reasonable requirements of the many sectors in which developing-country populations are engaged.

To adequately determine the energy requirements of the domestic sector of developing countries, it is necessary to consider: a) the distribution of present and future income; b) the population distribution between rural and urban areas, including migration; c) the demographic characteristics that determine family size and population growth; and d) human needs in general, not simply basic needs. Attempting to estimate energy consumption on the basis of income and population alone is reductionist and can lead to serious mistakes.

The same activity, product, or service can be obtained through a variety of production modes, each of which has different levels of energy consumption that can be obtained from a variety of sources. Thus, what is required is a detailed study of the technology associated with each production mode, taking account of not only specific energy inputs, but also the energy associated with other inputs or production factors. Thus, for example, in the agricultural sector, attention should be given to use of human and animal energy in order to assess the likelihood of eventual substitution or of efficiency improvements in utilization.

Studies of rural areas should not look at energy in isolation, but should look at prospects for integrated rural development in which energy is an instrument of development, not an end in itself. This means simultaneously considering problems of water supply, increased productivity, marketing, business organization, etc.

In the industrial sector, it is necessary to examine which technologies are most suitable to the particular conditions and the available natural and energy resources of a country. In addition, it must be recognized that agro-industries are a significant industrial sector whose energy requirements must be carefully assessed (just as the energy requirements of steel or petrochemicals are assessed in industrialized countries).

Other examples could be cited. But the main point is that energy problems of developing countries must be assessed from their own real situations. It is not enough to simply transplant analytic frameworks, technologies, or solutions that were developed for the very different conditions, resources, and social and cultural patterns of the industrialized countries.

Figure 1.6 - Global Reductions in Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 1970-1985 (Tn c/Toe)

Note: Tn c/Toe is tonnes of carbon released as carbon dioxide per tonne of oil equivalent of energy con-

Energy Supply in Developing Countries

Similarly, the particular characteristics of developing countries must be considered in assessing energy supply. These characteristics frequently include: a) highly dispersed demand, which in turn complicates supply systems; b) insufficiently developed local energy sources; c) diversity of available systems and technologies (including, for example, such old technologies as firewood stoves and such new technologies as micro computers); d) dependence on foreign appliances and research and development; and e) lack of adequately trained and experienced human resources.

Many developing countries have energy resources (such as biomass, hydroelectricity, coal, hydrocarbons, solar energy, geothermal energy, and uranium) that are not developed because they are not large enough or positioned in the wrong location to have economies of scale of interest to the international market. Yet from a local viewpoint, they could contribute to increasing energy self-sufficiency and to reducing the impact of energy on the country's balance of payments. These local resources have the additional advantage of being renewable if they are properly managed; they also provide additional benefits that contribute toward achieving integrated development.11 These energy sources also play a role in controlling greenhouse gases, both locally and globally.

The Environmental Impacts of Energy Systems

The reasons for building and running an energy system are to produce a positive impact on the human environment, to improve the quality of human life, and to achieve sustainable and integrated human development. But there are no "free meals" in any human activity. Energy systems also create negative impacts on nature and on human beings, and these must be reduced to a minimum.

All forms of energy have some kind of negative impact on the natural and social environment. The existence, magnitude, and scope of these impacts are not always recognized by those evaluating energy systems. For many years, thousands of miners and laborers were killed or injured in different stages of exploiting conventional energy sources, and few voices were raised in protest. Today, the potential risk that nuclear energy poses to the inhabitants of large urban areas provokes angry protests.

One objective in developing energy systems must be to minimize the negative impact of energy use on nature and on human beings, no matter what their social condition and status. Examples of energy use with potentially large negative impacts are: a) the demand for firewood and charcoal in urban areas in countries where these energy source predominate, and b) the construction of hydroelectric dams.

Yet hydroelectricity and other renewable sources of energy, including wind and solar energy, have the potential to help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, in Latin America and the Caribbean, the massive development of hydro-electricity between the 1960s and 1980s made that region the lowest in the world in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy consumed. Between 1975 and 1985, Latin America and the Caribbean attained the greatest reduction in the index measuring carbon dioxide emissions (see Figure 1.6 and 1.7).12 Unfortunately, progress in this area has slowed, in large part because of the economic and financial crisis linked to the external debt, currently evident in Mexico. Institutional changes (discussed below) have also contributed to slowing progress in this area.

The best means of preventing the negative impacts of energy consumption on the natural and human environment is not consuming or producing energy. But as the chapters in this volume make amply clear, developing countries must increase their level of energy services - i.e., their useful energy consumption - if they are to achieve sustainable human development. Thus, the solution must not necessarily be to increase supply, but to focus on a Rational Use of Energy (RUE), energy conservation, and adequate Demand Side Management (DSM). This is particularly true in urban areas and in activities related to transportation, industrial production, and services.

Rational use of energy and energy conservation are not contradictory with the need to increase energy services. Moreover, it is both possible and necessary to apply these principles not only in developing countries, but in industrialized countries as well.

Figure 1.7 - Global Decarbonization of Energy (Tn c/Toe)

Note: Tn c/Toe is tonnes of carbon released as carbon dioxide per tonne of oil equivalent of energy consumed. Source: C.E. Suz et al., La Energen el Mundo (Bariloche: IDEE/FB, 1994).

Energy and Institutional Policies

Integral energy planning is essential to overcoming the many limitations that inhibit sustainable energy strategies. These limitations include:

· the complex relationship between the need to provide better energy services and the need to limit total energy consumption;

· the inertia in current supply patterns and in the cultural and social patterns that determine consumption;

· the limited human, natural, and financial resources available to developing countries for addressing energy problems;

· the inability of imperfect or non-existent markets to ensure a just balance between energy requirements and energy supply, at least in the short term; and

· the difficulty, even in perfect markets, of balancing the needs of present and future generations or of considering environmental problems associated with energy production and use.

If developing countries are to adequately pursue Integral Energy Planning, based on their own resources, interests, and problems, they must form technical teams that are well trained for these tasks and that have access to the centers of government, where decision-making power rests. Moreover, planning must be a participatory process in which all those affected take part, including users, producers, workers, professionals, enterprises, and local, regional, and national interest groups.

Planning must be a continuous, iterative process that first assesses energy requirements consistent with sustainable human development objectives and the lifestyle preferences of the whole population. These objectives and preferences should then be pursued through a supply system that is autonomous, safe, and fair and that limits as much as possible the socio-economic costs of doing so. The supply and consumption systems must try to maximize the positive effects on the social and economic systems, and to minimize the negatives ones. Implementing the resulting plans will require preparing concrete projects, designing suitable policies, and having an effective and efficient system of management control.

These recommendations are consistent with recent documents published by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. But they seem contradictory to the current environment in which governments and international organizations are promoting privatization, deregulation, and indiscriminate openness to other countries, not only in developing countries, but in some industrialized countries as well. Nevertheless, the recommendations outlined here are not only appropriate, but essential. In the case of energy, ownership of the means of production, transportation, and distribution is not sufficient to ensure adequate performance (which entails much more than just microeconomic efficiency); it can, in fact, be self-defeating in terms of such important criteria as equity, solidarity, and adequate satisfaction of basic needs.

In addition, the concepts of privatization and deregulation are contradictory in the case of the energy sector, where, despite recent technological advances, markets are still basically monopolistic, monopsonistic, or oligopolistic. Privatization generally requires even more and more complex regulations, as well as the technical and economic capacity, and the economic and political power, to implement it. All of these are rare in developing countries.

With respect to indiscriminate opening to the external market, it is useful to observe that every industrialized country, at the moment of its economic take-off, erected tariff barriers to protect its nascent industries, just as the economic unions currently forming in many geographic regions are establishing a common external tax. These same countries also subsidize agricultural products and hinder international commerce through custom duties and other measures. Today, industrialized countries are expanding these measures to include taxes on labor and environmental violations, on the basis of defending human rights or protecting the environment, even though these same countries historically made extensive use of slavery and indiscriminately exploited nature.

Finally, there is a basic issue that the proponents of deregulated privatization ignore. The problems of protecting the natural and social environment, the sustainable exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources, the conservation and rational use of energy, and the development of new and renewable sources of energy (hydro, solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal), all require high initial investment that is recuperated over the system's lifespan with a reduced operating cost.

This implies that, for these issues to be addressed and new technologies and energy sources to be pursued, there must be reduced profit rates. This is directly and clearly contradictory to the fashionable international recipe for deregulated privatization, which would require a high internal race of return in order to pursue a search for alternatives instead of the low internal rates of return that are needed to develop environmentally sound and sustainable solutions.

This assertion is not simply theory or ideological opinion. It is confirmed by the experience of two recent cases of privatization of electric systems, in Argentina and the United Kingdom. In both cases, the utilities shifted all new investment to gas turbines fueled by natural gas, open cycle in the first case and combined cycle in the second. In Argentina, gas turbines replaced the previous options of hydroelectric and/or nuclear power plants; in the United Kingdom, they replaced nuclear power plants.13 Both decisions were contrary to the objective of reducing emissions of contaminating gases into the atmosphere - decisions to which their governments had agreed at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.14

Sustainable, integrated, equitable human development will remain impossible as long as short-term, market criteria prevail, and as long as societies and their governments lack adequate mechanisms to prevent common resources (air, water, lands, renewable and non-renewable natural resources, and general health) from being appropriated for private benefit. Positive aims - proclaimed in speeches, declarations, development proposals, and supposedly compulsory international agreements - are regularly contradicted by the policies and behaviours pursued by national governments and international agencies.

The root causes of poverty, misery, marginality, and exploitation continue to prevail in most of the world today, although the mechanisms are subtler, consisting of economic and technological control rather than geopolitical colonialism, and labour flexibility rather than slavery. If we do not analyze these root causes, understand them, and fight them, no real solutions will be possible. We will continue, just as in the past, to propose only local and marginal charitable measures that attack only the most visible manifestations of the problems caused by current policies.15

This view will be regarded by some as scandalous and irrelevant, but it is essential to examine the underlying causes of problems, to identify them honestly, and to address them in entirety, not just their most visible consequences.


1 Carlos E. Suz (Chem. Eng.) is Full Professor at Instituto de Economia Energca (IDEE/FB) and Executive President of Fundaciariloche.

I wish to thank Roberta Kozulj and Fabiana del Poppolo's contribution to the analysis and study of the relation between HDI, energy consumption, and gross domestic product. I am also grateful for the very valuable comments of Hor Pistonesi, President of IDEE/FB. However, the errors and omissions are the sole responsibility of the author, and so are the opinions expressed in this paper.

2 See United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report, 1994 (New York: Oxford University Press, May 1994). The HDI is calculated on the basis of a simple average of life expectancy, educational level and GDP/capita for each country

Ideally, both commercial and non-commercial energy consumption should be taken into account, but there are no homogeneous data available to do so. The general conclusions would not be significantly modified.

The relation between HDI and energy consumption per capita was derived on the basis of the model HDI = a + b (EN/H)1/3 . Using HDI data for 1992 and data on energy consumption per capita for 1991, the results were the following:

HDI = 0.999 - 2.551/(EN/H)1/3; R2 = 0.81

3 Albany, Gabon, Iran, Malaysia and Syria consumed approximately 1000 koe per capita in 1991. Belgium, Ireland, Oman, Poland, Rumania, and Venezuela consumed approximately 3,000 koe per capita in 1991. Canada, the United States, and Norway consumed approximately 9,000 koe per capita in 1991.

4 In this case, a semi logarithmic model was utilized. The results were the following:

HDI = -0.261 + 0.122 (EN/H)1/3 R2= 0.78

5 J. Goldemberg et al., "Basic Needs and Much More with One Kilowatt Per Capita," Ambio (1985), pp. 190-200.

6 C.E. Suz, "Human Development and Energy: A View from the Developing Countries," in Carlos Chagas and Umberto Colombo (eds.), Energy for Survival and Development (Study week of the Pontificiae Academiae Scientiarum, June 11-14, 1984), pp. 93-116. (Spanish version available, CIAS, Desarrollo Humano y Energ Un Enfoque Desde los Pas en V de Desarrollo, Vol. XXXIII, No. 334, July 1984, pp. 5-29).

7 United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report (1992, 1993, 1994 editions).

8 C.E. Suz, "Human Development and Energy."

9 C.E. Suz, "Presiones Demogrcas y UrbanizaciSus Efectos Sobre la Demanda y la Sustitucinergca," presented at the Seminar on Energy and Economic Development in the Third World, Quebec, October 24-26, 1990.

10 A.O. Herrera, Catastrophe or New Society: A Latin American World Model (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 1976). Versions available in Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Rumanian, and Spanish.

11 C.E. Suz, "Human Development and Energy."

12 C.E. Suz et al., La Energen el Mundo (Bariloche: IDEE/FB, 1994).

13 It should be noted that, in the case of Argentina, the decisions were made prior to the move toward privatization. In the case of Britain, from an environmental standpoint, the natural gas option was better than an equivalent coal plant.

14 "Les rltats de la rrme de l'industrie ctrique en Argentine", Graciela D de Hasson, in Revue de I'Energie, N° 465, janvier-fier 1995.

15 J.L. Coraggio, "Las Nuevas Polcas Sociales: El Papel de las Agendas Multilaterales," prepared for a workshop conducted by CEUR-UNBA, Buenos Aires, October 26-28, 1994; and F. Malimacci, "Estrategias de Lucha Contra la Pobreza y el Desempleo Estructural: Dise Gestie Polcas Sociales en un Marco de Globalizaciconomica e Integraciegional," October 26-28, 1994.

2. Energy as an Obstacle to Improved Living Standards


Poverty is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today. While growing pockets of poverty are visible even in the industrialized world, "the fundamental reality of developing countries is the poverty of the majority of human beings who live in them."2 Whether measured in terms of nutrition levels, health and education status, income and employment, or quality of shelter, a majority of people in the developing world exist at sub-standard levels, where the struggle for daily survival is unending. The chief characteristic of poverty is that basic human needs - food, shelter, health care, education, and livelihoods - remain unfulfilled.

It is tempting to associate poverty with inadequate energy consumption, but to simply correlate these two conditions obscures the fact that the poor use energy very inefficiently, primarily because the technologies available to them are abysmally inefficient.

The real determinant of poverty is the level of services that energy provides - heat for cooking and illumination, accessible water supply for personal and domestic needs, enhanced productivity of labor, etc. In the face of inadequate inanimate energy and of a lack of access to efficient technologies of energy use, the poor are forced to depend on their own labor, animal power, and biomass energy resources to meet their survival needs. Poverty and scarcity of energy services go hand in hand, and exist in a synergistic relationship.

Recognizing the importance of this relationship increases the range of options for addressing poverty; the goal must become not just increasing the magnitude of energy consumption, but also (and even more importantly) improving the efficiency of energy utilization. To reduce poverty and improve living standards, energy services must be dramatically augmented. This is the challenge, a challenge that is aggravated by growing populations already facing shortages of inanimate energy. Failure will contribute to perpetuating poverty, and success can lead to the achievement of equitable, ecologically sound and sustainable development.

Village Energy Consumption Patterns

The vast majority of the world's poor live in rural areas, mostly in villages. In order to understand how low levels of energy services become an obstacle to improving living standards, it is necessary to first examine the nature of energy consumption patterns at the village level.

Several studies have examined patterns of energy consumption in villages. One of the earliest was a study of six villages in the Ungra region of Tumkur District, Karnataka State, South India, carried out in the late 1970s.3

Table 2.1 - Pura Energy Source-Activity Matrix 1977 (×106 kcals/year)



























































Total energy = 928 × 106 kcal/year; = 1.079 × 106 Wht/year; = 2955 kWht/day; 8.28 kWht/day/capita

One of these villages was Pura, which, in September 1977, had a population of 357 in 56 households. It is 671 metres above sea level and had an average annual rainfall of 127 centimeters per year. It utilized energy for the following activities:4

· agricultural operations (with ragi and rice as the main crops),

· domestic activities (grazing livestock, cooking, gathering fuel-wood, and fetching water for domestic use, particularly drinking),

· lighting, and

· industry (pottery, flour mill, and coffee shop).

These activities were achieved with human beings, bullocks, fuelwood, kerosene, and electricity as direct sources of energy.

Table 2.1 is a matrix showing the relative importance of each of these sources for the various activities, as well as the relative importance of each of the activities.5. A ranking of energy sources (in order of percentage of annual requirement) shows that fuelwood provided by far the greatest amount of energy: 1) fuelwood, 89 per cent; 2) human energy, 7 per cent; 3) kerosene, 2 per cent; 4) bullock energy, 1 per cent; and 5) electricity, 1 per cent. A ranking of activities requiring energy shows that by far the greatest need was for domestic activities: 1) domestic activities, 91 per cent; 2) industry, 4 per cent; 3) agriculture, 3 per cent; and 4) lighting, 2 per cent.

Human energy and fuelwood were both used primarily for domestic activities. Bullock energy was used entirely for agriculture, including transport. Kerosene was used predominantly for lighting, and electricity mainly for agriculture (65 per cent) and lighting (28 per cent), with a small amount used for industry (7 per cent).

Several features of the patterns of energy consumption in Pura deserve highlighting:

· What is conventionally referred to as commercial energy (i.e., kerosene and electricity in the case of Pura) accounted for a mere 3 per cent of the inanimate energy used in the village, with the remaining 97 per cent coming from fuelwood.6 Further, fuelwood must be viewed as a non-commercial source, since only about 4 per cent of the total fuelwood requirement of Pura was purchased as a commodity, with the rest gathered at zero private cost.

· Animate sources (human beings and bullocks) only accounted for about 8 per cent of the total energy, but the real significance of this contribution is revealed by the fact that these animate sources represented 77 per cent of the energy used in Pura's agriculture. In fact, this percentage would have been much higher were it not for the operation of four electrical pumpsets in Pura, which accounted for 23 per cent of the total agricultural energy.

· Virtually all of Pura's energy consumption came from traditional renewable sources - thus, agriculture was largely based on human beings and bullocks, and domestic cooking utilized 19 per cent of the human energy and 80 per cent of the total inanimate energy (entirely fuelwood).7

· This pattern of dependence on renewable resources, although environmentally sound, was achieved at an exorbitant price: levels of agricultural productivity were low, and large amounts of human energy were spent on fuelwood gathering (on the average, about two to six hours spent travelling four to eight kilometres per day per family to collect about 10 kilograms fuelwood).

· Fetching water for domestic consumption also utilized a great deal of human energy (an average of one to five hours travelling up to six kilometers per day per household) to achieve an extremely low per capita water consumption of 17 liters per day

· Of the human energy for domestic activities, 46 per cent was spent on grazing livestock (5 to 8 hours/day/household), a crucial source of supplementary household income.

· Women provided the major part of human labour (53 per cent), especially in gathering fuel (42 per cent), fetching water (80 per cent), grazing livestock (15 per cent), and agriculture (44 per cent). Their labour contributions were vital to the survival of families, a point now well established in the global literature, but still neglected by planners and policy-makers.

· Similarly, children contributed a crucial share of the labour for gathering fuelwood (25 per cent), fetching water (14 per cent), and grazing livestock (33 per cent). The critical importance of children's labour contributions in poor households has significant implications for population and education policies and programmes - but again, largely ignored.

· Only 25 per cent of the houses in the "electrified" village of Pura had domestic connections for electric lighting; the remaining 75 per cent depended on kerosene lamps, and of these lamps, three quarters were open-wick type.

· A very small amount of electricity (30 kWh/day), flowed into Pura, and even this was distributed in a highly inegalitarian way - 65 per cent going to the four irrigation pumpsets of three landowners, 28 per cent to illuminate 14 out of 56 houses, and the remaining 7 per cent to a single flour-mill owner.

Table 2.2 shows the end-uses of human energy in Pura in 1977. Its inhabitants, particularly the women and children, suffered burdens that have been largely eliminated in urban settings utilizing inanimate energy. For example, gathering fuelwood and fetching water can be eliminated when cooking fuel and water are provided as public services.

Table 2.2 - End-Uses of Human Energy in Pura, 1977

Human Energy Expenditure

Human Activity


Hours/day/ Household

kcal/ year × 106

1. Domestic




1.1. Livestock grazing




1.2. Cooking




1.3. Fuelwood gathering




1.4. Fetching Water




2. Agriculture




3, Industry








Since the Pura study, many studies of rural energy consumption patterns have been conducted in developing countries.8 The specific numbers vary, depending upon region, agro-climatic zone, proximity to forests, availability of crop residues, prevalent cropping pattern, etc., but the broad features of Pura's energy consumption pattern outlined here were generally validated.

Poor Pay High Price for Low Levels of Energy Services

The poor pay a much higher price for their energy services than any other group in society The price can be measured in terms of time and labour, economics, health, and social inequity, particularly for women.


The return per unit of human time and labour invested in vital subsistence and productive activities is very low in the absence of other energy sources and/or labour-saving technologies. For example, a round trek of seven to ten kilometres, requiring about four to six hours of a woman's time, may yield only enough firewood for one day's cooking and heating needs in a household of four to five persons.9 An urban middle-class household, in contrast, may spend less than one tenth of the time and labour for the same result.

Studies also show a high correlation between land ownership and access to biomass for fuel and fodder. This traps the landless poor, especially poor women, in a subsistence level of living with low productivity; meeting basic needs for fuel, food, fodder, and water consumes enormous quantities of time and labour that cannot be diverted to more productive or life-enhancing activities.


The direct and indirect unit cost of the energy needed to fulfill basic needs is much higher for the poor than the relatively affluent. Not only is the cost of economic opportunities lost much higher, but the actual cost of energy used for a specific activity (e.g., cooking) is also much greater.10 In addition, there is the ecological price of the poor's forced dependence on inefficient biomass-based technologies (e.g., open cookstoves) in the absence of alternative energy sources.

Lack of available energy has economic costs not just at the individual and household level, but at the national level as well. Agriculture and industry are essential to economic growth in poor countries. Yet their development is dependent on energy supplies. Energy shortages also introduce biases in the distribution of available energy resources; politically powerful groups can influence decision-making about energy policies to advance their own interests at the cost of the majority. This hinders the economic advancement of the poor, which in turn affects the economic development of the country as a whole.


The serious gender and health implications of rural energy consumption patterns have been brought out in several studies.11 Among the most serious costs of energy scarcity for the poor are the range of health problems it causes; women and children are particularly affected, both directly and indirectly, by dependence on increasingly scarce biomass to meet daily subsistence needs.

Health Hazards of Biomass Cooking Fuels. The World Health Organization has estimated that "more than half the world's households cook daily with unprocessed solid fuels, i.e., biomass or coal."12 Moreover, evidence from around the world indicates that firewood, dung cakes, and other fuels release highly toxic emissions such as carbon monoxide, total suspended particulates (TSPs), and hydrocarbons.

These fuels are used primarily in traditional open cookstoves with a fuel efficiency of just 3 to 10 per cent,13 in poorly ventilated one- or two-room homes. Even where ventilation is relatively good (such as in thatch-roof homes), the emissions still have alarming health effects. For example, an early study in Gujarat state in western India found that fuels such as firewood, dung cakes, and crop wastes emit more TSP benzo-a-pyrene, carbon monoxide, and polycyclic organic pollutants than fossil fuels. The study showed that women are exposed to 700 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter (the level considered permissible is less than 75 micrograms); they inhale benzo-a-pyrene equivalent to 400 cigarettes per day.14 Moreover, women begin regular cooking around the age of 13, and, thus, are exposed to pollutants for a long time.

Similar studies - although few in number and not always focused specifically on health effects - have been conducted in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and China (where the focus has been on coal-burning stoves).

The health hazards of dependence on biomass for cooking are not limited to those arising from air pollution. Each part of the fuel cycle has health implications that can be serious. Table 2.3 shows potential health hazards arising from producing and processing fuel, collecting it, and actually cooking with it.

Health and Nutrition Effects of Energy Scarcity. In addition to the direct health effects of cooking with biomass, the growing scarcity of, and difficulty in obtaining, biomass also affects the health of the poor in indirect ways.

The scarcity and high time and labour cost involved in obtaining biomass may result in measures to economize on fuel consumption for cooking by: a) preparing fewer hot meals (this can lead to consumption of stale or leftover foods that maybe contaminated), b) undercooking (this can lead to health problems, particularly in the case of some pulses and oils that are toxic when undercooked), and c) switching to cereal staples that require less cooking, but may be less nutritious (for example, switching from wheat or other coarse grains to rice). There is no documented statistical evidence for any of these problems, but they have been widely observed by grassroots workers in many developing countries.15

The lack of alternatives to human energy for many survival tasks has significant impact on the health and nutritional status of poor women and girls, where these tasks are divided along gender lines. A benchmark study in the early 1980s based on the Pura Village energy data showed that the daily subsistence chores of cooking, fuel gathering, water fetching, and grazing lead to a higher calorie expenditure per day for women than for men. This is particularly true since these domestic tasks are perennial, while agricultural work (where men's contribution is higher than women's) is seasonal. However, women's greater energy output was not compensated by a proportionate intake of food; the ratio of food distribution between males and females within households was 2:1 in favor of males.16

Studies in other locations have corroborated the gender bias in access to food within families.17 Thus, women's lives regularly combine overwork and inadequate food. Surveys by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau in India have found that adult women's weights are well below par all over the country; while women stop gaining weight after age 16, men continue to gain weight until at least 25 years of age. Moreover, weight gain in pregnancy among rural women averages only four to six kilograms, compared with the desired norm of 10-12 kilograms.18

Table 2.3 - Health Effects of Biomass Fuel Use in Cooking


Potential Health Hazards


Processing/preparing dung cakes

Faecal/oral/enteric infections
Skin infections

Charcoal Production

CO/smoke poisoning
Bums/trauma Cataract


Gathering/carrying fuelwood

Reduced infant/child: care Bites from venomous reptiles/ insects
Allergic reactions
Fungus infections
Severe fatigue
Muscular pain/back pain/arthritis


Effects of smoke

Conjunctivitis, Blepharo conjunctivitis
Upper respiratory irritation/ inflammation
Acute respiratory infection (ARI)

Effects of toxic gases (CO)

Acute poisoning

Effects of chronic smoke inhalation

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis
Cor Pulmonale
Adverse reproductive outcomes
Cancer (lung)

Effects of Heat

Burns Cataract

Ergonomic effects of crouching over stove


Effects of location of stove (on floor)

Bums in infants/toddlers

Source: Based on data given in World Health Organization, Indoor Air Pollution from Biomass Fuel (1992), and own experience.

Energy scarcity, combined with the absence of labour-saving appropriate technology, poses yet another risk to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Once again, poor women are primarily affected. The burden of traditional rice cultivation methods, requiring long hours of planting, nearly doubled over, appears to contribute to complications in pregnancy. A 1982 study of some 30,000 people in western India showed a sharp increase in stillbirths, premature births, and neonatal mortality during the rice-planting months. The fact that no maternal deaths occurred was probably due to the presence of an effective nongovernmental community health care project in the area.19

The reduction in water consumption, particularly for personal hygiene, because of the time and labour costs involved in collecting water also has negative effects on women's health.

Lack of adequate water for bathing and washing is a major contributing factor to the high rate of genito-urinary and reproductive tract infections (RTIs) in poor women. In one study, 92 per cent of the women had RTIs, many of which had gone untreated for years.20 RTIs can be a significant contributing factor to female sterility, cervical cancer, and uterine prolapse; uterine prolapse is also related to excess load carrying (water, firewood, etc.).21

The health costs of the confluence of energy scarcity, the resultant dependence on biomass fuels and human energy to meet basic needs, and the gender division of labour are extensive. They include:

· widespread protein-calorie malnutrition;

· poor immunity and high risk of morbidity and mortality from infectious and communicable diseases;

· chronic anemia;

· higher maternal/female morbidity and mortality;

· poor reproductive outcomes, including low birth-weight infants with reduced chances of survival, and increased infant and child mortality;

· poor reproductive health status among women and girls;

· depletion of women's health from repeated childbearing, overwork, and inadequate food.

The burden of this syndrome is carried mainly by millions of poor women and girls, who are already the most socio-economically disadvantaged segment in most countries. Consequently, it has serious implications for the health and development status of entire nations. The quality of life for the majority of poor people cannot be improved without urgently addressing these problems, which arise directly and indirectly from unmet energy needs.


The need for social justice - including gender justice - is universally accepted.22 Eradicating discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, class, race, ethnicity, and nationality is a prerequisite for creating a just society. At the most fundamental level, justice requires meeting the basic human needs of all citizens and providing equal access to productive and subsistence resources.

Energy plays a key role in achieving these goals. Lack of fulfillment of basic needs (for food, water, fuel, shelter, health, and education) perpetuates the poor's - especially poor women's - social, economic, and political disadvantage and powerlessness. Nations must invest in improved energy systems to achieve social justice as well as economic growth.

Low levels of energy services are a serious obstacle to raising the social status of women and other oppressed groups. Dependence on human energy and primitive technologies for survival introduces a whole range of obstacles to social and gender equality:

· The poor in general, and poor women and girls in particular, are trapped in an unceasing cycle of work that condemns them to poor health, little or no education, and deprives them of equal participation in local development programs (e.g., literacy, credit, and income-generating activities), self-government bodies, and social or political movements. As a result, the country's human resource base is seriously underdeveloped. Improved energy services must be at the center of any strategy to mitigate the gender-, caste-, and class-based division of labour.

· Because education is an unaffordable luxury in poor families where children's labour is required for family survival, literacy levels remain low.

· Girls are often deprived of education altogether, or at least receive fewer years of schooling than boys.

· High rates of female illiteracy act as a barrier to new knowledge and ideas that may catalyze women to question their subordination and demand change, or help them to gain economic mobility.

· The demand for children's labour may be a factor perpetuating the need for large families. This may contribute to high birth rates that further deplete the health of poor women by keeping them trapped in the cycle of childbearing and rearing, thus further limiting their participation in change processes and development programs.


1 Srilatha Batliwala is Fellow, Women's Policy Research and Advocacy, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India.

2 J. Goldemberg, TB. Johansson, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, Energy for a Sustainable World (New Delhi: Wiley Eastern Ltd., 1988), p.28.

3 Centre for the Application of Science and Technology to Rural Areas (ASTRA), "Rural Energy Consumption Patterns: A Field Study," Biomass, Vol. 2, No. 4 (September 1982), pp. 255-80; N.H. Ravindranath, H.I. Somasekhar, R. Ramesh, Amala Reddy, K. Venkatram, and A.K.N. Reddy, "The Design of a Rural Energy Centre for Pura Village, Part I: Its Present Pattern of Energy Consumption," Employment Expansion in Indian Agriculture (Bangkok: International Labour Office, 1979), pp. 171-87.

4 Transport has been included in agriculture because the only-vehicles in Pura are bullock carts, which are used almost solely for agriculture-related activities such as carrying manure from backyard compost pits to the farms and produce from farms to households.

5 J. Goldemberg et al., Energy for a Sustainable World, Box 3.4, pp. 214-16.

6 Pura uses about 217 tons of firewood per year, i.e., about 0.6 tons/day for the village, or 0.6 tons/year/capita.

7 Unlike some rural areas of India, dung cakes are not used as cooking fuel in the Pura region. In situations where agro-wastes (e.g., coconut husk) are not abundant, it appears that, if firewood is available within some convenient range (determined by the capacity of head-load transportation), dung-cakes are never burnt as fuel; instead, dung is used as manure.

8 A. Barnett, M. Bell, and K. Hoffman, Rural Energy and the Third World (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1982); S.R. Nkonoki and B. Sorensen, "A Rural Energy Study in Tanzania: The Case of Bundilya Village," Natural Resources Forum 8 (1984), pp. 51-62; K.R. Smith, "Biomass, Combustion, and Indoor Air Pollution: The Bright and Dark Sides of Small Is Beautiful," Environmental Management 10 (1986), pp. 61-74.

9 ASTRA, "Rural Energy Consumption Patterns"; International Labour Organization (ILO), Energy and Rural Women's Work: Memorandum for Implementation (Geneva: ILO, 1981); S. Lund Skar et al., Fuel Availability, Nutrition, and Women's Work in Highland Peru, Working Paper (Geneva: ILO, 1982); and M. Sarin and U. Winblad, Cookstoves in India: A Project Report (Sweden, Winblad, and Chandigarh, Sarin, 1989).

10 Anil Agarwal, "Firewood: Fuel of the Rich?" in Earthscan Bulletin (July 1982).

11 Srilatha Batliwala, "Rural Energy Scarcity and Nutrition: A New Perspective," Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XVII, No. 9, February 27,1982; Srilatha Batliwala, "Rural Energy Situation: Consequences for Women's Health," Socialist Health Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (September 1984), pp. 75; Bina Aggarwal, Cold Hearths and Barren Slopes: The Woodfuel Crisis in the Third World (New Delhi: Allied Publishers Ltd., and London: Zed Books, 1986); and Srilatha Batliwala, "Women's Access to Food," The Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XLVIII, No. 3 (October 1987), pp. 255-71.

12 Indoor Air Pollution from Biomass Fuel, Report of a World Health Organization Consultation (Geneva: WHO, 1992).

13 Howard Geller, Rural Indian Cookstoves: Fuel Efficiency and Energy Losses (Bangalore: ASTRA, 1980).

14 "Stoves Pose Health Hazard for Women," Indian Express (Bombay), March 18, 1983; and K.R. Smith, "Health Effects in Developing Countries," in J. Pasztor and L.A. Kristoferson (eds.), Bioenergy and the Environment (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991).

15 S. Batliwala, "Women and Cooking Energy," Economic and Political Weekly (1983).

16 S. Batliwala, "Rural Energy Scarcity and Nutrition."

17 Sarah Lund-Skar, et al., Fuel Availability, Nutrition, and Women's Work in Highland Peru; Development Forum (December 1982), p. 6; Amartya San and Sunil Sengupta, "Malnutrition of Rural Children and the Sex Bias," Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XVIII, Nos. 19-21 (May 1983); Veena Shatrughna, Women and Health, Current Information Series, No. 2 (Bombay: SNDT Women's University, 1986), p. 40; and S. Batliwala, "Women's Access to Food," Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XLVIII, No. 3 (October 1987), p. 260.

18 Veena Shatrughna, Women and Health, Current Information Series, No. 2 (Bombay: SNDT Women's University, 1986).

19 S. Batliwala, A Study of the Morbidity and Mortality Pattern in the Mandwa Project Area in 1982 (Bombay: Foundation for Research in Community Health, 1983); and S. Batliwala, "Fields of Rice: Health Hazards for Women and Unborn Children," Manushi, No. 46 (1988), pp. 31-35.

20 Rani A. Bang, et al., "High Prevalence of Gynaecological Diseases," The Lancet, January 14, 1989; and Shireen Jeejeebhoy, "Population, Health, and Women in India: Agenda for a National Strategy" (unpublished monograph, 1994).

21 Shramshakti, Report of the National Commission on Self-Employed Women and Women in the Informal Sector (New Delhi: Government of India, 1988).

22 More than 150 U.N. member states have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

3. Energy's Role in Deforestation and Land Degradation


In developing countries, firewood is the major source of cooking and heating fuel for most rural communities and for the majority of urban dwellers. In the developing world as a whole, about 2 billion people rely solely on fuelwood as their energy source for heating and cooking.2 Traditional fuels, mostly firewood, supply about 52 per cent of all energy required in sub-Saharan Africa.3 In the Sahel region, fuelwood contributes even more significantly to the overall energy needs of households; in some countries, providing up to 90 per cent of domestic fuel requirements. In The Gambia in 1992, total energy consumption was estimated at 262,710 tons of oil equivalent (toe), of which 61 per cent was from traditional energy sources. Total energy consumption in Burkina Faso was estimated at 1.7 million toe, of which 91 per cent was from traditional energy sources; in Niger, it was estimated at 1.1 million toe, of which over 80 per cent was from traditional energy sources; and in Mali, 1.8 million toe, of which 1,627,400 was from traditional energy sources.4

These figures demonstrate the critical importance of fuelwood in meeting energy requirements in these countries. In general, the situation is similar in most other parts of sub-Saharan Africa and some pans of Southeast Asia. Indeed, as economic growth becomes sluggish, revenues continue to decline, and the problems related to conventional energy use continue to increase, fuelwood consumption throughout Africa is increasing. In addition, rapid population growth and urbanization create even more demand for energy in its cheapest and most accessible form, that is, fuelwood. This demand puts pressure on biomass resources and arable land in an already deteriorating environment. This pressure, in turn, tends to jeopardize economic growth and put at risk the poorest and most vulnerable groups of the population, mostly women and children.

In the Sahel, energy plays a critical role in the interrelationship among environment, development, and population. The Sahel exemplifies the vicious cycle that begins with the use of fuelwood used for energy in an inefficient and unsustainable manner. Between 1980 and 1987, a significant number of countries in the Sahel experienced economic decline; these are the same countries that have experienced cyclical droughts for the past two decades. Moreover, these countries have naturally poor soils to begin with, and have experienced repeated pest invasions and resulting agricultural losses. These problems in turn contribute to rapid urbanization, as rural populations migrate to urban areas. The rapidly growing urban centers then consume even more fuelwood than the rural areas.

It is estimated that by 2005, some 35 per cent of the people living in the Sahel will reside in urban areas.5 In the developing world in general, it is estimated that by the year 2025, 4 billion people will be classified as urban.6 This corresponds to the total world population in 1975. Thus, it is imperative that in these countries, appropriate energy policies be adapted if environmental disaster and all its ensuing consequences, both economic and social, are to be averted.

Energy as a Contributing Factor to Deforestation and Land Degradation

It is estimated that within the next three decades, the world population will increase by nearly two thirds, from 5.5 billion to 8.5 billion, of whom 7.1 billion will live in developing countries, mostly in urban areas.7 This large population increase will correspondingly result in more pressure on limited and already degraded natural resources, especially in developing countries. The demand for energy will undoubtedly increase, and this will mostly be met through the felling of more trees for fuelwood and for charcoal production. The expansion of agricultural activities is generally considered to be the dominating cause of deforestation and land degradation, with the supply of fuelwood contributing to a different degree in different parts of the world, e.g., in Northern China, it may account for 30 per cent of the land clearing.8 (Editor's Note: see chapter 5, and particularly note 16 for additional references to this subject.)

Already, in many developing countries, the demand for fuel-wood is far greater than the supply. In many areas of western and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, fuelwood consumption is running 30 to 200 per cent ahead of the average increase in the stock of trees. Along with the clearing of land for agriculture, this phenomenon is dramatically reducing forest lands. Between 1980 and 1990, tropical forests declined about 0.8 per cent per year, or 15.4 million hectares annually.9

In 1977, the use of wood as fuel accounted for about 47 per cent of world wood consumption (1,184 million cubic meters out of some 2,500 cubic meters). In developed countries, fuelwood accounted for about one tenth of total roundwood use (refers to any wood felled or harvested from trees regardless of its use); in developing countries, it accounted for four fifths.10 This is evidence of the significance of fuelwood in the deforestation process in these countries. The importance of wood as a primary energy source varied widely among various world regions, with most fuelwood consumption taking place in developing countries.

Today, developing countries consume even more wood and wood products, primarily as fuelwood and charcoal, and clear more forestland. In Mali, in West Africa, wood consumption is estimated at 5 million tons per year, representing an annual deforestation rate of nearly 400,000 hectares.11

The problem is further exacerbated by the rapid urbanization in most of these countries and the need to meet the energy requirements of expanding cities. With the irregular and mostly inefficient conventional supply system, the predominantly urban poor turn to fuelwood or charcoal as their main source of energy for both domestic and industrial use. It is estimated that 48 per cent of the land that was cleared between 1988 and 1993 in Burkina Faso was to satisfy the charcoal demands of Ouagadougou; only 7 per cent was attributed to wood.11 India has also witnessed an increased demand for fuelwood in urban centers in the last fifteen years. In Brazil, charcoal is also a main source of industrial fuel.

Currently, industrialized countries consume more energy than developing countries. However, it is estimated that in the next century, developing countries will become the largest consumers of energy. For example, China is the third largest consumer of energy in the world. Approximately 80 per cent of the energy requirement in rural China is met from traditional biomass fuels such as fuelwood and straw. It should be noted that two thirds of the population of China are in the rural areas. China consumes more of these fuels than any other country, about 500 million tons annually This rate is not sustainable even in the very short term, especially as firewood consumption is more than twice the sustainable harvest.13 In India, wood is also the main source of energy for the rural population. If the forests are harvested in a sustainable manner, they can provide up to 41 million cubic metres of fuelwood per year. Yet the current annual demand has been estimated at 240 million cubic meters. The difference in the supply and demand dynamics is indeed alarming.14

Forest cover in industrialized countries showed a slight increase in the decade 1981-1990. In some European countries (for example, Finland), the deforestation rate was zero during this period.15 In the tropics, however, annual deforestation rates were 0.8 per cent, with rates in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Pacific region higher still. It is estimated that global loss of above-ground biomass from deforestation was 2.5 gigatons annually during the period.16 The loss of above-ground biomass results in soil degradation, creating serious additional environmental, economic, and social consequences. In Africa, for example, the soil of some 320 million hectares is moderately or seriously degraded.17

Environmental Impacts

The environmental consequences of deforestation and land degradation are severe. They include ecological instability, loss of agricultural production, desertification, climate change, and loss of biodiversity.


Firewood is generally obtained from local sources, and this exerts growing pressure on the trees, bushes, and shrubs near inhabited areas. Long before the extraction of firewood from the forest leads to complete destruction of the tree cover, it can cause serious environmental degradation. Excessive pruning of the branches may reduce a tree's capacity to grow; removing the more easily felled younger trees may reduce the regenerative capacity of the forest; removing too many trees, and thus, opening the forest's canopy, may make the forest susceptible to wind and sun, cause erosion, affect wildlife, and reduce biodiversity; removing all residues also removes the nutrients that should return to the soil and which maintain fertility; and removing stumps, bushes, and shrubs can destroy the soil's remaining protective cover and binding structure.

Eventually, in the developing countries, the whole forest maybe felled and disappear. Until the 1940s, forests had completely disappeared in most of China because the trees had been felled to be used as fuel. In recent years, however, there has been a reversal in this trend, and vast areas have been successfully reforested. (Editors Note: See chapter 7)

Deforestation leads to losses of top soil and nutrients, mostly through wind and water erosion. This subsequent decline in soil fertility in turn results in loss of agricultural production and degraded pastures. It also causes siltation in waterways, as well as salinization and acidification of soils. The net effect is an unstable ecosystem that cannot support a sustainable livelihood system for either humans or animals. Charcoal production has similar environmental effects as firewood, from which most charcoal is obtained.


Forests are being cut down faster than they can grow, partly to make room for new farmland and partly to harvest trees as fuel. As a result, erosion destroys upland areas, and the resulting sediments fill reservoirs. Downstream flooding destroys cultivable soil and food crops.

In the Sahel, land degradation is the single most important factor preventing sustainable crop production. The combination of land degradation, drought, and desiccation (the process of land becoming more arid as a result of decades of dry spell), poses nearly insurmountable problems, including loss of top soil and/or loss of soil fertility, and declines in productivity.


Desertification results from a series of environmental problems that render the land unfit to support human or animal life. Firewood consumption is a significant contributing factor. Desertification is usually accompanied by dessication and drought, and has serious economic and social consequences. It contributes significantly to climate change by increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Once again, the Sahel is the preeminent example.


The clearing of forests and the burning of firewood add to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Recently, it has become clear that the amount of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere from forest cutting and burning and from certain soil management practices is approximately one third the amount generated by fossil fuels (estimated at 6 × 1015 g c/y); of this amount, forest clearing in developing countries accounts for 1.6 × 1015 g c/y18

The direct combustion of firewood created emissions consisting mainly of particulate, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide. Relatively few data are available on the quantity of emissions from burning wood in wood stoves, although data have long been available on emissions from industrial boilers burning wood residuals. More understanding is needed of the potential impact of emissions from wood stoves. (Editor's Note: See chapter 5 for a comprehensive review of studies on emissions from wood stoves from all parts of the world).


Deforestation and land degradation also contribute significantly to the loss of biodiversity. If current trends continue unchecked, human activities such as firewood collection may soon have irreversible impacts. These impacts include species loss, habitat loss, declines in the variety of genes within a species, and overall declines in the number of species. These losses will affect the production of pharmaceuticals and medicines, biotechnology, and food security, among other things.

Social Impacts

In 1981, the Food and Agriculture Organization showed that of the 2,000 million people, who depended on wood for fuel, 96 million were already unable to satisfy their minimum energy needs for cooking and heating. An additional 1,052 million people were in a "deficit situation" and could meet their needs only by depleting wood reserves. Out of this total of 1,148 million people, more than 64 per cent lived in Asia.19 Shortages were most acute in the arid regions of Africa, the mountainous areas of Asia (particularly the Himalayas), and the Andean plateau in Latin America. Overall, an additional 400 million cubic meters of fuelwood per year was needed to make good the deficit.

The situation has been growing rapidly worse since then. According to FAO, projections for the year 2000 suggest that, unless there is immediate action, 2,400 million people either will be unable to obtain their minimum energy requirements or will be forced to consume wood faster than it is being grown. By then, the world fuelwood deficit will reach 960 million cubic meters per year - the energy equivalent of 240 million tons of oil. If the fuelwood deficit had to be met by increased oil consumption, the cost would be - even at the low price of $30 per barrel for crude oil - about $ 50,000 million per year.20

Obviously, the fuelwood deficit will not be met in this way. The cost is too high and the developing countries - most of which are net oil importers - cannot afford the foreign exchange that would be needed. In practice, the cost of the fuelwood crisis must be measured, less accurately but more painfully, in terms of human suffering.

Table 3.1 - Time Spent Gathering Fuel, Early 1980s


Average Hours per Day

Explanation of Work

Southern India (6 villages)


Women contribute 0.7 hours; children contribute 0.5

Guajarat, India


In family of 5,1 member often spends all his/her time on it



Often 1 adult and 1-2 children do fuelwood collection



Traditional women's work



Often is carried about 45km



Women sometimes walk 25 km



Women do 75 per cent of fuel gathering



1 full day's search provides wood for 3 days



Women gather and cut wood

Source: World Resources Institute, World Resources Report 1994-95, p.47 (New York: Oxford University Press).


Environmental destruction and degradation in developing countries inevitably increase rural women's workload. Because they are responsible for heating the home and cooking the food, women and their children are the first to suffer.

Deforestation makes it more difficult and more time consuming for rural women to collect fuelwood and other forest products; carrying loads of up to 35 kilograms, they are forced to travel ever longer distances to collect the bare minimum of wood needed for survival, sometimes up to 10 kilometres (see Table 3.1).

Urban dwellers, too, must rely on supplies that come from farther and farther away. In India, in the city of Hyderabad, fuelwood is transported from 50 to 280 kilometers away; in Bangalore, it is transported from about 40, and sometimes up to 700 kilometers, away. During the past decade, families in Kunzono, Zaire, required one to two sacks of charcoal per month to meet their basic needs. At a cost of about $300 per ton, a single sack cost the equivalent of one third of a worker's monthly wage. In the poorest parts of the Andean Sierra and in the Sahel, as much as 25 per cent of all household income must be spent on fuelwood and charcoal; in some East African households, this figure is as high as 40 per cent.22

Two decades ago, it took no more than two hours to gather firewood and fodder in the foothills of the Himalayas; now it takes a full day of walking through mountainous terrain. Over a ten-year period, the time it took to collect fuelwood in the Sudan increased more than fourfold. In rural Bangladesh, women spend three to five hours per day searching for fuelwood.

In some countries (for example, Bangladesh), when fuelwood is not available, women shift to alternative and sometimes inferior fuel, for instance, animal dung and crop residue. These fuels not only take longer to burn, they also produce hazardous fumes. The use of dung also deprives the soil of nutrients needed for agricultural production. Lack of fuelwood sometimes forces women to reduce the number of hot meals their families receive.

Like fuelwood gathering, water collection is also becoming more difficult as land degradation spreads and water sources are depleted. Women may spend up to four hours per day collecting water for the home and the farm, often carrying 20 kilograms or more in containers on their backs, shoulders, or heads.

The loss of production due to land degradation also means that women have to work harder to increase their yields. About half the world's food is grown by women; in Africa, 95 per cent of the work of feeding and caring for their family, including food production, is done by women. Two thirds of women workers in developing countries are in the agriculture sector. In many places, women are also primarily responsible for animal husbandry, i.e., caring for livestock and poultry and collecting fodder.

Women's agricultural work gives them valuable knowledge about local ecosystems, including soil features, multiple uses of crops, and health care for small livestock. Their experience is vital in maintaining crop diversity; in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, women cultivate or collect more than 160 different species of plants on fragments of land scattered among men's crops and surrounding communities.

For centuries, women have managed forests and used forest products, collecting fuel, fodder, and food from trees and other plants. They regard forests, like agricultural products, as multi-functional and use them in various ways to meet basic family needs.

In many developing countries, not just women, but also girls, are involved in traditional chores. In Africa, India, and other parts of South Asia, young girls may spend all day collecting wood and water, doing domestic work, and farming. They begin at an early age, and thus, have little or no opportunity to get an education.


Using fuelwood to cook has negative consequences for women's health, particularly when the stoves are inefficient. Because of the confined spaces and poor ventilation, women inhale smoke, including toxic gases; the smoke also causes eye irritation, and respiratory diseases and the extreme heat has negative effects on skin. (Editor's Note: See chapters 2 and 5 for a detailed discussion of these effects.)

The lack of adequate fuel also causes serious health and nutrition problems, whether the lack is caused by distance or cost. The principal food crops in developing countries almost all require cooking to be palatable or even fully digestible. If cooking is reduced because of lack of fuel, protein intake is often reduced as well. In many areas, families now can only eat one cooked meal per day (instead of two) simply because they lack fuel. Agricultural practices are changing because vegetables that can be eaten raw are now chosen over other, more nutritious foods that need cooking.

The effects of fuelwood shortages extend far beyond the individual family, producing a chain of reactions affecting the nature of rural society, its agricultural base, and the stability of its environment. As fuelwood becomes scarcer, substitutes such as straw, dried dung, rice husks, and even plant roots are utilized. Whether these materials were previously used to feed animals or to restore nutrients to the soil, there is a major loss to the food production system. The land becomes impoverished, and there is a loss of nutritious food needed; women and children often lose out because of social customs that put them last in line for food. Malnutrition can result.


Land degradation often creates pressures to migrate, either to other countries or to urban areas within their own countries. When the situation is particularly severe, especially when it is accompanied by an extended period of drought, the result may be the displacement of a large number of people, now often called "environmental refugees." The term first came into use during the 1984 drought and famine in the Sudano-Sahelian countries, when 35 million people were displaced, crowding into cities like Khartoum or making their way to relief camps in Ethiopia and the Sudan. Sometimes, whole villages had to be resettled. The consequences of environmental breakdown reverberate through society in decreased birth rates among displaced populations, higher infant mortality rates, and a great deal of personal distress.23


It is now evident that an adequate and efficient supply of energy is fundamental to sustainable development and economic growth in the developing countries. It is also becoming increasingly evident that the energy needs of the developing countries cannot be met from conventional sources, due to the prohibitive costs involved and the lack of the requisite financial resources in these countries. This, therefore, means that ways and means have to be explored of ensuring the sustainable use of fuelwood, complemented by the use of other types of renewable energy and the adoption of energy-efficient technologies.

Sustainable fuelwood use can be achieved through the creation of woodlots and the increased productivity of natural forest through proper management. For example, in the Sudano-Sahelian region of Ghana, where the population growth rate is about 3-3.5 per cent per year, the demand for land for agriculture and for fuelwood resulted in excessive tree felling, declining land productivity, and increased siltation of dams. Despite indiscriminate tree-felling, there were still fuelwood shortages. In 1988, the Government of Ghana, with external assistance, started a major agro-forestry project. Free tree seedlings were provided for 19 groups of women farmers, who were encouraged to plant these seedlings in woodlots, alley cropping orchards on farms and along stream boundaries. Thousands of trees have been planted by the 3,400 women who participated in the project.24 The project has had the net effect of improving soil fertility, and will enhance production and reduce the need for fertilizers. In addition, when the wood-lots mature, they will reduce the burden on women in terms of the time they spend gathering fuelwood. Women will also have more money because of what they are not spending on fuelwood, which could be used to enhance the quality of their lives. Thus, through the sustainable management of fuelwood resources, not only are the women provided with an easily available resource, but their quality of life is also enhanced and the quality of the environment is improved.

New developments in technology also facilitate the transition to more efficient energy, and ensure a better demand for management while enhancing the quality of life for women. In Senegal, improved kilns for charcoal production, which required a relatively small investment, increased the carbonization yield by at least 20 per cent.25 This has the effect of reducing the amount of trees needed for charcoal production, thus, reducing the pressure on the resource base.

In China, two thirds of the total rural population today use stoves that are at least 30 per cent more efficient than older stoves.26 In addition to reducing the demand for fuelwood, such stoves have the beneficial effect of reducing the health hazards to women of smoke inhalation. There is also evidence that devices such as fish-smoking ovens also save considerable time and labour for women. The savings in time can result in more time being spent in leisure activities or other income-generating activities. This usually results in an improvement in women's well-being, and in the care and feeding of their families. (Editor's Note: See chapter 7 for a discussion of China's stove program.)

In most developing countries, there is the need to create a conducive policy environment to ensure conservation of energy and better demand management. Current energy policies do not provide any incentive for conservation in that energy prices are mostly subsidized. There is a need to allow market forces to determine the prices for energy (including fuelwood and charcoal), for it is only when these commodities are valued at their real market prices that action aimed at curbing demand will be taken by consumers. In addition, there is the need to look at incentives to encourage such practices. This has been adequately demonstrated in the developed world. For instance, in the United States, demand management techniques are used in the utility sector, including regulatory provisions that reward the companies for investing in energy efficiency. Energy tax policies have also successfully curtailed demand for gasoline in Europe. Such deliberate policies are instrumental in restricting demand or promoting the use of more sustainable supply sources.

In the past, it was generally believed that economic growth and development resulted in a transition from traditional to conventional means of energy. We now know that this is a myth. Furthermore, we are also now more aware of the environmental consequences of conventional energy which, in turn, have social and economic impacts. Given the massive financial investments required in terms of assuring a reliable energy supply using conventional means, and the current economic situation in most developing countries, it is clear that their energy problems will not be solved through the use of conventional energy.

Yet we know that energy services for domestic and industrial purposes are a fundamental prerequisite for development. Developing countries possess the type of resources that, if adequately harnessed, will supply the energy requirements of these countries in a sustainable manner. Through the sustainable use of such resources, improvements can also be made in the quality of life of women and children, while enhancing the quality of the environment. The energy sector represents a significant economic activity and source of employment in most developing countries. Improvement in this sector will, therefore, impact positively on their economies. Thus, developing countries need to embrace comprehensive energy policies that reform the current situation in that the economic, social, and environmental gains are tremendous and will go a long way toward improving the quality of life of the present and future generations.


1 Ndey-Isatou NJie is Executive Director, National Environment Agency, The Gambia.

2 World Resources Institute, World Resources Report, 1994-95 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 33.

3 World Resources Institute, Work? Resources, 1994-95, p. 10.

4 World Bank, Africa Technical Department, Review of Policies, Strategies, and Programmes in the Traditional Energy Sector, Proceedings of Workshop 11, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, February 21-25, 1994 (Working-level translation from French), pp. 28, 48, and 77.

5 World Bank, Africa Technical Department, Review of Policies, Strategies and Programmes in the Traditional Energy Sector, Proceedings of Workshop 1, Bamako, Mali, May 10-12, 1993 (Working-level translation from French, June 1993), p. 23.

6 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 31.

7 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 27.

8 International Centre for Education and Research on Desertification Control ("Desertification and Rehabilitation in China," Lanzhou, 1988).

9 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 130.

10 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), The Environmental Impacts of Production and Use of Energy: Part III - Renewable Sources of Energy, Energy Report Series (Nairobi: UNEP, 1980), p. 85.

11 World Bank, Review of Policies, Strategies, and Programmes (1994), p. 60.

12 World Bank, Review of Policies, Strategies, and Programmes (1994), p. 36.

13 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 67.

14 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 89.

15 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 307.

16 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, pp. 130-31.

17 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 34.

18 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change: The IPCC Scientific Assessment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

19 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Map of the Fuelwood Situation in Developing Countries (Rome: FAO, 1981), p. 3.

20 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Wood for Energy, Forestry Topics No. 1 (Rome: FAO, 1984), p. 3.

21 Data in this section largely from World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, pp. 43-57.

22 FAO, Wood for Energy, p. 5.

23 Assessment of Desertification and Drought in the Sudano-Sahelian Region (New York: UNDO, 1991), p. 54.

24 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 55.

25 World Bank, Review of Policies, Strategies, and Programmes (1994), p. 103.

26 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95, p. 69.

4. Energy Needs for Sustainable Human Development from an Anthropological Perspective


The anthropological approach to energy needs for sustainable human development contains two important elements: the historical and the cultural. The historical aspect allows us to examine the present in the long time frame of human evolution, and survival by analyzing both the social organization and the material remains of societies. The cultural aspect takes us out of the immediate moment and lets us question the unexamined assumptions of the "modern" period that is now promoted by development schemes everywhere. Recognition of the cultural, of the place of ideas, strengthens our ability to recognize that corporate cultures, whether of the state or of industries, regularly superimpose their own blueprints on more local cultures everywhere. Much can be learned, particularly about who the primary actors are, from examining the past.

Until recently, the capacity of the human species to change the globe in irreversible ways was limited. Similarly, decisions affecting individual and group survival were probably shared for most of human existence. We evolved and survived as hunters and gatherers for 1.5 million years, during which people regularly made decisions about potentially life-threatening situations. The period of time between decision and consequence was relatively short. Humans act intelligently in the face of dangers if they have the cultural information necessary to understand situations such as environmental limitations and opportunities. When societies made disastrous environmental decisions in the past, the scale of destruction was relatively small.

The recent human situation is in stark contrast to most of human history. At the end of the twentieth century, the development movement to economic global centralization has accelerated standardization of problems, definitions, and solutions at breakneck speed by means of human technology. Development is not a benign process. This worldwide tendency to central control, irrespective of political forms that government or ethnic movements take, is related to a dominant military-industrial system spread by governments and multinational corporate structures. Nations, regions, and migrations are all coloured by the diffusionist modus operandi of these now oligarchical corporate structures; their unilateral assessments of risk are imposed on vast populations. Perhaps, the most ubiquitous inequity has been the inability of those who will be directly affected by technologies to inform themselves of what is going on, and to organize politically around universally shared inequities that affect life processes.

What is needed today is a frame of reference for understanding the future that reaches deep into the human past.

Modern cultures do not provide people with the necessary cultural knowledge to routinely participate in choosing technologies. Over the past fifty years, individual and group self-reliance has decreased dramatically worldwide. Wage labour and specialization is now the overwhelming pattern, and dependence on large-scale institutions the theme. Often, when subsistence farmers turn to cash cropping, their children turn to work in factories. With increased dependence has come increased regional planning, increased reliance on experts, and an increasingly disunited society with different segments operating as strangers to one another. The future will not be an extrapolation of the past because there has been a qualitative transformation of the human world. Sustainability seems threatened because a species, unprepared to deal with events unrelated to first-hand experience, will be sleep-walking.

Social philosophers have reminded us that "from late neolithic times in the Near East, right down to our own day, two technologies have recurrently existed side by side: one authoritarian, the other democratic; the first system-centered, immensely powerful, but inherently unstable, the other man-centered, relatively weak, but resourceful and durable."2 Along the same lines, Amory Lovins uses the "hard-soft" analogy for energy paths that are either authoritarian or democratic.3

The dominant thinking - that large-scale, system-centered complex technologies are more likely to spread the good life - is increasingly being questioned.4 Some philosophers argue for a better understanding of "limits," while others take a more pragmatic conserver approach to the reality of limits, encouraging us "to do more with less."5

This essay is about innocence and ignorance, about problems and solutions, about nature and culture. It is about powerful barriers to thinking about sustainable energy as an instrument of social change. Rooted in the belief that "more is more" lies a system, an ideology, an expertise that needs to be continually subjected to critical thought in order to stimulate practical innovation and creativity. Too often, those who well realize that, given our present way of doing things, there is not enough wealth, resources, or material goods for global use, are prevented from acting on what they know by their mindsets and institutional affiliations.

People's daily interactions with technology are decided for them by a small group of planners. The effects of industrial-country production and use of energy are felt both in their own countries and the rest of the world: coal miners suffer from lung disease, acid rain damages lakes and forests; nuclear waste contaminates groundwater; cities are shrouded in smog.

The Last Twenty Years: Questioning Assumptions

During the 1970s, broad-based energy research examined unquestioned assumptions held by the majority of energy specialists; this research revealed options previously deemed unacceptable as solutions to a growing energy crisis in the United States, a world leader in energy consumption.6 Action around these research results promoted "appropriate technology," a conceptually impoverished, but nevertheless useful, term. High energy productivity was combined with conservation, thus, removing inefficiency and waste in the U.S. energy expenditure system; amenities, instead of being reduced, were enhanced. We now have automobiles that run more miles per gallon of gas, and refrigerators that use less energy without reduced function. Furthermore, research indicated that there are many possibilities for a high technology society to use low energy expenditure.

Such changes in resource use - toward high technology with low energy expenditure - were not thought to be punitive or to lead to reduced amenities. On the contrary, the realization that conservation is essential stimulated a whole range of innovative technologies and diverse products and services. This creativity is related to an openly diverse and flexible atmosphere. Today, conservation technologies are utilized even in mundane areas. For example, lightbulbs, which have long been produced in energy-wasteful ways, have been greatly improved; efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) consume only one fourth the energy of common incandescent lamps. However, CFLs are almost unknown in Third World countries. The improved lightbulbs have the additional advantage that they could make dangerous, Chernobyl-class reactors a thing of the past.7

Only when we understand how systems-centered approaches work can we explain why powerful nation-states and corporate entities tend to be conservative and intellectually counter-revolutionary. This attitude transcends national boundaries and, along with seemingly innocuous technologies like nuclear power, glosses over pragmatic solutions.8

It is important to note that the behavioural and technological changes that lead to energy savings do not restrict growth in production of goods and services. By "decoupling" concepts such as high energy expenditure and quality of life, energy researchers have been able to discover a broader range of options than had previously been considered. They have documented improvements in quality of life with decreases in energy expenditures. The economists who linked, or coupled, economic growth and energy consumption were wrong; the futures they predicted were way off-base. It is possible to have economic growth with reduced energy consumption.

The greatest energy revolution of the last twenty years is conservation. In practice, this means that conservers (the sectors and people who practice conservation) retain approximately the same comfort levels in space heating and cooling, and in water heating. The goods and services are merely delivered and used more efficiently. Transportation sources are used more effectively and alternative fuels such as ethanol, methane, and methanol, although not without problems, are used. In the industrial and commercial sectors, savings per energy unit result from use of conservation technologies, not from production cutbacks.

Significant conservation of energy can be achieved by mechanisms ranging from economic policy to regulations, education, market signals, research, and development. With a conservation approach, the trend toward tightly meshed technological systems is reversed by increasing the use of diverse systems that can survive even if component parts are damaged. Culturally, sustainability is supported by an increase in the potential of self-reliance and a decrease in dependency. Attitudes change - towards transportation, throw-away products, the form of cities and space use, work organization, personal status - aspects not always discussed in connection with energy practices. New technologies are explored.

Anthropologists first defined the energy problem as social and cultural rather than technological. This approach forces a recognition of the roles that values play in planning sustainable futures. Only then can behaviour at international conferences change, with more attention given to exchanging experiences than to posturing. For example, Asian and European cities planned prior to the invention of the automobile, as well as Latin American cities, provide models of convenient public transportation that relegate the automobile to just one transportation option. Many peoples can learn from examples of citizen-activism as an input to central planning, such as the conservation movement in the United States. Brazil can teach us about the problems of producing alternative fuels like ethanol. Russia provides a dismal example of an undiversified energy policy dependent on nuclear power. The so-called developing world provides lessons in conservation and appetite limits. We have more solutions than we are using, partly because the military-industrial hierarchy of values stymies the application of the best solutions.

The question of flexibility, so key to sustainability, is bound up with professionalism and expertise - the identity of professionals is tied up with delimiting research problems and standardizing solutions. However, critical thinkers and energy experts are now scrutinizing central values and core concepts, including questioning fundamental ways of "doing science."

Energy research needs to be based on the science of totalities, not on isolated phenomena or isolated technologies. Decisions about nuclear energy, for example, cannot be made independently of the complete set of alternatives and their consequences. Many professionals realize this, but others resist the approach of looking at the total picture because that is not the way laboratory research is organized. Yet by resisting this approach, they operate with a disastrously restricted time perspective: for them, fifty years is a long time. In contrast, for most farmers, destruction of land fertility within a fifty-year period is unacceptable; sustainability is built into farming philosophies, especially where land use is precarious.

Fitting the time perspective to the problem is essential. Restricted time perspectives are not what is needed for environmental protection, nor for building conservation into cities, nor for building long-term sustainable futures in subsistence food-producing areas. Sustainability has been defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."9 Such a definition is central to measures of social progress, but measuring social progress is tricky. The notion needs careful examination.

Restrictive time perspectives are promoted by the widely held, but erroneous, thesis that progress is an inevitable part of linear social evolution. In this view, technology is used as a measure of progress, and it is the presence of technology rather than how it is used or its consequence that is considered indicative of progress. Thus, for example, technological progress is said to have eliminated the drudgery of women's work. Yet there is ample evidence to the contrary.10 For example, African women may not need to stamp the grain, but if they are cash cropping, they work harder. If portable water makes life easier, women may still have to walk longer and farther for fuel. In cities, amenities in the home make life easier, but paying for these amenities may require working double shifts. In addition, the cost of "progress" is minimized by the concept of externalities, which ignores long-term environmental and social costs of energy technologies, for example. (Editor's Note: for a different view of the impact of technological progress on women, see chapters 2 and 3.)

Evolution is neither necessarily linear nor built on technological progress. How energy is used, rather than the expenditure of energy per se, is what in practice defines improved quality of life or decline in living quality.12 And how the energy challenge is defined determines the kinds of solutions pursued. When is small beautiful? When is big bad? When is more, more, and when is it indigestion? When is centralization appropriate and when is decentralization required? Under what conditions do mal-adaptive ideas persist? What works and with what consequence? Answering such questions requires not just expertise, but above all, good judgement, wisdom, and a long-term time perspective, dimensions not always present in large organizations or research laboratories anymore than elsewhere.

An analysis of energy policies shows the connection between how science and technology are organized, and the development of sustainable options. Indeed, the perspectives of virtually all kinds of workers are limited by their own experience, interests, and skills. In California, bankers, contractors, architects, building inspectors, and realtors were questioned about housing, building codes, and energy use.13 As with scientists and engineers working on one particular technology, it was difficult for people involved in one aspect of the work to break out and see the picture as a whole, especially if it was not in their self-interest to do so. Even if solar building codes are passed, it is these various workers who would determine how effective they are. Whole industries are similarly positioned. The public utilities, for example, may see themselves as generators or sellers of energy, rather than as buyers; therefore, they may be unwilling to purchase alternative sources of energy from alternative providers.

Enumerating barriers is to recognize the realities of any sustainable energy thrust. Uncertainty in the workplace, particularly among high status workers, such as scientists and executives, leads to conservatism, denial of resource uncertainties, and inability to perceive the need for new technologies. The mentality that prefers the big toy over the workable gadget, laser fusion over community solar collectors, is a mentality that in many countries supports military values of control, centralization, and fear. In the United States and elsewhere, not separating military from civilian energy goals contributed to the slow development of sustainable energy technologies as well as to generous state subsidization of nuclear energy over renewable sources of energy.

Implications for Sustainable Human Development

The anthropological approach to sustainable human development offers three important lessons, lessons learned from observation and from testing assumptions. First, especially when dealing with technologies of potentially irreversible consequence, long-term decisions should not be left solely to experts or self-interested industries. Experts, like special industries, are often self-interested and operating with a short time perspective - usually the duration of their working lives.

Second, technology is rarely neutral.14 Technology carries a cultural load beyond its ostensible function. Thus, energy technologies should be adopted, knowing full-well what values are being introduced - instability/stability, democratic/ authoritarian, high risk/low risk, economically viable/state subsidized. Theories of technological politics recognize that large-scale technological systems create their own momentum and that technology has the power to transform human ends; they also recognize that some technologies, like solar energy, could have different political consequences under different circumstances.

Third, energy technologies are not free-standing - that is, they become situated in social nexus, embedded in institutions that are compatible with the preferred technologies, Nuclear energy, for example, is most compatible with institutions of secrecy such as the military or with short-cycle accountancy, which may include the building of a nuclear power plant, but not its decommissioning or clean-up in case of an accident. Thus, it may be difficult to decommission a nuclear plant when its usefulness has ended, or to expose the difficulties of storing long-lived radioactive waste. Nuclear energy flourishes with central planning that silences competition, options, and democratic debate. All this is known from the experience of the United States, Russia, France, and other European countries. The lessons of Chernobyl are crucial. The people affected by Chernobyl have had to learn to believe the evidence of their own eyes, as their trust in authority and expertise waned. They saw their children balding, they saw trees drying up; they knew their meat was contaminated, and their babies were born defective, despite what they were being told by government personnel and experts.

Common to all of these lessons is the observation with which I began this paper: people no longer trust their own experience and if they do, alternative views are quickly marginalized. Censorship, perhaps even self-censorship, prevails.

The Fork in the Road

Where do these observations lead us? Nuclear technologies that were the result of secret military research, and that were initiated by scientific elites for national security reasons, are no longer economical or environmentally sensible. It is increasingly clear that the way to meet long-term global energy demands is through renewable sources of energy and conservation.

Fortunately, a number of viable options exist. Current technology provides opportunity for dramatic change that would be beneficial to the economy, public health, and the environment. Existing, highly cost-effective and efficient technologies can reduce electricity consumption in buildings (insulation window systems, new air-conditioning systems) at annual savings worth billions of U.S. dollars.

In addition, new technologies make it possible to replace existing sources of energy - oil, coal, and nuclear - with technologies less damaging to life. Long-term renewable solutions - in the form of biomass, wind and solar power, and geothermal energy - increasingly produce the world's energy. Solar energy - including passive solar, solar electric, photovoltaics, solar thermal power plants, and hydroelectricity - holds the greatest potential. However, the situation is not straightforward. Two competing paradigms - system-centered and man-centered - continue to exist side by side.

In a recent book, Flavin and Lenssen are optimistic about emerging changes, suggesting that non-polluting hydrogen will supplant oil and natural gas, electric cars will become common, coal and nuclear plants will be converted to efficient gas turbines, and numerous clean decentralized systems will emerge.15 At the same time, however, the nuclear industry is renewing its raison d'e, this time to combat global warming. The arguments that nuclear energy is an expensive, unsustainable, dangerous and ineffective option to combat global warming are pushed away by desire for large-scale nuclear energy. It was desire, rather than decisions based on consequence thinking, that drove the push for the fast breeder reactor, which nevertheless came to naught. It has been dubbed "the most expensive technological ruin" in the German Federal Republic, and disastrous elsewhere.

The same kind of "big" thinking is ubiquitous. It is evident in the plans for India's World Bank-funded Tehri Dam, which has been called "a prescription for disaster. "16 At what cost will the Indian government be supplying electricity to power industry? The Tehri Dam is a solution imposed on locals with little or no consultation. The case is especially interesting because of the contradictory views of those who oppose the dam and those who support it. The arguments against the dam are not based on seismology or cost-benefit analysis, but on a completely different worldview, an alternative to economic development plans, a philosophy about the relation of humans to the natural world, a philosophy that opposes the predominant development policies that have spread worldwide over the past three to four decades. The opposition stems from a philosophy that is more local, more stable, more durable, one that adds a further dimension to civil society and democratic effort in India.

But even renewables can be controversial or imposed from the top down. Windpower provides an interesting illustration. England has had a tradition of windmills for at least several hundred years. Yet, when a large, centrally controlled and market driven wind farm was recently built in Cornwall, England, there was a storm of local protest because it was imposed by centralizing powers. In Denmark, on the other hand, the neighboring public has considered development of community rather than large-scale centralized windpower to be good value. The lesson is that imposition of solutions over the heads of local communities - and not for communities - is not an effective response to energy concerns.

Still another example of government-imposed solutions can be found in plans to revitalize an inner-city district of Copenhagen. Central versus local planning collide. Resident proposals opt for "urban villages" that would reduce water and energy demand on the model of the Asian City. The government has its own plan for improvement, a blueprint much like the usual western development plans for the Third World.17

The concept of the "Commons" should be taken seriously as a source of self-determination, creativity, and survival. It acts as a brake, or a safety net, against failures of global energy and resource plans devised by states and industries. The Commons implies that local people have the right to define their own forms of community energy and resource use, which may mean that they will be biased against large-scale plans and activities that are not designed to enhance sustainability. It is now well known that plans to provide energy to industry may be generated in the very regions where labour-saving devices are not available to women who are doing their wash by hand, grinding corn by age-old manual techniques, or carrying water on their shoulders - tasks which global planners have targeted to be "solved" by expensive grids.

Getting Through the Twenty-First Century

Increasingly, several new concepts are mediating the cycle of externally imposed energy technologies and strategies followed by resistance. These new concepts are people-centered development, public participation, and people-led development. These terms are similar to one another, but not the same. People-centered development refers to a managerial planning mode that makes change palatable to the user; it does not alter what is done, but makes how it is imposed more user friendly. Similarly, public participation is often used by the World Bank and others to win post-facto approval for decisions already made, to give a sense of having been consulted. Although bottom-up peopled development is no guarantee that sustainability will be achieved, it at least gives locals the responsibility and the opportunity to tinker with the system to make it work.

At the American Anthropological Association meeting in December 1994, anthropologists reiterated the loss of community control to national governments, multilateral institutions, and multinational industry action.18 The distance between decision and consequence has increased, while fewer and fewer people control more and more of the world's resources. This distance is a critical factor in making the immoral seem moral. The resulting reality is dysfunctional governance - where some humans are deemed legally and socially expendable in the name of national development, national security, and the health of the bio-commons. There is a need for mechanisms that allow people living with a problem to gain greater control.19 Anyone who has followed the Cayapo Indian case in Brazil knows that local control is not a panacea; nevertheless, in the long run, there is more hope in local control, provided there is no "mind colonization" of a hegemonic sort.

As noted earlier, national and corporate industry culture is often superimposed on local and regional cultures. Majid Rahnema argues that modernization hegemonies that are colonizing the minds of Third World peoples must be resisted.20 However, it is imperative to realize that such hegemonies are first put in place in industrial countries, and then diffused outward. A clear-cut energy example can be found in the repeated attempts of the U.S. nuclear industry "to win the hearts and minds of women."21 In the mid-1960s, Connecticut Yankee Power, a public utility, produced a film, "Atom and Eve," to gain women's support for the state's first nuclear power plant. The film indicated that a woman's desire for convenience and freedom can only be sated by the Atom.

In the 1970s, NEW (Nuclear Energy Women) was started, an affiliate of the Atomic Industrial Forum. NEW produced a slide show called "Women and Energy: The Vital Link." The program features a woman-to-woman approach and warns of the hardships an energy shortage would pose for women: "labour-saving devices in the home will be the first cutback," viewers are told. The slide show suggests that energy use has been at the forefront of the battles for women's rights. The case for energy consumption is followed by a glib dismissal of energy alternatives in favour of nuclear power. Safety issues are dismissed and any diversion from nuclear power foreshadows a bleak future.

In the 1980s and 1990s, NEW began a concerted international outreach, targeting women in other countries through such groups as the International Association of Professional Secretaries, the Girl Scouts, and other groups.22 Such "education" campaigns take many subtle forms. In the United States, the media campaign brought the message to mothers at home, in doctor's offices, in the classroom and school associations, in baby-sitting services, an obvious example of the selling of corporate culture. Other energy-related industries now also target women, especially since the role of women in energy and resource use has been, and continues to be, well documented.

Ashis Nandy speaks to the need to listen to culturally rooted understanding in this way:

"I am not speaking here of a strategy of mass mobilization.. .I am speaking of the more holistic or comprehensive cognition of those at the receiving end of the present world system... this... means that the living traditions of the non-Western civilizations must include a theory of the West.. it is the culturally rooted, non-modern understanding of the civilizational encounters of our times for which I am trying to create a space in public discourse."23

To Nandy's three skepticisms, this essay adds one more to make four: 1) skepticism directed at the modern nation-state, its potential and fallibility, 2) skepticism toward modern science, with its truths and biases, 3) skepticism toward the larger forces of history, with preference for the smaller forces of history, and 4) skepticism toward the multinational industrialization of the world, whose time dimension is so minuscule. Skepticism as a form of critical thinking is necessary for resolving energy sustainability within the dilemmas of a world which "has more problems than it deserves and more solutions than it uses."

Entrenched alliances of interests form substantial barriers to energy sustainability. These interests demonstrate not just attitudinal obstacles, but also a combination of actions that together are mismanaging the long-run good for most of humanity. Recognition of the dangers inherent in these entrenched interests is itself providing new fuel for the engines of change. That new fuel may mean big energy plants or small ones, but the sources of energy need to be diverse, sustainable, and part of the processes that are commonly recognized as key to the longevity of the human species.


1 Laura Nader is Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley.

2 Lewis Mumford, "Authoritarian and Democratic Technics," Technology and Culture 5 (1964), pp. 1-8.

3 Amory Lovins, Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace (Ballinger Press, 1977).

4 Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen, Power Surge: Guide to the Coming Energy Revolution (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1994).

5 Science Council of Canada, Report No. 27 (September 1977).

6 Laura Nader et al., Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Sources (CONAES), Energy Choices in a Democratic Society (Washington: National Academy of Sciences, 1980).

7 Arthur Rosenfeld and Evan Mills, "A Better Idea," Washington Post, August 3, 1992, p. A19.

8 Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-Out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977).

9 World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 43,

10 J. Vanek, "Time Spent in Housework," Scientific American 231 (November 1974); Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology - From the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1983); A. Ong, "The Gender and Labour Politics of Postmodernity," in Annual Review of Anthropology 20 (1991), pp. 279-309; and Cynthia Gay Bendocci, Women and Technology: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Gareaud Publishing, Inc., 1993).

11 Arlie Hochschild, The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (New York: Viking, 1989).

12 Laura Nader and Stephen Beckerman, "Energy and the Quality of Life," Annual Review of Energy, No. 3 (1978), pp. 1-28.

13 Laura Nader and Norman Milleron, "Dimensions of the 'People Problem' in Energy Research and the Factual Basis of Dispersed Energy Futures," Energy, Vol. 4, No. 5 (New York: Pergamon Press, 1976), pp. 953-967.

14 Langdon Winner, The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986).

15 Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen, Power Surge: Guide to the Coming Energy Revolution.

16 Fred Pearce, "Building a Disaster: The Monumental Folly of India's Tehri Dam," The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 3 (May/June 1991).

17 See, for example, Dharam Ghai, "Environment Livelihood and Empowerment," in Development and Change, Vol. 25 (1994), I-II, Oxford Blackwell Publishers.

18 Barbara Rose Johnston, "Defining and Defending Human Environmental Rights," American Anthropological Association meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, December 2, 1994.

19 Conrad R. Kottak and Alberto Costa, "Ecological Awareness, Environmentalist Action, and International Conservation Strategy," Human Organization 5z(4) (1993), pp. 335-43.

20 Majid Rahnema, "Under the Banner of Development," in Development: Seeds of Change (1986). Reprinted in The Tragedy of Development: Tradition and Modernity Re-Examined, A Reader in Peace and Conflict Studies (Berkeley: University of California, 1988).

21 Lin Nelson, "Atom and Eve: The Nuclear Industry Seeks to Win the Hearts and Minds of Women," Progressive, Vol. 47, No. 7 (July 1983).

22 Lin Nelson, "Atom and Eve."

23 Ashis Nandy, "Cultural Frames for Social Transformation: Acredo," Alternatives XII (1983), p. 117.

5. From Energy Efficiency to Social Utility: Lessons from Cookstove Design, Dissemination, and Use


With roughly half the world's population cooking daily with the traditional biomass fuels of dung, crop residues, wood, and charcoal, efforts to disseminate improved, more efficient cookstoves are an ideal way to address a wide range of socio-economic and environmental goals. These goals include conserving energy, reducing the time spent collecting wood, expanding economic opportunities for both rural and urban families, empowering women, reducing harmful household smoke exposure, reducing forest clearing and ecological alteration, and mitigating global atmospheric pollution. Widespread dissemination and use of improved woodstoves has the potential to impact each of these objectives, and thus, has been a focal point of household development and quality of life efforts for several decades.

The statistics on the role and impact of biomass use on the energy-health-environment cycle are striking. Half the more than 3,000 million tons of wood harvested annually worldwide is used as fuel. Wood and other biomass fuels comprise 40 to 60 per cent of all energy resources, both industrial and domestic, in many Asian, Latin American, and African countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, on average, domestic cooking accounts for over 60 per cent of total national energy use; in some countries, it exceeds 80 per cent.2 Some poor families spend 20 per cent or more of disposable income to purchase wood and charcoal fuels, or devote 25 per cent or more of total household labour to wood collecting.3 Biomass fuels are generally utilized at a low thermodynamic efficiency. Reliance on them thus entails a high opportunity cost for poor households, and has serious health and environmental costs as well.

Biomass is used not only for domestic purposes. Other uses include construction materials, industrial energy, and simply as cleared land for agriculture. However, the need for cooking fuel is constant; in some developing countries, it exceeds one ton per capita per year.4 The environmental impact of all forms of wood use - industrial, agricultural, and domestic - varies widely, ranging from areas with ecologically sustainable harvest levels5 to regions where population density and woodfuel demand alter the type of forest cover and biodiversity. In the most extreme cases, dramatic deforestation and erosion result.6

Biomass cooking fuels are often combusted inefficiently. Open "three stone" fires and some traditional stove designs generate large quantities of smoke and particulate matter, while directing only a small fraction of the resulting heat to the cooking pots. Sometimes, as little as 5 to 15 per cent of the total energy content of the fuel is utilized to heat the food.7

High levels of indoor air pollution create serious health problems. Air quality studies in developing countries have shown that woodsmoke exposure can often be twenty times or more the exposure limits recommended by the World Health Organization. The pollution level in homes and cooking huts can exceed those in industrial cities. High indoor air pollution, in turn, is linked to acute respiratory infection (ARI), particularly pneumonia, and other ailments. Those most continuously exposed to indoor air pollution are women - who perform over 90 per cent of domestic chores, including cooking - and children. In fact, ARI is the leading health hazard to children in developing countries, and results in an estimated 4.3 million deaths per year among the overall population.8 Among all endemic diseases, including diarrhea, ARI is the most pervasive cause of chronic illness.

Researchers confronted with a continuing dependence on biomass fuels, traditional woodfuel management schemes, and traditional cooking stoves have concluded that the introduction of improved cookstoves could have a dramatic development impact. Specific designs vary widely, but most cookstoves are made to consume less fuel per amount of useful energy delivered and/or to emit less pollution, which benefits the health of the user as well as the environment. Widespread dissemination and adoption of technically and culturally appropriate stoves could reduce the need for fuelwood harvesting (and thus, human impact on forest systems), while reducing human exposure to indoor air pollution.

Reducing the labour and capital required to collect or purchase cooking fuels could also provide new resources and expand economic opportunities to women throughout the developing world.9 Indeed, the fact that the management of biomass fuels and cooking techniques is so interrelated with energy, food, health, and the economy in developing countries has led one researcher to coin the phrase "the hearth as central system."10

Cookstoves and the Technology-for-Development Paradigm

Recent surveys have identified several hundred individual cook-stove research and dissemination projects. The scale of cookstoves programmes ranges from entirely local (often consisting of nongovernmental advocacy and implementation activities) to national initiatives reaching over 100 million homes,11 to regional programmes sponsored by multinational development agencies.12 These programmes have used a wide range of stove designs, from massive sand and clay models to a variety of portable metal and ceramic stoves. They have tested and utilized various technology transfer paradigms; these paradigms have ranged from promoting commercial cookstove mass-production and sales to training the eventual users of cookstoves, primarily women, to adapt and construct stoves for their home use.

The quality and efficiency of stoves has varied greatly, as has the success of individual projects in reaching the intended audience or developing a self-sustaining market or cook-stove industry.13 Because cookstove projects have such a long, diverse history, they can serve as a crucial test of the kind of small-scale, household-oriented paradigm of development long promoted by appropriate technology advocates.14 They can also serve as a model for design and dissemination efforts of such other renewable energy technologies as biogas digesters, solar ovens and food dryers, household photovoltaic systems, wind-pumps, and micro-hydro stations.

The evolving tools and continuing pitfalls of technology-transfer and implementation projects can be critically examined by analyzing the changing goals and implementation strategies of cookstove projects. This paper summarizes the changes in: a) the technology of improved cookstoves, and b) the resulting economic, health, environmental conservation, and social empowerment opportunities. Particularly notable are the following: the expanded communication and cooperation between project implementors and end-user groups, the growth of market-based technology transfer mechanisms (even in peri-urban settings, where markets did not seem initially to exist), the analysis of rural vs. urban market potential, and the design of multi-objective efforts that integrate disparate actors in the development process. The evolving understanding and interaction of these factors in the cookstove design, development, dissemination, and adoption chain provide the clearest lessons for the role of household energy in managing social change, empowerment, and development generally.

Improved Stoves: Design Engineering and Energy Efficiency

Improved cookstove designs fall into two broad categories: fixed location and portable models. The immobile stoves are commonly made from a combination of metal, clay, ceramic, or cement. These designs generally achieve energy conservation through insulation and are often "complete" stoves, with an enclosed burning chamber and multiple openings for pots (burners). Massive stove designs have been extensively tested, refined, and introduced and re-introduced in Latin America and Asia.15 Portable stoves are generally constructed of metal with clay or ceramic liners, or as formed clay "burners" that support one pot over an enclosed burning box. As is not surprising, there are a great many designs, all of which are geared to meet the same general objective:

· Maximize combustion of the fuel by keeping the temperature high and ensuring the presence of sufficient oxygen;

· Maximize radiative heat transfer from the fire to the pot(s) by keeping the pot as close to the flame as possible;

· Maximize convection from the tire to the pot(s) with a stove design that passes as much of the hot gases over the pot(s) as possible; reduce drafts;

· Maximize conduction to the food pot(s) by using an insulating material for the stove so that the heat is retained and concentrated near the pot(s);

· Maximize user satisfaction by making the stoves convenient to use (with local fuels, cooking pots, and utensils) and able to easily prepare local dishes well.

In summary, only a stove with what might be called robust efficiency will consistently save fuel under conditions of actual use. Stoves must be easy to use and fuel efficient under a variety of conditions: when it is boiling, simmering, baking, or frying food; when it is using only one opening of a large, three-pot stove; and when it is dirty or worn. Stoves evaluated in idealized laboratory conditions, very different from the environmental and practical constraints of real-world kitchens and cooking huts, have too often failed to meet this requirement of robust efficiency. Cookstoves are workhorses, not racehorses, and must be designed accordingly.

Early cookstove projects were heralded as the solutions to a tremendous array of social, economic, and environmental ills - from deforestation to the oppression of women. Although improved cookstove efficiency and household energy security can lead to improvements in all of these areas, evaluations of early projects were generally disappointing.16 Many of the early projects failed for both technical and social reasons. As one analyst has stated: "Early improved cookstoves were often designed by development workers with a great deal of zeal and enthusiasm, but little technical background. Under the banner of 'appropriate technology,' new designs were quickly labeled 'improved stoves' and construction manuals prepared, without prior serious scientific research."17

Advocates and researchers involved in early stove projects fell into the trap of equating "appropriate" technology with "simple" technology. The first four design factors in the list above, essentially thermodynamic criteria, have proved difficult to achieve.18

Many early programmes expected to see efficiency gains of 75 per cent or more.19 However, these expectations were based on tremendously idealized cooking conditions never realized in the field. Many new stoves were expensive and difficult to use, and degraded rapidly with use. The wood savings realized in actual home settings tend to follow a distribution, as shown below:20


wood savings (%)


40 +








-10 to -25


no longer in use

In aggregate, these data correspond to fuel savings of about 20 per cent per stove, an impressive and important reduction, although considerably less than the early claims of some wood-stove projects.21 Construction of massive, in-place design stoves in each house (i.e., built one at a time without standardization or economies of scale) often resulted in uneven quality and efficiency. For all these reasons, many new stove designs and dissemination programmes failed the test of "robust efficiency."

At the same time, claims that traditional stoves were only 5 to 10 per cent efficient neglected the many other benefits they provided: lighting, space heating, ease of use, and versatility. In fact, under conditions of shielded, carefully tended use, three-stone fires can reach efficiencies of 20 per cent.22

In many early projects, the end-users, generally women, were not involved in initial discussions, feedback, or training programmes; these were inappropriately targeted to men or to extension workers who rarely cooked food themselves.23 At the same time, many of the basic lessons of commercial enterprises were lost, partly because stove projects were categorized as development aid and assistance. Little market research was initially undertaken to determine the most pressing concerns of the women who would use the stoves, the local perceptions of fuel scarcity or abundance, or even the suggestions of local communities about cookstove design or the kind of programmes that could make them available. The combination of the oversell of improved cookstoves and the under appreciation of the reliability and versatility of traditional methods meant that the fuel savings in some early efforts amounted to little or nothing.

The disappointing results of the early efforts led to re-evaluation of the engineering and design of stoves, to greater end-user participation, and to far more rigorous and realistic measures of actual stove performance. This more pragmatic approach then began to yield broadly useful efficiency and cost comparison data for second-generation stove projects.

A series of practical measurements of actual stove efficiencies conducted in West Africa is particularly instructive. A useful measure of stove performance is the percentage of heat utilized (PHU), a ratio of the energy utilized/energy expended. It is obtained by boiling and then continuing to cook a volume of water while measuring the total fuel combusted, the volume of water boiled, and water boiled off - all in a series of comparable field settings. Table 5.1 shows the PHU for a variety of stoves commonly used in West Africa.

For the stoves listed in Table 5.1, prices range from essentially no cost for a three-stone fire (except for the cost of the pots) to more than $20. At the prevailing cost of wood, these prices (omitting the three-stone fire) correspond to amortized payback times ranging from one month to over a year.24 Fuel savings compared to traditional stoves are as much as 60 per cent for the expensive CATRU-A stove, and as little as 5 per cent for some simple and inexpensive designs.

Stove dissemination programmes should not be undertaken lightly. They involve significant financial investment by both users and donors, and require a long-term commitment of research, training, and support services to be successful. However, one of the most promising aspects of such programmes is the growing realization that reducing woodsmoke exposure has a wide range of important health benefits. The impact of stove programmes on both pressing energy and health problems can be used effectively to broaden the base of support in providing the needed long-term resource commitment necessary to generate successful, self-supporting programmes and industries.

Table 5.1 - Efficiency Comparison of Several West African Improved and Traditional Stoves




% increase in PHU over:

% decrease in wood use over:





Three Stone

Pot supported by three stones over open fire






Metal Stove

Simple 1-pot metal stove







Sand insulation placed around the simple metal stove







Clay shell stove around a single pot







3-pot partially insulated stove, without chimney






GS Chula

Insulated 2-pot lorena-type stove with chimney







Brick and cement lorena-type stove







Lorena-type, aluminum top plate and matched pots







CATRU-B with improved chimney






Note: The PHU (or percentage of heat utilized) is based on a combination of the initial boiling and sustained cooking (simmering) phase - thus providing a proxy for realistic cooking conditions. The PHU values reported here are averaged over five or more measurements per stove. Each stove is compared here to both a traditional three-stone fire and a metal stove. The Three-Stone, Metal, SIM, and Sota stoves all accommodate one pot only; the AIDR stove has openings for three pots; and the remaining four stoves all have two openings. Wood savings over traditional fires range from minimal (6 per cent) to dramatic (61 per cent).

Source: Data derived from TS. Wood, Laboratory and Field Testing of Improved Stoves in Upper Volta (Mt. Rainier, MD: VITA, 1981); S. Connors, "Wood-Conserving Cookstoves: A Short Primer for the Design and Implementation of Woodstoves and Woodstove Projects," Peace Corps/Benin (1987), mimeo; and S. Baldwin, H. Geller, G. Dutt, and N.H. Ravindranath, " Improved Woodburning Cookstoves: Signs of Success," Ambio 14(1985).

The Cooking Environment, Smoke Exposure, and Health Risks

The connection between wood use, cooking, and the epidemiology of respiratory and other illnesses is a topic of active current research. However, a consistent pattern linking energy, environment, and health has already become alarmingly clear. Biomass fuels provide 90 to 95 per cent of domestic energy in sub-Saharan Africa, most of it for cooking." Combustion of these fuels in confined, often unventilated, indoor areas and at low thermodynamic efficiency leads to high concentrations of smoke and pollution. To evaluate how effective improved cookstoves and household energy management are in mitigating these harmful health conditions, it is necessary to consider the entire food preparation cycle, including energy and environmental management, and household risk and economic decision-making.

The food preparation process is one of the most important health and development issues facing poor countries. Biomass cooking on traditional stoves is a major source of concentrated air pollutants, including respirable particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, benzene, formaldehyde, benzo(a)pyrene, and aromatics.26 Particulates seem to be the primary culprit in smoke-related illnesses.27 In some places, the pollutant exposure levels associated with indoor biomass burning in developing countries is many times greater than accepted health standards. U.S. standards, for example, call for maximum particulate concentrations of 250 micrograms per cubic metre (not to be exceeded more than once a year). However, in developing countries, people are routinely exposed to indoor particulate concentrations many times that high (see Table 5.2). These levels rival or even exceed the pollution levels found in the most polluted industrial cities.28 Women and children are particularly affected, since cooking smoke is confined to indoor settings, where they are exposed for extended periods of time.

The living conditions that expose people to high levels of indoor air pollution have been well documented in Africa. The majority of sub-Saharan Africans live in rural areas; Kenya, for example, is only about 20 per cent urban. Family homes generally consist of multi-use buildings, where the same room or few rooms are used for cooking, sleeping, and working. In many cases, the total indoor volume is less than 40 cubic metres; in some (such as the Maasai homes in Kenya), indoor air volumes may be half that. Rural homes often have minimal ventilation; when people cook, they may close the door or, when they exist, plug the windows with cloth.29 Ventilation is further reduced during rainy seasons, cold spells, and at higher elevations.30

Under these circumstances, pollutant concentrations resulting from cooking can easily build to unhealthy levels and remain that way over the course of a day. Compounding the problem is the type of cooking practiced in much of Africa. In many countries, the staple foods are grain and legume combinations that require long cooking times. In Kenya, for example, preparation of the staple maize and bean dish (ugali, a hardened corn meal, and irio, a simmered mixture of several beans) requires several hours of softening and slow cooking that can consume wood at the relatively high rates of 1.5 -3.0 kilograms per hour.

High pollution levels are not limited to rural areas. The close quarters of urban slums, and even the minimal spaces sometimes allocated to household servants in more affluent households, and the heavy use of traditional cooking fuels, notably charcoal, all contribute to urban pollution. Poverty and overcrowding can increase the ambient pollution concentration over entire neighbourhoods, where woodsmoke mixes with photochemical smog.

Table 5.2 - Indoor Particulate Concentrations In Developing Countries, Summary of Selected Studies



Number of measurements

micrograms per cubic metre


Kenya (1972)

Night: highlands



Kenya (1972)

Night: lowlands



Kenya (1987)

24 hour exposure



Kenya (1993)

Unvented hut: cooking



Nepal (1988)

24 hour exposure



Gambia (1988)

24 hour exposure



Zimbabwe (1990)

While cooking




India (1983)



India (1988)



India (1988)



India (1988)



Nepal (1986)



Nepal (1988)

Traditional stoves



Nepal (1988)

Improved stoves



US 24-hour standard
(not to be exceeded more than once/year)


US Annual Urban Levels


Note: These measurements of particulate concentrations, in micrograms per cubic metre, were obtained under a range of conditions - during cooking, as a daily average, etc. They are not directly comparable, but give a feel for the range of concentrations. The measured concentrations are consistently far above the U.S. one-time exposure standard and the annual average. Measurements are for particles having a diametre greater than 10 microns.

Source: Data from P. Young and K. Wafula, "Smoked Maasai," ITDG/KENGO (London, 1993), mimeo; K.R. Smith et al., "Greenhouse Gases from Biomass and Fossil Fuel Stoves in Developing Countries: A Manila Pilot Study," Chemosphere 26 (1992), pp. 479-506; and K.R. Smith, "The Health Impact of Cookstove Smoke in Africa," in African Development Perspectives Yearbook 3 (Muenster: Lit Verlag, 1994).

Health Effects of Biomass Burning

Numerous studies demonstrate a consistent positive correlation between exposure to smoke from indoor biomass burning and acute respiratory infection and chronic lung disease (Table 5.3). Ongoing research is attempting to determine the precise dose response relationship;31 in the meantime, however, long-term exposure to smoke from biomass combustion has been observed to elevate the risk of a child developing ARI by 100 to 400 per cent.32 Less well documented studies have linked woodsmoke to an increased incidence of eye infections, low birth weight, and cancer. Health clinics and mobile physician programmes in developing countries routinely treat both children and adults for serious bums resulting from direct contact with cooking fires.

Table 5.3 - Summary of Studies of Household Biomass Combustion and Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) Among Infants

Study (year)

Case/Control (ARI determination)

Exposure & measurements

AM relative risk (95% confidence interval)

1. Natal, South Africa (1980)


Cookfire smoke
X-Ray and ARI cases


2. Basse, The Gambia (1989)


Child carried by mother
Reported breathlessness


3. Maragua, Kenya (1986,1990)


Woodsmoke exposure
Particulate monitoring


4. Marondera, Zimbabwe (1990)


Open fire cooking
ARI hospitalizations


5. Basse, The Gambia (1991)


Child carried by mother
Reported breathlessness

Girls: 6.0
Boys: N/S

Notes: The studies looked at ARI among infants, 0 to 59 months of age. The relative risk (incidence ratio to that in the control group) is shown with the uncertainty range at the 95 per cent confidence interval (CI). N/S= not statistically significant.

Source: K.R. Smith, "The Health Impact of Cookstove Smoke in Africa," in African Development Perspectives Yearbook 3 (Muenster: Lit Verlag, 1994).

The extent of the woodsmoke health crisis in developing countries is beginning to gain international attention. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.5 billion people live under conditions of unhealthy air. Four to five million childhood deaths are attributed to acute respiratory infection every year. Regional health reports provide another measure of the pervasive nature of the health hazard. For example, Laikipia District in Kenya is a relatively prosperous mixed agricultural and farming region. However, even here, annual morbidity data from district hospitals and clinics show that respiratory infections head up the list of most commonly reported diseases, accounting for a third of all afflictions reported and diagnosed. Eye infections, also linked to woodsmoke exposure, are on the list of top ten diseases as well.

Although more research is needed to determine the precise relationship between woodsmoke dose and morbidity response, it has become clear that improved, low-emission cookstoves are as important to improving health conditions as to conserving fuel. Additional dose-response information is critically needed to develop guidelines for predicting at-risk groups and designing preventive health care programmes; it could also be used to evaluate the cost/benefit tradeoffs of various types of education and cookstove design and dissemination projects. For example, the preliminary exposure and morbidity data in Tables 5.1-5.4 provide evidence of a hazard, but are insufficient to delineate what degree of smoke reduction will generate significant improvements in human health; this is the classic "how clean is clean enough" problem in environmental science and engineering. Although they have drawbacks, cost/benefit evaluations are particularly useful in making renewable energy and energy efficiency projects mainstream rather than additional activities. All too often, renewables are still considered an unnecessary luxury. However, when the results of renewable energy dissemination efforts can be measured in terms of cost and benefit, resistance becomes significantly less.33

Cookstove Technology and Indoor Air Pollution

As the health risks associated with biomass cooking become increasingly clear, the case for continued and expanded improved stove projects is strengthened. Improved cookstove and outreach, education, demonstration, and construction efforts can contribute to reducing harmful woodsmoke exposure in a number of ways: a) by improving venting of combustion gases through use of a flue or chimney, b) by improving combustion efficiency through better stove designs, and c) by encouraging use of cleaner burning fuels and more advanced stove designs - a process called moving up the "energy ladder."

By reducing the time needed to collect (or to purchase) cooking fuels and combining health gains with improvements in household fuel, cookstove programmes can meet economic efficiency, environmental conservation, and quality of life objectives. Transition to more advanced stove designs and cleaner fuels can significantly reduce indoor air pollution (see Table 5.4).

Table 5.4 - Concentration of Carbon Monoxide (CO) From Indoor Biofuel Combustion, Various Fuel and Stove Combinations, Kenya

Fuel and Stove Combination

No. of Measurements

[CO] (parts per million by volume)

Dung/Traditional Stove



Wood/Traditional Stove



Charcoal/Traditional Stove



Charcoal/Improved Stove



Kerosene Fuel and Stove



WHO 1-hour exposure standard


Notes: The carbon monoxide measurements art for a typical range of concentrations measured one metre above the stove during food preparation. They are instantaneous values, not time averages, collected in 1992 and 1993 from homes in southern and eastern Kenya; the homes are culturally relatively homogenous, but economically stratified. The energy ladder "increases" from the top to the bottom of this list of stove/fuel combinations.

The "energy ladder" concept is fundamental to efforts to understand household energy decision-making.34 It is the household or micro-economic corollary to what happens at the macro-economic level, as countries industrialize and move from traditional biomass to commercial fossil-fuel-based economies. Under this hypothesis, as households become more affluent, they move from simple stoves and inexpensive fuels to more sophisticated, convenient, and costly fuels and stoves. The ladder climbs from dung or crop residues combusted in three-stone fires, to wood or charcoal use in metal or improved stoves, to kerosene wick or pressure systems, and finally to propane, liquid petroleum, and electric appliances.

The health and energy impact of climbing up this ladder can be dramatic. Simple biomass stoves may use six or seven times as much fuel as a modern stove, and release 50 times more pollutants than a gas stove used to prepare the same quantity of food.35 The poorest segments of society, thus, not only are exposed to higher levels of pollution, but must also spend a greater share of household income and resources to cook the same meal.

Some aspects of moving from traditional to improved stoves - or from dung and wood to charcoal, kerosene, and other fuels - may actually introduce new risks. For example, although an improved, charcoal-burning stove may emit less total pollution than a traditional stove, carbon monoxide may still be produced at higher levels than those recommended by the World Health Organization. Since carbon monoxide is odourless and colourless, there may be acute risk of poisoning without the warning signs of coughing and tearing that are associated with hydrocarbons and particulates in woodsmoke.

In many ways, the energy ladder is too simplistic a view of energy decision-making. In Africa, although families acquire new cooking technologies as resources permit, they rarely abandon the more traditional metal stoves, or even three-stone fires. Instead of moving up an energy ladder or emphasizing energy efficiency, they pursue a more eclectic pattern of acquiring energy security. Improved cookstove programmes designed to augment positive social change must work with, rather than against, this process. The focus of programmes to provide small-scale domestic and community-based energy resources must be to give households a diverse set of energy services. End-users of energy services must have the opportunity to evaluate, and choose among a range of alternatives that fit their specific needs, rather than be presented with a single technology in a "take it or leave it" development project.

Improved Cookstove Programmes in East Africa

Except for the large cookstove programmes of India and China, the varied efforts to introduce improved stoves to East Africa have been the most extensive.36 The most widely used model in East Africa is the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (KCJ), of which more than 700,000 are in use today. Proponents of the KCJ report an adoption rate of 56 per cent among urban households, where most efforts have been focused, and an impressive 16 per cent nationwide.37 The problems encountered and the lessons learned in East Africa are now being incorporated into cookstove programmes worldwide.

Improved cookstove design and dissemination programmes in East Africa date from the 1970s. Financial and technical support was provided by a variety of bilateral and multilateral development agencies and non-governmental organizations, with financial contributions ranging from several thousand to over four million dollars. Local non-governmental organizations and community/activist groups, as well as government agencies, were involved in research, development, support, and dissemination.38

Both the strengths and the problems associated with cookstove programmes can be traced to the diversity of actors, methods, and resources brought to bear on the complex interplay among stove performance and cost, user needs and resources, how the method was introduced, and the local stove/fuel economy

Some early efforts in Kenya generally failed the "robust efficiency" criteria outlined earlier; they were poorly designed, had overly optimistic expectations of the amount of wood and charcoal savings, and the stoves were inconvenient to use.39

In addition, they focused on a difficult market - on the rural poor, who do not purchase fuel, rather than on the more affluent urban population, who already regularly purchased both fuel and stoves. After learning from these mistakes, the Kenya Ceramic Jiko Programme is now considered a model programme with the most popular stove. The KCJ is constructed by several hundred distinct commercial producers; over 13,000 KCJ stoves are sold each month in stores and markets throughout urban areas. Critical to Kenya's success are the efforts of many agencies - bilateral, multilateral, non-governmental, and governmental - to promote and popularize the stove.

Today, the various cookstove efforts in Kenya include the KCJ as well as other designs, and are targeted at more than simply the urban population. They include the Kuni Mbili (two-stick) stove, which has a larger burning box than the KCJ to accommodate the primary rural fuel of wood, and the Maendeleo or Upesi (quick) stove, which consists of an inexpensive manufactured liner built into the user's existing hearth (see Table 5.5). These diverse stove projects provide flexibility and meet diverse needs, fuel requirements, and household incomes and preferences.

As discussed by a World Bank research team, the experience of transferring the KCJ to neighbouring Rwanda provides an important example of technology transfer, evolution, and choice. Laboratory testing of a number of stove designs preceded a large-scale field trial in a Kigali neighbourhood. The KCJ was expected to prove popular, but it did not accommodate Rwanda pots or provide close access to the flame for grilling. A modified version of the KCJ, the Rondereza ("to save") was rapidly adopted by over 25 per cent of the population.40

In addition to the percentage of heat utilized (Table 5.1), the direct financial and quality of life benefits are the crucial test of success for cookstove programmes. In Nairobi, average household charcoal savings as a result of KCJ adoption are 0.18 kilograms per person per day, or over 600 kilograms per family per year; this is equivalent to 1,170 Kenyan shillings (US $64.70 at the 1991 conversion rate). In Rwanda, charcoal use declined by 390 kilograms per year, equivalent to US $84.41

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Kenyan cookstove experience is in the institutional capacity developed by indigenous organizations such as the Kenya Energy and Environment Organization (KENGO) and the Foundation for Woodstove Dissemination (FWD). They have become sources of regional expertise in many facets of improved cookstove design, dissemination, popularization, and follow-up. Along with national and international organizations, they have greatly facilitated the further spread of cookstove programmes in Africa (see Table 5.6).

Table 5.5 - Comparison of Kenyan Improved Stove Designs and Programmes

Stove Description

Institutions Involved



Cost (US$)

Kenya Ceramic Jiko Lightweight metal cladding and ceramic liner: separate firebox and pot rest sections. Primarily for use with

Kengo, FWD a number of and international NGOs; USAID; Ministry of Energy

By over 200 artisans and jua kali copperatives. These groups are manufacturing about 13,600 stoves/month > 700,000 so far

Pre-existing Commercial channels: artisans sell stoves to supermarkets or retailers, or direct to the consumers. 90% sold in urban areas

Varies by stove size, quality, and by vendor: $3 and up)

Kuni Mbili Stove Larger version of KCJ with expanded firebox to more easily accommodate wood fuel

KENGO, the Bellerive Foundation and Rural Technology Enterprises (RTE)

By some of the same artisans as the KCJ; manufacturing about 1,000 stoves/month > 20,000 so far

Programme in the demonstration phase: targeted at rural households that collect or buy wood

Subsidized retail price; true cost of $6-7 & up

Maeneleo, or Upesi Stove standardized liner: baked and then installed with mud and stone surrounding. Variant of Sota stove.

ITDG, GTZ, Ministry of Energy; Home Economics Office of Ministry of Agriculture

Multiple approaches: artisans and women in the informal sector produce liners; installation by extension workers or end-users

Programme in the demonstration phase: transition from extension-based to commercial project underway. Focus on rural households

Liners cost about $1; installed by rural extension teams or end-users

Notes: Jua kali (literally "fierce heat") refers to a loose network of cooperative shops that undertake projects from automotive repair to construction of KCJs. The jua kalis were targeted for early training in cookstove construction and maintenance; it is now a profitable and independent business.

Household Energy Management and Social Change

The fundamental role that energy management plays in family health, nutrition, economic opportunity, and environmental conservation means that improvements in cookstove technology and efforts to disseminate new technologies offer not only opportunities to climb the energy ladder, but also opportunities for positive social change.

The history of cookstove projects shows that energy efficiency is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for a new technology to succeed. The part technical, part social criterion of robust efficiency remains a difficult design standard for technologies and for development programmes. However, improved cookstove programmes have benefited greatly from efforts to adhere to this principle by combining intensive interaction and feedback between stove designers and end-users, long project follow-up times, and greater reliance on market and commercial forces.

One important lesson from cookstove efforts to date is that choice and selection - of both technology and implementation methods - are fundamental to meeting the diverse needs of the intended end-users. To some degree, this simply reflects the strength that technology transfer efforts experience when they are designed to support individuals and communities in achieving a diverse set of objectives that are locally determined, and not imposed. An example would be a cookstove training center in which various stove designs and different approaches to managing community workshops are discussed with community leaders, who then select and refine the methods they consider best suited for their particular local conditions.

Funding agencies such as the World Bank, the Global Environment Fund, as well as national and private donors, must tolerate and even encourage the short-term inefficiency of some early cookstove programmes in order to develop a strong indigenous resource base and breadth of experience.42 The mainstream development community has much to learn from the "small is beautiful" or "appropriate technology" approach that emphasizes local knowledge and control of projects, as well as the provision of financial and infrastructure resources that households and poor communities can manage and direct. This approach, however, requires a long-term investment in education that may not initially appear to be warranted in simple cost/benefit terms.

One possible approach that could be implemented by virtually any development organization is to provide small-scale decentralized funding to groups of women, households, or communities to experiment with, and evaluate, a range of energy technologies, including improved cookstoves, solar ovens and food dryers, propane and kerosene stoves, windmills, micro-hydro generators, and photovoltaic systems.43 The resulting technology resource centers, perhaps under collaborative management of the funding agencies and local groups dedicated to researching and promoting new technologies, could also provide wide-ranging technical expertise. This approach of providing a broad selection of technical and managerial resources would ensure that end-users can choose what works for them, rather than what worked best in a laboratory, or what was designed in a grand scheme somewhere else. It promotes technology choice, not dependence.

Table 5.6 - Estimated Number of Improved Stoves in Selected Sub-Saharan Countries, 1994



Burkina Faso




















Source: P. Wickramagamage, Improved Cookstove Programs in East and Central Africa, Draft ESMAP Report (Washington: World Bank, 1991); S. Karakezi, "Disseminating Renewable Energy Technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa," Annual Review of Energy Environment 19 (1994), pp. 387-421; and Stephen Karekezi, "Renewable Energy-Technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa: Case Examples from Eastern and Southern Africa," background brief prepared for seminar, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, April 19,1995.

Although an environment that promotes new, and thus, inherently riskier, technologies is important, market forces and commercial strategies are the final test of whether a project is viable. There is no reason that commercial ventures and tests of market success should not be regarded as allies of "appropriate technology" development efforts - particularly when preceded by a sufficient period of scientific and social "research and development." The most successful cookstove dissemination projects, for example, have capitalized on the market's potential contribution to widespread dissemination: they focused initially on areas where fuels and stoves are already purchased, and then moved into less commercial settings through technical assistance and training, with minimal use of incentives or subsidies.

Ironically, the problem of how to most effectively provide energy services exists under both appropriate technology and mainstream approaches to development. Market-oriented, technology-commercialization development programmes offer little realistic "trickle down," and rural extension efforts have yet to move broadly from subsidy to self-sufficiency. An important goal for future programmes will be to integrate the nurturing, capacity-building features of appropriate technology efforts with the market reach and benefits of scale that can be achieved in programmes that spur commercial interest in small-scale and household energy technologies.


1 Daniel M. Kammen is Assistant Professor of Public and International Affairs, as well as Co-Chair of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University.

It is a pleasure to thank Barbara Saatkamp for research assistance, and Stephen Karekezi, Omar Masera, and Kirk R. Smith for project information and invaluable feedback.

2 J. Woods and D.O. Hall, Bioenergy for Development: Environmental and Technical Dimensions (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization, 1994).

3 J. Pasztor and L.A. Kristoferson, Bioenergy and the Environment (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990).

4 S.R. Nkonoki and B. Sorensen, "A Rural Energy Study in Tanzania: The Case of Budilya Village," Natural Resources Forum 8 (1984), pp. 51-62; and J. Goldemberg, T.B. Johanssen, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, "Basic Needs and Much More With One Kilowatt Per Capita," Ambio 14 (1985), pp. 190-200.

5 N. Bradley, Women, Woodfuel, and Woodlots (London: Macmillan Ltd., 1991).

6 B. Agarwal, Cold Hearths and Barren Slopes (New Delhi: Allied/Zed Books, 1986); G. Foley P. Moss, and L. Timberlake, Trees and Stoves: How Much Wood Would a Woodstove Save if a Woodstove Could Save Wood? (Washington: Earthscan/IIED, 1984).

7 K. Openshaw, "A Comparison of Metal and Clay Charcoal Cooking Stoves," paper presented at the Conference on Energy and Environment in East Africa, Kenya Energy and Environmental Organization (KENGO), Nairobi (1979), mimeo; K. Openshaw, "The Development of Improved Cooking Stoves for Urban and Rural Households in Kenya," Report of the Beijer Institute (Stockholm: Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1982); S. Connors, "Wood-Conserving Cookstoves: A Short Primer for the Design and Implementation of Woodstoves and Woodstove Projects," Peace Corps/Benin (1987), mimeo; M. Jones, Energy Efficient Stoves in East Africa: An Assessment of the Kenya Ceramic Jiko (Stove) Programme, Report No. 89-01, Office of the Energy Bureau for Science and Technology, and Regional Economic Development Services Office for East and Southern Africa (Washington: U.S. Agency for International Development, 1989); Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Guidelines for the Monitoring and Evaluation of Cookstove Programmes (Rome: FAO, 1990); I. Bialy, Evaluation Criteria for Improved Cookstove Programmes: The Assessment of Fuel Savings, Draft Energy Sector Management Assistance (ESMAP) Report (Washington: World Bank, 1991). ESMAP Reports can be obtained from Dr. K.R. Smith, Director, Improved Biomass Cookstove Program, Program on Environment, East-West Center, Honolulu, HI 96848.

8 N.M.H. Graham, "The Epidemiology of Acute Respiratory Infections in Children and Adults: Global Perspectives," Epidemiological Review 12 (1990), pp. 149-78; K.R. Smith, "The Health Impact of Cookstove Smoke in Africa," in African Development Perspectives Yearbook 3 (Muenster: Lit Verlag, 1994), pp. 417-34.

9 S. Raju, Smokeless Kitchens for the Millions (Madras, India: Christian Literature Society 1953); S. Baldwin, H. Geller, G. Dutt, and N.H. Raindranath, "Improved Woodburning Cookstoves: Signs of Success," Ambio 14 (1985), pp. 280-87; Smith and Ramakrishna, Improved Cookstove Programs: Where Are We Now?, ESMAP Report No. 2 (Washington: World Bank, 1991); and D.F. Barnes, K. Openshaw, K. Smith, and R. van Plas, What Makes People Cook with Improved Biomass Stoves? Technical Paper No. 242, Energy Series (Washington: World Bank, 1994).

10 K.R. Smith, The Hearth As System Central, Draft ESMAP Report (Washington: World Bank, 1991).

11 K.R. Smith, G. Shuhua, H. Kun, and Q. Daxiong, "100 Million Biomass Stoves in China: How Was It Done?" World Development 18 (1993), pp. 941-61.

12 World Bank, World Development Report: Development and the Environment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

13 H. Krugmann, Review of Issues and Research Relating to Improved Cookstoves, IDRC-MR152e (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 1987).

14 E. Boserup, Women's Role in Economic Development (London: Allen and Unwin, 1970); F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered (New York: Harper and Row, 1973); B. Agarwal, "Diffusion of Rural Innovations: Some Analytical Issues in the Case of Wood-Burning Stoves," World Development 11 (1983), pp. 359-76; B. Agarwal, Cold Hearths; M.B. Anderson, "Technology Transfer: Implications for Women," in C. Overholt et al. (eds.), Gender Roles in Development Projects (Kumarian Press, 1985), pp. 57-78; L. Fortman and D. Rocheleau, "Women and Agroforestry: Four Myths and Three Case Studies," Agroforestry Systems 2 (1985), pp. 253-72; K.R. Smith, "Biomass, Combustion, and Indoor Air Pollution: The Bright and Dark Sides of Small Is Beautiful," Environmental Management 10 (1986), pp. 61-74; and V. Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (London: Zed Books, 1989).

15 S.F. Baldwin, Biomass Stoves, Engineering Design, Development, and Dissemination (Arlington, VA: Volunteers in Technical Assistance, 1987).

16 The demand for domestic fuelwood leads to local shortages and often long transportation distances, but it is not a major contributor to deforestation. Commercial logging and agricultural land conversion and alteration are the primary causes of deforestation. See O. Davidson and S. Karekezi, A New Environmentally Sound Energy Strategy for the Development of Sub-Saharan Africa (Nairobi: Africa Energy Policy Research Network, 1992); S. Karekezi, "Disseminating Renewable Energy Technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa," Annual Review Energy Environment 19 (1994), pp. 387-421; and D.R. Ahuja, "Research Needs for Improving Biofuel Burning Cookstove Technologies: Incorporating Environmental Concerns," Natural Resources Forum 14 (1990), pp. 125-34.

17 H. Krugmann, Review of Issues.

18 For an excellent analysis of the design and evaluation of cook-stoves based rigorously on the principles of heat transfer and materials science, see S.F. Baldwin, Biomass Stoves, Engineering Design, Development, and Dissemination.

19 D.F. Barnes et al., What Makes People Cook.

20 These data are an aggregate of several follow-up studies conducted 12-18 months after the various dissemination programmes concluded oven construction or sales sessions. I thank Kirk R. Smith (private communication) for this summary.

21 H. Krugmann, Review of Issues.

22 G. Foley et al., Stoves and Trees.

23 P. Stamp, Technology, Gender, and Power in Africa (Ottawa: International Development Research Center, 1989); I. Bialy, "Evaluation Criteria for Improved Cookstove Programmes"; and P.N. Bradley, Women, Woodfuel, and Woodlots.

24 Based on urban wood or charcoal costs of U.S. $0.30 to $0.40 per family per day. See S. Baldwin et al., "Improved Woodburning Cookstoves."

25 P. Wickramagamage, Improved Cookstove Programmes in East and Central Africa, Draft ESMAP Report (Washington: World Bank, 1991).

26 K.S. Smith, Biofuels, Air Pollution, and Health (New York: Plenum, 1987); D.F. Barnes et al., What Makes People Cook.

27 N.M.H. Graham, "The Epidemiology of Acute Respiratory Infections"; and D.F. Barnes et al., What Makes People Cook.

28 FAO, Guidelines for Monitoring.

29 D.M. Kammen and B. Fayemi Kammen, "Energy, Food Preparation and Health in Africa: The Roles of Technology, Education and Resource Management," African Technology Forum 6(1) (1992), pp. 11-14; P. Young and K. Wafula, "Smoked Maasai," ITDG/KENGO (London, 1993), mimeo; and K.R. Smith, "The Health Impact of Cookstove Smoke in Africa."

30 K.R. Smith, Biofuels, Air Pollution, and Health.

31 C. Barnes, J. Ensminger, and R O'Keefe (eds.), Wood, Energy, and Households: Perspectives on Rural Kenya (Stockholm: Beijer Institute, 1984); G.J. Wells, X. Xu, and T.J. Johnson, Valuing the Health Effects of Air Pollution: Application to Industrial Energy Efficiency Projects in China, Chinese Government/UNDP/World Bank Study (Washington: World Bank, 1994).

32 K.R. Smith, "The Health Impact of Cookstove Smoke in Africa."

33 An important example is the concept of cost per "disability adjusted life year (DALY)," a somewhat problematic measure of the impact of various health and development infrastructure interventions used by the World Bank. The consequences of ARI are felt not only when the disease strikes, but may cause morbidity and mortality decades after the exposure period, causing the loss of many DALYs per person afflicted. The combination of the low cost of stoves and the large DALY impact of woodsmoke exposure makes improved cookstove programmes an excellent investment when measured in cost/benefit terms. For a discussion of the DALY concept, see World Bank, World Development Report, 1993: Investing in Health (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

34 R. Hosier and J. Dowd, "Household Fuel Choice in Zimbabwe: An Empirical Test of the Energy Ladder Hypothesis," Resources and Energy 9 (1987), pp. 347-61.

35 S. Connors, "Wood-Conserving Cookstoves."

36 In India, 8 to 10 million improved cookstoves have been disseminated; in China, over 120 million. Both provide lessons for projects elsewhere. A recent World Bank report comparing the two programmes concludes that the Indian programme is problematic; it is characterized by central administration, government involvement in stove production, and high oven costs. The more successful Chinese programme is characterized by government involvement only in dissemination and promotion, leaving stove manufacture and sale generally unsubsidized. (Editor's Note; For a detailed discussion of China's stove programme, see chapter 7, this volume).

37 F.M. Njorge, "An Overview of Improved Stove Dissemination Programmemes in Kenya," Second International Workshop on Stove Dissemination, Antigua, Guatemala, October 1987 (unpublished mimeo); Barnes et al., Wood, Energy, and Households; S. Karakezi and D. Walubengo, Household Stoves in Kenya: The Case of the Kenya Ceramic Jingo (Nairobi: KENGO, 1987); P Wickramagamage, Improved Cookstove Programmes in East and Central Africa; S. Pandey, Criteria and Indicators for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Social and Administrative Aspects of Improved Cookstove Programmes, Draft ESMAP Report (Washington: World Bank, 1991); and D. Walubengo, "Cooking Stoves for Commercial, Sustainable Production and Dissemination in Africa?" Boiling Point 30 (1993), pp. 16-19. Boiling Point is available from the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), London.

38 P Wickramagamage, Improved Cookstove Programmes in East and Central Africa.

39 E. Hyman, "The Strategy of Production and Distribution of Improved Charcoal Stoves in Kenya," World Development 15 (1987), pp. 375-86; P. Wickramagamage, Improved Cookstove Programmes in East and Central Africa, D.M. Kammen, "Cookstoves for the Developing World," Scientific American, vol.273, pp.72-75.

40 D.F. Barnes et al., What Makes People Cook.

41 F. Hitzhusen, The Economics of Improved Cookstove Programmes, Draft ESMAP Report (Washington: World Bank, 1991); and P Wickramagamage, Improved Cookstove Programmes in East and Central Africa.

42 K. King, The Incremental Costs of Global Environmental Benefits, Global Environment Facility (GEF) Working Paper No. 5 (Washington: World Bank, 1993); D. Anderson and R.H. Williams, The Cost Effectiveness of GEF Projects, GEF Working Paper No. 6 (Washington: World Bank, 1993).

43 M. Dulansey and J.E. Austin, "Small-Scale Enterprise and Women," in C. Overholt et al. (eds.), Gender Roles in Development Projects (West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, 1985), pp. 79-134.

6. PV, Wind, and Other Dispersed Energy Sources


This chapter examines the context, barriers, and opportunities that dispersed technologies encounter in the energy market, as another way of addressing the lack of power experienced by most of the population, especially at the household level in rural areas. The electricity sector in Central America is used as a case study to introduce some general concepts that may be adapted to other regions of the world.

Beginning in the 1950s, the energy sector in many developing countries was characterized by the predominance of large centralized power generation facilities financed through a heavy foreign debt burden, large price subsidies, and the absence of both efforts at demand-side management and strong private sector participation. Governments were assumed to be the sole managers and providers of services; national utilities made nearly all decisions about the development and operation of energy projects.

This energy paradigm dominated until the middle of the 1980s, when it began to collapse for a number of reasons. First, because of the economic situation in most developing countries, development banks no longer wanted to lend exclusively or even primarily to large-scale, state-owned, centralized projects; the increased foreign debt from additional external funding would be too difficult under current economic constraints. Second, the global community became increasingly concerned about the environmental impacts of large-scale energy projects and dependence on thermal generation. And third, private developers of power projects and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) became active in establishing new alternatives for addressing development needs.

Throughout the developing world, public utilities have become unable to provide quality services on a continuing basis or to respond adequately to rapidly increasing demand. It is, therefore, essential to assess what alternatives exist for supplying electricity in a sustainable manner. One possible approach is to do nothing, letting demand continue to grow at random, even as public investments in energy decline still further. Under this scenario, the quality of energy services would decline, dependence on thermal plants would increase, and the population and industry would experience frequent blackouts. In short, this option would significantly reduce the quality of life of that portion of the population that still has access, even if it is unreliable, to the public grid. A significant portion of the population would simply not have access at all.

Since the mid-1980s, however, a new environmental paradigm has been emerging in response to declining global economic conditions, the imperative of environmental regeneration, and the demands for a better quality of life for the majority of the population. This new environmental paradigm recognizes that energy is crucial to development. It integrates some aspects of the traditional approach based on grid-connected systems, with dispersed energy technologies, which for the purposes of this paper are defined as "stand-alone," "freestanding," or "decentralized," i.e., not connected to the utility or supplied by unsustainable means.

Dispersed energy systems have emerged as an important alternative to cope with the minimum needs of the poorest sectors, especially at the household level. They are the appropriate solution, where conventional sources of energy are not available or not convenient to use.

In other words, the new environmental paradigm involves new means of transforming and managing energy. It generally includes a number of important components:

· The rates paid by those with access to national power systems are set to be consistent with the long run marginal costs;

· Decisions about both large and small energy projects take account of their potential environmental impact. In particular, attention is given to the high dependence of the majority of people on biomass, especially firewood consumption for cooking and heating;

· Regional and municipal power distribution companies and cooperatives not directly owned by the central governments are often consolidated;

· The inability to meet demand through state-built, debt-financed, centralized projects creates new opportunities for small grid-connected, as well as stand-alone, energy enterprises; and

· Regional and community development organizations provide energy to low-income populations, especially in rural areas, in a sustainable way, with dispersed energy sources.

The Central American Energy Context

Central America consists of seven countries located near the equator. Only half of these countries' combined population of 46 million inhabitants has access to electricity services.


In Central America, like most Third World regions, the energy-demand growth rate is higher than the economic growth rate. As a result, countries often seek high levels of foreign investment to finance construction of large energy projects, to maintain existing state-owned systems, to fund new grid extensions, as well as to pay for the oil imports consumed in operating existing thermal power plants and in the transportation sector. However, not only is foreign funding a heavy load for the economy, but financing the counterpart costs is also an extra burden since allocating money from the national budget requires an increase in tariffs and/or taxes.

Public sector debt is a significant portion of the overall external debt for most Central American countries; in some countries, electricity alone will account for about 45 per cent of the total external debt, projected to the year 2002, if the state-owned utilities assume the development of all on-line projects. Open markets, severe structural adjustment, privatization of public services, and significant reductions in public investment make economic development and socio-economic growth even more difficult.

In recent years, a number of new players have entered the energy market, including private power producers and regional and community service companies, or non-governmental organizations. These new players provide non-conventional energy sources such as small and mini hydro, photovoltaic (PV)-systems biomass-based cogeneration (sugar, rice, sawmills), wind farms, and small wind turbines. They supply energy for small-scale uses, thus, creating improved living conditions for the population. One example is the introduction in Guatemala and Honduras by local community groups, with the support of public utilities, of photovoltaic (PV)-systems for rural home electrification through the creation of small energy ventures at the community level.


The emergence of peace and democracy in Central America has helped to bring about rapid economic growth since 1990. It has also created pressure for improved social conditions for the majority of the population. Together, the growing desire for basic energy and other services and an increase in the available stock of electrical appliances have led to unexpected increases in demand for power.

The growth in demand for electricity in the region as a whole is more than 7 per cent per year. There are, however, significant differences among countries. For example, the percentage of homes with access to electricity varies from country to country, ranging from 40 per cent in Guatemala to a high of 90 per cent in Costa Rica. Despite such differences, the growth in demand for electricity is high throughout the region. In El Salvador, demand in 1993 increased 12 per cent over the previous year; in Costa Rica, where demand was projected to increase 6 per cent from 1992 to 1993, it increased 9 per cent, according to the national utility. With growth rates this high, the region must double its installed electric capacity by the year 2000, a difficult task to carry out under the economic restrictions mentioned above.

Public utilities in general have based their plans for expansion on centralized means of power generation, particularly large hydroelectric projects and conventional grid extensions. However, this approach - carried out mainly in the 1960s and 1970s - has not been enough to keep up with growing demand. In recent years, the lack of scheduled maintenance, planning, and capital investment has led to poor service and a shortage of available power. In Guatemala alone, some 6,000 villages are waiting to be linked to the grid. Honduras had blackouts of up to 10 hours per day in 1994.

One important issue limiting expanded services is the high degree of dependence on fossil fuels. Except for small deposits under exploitation in Guatemala, fossil fuels must be imported into the region. Even Costa Rica, which long prided itself on its 98 per cent reliance on hydroelectricity, now faces serious reservoir depletion problems on existing hydropower plants and serious debt-financing limitations on the construction of new facilities; as a result, Costa Rica, too, is increasingly dependent on fossil fuels.


The demand for such natural resources as food, water, and energy and for services such as transportation and education have a tendency to increase more rapidly than the physical and financial capacity to satisfy them adequately. Central America's current population of some 46 million is expected to double in less than 30 years. In other words, even to keep up with current levels, the supply of resources and services must at least double in that short period of time.

In most Central American countries, the energy establishment has not adequately assessed the long-term availability of power from renewable energy resources. First, severe droughts on major reservoirs and the lack of appropriate planning and maintenance have led to serious power shortages in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Second, the hydrological basins are deteriorating at an accelerated rate; overgrazing and intensive farming of the surrounding slopes without the use of appropriate soil conservation practices have resulted in erosion. Together with the disposal of urban wastes in the rivers, this affects the operation of the large hydro projects and the quality of the water available for producing electric power.

Current conditions in the energy sector also have negative effects on social development in Central America. First, as already noted, only half of the Central American population currently has access to electricity services.2 In other words, there is a large unmet demand for basic energy services, especially at the rural level. Second, firewood consumption accounts for over 50 per cent of total energy consumption in the region, mainly to satisfy the energy needs for cooking at the household level in the rural areas;3 this not only has serious environmental implications, but also affects women's health, education, and opportunities. Central American women must spend a great deal of time in gathering, transporting, preparing, and burning firewood for cooking, a fact that reduces their involvement in education, worsens their health conditions, and limits their opportunities for getting additional income for their families. (Editor's Note: See chapters 2, 3, and 7, this volume, for more detailed discussion of the amount of time women in many parts of the world spend on such activities.)

The Transitional Path: Decentralized Small-Scale Renewable Energy Systems

This context - the economic situation, high growth in energy demand, and environmental and social considerations requiring urgent action - has moved the community of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to move from the progressive role that a few groups have played in disseminating renewable energy technologies toward more active involvement in addressing the challenges facing the energy sector.

These new players are helping to define the new energy paradigm. They are responding to the need for changes in the way energy is considered, looking not just at energy delivery, but at the whole question of how to integrate energy into social and economic development. They are attempting to catalyze energy as an important instrument for social change and for a range of diverse productive uses, including crop processing and crop-waste disposal, revitalizing artisanal trades, small power sources for education and communications, water pumping for sanitation and agriculture, household electrification, refrigeration, battery charging, heating, etc.


An important part of the new approach to energy is the potential of dispersed energy technologies to meet the monumental energy challenge facing Central America. Of the many available dispersed energy sources in Central America, a number appear particularly promising, including photovoltaic-based home electrification, solar thermal devices, stand-alone wind turbines, small wind/PV-diesel hybrid units, small diesel-power generators, extension of the conventional grid, and micro and mini hydropower.

Photovoltaic-Based Home Electrification

Photovoltaic (PV) electricity transforms sunlight into electricity, storing it in batteries to use any time. A PV system is made up of a module, at least one battery, a charge controller, and an inverter, plus the electrical end-use equipment (i.e., for lighting, communication, refrigeration, water pumping, etc.). It requires minimum maintenance, is well suited for remote locations, and costs approximately $0.75 per kilowatt hour (kWh). By contrast, according to one study by Sandia National Laboratories, the average combined price for batteries, candles, and kerosene is in the range of $US1.00 to $2.00 per kWh, while dry-cell batteries cost on the order of $30.00 to $60.00 per kWh.4 Not only are PV systems less expensive than present alternatives, they can provide an energy source to areas that are not, or cannot be, reached by grid service.

Due to its geographical position near the equator and high levels of sunshine all year-round, PV systems are a cost-effective means of making power available to remote users. This has now been demonstrated by a number of projects. For example, Enersol Associates, a nonprofit group, has incorporated photovoltaics into an innovative financial and institutional system to create a self-sustaining PV energy market in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Throughout Central America, the PV market is increasing; about 1,500 systems are added yearly, each with an installed capacity in the range of 30 to 50 W each.

Solar-Thermal Devices

Hot water requirements at the household level and in specific productive activities are another need that can be fulfilled by renewable energy technologies. Solar collector technology has matured enough to provide water with output temperatures up to 200 degrees Celsius, depending on the physical characteristics of the materials used, the available solar resource, and the engineering design of the installation. But in residential applications, which do not operate under high pressures, the highest temperatures achieved are on the order of 100 degrees Celsius. In off-grid locations, solar water heaters may not only provide hot water to domestic users for comfort purposes, but may also contribute to improved sanitation in community health centers. In addition, solar water heaters can also have industrial applications; by helping to meet hot water requirements, they can optimize the proportion of energy provided by the solar system relative to the energy provided by other available resources (i.e., gas combustion, electricity from diesel systems, etc.).

The main difficulties this type of system has encountered are technological prejudices in some segments of the population, lack of information about the systems, and the amount of initial investment needed for the purchase of this technology In individual systems for domestic use, the price varies from U.S. $650 to $1,300 (including a 40-50 gallon water tank), depending on the brand name, materials, and installation costs. For industrial purposes, investment costs depend on the size of the system (amount of collector area). However, since the operating cost associated with solar water heaters is virtually nil, the investment cost will be compensated throughout the life of the system.

Stand-Alone Wind Turbines

In many parts of the world, small wind systems (from 50 to 300 kilowatts) provide energy for applications, including village electrification, water pumping, battery charging, small industrial uses, etc. In Central America, however, the use of wind as an energy source is at a preliminary stage.

With the assistance of the National Rural Electrification Cooperatives Association (NRECA) and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a regional programme is evaluating wind potential. This effort consists of plans for wind data monitoring and instrumentation, data processing and evaluation, and site-specific resource assessment. Although the programme has identified several sites at which wind energy could potentially be utilized, no commercial market has yet been developed for small remote power applications. A few old systems (the multi-bladed farm windmills) are under operation around the countryside in Guatemala and Costa Rica, mainly for water pumping for irrigation and potable water.

Small Wind/PV-Diesel Gas Hybrid Units

In a number of places, combining photovoltaic or wind systems with diesel offers potentially greater benefits than stand-alone renewable systems. Such hybrid units offer greater reliability, especially for remote applications such as land-based and naval communications, park management, etc., while at the same time attempting to minimize the use of the diesel fuel. In these combined systems, the electrical energy generated by the wind turbine or the PV array is converted to chemical energy in the batteries, which in turn can be converted to electricity for later use. The diesel/gas generator can be used either to charge the batteries or to supply electricity directly.

In such combined systems, it is preferable to have control mechanisms that permit turning off the diesel generators whenever the renewable energy technologies can supply the load, since a continuously running diesel engine operates very inefficiently when supplying a small fraction (less than 40 per cent) of its rated capacity. In hybrid systems that supply electricity to small villages, the electric power is produced in AC and fed directly to the load. Storage systems (such as batteries and other hydro-pneumatic systems) act as "buffers," maintaining a stable output during short periods of time, such as when low winds occur. In much smaller hybrid power systems, with outputs at the household level, the energy is produced in DC and sent entirely into a battery bank that in turn feeds a DC load, or an AC load through an inverter.

Small Diesel-Power Generators

Conventional diesel-generating systems have been the traditional way to address the problem of lack of electricity in remote or off-grid applications. They can be rapidly installed, and provide a good solution to common electric power shortages and blackouts in the region. The main advantage of this old and proven technology is its reliability, but the costs associated with this technology (e.g., initial investment, imported fuel, transportation) are not suitable for low-income villages dispersed throughout rural areas. These systems can, however, solve the problem of providing energy for such activities as agroprocessing industries, small municipal electric enterprises, etc.

Extension of the Conventional Grid

Extension of the conventional grid can help ease access to electric energy use not only for residential lighting, but also for productive activities in rural areas. It can provide energy options for small shops, artisans, micro-enterprise development, small industrial manufacturing, etc.

Several NGOs recognize the development implications of these activities and are offering technical management assistance and loans for extending conventional electric grids and easing access for individuals and groups. This approach addresses underlying social development needs associated with energy services by helping to implement programmes that promote productive uses of energy, as a complement to electrification efforts. It looks beyond the potential market for energy suppliers and focuses instead on the actual needs that the provision of energy seeks to fulfill.

NGOs are best equipped to promote this type of programme, and a few of these are currently in place in Central America, like the successful cases of GENESIS (see Box 6.1) and FUNDAP in Guatemala, ADHEJUMUR in Honduras, etc. One of the main findings of existing programmes is that, by providing basic electric equipment to already existing enterprises in newly electrified villages, the number of jobs provided by these enterprises can readily be tripled.5

Micro and Mini Hydropower (up to 1000 kW)

A hydraulic turbine connected to a generator can convert water flows into electricity. This technology is the most developed due to the geographic and climatic characteristics in all Central American countries. Since the scope of this study is limited to nontraditional stand-alone systems for remote locations, this technology will not be discussed further.

In addition to electricity, other dispersed energy sources in rural areas include dissemination of improved firewood stoves, solar cookers, solar crop drying systems, etc. These dispersed energy technologies are all too small to attract conventional sources of funding.

BOX 6.1

GENESIS: A Case Study in Success

GENESIS is a nonprofit, private-sector organization created in 1988. It has an exceptional track record in credit programmes for micro-enterprise development in Guatemala, giving financial assistance, management advice, and capacitation. Its general objective is to strengthen and develop micro enterprises by helping to increase incomes and generate job opportunities - by promoting the socio-economic situation of workers and their families. Its active loan portfolio has grown from under $50,000 to $3,500,000 in six years.

By early 1995, GENESIS had provided more than 37,000 loans, creating or strengthening nearly 10,000 jobs and benefiting nearly 60,000 family members. The impact on the beneficiaries has been very positive. Net incomes for enterprises with individual loans increased an average of 74 per cent, and 20 per cent in the case of loans provided to groups. Net profits for individuals increased an average of 72 per cent, and for groups an average of 40 per cent; and net assets increased 33 per cent and 48 per cent, respectively, for these same categories. Women have benefitted especially in the well-established groups.

In September 1992, GENESIS initiated a programme to finance productive uses of energy for micro entrepreneurs with access to the grid. In 1993, the programme was expanded to include grid extension to communities that could not afford the investment of interconnection. In 1994, GENESIS initiated a parallel programme to finance rural electrification through decentralized renewable sources for communities for which grid extension was not a viable alternative.


The large unmet demand for basic energy services in rural areas has prompted a number of efforts to create markets for small-scale energy sources, particularly photovoltaic projects for home rural electrification. Although these projects vary from country to country, and from project to project, a number of generalizations can be made.

Private Power Generation Investors

This category includes all those projects that primarily focus on generating electricity for captive uses or for sale to the national grid, mostly oriented toward small hydropower (above 1000 kW), biomass-based cogeneration (sugar, rice, sawmills, etc.), large-scale wind power systems (wind farms), geothermal, and of course, private power generation projects based on diesel oil.

Their common innovative feature is the participation of the private sector in the previously monopolized energy generation market. Because this is essentially an opening market, developers are forced to find new financial mechanisms, mainly foreign capital. Local capital is generally not available for investing in this kind of activity.

The viability of these projects is linked to the changes in the electric regulatory and legal frameworks; however, only in Costa Rica is the new legal framework reasonably clear yet.

Local Development Organizations

This category includes all those players with the innovative goal of integrating energy into rural development. These players tend to include mainly municipalities, cooperatives, and non-governmental organizations. In contrast to projects by private investors, projects initiated by local development organizations are primarily directed at decentralized energy supply systems. Their aim is to meet the social and productive needs of off-grid communities through non-traditional energy services and to promote renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies.


From the sustainable development perspective, local development organizations contribute to the transition to a new energy paradigm in three important ways:

1. They are concerned about a just distribution of energy services and improvements in quality of life. Local development organizations can make a significant contribution toward social equity by rectifying the deficiencies of the centralized and urban-centered focus of public utilities throughout Central America. An emerging focus for these efforts is rural electrification, i.e., providing energy services to communities and villages isolated from the grid. Some promising approaches include the establishment of small energy enterprises, the establishment of credit programmes to finance grid extensions, and the dissemination of dispersed renewable energy technologies appropriate to local resource availability.

2. They regard energy as a means, not an end, in the development process. The concerns of local development organizations go beyond increasing the amount of energy generated and delivered toward enhancing the capacity to derive social and economic benefits from the integrated use of existing and new energy sources. Essentially, this requires remedying wasteful or inefficient use of energy before generating more energy The goal is not just to increase the amount of energy being produced, but to increase the benefits that derive from access to energy

This approach requires reducing energy consumption through the introduction of more energy efficiency standards on appliances, lighting, and buildings, as well as implementing productive uses of energy as a complement to rural electrification. Energy provision, in other words, is linked to the social context and consumer behavior.

3. They contribute to environmental and financial sustainability by seeking to reduce the negative impacts of conventional energy generation and to provide cleaner alternatives. Local development organizations have gotten involved with energy issues because of the need to decrease the environmental degradation associated with conventional energy generation. Their potential to promote dispersed energy sources and energy efficient technologies is immense since these are appropriate to the local resource available and adapted to social, economic, and cultural conditions.

Furthermore, local development organizations contribute not only by promoting renewable energy technologies, but by formulating and validating new approaches for making the environmentally superior energy solutions a viable facet of the new paradigm. This requires going beyond the conventional mentality of international assistance and technology transfer; it requires recognizing local capabilities for making improvements in their own quality of life. A big contribution to this effort, for example, is the work of groups like the Biomass Users Network (BUN) in Central America. With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, BUN and the E&Co Initiative (discussed below) are fostering early stage development of commercially viable environmental enterprises that are currently outside the scope of interest of conventional financial institutions.

The benefit of this approach is that once the initial demonstration phase is complete, such enterprises may then attract private capital. It assures local and international financial institutions of the validity of these small enterprises, especially if small-scale and initial risk concerns are compensated through project aggregation and in-depth evaluation.

On the other hand, there is a need for local capability development and strengthening of the terms of international exchange. In a worldwide open market scheme, new mechanisms for supporting the takeoff of commercially viable projects and financing sustainable resource management are needed.


The various energy initiatives of local development organizations throughout Central America all faced a number of significant barriers:

· The existing gap between what conventional sources of capital are willing to finance and what the new enterprises seek to do.

· Lack of players experienced in linking small-scale projects to available funds. Local development organizations should facilitate a process that incorporates community-level participation from the beginning and enhances the community's access to funding sources.

· Lack of human resource and organizational capacity to turn good ideas into proposals. In other words, projects must be well-defined and involve participants, who are capable and organized to proceed. Most project proponents need strengthened capacities to clearly define projects.

· Language differences. The lack of command of English by project proponents and the lack of command of Spanish by funders forces too much time to be spent on document translations.


At the international level, most funders and major donors are changing the way they assist developing countries. They are moving from providing core-funding to supporting projects that can be self-sustaining, using the following criteria for small energy enterprise:

1. Innovation. Increasingly, projects must employ technologies or techniques that show the potential of new approaches to energy production, transportation, and end-use. In addition, in view of the need to generate local capacity in the formulation and execution of sustainable development ventures, projects should have innovative institutional and financial framework that will lead to the establishment of a new enterprise.

2. Integration. In order for a dispersed energy technology to achieve market penetration, the energy enterprise should integrate technical, legal/institutional, and financial aspects. These can also encourage the local banking community to participate in financing the dispersed energy sources once their effectiveness and viability have been demonstrated.

The technical considerations that must be integrated are specific to each project. The technologies applied should be well-established in both industrialized and developing countries, although the projects should be innovative in how they are carried out.

The institutional aspects that must be integrated consist of the conditions that must be observed in order to be able to operate legitimately in each country, the legal considerations in establishing contracts and agreements with other players, and the steps necessary to establish a structure that will progressively ease the development of new projects.

The financial aspects that must be integrated include selecting the best financial mechanism to manage the project's disbursements, repayments, and terms as well as attracting additional sources of capital investment.

3. Diffusion. The development of a small energy venture should have adequate support not only from the potential beneficiaries at the community level, but also from the political actors in the national context, especially in the energy sector, in order to make it replicable either in the same country or elsewhere.

4. Demonstration and Validation. Projects must have the potential to be self-supporting and, if successful, to attract private sector investment that can eventually repay this early support. The central goal of early stage enterprise development is to formulate new approaches that make environmentally superior energy solutions commercially viable and able to access private capital. Support for early stage enterprise development involves activities like:

· providing technical expertise and support to the project developer in securing bank credit and in writing the project proposal;

· providing pre-investment funding;

· setting up revolving fund mechanisms, in which the repayments on initial loans can be used by other borrowers for other renewable energy ventures;

· bundling small projects together to create a package large enough to interest conventional financial institutions; and

· providing financing via the equipment supplier and other entities operating in concert with the supplier in order to minimize transaction costs.

5. Environmental Benefit. Projects must also offer clear environmental benefits that are demonstrably more successful economically than the local alternative.

Photovoltaic Systems for Rural Development in Guatemala: A Case of NGO/Utility/Financial Entity Collaboration

The following case shows a successful collaborative effort to make electric energy available and affordable to low-income communities in the outskirts of the City of Guatemala. This example illustrates that support for enterprise development can act as a catalyst, enabling innovative concepts to overcome financial, technical, and legal/institutional barriers in order to make energy services and the related social benefits accessible to more people.


Guatemala's electricity sub-sector consists of the National Power Generation Utility (Instituto Nacional de Electrificaci INDE); the Guatemalan Electric Enterprise (EEGSA), which distributes power to three departments (or states) around the capital, Guatemala City; municipal electric enterprises that distribute power to rural municipalities; and private energy enterprises that generate and distribute power on a private basis to other areas in the country. INDE is the primary institution in charge of power generation, transmission, and electrification for most rural and urban areas. As of 1991, the Guatemalan power grid serviced 40 per cent of the population, including 16 per cent of the rural population.6

The average electricity consumption per capita is 125 kWh/inhabitant/year, about a tenth of the Latin American average of 1,200. Table 6.1 summarizes the percentage of homes without electricity in the twenty-one departments that make up the Republic of Guatemala.

Through concerted efforts, such as the Third National Rural Electrification Project (PER-III), the Guatemalan government has sought to increase the coverage of rural areas. PER-III aims to bring electricity to 280 rural communities that do not have services, and to expand the available services to 95 other communities by 1996. But the financial barriers confronting the electricity sub-sector, the growing energy demand in the rural areas, the deterioration of INDE's large-scale power plants, and the physical constraints to serving a dispersed population through a centralized power system, all indicate that the proportion of the Guatemalan population unserviced by the national grid could increase, possibly reaching two thirds of the country's inhabitants by the turn of the century.

TABLE 6.1 - Homes Not Serviced by Electricity in Guatemala


% Unserviced


% Unserviced

Alta Verapaz








El Quich/TD>








San Marcos


El Progreso






Baja Verapaz
















Santa Rosa


Source: International Fund for Renewable Energy and Efficiency (IFREE), Central American Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Project, Country Study: Guatemala (March 1994), p. 24.

Facing the Challenge: EEGSA's Approach

The Guatemalan Electric Enterprise is responsible for power distribution in the departments of Guatemala, Escuintla, and Sacatepez. EEGSA is a private corporation, although the large majority of its shares are owned by INDE. Because its service area surrounds Guatemala City, it has greater access to a variety of services (including electricity) than the rest of the country; nevertheless, a large proportion of homes in this area, especially in Escuintla, do not have access to grid power.

Furthermore, EEGSA's Rural Electrification Department estimates that it is only able to service 5 per cent of the nearly 100 new requests for electrification it receives every year because of the high costs of grid extensions. This situation was aggravated in November 1994, when EEGSA was forced to begin rationing electricity to areas it already services because of problems in meeting existing demand. In this power supply crisis, costly grid extensions to provide power to dispersed unserviced users are likely to have lower priority than meeting demand in already serviced areas.

Fortunately, EEGSA's Planning Department has chosen to regard the problem as an opportunity to introduce decentralized renewable energy technologies that can meet the basic energy needs of remote rural homes without increasing stress on the power grid. In this effort, they have been supported by CrediEEGSA, a credit corporation founded in March 1993 and affiliated with EEGSA. One of CrediEEGSA's main objectives is to provide financing, without subsidies, to unserviced communities in EEGSA's area of influence to enable people to acquire energy services.

The Role of Photovoltaic Systems

EEGSA's Planning Department became interested in the concept of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to provide basic energy services to communities on the outskirts of Guatemala City that were at a considerable distance from the grid. It identified a number of advantages to this technology: it is modular, that is, initially small systems can be expanded as the household's energy demand and ability to pay increase; it has a long useful life since PV systems have no moving parts that can wear away; it has low maintenance costs since the only component that needs routine care is the battery; easy and quick installation allows a home system to be fully installed in under a day; and it creates less air or water polluting emissions since no combustion processes are involved.

The standard stand-alone system used for basic electrification of rural homes in Central America consists of one or more photovoltaic panels, each capable of converting solar radiation into 35 to 100 watts of electric power, depending on the panel rating, under favourable atmospheric conditions; one or more 12 volt batteries similar to those used in cars or motorboats to store the electricity for later use (for example, for lighting at night); control units to regulate battery charge and protect the system; efficient fluorescent lamps; and an optional DC to AC inverter for running small appliances.

Increasing the number of panels or the number of batteries can broaden the possible uses of energy, but it also increases the cost. The size of the system, and particularly the number of batteries, is designed according to how much solar radiation is available on site; if the site tends to have relatively long periods of insufficient sunlight, then the storage capacity of the batteries needs to be higher to maintain system operation. The user also needs to control how much power is consumed in order to make the best use of the available energy and to prevent the battery from discharging below the minimum working charge because this could greatly decrease its useful life.

In some cases, rural dwellers are already familiar with how car or boat batteries operate, or they may even be using them for powering radios or lights at home and taking them periodically to a nearby town for recharging. This makes the introduction of PV technology easier because the customer is already used to working with DC power. Conversely, PV systems are not cost effective, where the power demand can be met by extending the power grid or where users are accustomed to a wide range of uses of grid electricity. Electricity from small PV systems cannot support such uses as thermal showerheads, electric ovens, or large appliances, and conventional appliances cannot be used without having a DC to AC inverter. However, for many rural dwellers, PV is the alternative to having no electricity. Once they purchase a PV system, they have a guaranteed power supply and are not subject to blackouts due to excess demand on the grid. Moreover, they do not have to pay anyone for the electricity they consume, or for candles, kerosene, or dry-cell batteries.

Figure 6.1 - Economic Break-Even of Photovoltaic* Installation

Source: Guatemalan Electric Enterprise (EEGSA), 1993.

* PV is to be preferred for the combination of parameters located above the respective bars in this figure.

EEGSA undertook a pre-feasibility study to assess how viable PV systems would be. They compared the economic feasibility of introducing photovoltaic systems to a remote village with that of extending the power grid. The study showed that financial feasibility of PV systems over grid extensions is determined by four factors: distance from the grid, number of homes, dispersion of the homes (average distance between each home), and energy consumption per home. An increase in the number of homes or in the energy consumption per home makes grid extension more feasible. Conversely, an increase in the dispersion of the homes and the distance from the grid makes PV systems more feasible. In addition, since the buyers of PV systems need only pay for the investment cost of the system and not for the energy they consume, once they have purchased the system, the price per kWh sold by the grid also affects the feasibility of installing a PV system. Figure 6.1 compares the economic viability of PV systems and grid extension for two different consumption levels (62 kWh/month and 36 kWh/month); for the points located above the shaded areas, at both consumption levels, the PV-based home electrification option is economically more feasible than grid extension.

EEGSA then identified a number of villages along the Motagua River Basin, about 50 kilometres north of Guatemala City, along the boundary between the departments of Escuintla and Baja Verapaz, that fulfilled a number of the requirements that would make PV systems feasible. The villages were all more than 10 kilometres from the power grid, their requirements for power consumption were about 12-15 kWh/month, they had dispersions of about 100 metres, and the number of households ranged from 100 to 300 per village. The economic calculations suggested that in this situation, the cost of installing PV systems in some of these villages could be as low as one third the cost of extending the grid.

In order to encourage local villagers to invest in the new solar technology, EEGSA and CrediEEGSA, with the assistance of several international agencies, carried out a pilot project to introduce photovoltaic systems for rural electrification. For this one-time pilot project, they sought one of the lowest income villages and offered to subsidize two thirds of the costs of the PV systems. CrediEEGSA provided credits to the users for the remaining third of the costs, which the users were required to re-pay over two years. Through this pilot project, EEGSA was able to install 42 PV systems in the village of San Buenaventura in the Department of Guatemala.


The next step for EEGSA in making PV systems as a commercially viable substitute to costly grid extensions was to develop the financial mechanisms that would allow rural communities to cover the full costs of decentralized energy systems, without the need for paternalistic subsidies. However, EEGSA was limited by a lack of available funding for such an initiative; the Guatemalan banking system and the traditional international assistance programmes were not interested in the concept of providing low-income farmers with small credits to finance a new technology for providing electricity in remote areas. They considered it a high risk venture with a high administrative and paperwork load for a small sum of money. There were also no conceptual models to guide the management of a commercial venture of this kind.

However, the potential of EEGSA's PV rural electrification project was readily apparent to the Energy Enterprise Development Initiative for Central America (E&Co. Initiative). The E&Co. Initiative is a new investment venture being carried out by the Biomass Users Network's Regional Office for Central America and the Caribbean (BUN-CR) with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation; its objective is to nurture early stage energy enterprises in developing countries and help them evolve to the stage where they can be considered for funding by conventional financial institutions. BUN-CR is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working out of San Jose, Costa Rica, whose mission is to support community groups and small enterprises that are actively involved in the productive use of renewable energy and biomass resources, as a means of advancing social and economic well-being in the Central American and the Caribbean regions.

BUN-CR saw the EEGSA project as the core of a revolving fund that could operate for a specific period of time supporting the commercial introduction of autonomous PV systems, and then expand to support the development of a wider range of commercially viable renewable energy ventures throughout Guatemala. Through an initial evaluation, BUN-CR analysts agreed with EEGSA and CrediEEGSA officials that the EEGSA project met all the criteria of the E&Co. Initiative. The project involved new players (both energy users and funders) in the provision of energy services; the revolving credit fund was an innovative means for making energy accessible to remote locations without subsidies; it introduced new environmentally friendly technologies, providing a substitute for diesel generators and dependence on candles, kerosene, and batteries for lighting; and the results could be replicated to other developing regions.

In July 1994, EEGSA and CrediEEGSA staff prepared a proposal for funding from the Rockefeller Foundation under the E&Co. Initiative, with the assistance of BUN-CR. The request was for US$65,075 to finance the installation of no less than 95 PV systems, in the La Canoa Village, on the Motagua River Basin. In accordance with this proposal, CrediEEGSA has been contracted to administer the $65,075 fund for six years.

Each of the players will have a specific role in project implementation. CrediEEGSA's administrative functions will include signing the credit agreements with each user and handling the collection of repayments and the monitoring of the accounts for each credit, ordering the purchase of the PV systems on behalf of the users, retaining the bill of purchase as security for the credit and, if necessary, repossessing the equipment in case of default. EEGSA will be contracted by CrediEEGSA at zero-subsidy costs to provide the design of the PV systems, to procure the equipment, and to carry out the installation, supervision, and training of the local committee. BUN-CR will supervise the operation of the fund and promote the dissemination and replication of the experience at the regional level. In the communities, Local Solar Energy Committees will handle training of individual users, organize the collection and the trips to Guatemala City for the monthly payments, and carry out routine inspections and maintenance of the systems.

The financial terms for the project take account of both Guatemalan financial market conditions and the project's objective of making energy services available to low-income rural dwellers. The cost of each individual system will range from US $560 to $670. With financing for up to three years at a variable interest rate that will start at 18 per cent and be adjusted for local inflation, the purchasers will have to make monthly payments ranging from $12 to $24, depending on the size of the system and their downpayment. CrediEEGSA will pay interest of around 12 per cent on the fund's balance and charge a transaction fee for collecting the payments and administering the fund. It is estimated that after 36 months, the fund's accumulated revenues will be $94,000. This estimate allows for a 5 per cent delinquency rate, based on CrediEEGSA's prior record of a delinquency rate of less than 2 per cent. All project costs, including management of the fund and all resources allocated by EEGSA, will be internalized into the cost of the system paid by the user.

Financial analysis shows the project is sustainable. At the end of the third year, the present value of the fund will be $77,925. Therefore, the net present value of the accumulated investment will be $12,850. The project has a payback period of approximately 2.5 years and a benefit to cost ratio of 1.20. In keeping with the E&Co. Initiative's objective of involving new players in innovative energy services, a major private Guatemalan bank has started to follow the project's progress with great interest, and could possibly consider investing capital in subsequent replications of this experience.


As the pilot project has demonstrated, the introduction of PV systems will yield a variety of quality of life improvements to households that purchase a system, and to the community as a whole. For EEGSA, the main goal is providing clean, reliable lighting to the households in the community. The PV systems will provide better quality light, while simultaneously eliminating a source of pollution and a fixed cost of about $9.00 per month for candles, kerosene, and batteries. Electric light can increase the hours available for work, recreation, and education. This is especially important in poor rural communities in Guatemala, where the literacy rate is very low, and both children and adults have little chance to study during the day.

In addition, the PV systems designed for this programme can power radios, small black and white television sets, and small appliances like blenders for household and commercial uses. The project also provides training to the users in the management of their energy systems, which is vital since PV power cannot be squandered as often happens with grid electricity; and it strengthens the local institutions that will handle basic system inspection and repairs. Furthermore, the project aims to promote micro-enterprise development in the community, with activities ranging from small-scale productive uses of the new energy source to the creation of a maintenance and spare parts shop for the upkeep of the systems.

An equally important outcome is the empowerment of the community to participate in credit programmes. Many credit applicants say that they had never before had a bank account, much less considered themselves eligible for reimbursable financing. Traditionally, they thought their only option was to wait for the government to extend the grid (in some villages, the wait is estimated to be seventy years). However, through the application process, they have attained self-confidence and experience in dealing with financial institutions, and after the conclusion of the project, they will have a positive credit record that will help them in pursuing other productive activities.


Dispersed energy sources can partially provide the energy to sustain the social and economic change needed for development. By moving away from waiting for all the answers from a single player, the public utility, it is possible to create a new transitional paradigm in which, under certain circumstances, systems that use dispersed sources of energy offer lower marginal costs for supplying power for social change than centralized energy facilities.

In non-grid connected villages, dispersed energy systems offer a quick, economic, and reliable answer to the need for power. The rapid decrease in the cost per kWh of decentralized energy technologies, and the opening of commercial markets on a global scale, represent a great opportunity to develop new schemes. Converting sunlight into electricity through PV module arrays at the household level offers a good example. Several programmes are already underway in the developing world, particularly in countries in which the public utility has been unable to cope with the growing demand for power in due time by traditional means.

The experience of these programmes offers a number of lessons:

1. A quick response is needed to meet the energy requirements of development and of improving the quality of life of the people of developing countries. No single measure can fully meet these requirements. The role of local governments and public utilities can be complemented with the participation of local development organizations and private developers.

2. Socio-economic development is taking place in the context of more open market economies and a growing number of competitors from outside the region. Indigenous financing systems are unable to fully meet the capital requirements of the less developed countries' economies. So, there is a definite niche for stimulating investment in environmentally friendly technologies and innovative approaches for providing energy services on a sustainable basis; this investment can come from private power investors, private banks, large development banks operating through their private-oriented initiatives (such as the International Finance Corporation), the European Community, etc.

3. Although local development organizations must be involved in energy issues, their role should be clearly defined and their scope of work well integrated into the new energy paradigm; otherwise, they may distort the new market of decentralized energy systems. False expectations in terms of unclear benefits and the continuation of paternalistic practices should be avoided.

4. Enhancing the quality of life in rural areas can help reduce the pressure caused by the unsustainable use of the rural natural resource base and decrease people's migration to the cities. In this way, dispersed energy sources help to address the major causes of social and environmental degradation in developing countries.

5. It should not be overlooked that firewood is pivotal to the rural energy economy; thermal uses of dispersed energy sources, such as solar cookers and agriculture crop dryers, have a niche to fill in using energy as an instrument for a better quality of life.


1 Josa. Blanco is Regional Director, Biomass Users Network, Regional Office for Central America and the Caribbean (BUN-CR), Guadalupe, Costa Rica.

2 Central America Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Project (San Jose, Costa Rica: IFREE/BUN/CISAT, March 1994), p. 4.

3 Conferencia Regional de Alto Nivel de Lideres Centroamericanos de Sector Energia (San Jose: Los Alamos National Labouratory/INCAE, May 1991), pp. 184-89.

4 Lisa W. Shepperd and Elizabeth H. Richard, "Solar Photovoltaics for Development Applications," Sandia National Laboratories (August 1993), p. 3.

5 Genesis Empresarial, Evolucion y Resultados (Guatemala: September 1992), p. 22.

6 Ing. Olga Dalila Diaz Paz, Beneficios Econos en Viviendas Electrificadas en el Area Rural (Instituto Nacional de Electrificacion, INDE, April 1991), p.2.

7. Renewable Energy Benefits Rural Women in China


The availability of energy is an important pre-condition for developing the national economy and improving people's living standards. Despite its large population, China has a weak industrial, scientific, and technological base. In rural areas, the level of commercial energy consumption per capita is only about 0.12 tons of coal equivalent (TCE), and the quality of existing energy resources is often poor. In short, both the quantity and the quality of existing energy resources are inadequate to meet the industrial and agricultural needs of the country.

Improving both the availability and utilization rates of energy resources is an important strategic task that will have significant impact on China's ability to promote sustainable human development, that is, development that simultaneously promotes economic growth, improves people's living standards, and protects the natural resource base essential to the country's long-term future.

Eighty per cent of China's people live in rural areas, where the shortage of fuel is most acute. The unavailability of energy in vast rural areas is the key factor hindering the development of the rural economy and preventing improvement in people's living standards. The extent to which China can meet the growing demand for energy in these areas in ways that are sustainable will significantly affect its economic growth and the health and well-being of its people.

Fuel Shortages and Deforestation

Before 1979, more than 70 per cent of the fuel used by farmers came from biomass - crop stalks, straws, grasses, and animal dung, which were burned directly. The efficiency of utilization rate of this form of energy is only 10 per cent, thus, resulting in significant waste of natural resources. At the same time, nearly half of farm households suffered shortages of available fuel for three to six months of the year. They resorted to collecting every conceivable kind of burnable material, creating serious environmental and human consequences.

First, because of the loss of large amounts of forest, vegetation was damaged, the soil became sandy, and grasslands deteriorated. The loss of crop stalks and other materials that could be used as feed for animals, as fertilizer for farmland, or as industrial raw material directly affected the production of agriculture, forestry, livestock, and industry.

Second, inefficient direct burning of fuelwood in traditional stoves increased emissions of carbon dioxide and flue gas into the atmosphere, damaging the balance between carbon and nitrogen in the agro-ecological system. This, in turn, also contributed to bringing about long-term climate change.

Third, because women always performed the household chores, such as fuelwood collecting and cooking, they were particularly affected. They shouldered the burden of collecting wood from ever greater distances and suffered from indoor air pollution, a condition aggravated during the early summer rains when wet wood did not easily bum. Eye disease was common. The fuelwood shortage meant that people often could only eat one or two hot meals per day, and gastric and intestinal disease seriously affected health.

Solving the fuelwood shortage and changing the structure of fuel are top priority development tasks in China, both to increase agricultural production and to improve farmers' livelihoods. Since the very founding of the People's Republic of China, but particularly since the introduction of more open policies, the government has made rural energy construction a high priority. The interests of both the state and the people dictate attention to exploitation of new and renewable energy sources as well as to conservation and rational utilization. China's government describes its policy as "suiting measures to local conditions, making different sources mutually complementary, utilizing in a comprehensive way and seeking for benefits" and "putting equal stress on exploitation and conservation."

China's rural energy development has achieved great progress and received worldwide attention. It is based on seven basic points:

1) popularizing coal- and fuelwood-saving stoves,
2) developing high-grade biogas,
3) developing small hydropower,
4) exploiting and utilizing solar energy,
5) developing fuelwood forests,
6) developing and utilizing wind energy, and
7) developing and utilizing geothermal energy.

These measures have significantly improved the quality of life in rural areas, particularly for women, who are disproportionately impacted by energy shortages.

Coal- and Fuelwood-Saving Stoves

One of the first measures taken was to promote widespread use of coal- and fuelwood-saving stoves in rural areas. The improved stoves require relatively little investment, are more convenient to use, use less fuel, and emit little smoke. The heat efficiency of these stoves is more than 25 per cent - one and a half times as much as the old stoves.

Women were particularly enthusiastic, quickly recognizing the stoves' greater convenience and efficiency Women often wanted to be among the first in their communities to have the improved stoves in order to have better conditions for their families.

By the end of 1993, some 158 million farm households, accounting for 69 per cent of total farm households, had the improved coal- and fuelwood-saving stoves (see Figure 7.1). This has had significant health and environmental benefits. Women no longer suffer from the extreme smoke created by the old stoves. In areas where coal had high fluoride content, fluoride poisoning from smoke has been eliminated. Farmers can now eat hot meals throughout the day. Because less fuel is needed, the amount of time women spend gathering fuelwood has been reduced, lightening their burden, giving them more time for other economic activities, and reducing pressures on the environment. The total amount of biomass consumed has declined and forest resources are better protected.

The Extension of Biogas

Biogas was first introduced in China in the 1930s, and has been seriously developed since the 1980s. By the end of 1993, 5.25 million farm households had biogas digesters (see Figure 7.2), with an annual production of 1.18 million cubic metres. Biogas has a heat value of 5,500 kilocalories per cubic metre, higher than that of coal gas in urban areas.

Figure 7.1 - Coal- and Fuelwood Saving Stoves

Biogas digesters provide time and labour savings. In some areas, they have become a necessary prerequisite for marriage. Girls want them as part of their dowries, or they may ask their future husband's families to build them as part of the marriage agreement. Biogas digesters are considered "priceless assets."

In the northern part of China, where the weather is quite cold, "four-in-one" systems have become popular. The "four-in-one" model provides multiple functions; for example, a plastic-roofed greenhouse may be built within a courtyard, with a pigsty or hen house at one end of the greenhouse, a toilet at the other, and a biogas digester beneath the pigsty. The unit, thus, combines biogas production, poultry or pig breeding, vegetable and fruit production, and fertilizer collection in a single plot. All the activities rely on and promote each other, to form a cycle. Meat, eggs, and vegetables can be produced and supplied to the market even in cold seasons. Women are able to develop productive agricultural businesses that earn them additional income, and the rural economy benefits from additional activity. Thus, biogas provides a means of integrating agricultural resources; its many functions and efficiencies help in creating an ecological agricultural system.

Figure 7.2 - Household Biogas Digesters

Ecological agriculture has contributed to total agricultural production, helped to protect the environment, and provided women with income-earning opportunities in the form of silkworm production, mushroom culturing, pig and poultry production, fish farming, weaving, sewing, and embroidery. When they are freed from their traditional heavy chores, women become actively involved in crop planting, industry, and other income-generating activities. A number of rural women have been awarded the title "woman expert" at "double study, double competition" (study culture, study technology, competition for progress, competition for contribution). Women's work in afforestation and other areas is recognized by these and other awards given by provincial, municipal, and district governments.

China also has built over 600 large and medium-sized biogas plants that use organic waste from animal and poultry farms, wineries, and food factories. Their combined capacity is 220,000 cubic metres, which can process about 20 million tons of organic waste annually. The biogas produced services 84,000 households, replacing traditional coal and fuel.

In accordance with its commitment to environmental improvement, China has also built 24,000 biogas purification digesters to process daily waste water in urban areas. Their total capacity is 940,000 cubic metres, which can treat daily waste water for 2 million people.

Biogas development has significantly improved living standards in China's rural areas, where biogas has been popularized and farm households can now live in a clean and sanitary environment. Human, animal, and poultry waste, as well as daily waste water, are treated by the biogas digesters. Fermentation eliminates 99.9 per cent of the colon bacillus and over 99 per cent of the parasites and their eggs. The widespread use of biogas digesters has reduced the number of breeding places for flies and mosquitoes, thus, drastically reducing the incidence of snail fever, gastric and intestinal disease, and parasitic and other diseases transmitted through mosquitoes and flies. Biogas sludge and slurry are quality fertilizers and feeds. In villages lacking electricity, biogas lamps provide light in which children can study and women have longer hours during which to pursue such economic activities as sewing and embroidering.

In some communities, when biogas construction is completed, a great celebration ensues. Although it costs several hundred yuan to build a digester, farm households are delighted to be able to cook without fuelwood, to have light without oil, and to have bumper harvests by applying biogas fertilizer.

Small Hydropower

Electricity is essential to further economic development in China. With plentiful water resources and high mountains, the theoretical reserve is 680 gigawatts (GW), of which only 300 GW can be exploited. Of this, 75 GW represent small hydropower (that is, having a capacity of less than 25,000 kW).

At the end of 1993, the installed capacity of small hydropower generators was 15 GW, producing approximately 47 terawatt hours (TWh) annually (see Figure 7.3). In over 700 counties in China, electricity supply is based on small-hydropower stations; over 300 counties have realized at least initial electrification through small hydropower (i.e., average per capita electricity consumption is over 200 kWh and domestic electricity consumption is over 200 kWh per farm household).

The construction of preliminary electrification using water resources had additional benefits: it promoted rural development, raised living standards in local communities, improved material and cultural life, developed small-scale industries in the towns, saved fuelwood, and protected the ecological environment.

Figure 7.3 - Small Hydropower, 1985-93

In recent years, micro-hydropower generators have also become popular in China's rural areas. Micro-hydropower stations have an installed capacity of 100 to 10,000 watts. They use small rivers in the high mountains and gorges, and are able to generate electricity with only one to three metres' drop. They can supply electricity to one or several families. At this time, more than 60,000 such generators supply 120 million kWh annually.

Over 10 million households in rural areas across the country use electricity for cooking, thus, reducing the burden on women.

Solar Energy

Solar energy is an important source of "clean energy." China, with its vast expanse of territory, has excellent potential for developing and utilizing solar energy In recent years, the amount of heat and light derived from solar energy has increased rapidly. Solar energy is used in solar cookers, solar water heaters, passive solar houses, middle and primary school buildings, plastic sheet mulch planting, plastic sheet vegetable sheds, and solar animal and poultry pens (see Figure 7.4).

Solar stoves, which were developed in the early 1980s, now number 140,000, primarily in Gansu, Tibet, and Hebei. These areas are rich in solar energy and lack other energy resources. In Tibet, for example, herdsmen who once cooked with fuelwood had to turn to cattle dung when forest growth proved too slow to keep up with demand. In areas with dense population, however, even dung became difficult to obtain. When the State Council implemented the "Sunlight Plan" promoting solar stoves in Tibet, it was well received. In 1992, solar stoves were used by 17,000 Tibetan households in Lhasa and two other areas. By end 1994, after implementation of the Sunlight Plan, these same areas had more than 40,000 solar cookers, with more than 10 per cent of the total households owning them. The dissemination 2.29 million m2 of solar water heaters across the country has helped to alleviate shortages of household energy for bathing and other purposes.

Passive solar houses and buildings for residents and primary and middle schools have spread rapidly in recent years. In the northern part of China, which is rich in solar energy, farmers planning to build new homes prefer solar houses, even though the cost is 20 to 30 per cent higher. Solar houses are clean, hygienic, and warm, and farmers can choose from a selection of standard designs. Solar school buildings provide an excellent study environment. In Liaoning province, where the outside temperature can reach 20 degrees below 0 degrees Centigrade, the temperature in solar school buildings stays at a comfortable 10 to 15 degrees Centigrade. Even on holidays, teachers and students are happy to work and study in the buildings.

Figure 7.4 - Solar Energy Utilization, 1985-93

Large-Scale Development of Fuelwood Forests

China is poor in forest resources. It has only 0.13 hectares of forested area per capita and only 9.3 m3 of forest stock per capita, less than one tenth those of the United States. In the extensive mountain and semi-mountainous areas, the Chinese government has undertaken a policy of promoting reforestation, assigning hillside to farm households that could harvest fuelwood if they plant and take care of trees on those plots. The government describes it as a policy of promoting fuelwood forests by letting "those who plant the trees have them." The forestry departments select high-quality domestic and foreign fuelwood tree seed suitable for growing in different areas; it promotes close planting and rotation cutting, thus, increasing yields two to three times.

Some tree varieties provide additional high-value by-products such as aromatic oil, feeds, protein, and tannin extract. Establishing forests not only alleviates the shortage of fuel-wood, but also increases farmers' incomes. By end 1993, 6 million hectares of fuelwood had been planted (see Figure 7.5).

Figure 7.5 - Fuelwood Forests, 1980-93

Wind Energy

China has a long history of developing and utilizing wind energy. The famous Huanghe windmill in Lanzhou, Gansu, was first built over a thousand years ago. China has a relatively low level of potential wind energy resources.

Large and medium-sized windpower plants can be built in a few places. Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and the islands along the southeast coast are suitable for large windpower generators. In these areas, 15 large-sized windpower generators have a total installed capacity of 15,000 kW. But in most areas of the country, small-sized windpower generators are more appropriate. In 1993, China had 119,000 small-sized windpower generators, with a total installed capacity of 17,000 kW. (see Figure 7.6). Together, these generators produce approximately 37 million kWh annually. In Hebei and along the coastal areas of Jiangsu, for example, 1,500 windpowered water lifters irrigate and desalinate farmland.

Figure 7.6 - Extension of Small-Sized Windpower Generators, 1985-93

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy refers to heat energy produced from the interior of the earth. Usually the temperature of the water in geothermal wells and springs is about 20 to 60 degrees centigrade. It is suitable for use in aquaculture, crop breeding, hatcheries, and greenhouses. Geothermal energy is used in 860 places around the country, providing energy to 1,400 hectares of cropland and 930 hectares of aquaculture.


China has pursued an integrated rural energy development strategy, focusing on renewable sources of energy, and following a careful approach of scientific experimentation, trial demonstrations, and continuing evaluation. It has taken the county as the basic unit, and simultaneously achieved coordinated development and widespread improvements in the rural economy and in environmental quality.

As the market economy evolves in China, the shortage of energy involves not only shortages in fuelwood for household use, but shortages in commercial energy as well. Energy is needed for development of the rural economy, for industrial development in towns, and to meet the growing energy demands of 900 million farmers increasing their standard of living. Toward this end, a comprehensive programme of rural development has been pursued, involving coordination among various departments and scientific and research units. Emphasis is given to developing local energy sources, improving efficiency of commercial energy, and making energy sources mutually complementary and coordinated.

To date, more than a hundred counties have carried out programmes of integrated rural development; they have succeeded in increasing energy capacity and in providing improved economic, environmental, and social benefits. This, in turn, has helped to reduce women's heavy household burden, improve the living environment, expand employment opportunities, increase incomes, raise living standards, protect the environment, and promote health. It is widely praised by women as "the second liberation of women."


1 Deng Keyun is Deputy Director, Department of Environmental Protection and Energy, Beijing, China.

8. Community Biogas Plants Supply Rural Energy and Water: The Pura Village Case Study


Rural energy planning requires choices among energy technologies. Until recently, the choices have been confined to centralized energy supply technologies - power plants based on hydroelectricity, coal, oil, or natural gas. Increasingly, however, centralized energy sources face two major - and probably insurmountable - difficulties: a) shortages of capital, and b) public opposition focused on local and global environmental degradation. It has, therefore, become essential to extend the list of technological alternatives for energy decision-making to include decentralized sources of supply.2

Potentially, one of the most useful decentralized sources of energy supply is biogas3 - an approximately 60:40 mixture of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) - produced by anaerobically fermenting cellulosic biomass materials. Biogas can be utilized to fuel engines that, in turn, drive generator sets to generate electricity. It has a calorific value of 23 MJ/m3.

Developing-country rural areas have a variety of available biomass materials, including fuelwood, agricultural wastes, and animal wastes. In particular, many countries have large cattle and buffalo herds, whose considerable wastes have much energy potential. Traditionally, these wastes are carefully collected in India and used as fertilizer, except in places where villagers are forced by the scarcity of fuelwood to bum dung-cakes as cooking fuel. Since biogas plants yield sludge fertilizer, the biogas fuel and/or electricity generated is a valuable additional bonus. It is this bonus output that has motivated the large biogas programmes in a number of developing countries, particularly India and China.4

Virtually all biogas programmes are based on family-size biogas plants rather than community biogas plants. Yet family-size biogas plants lose significant economies of scale. The amount of biogas they are able to produce is more suited for cooking than for running an engine and generating electricity.5 Community biogas plants are more economical; the problems associated with them tend to be social rather than technical.6 They may, for example, bring in their wake serious organizational difficulties and possibly equity issues. In addition, the low body weight of free-grazing bovine animals, particularly in drought-prone areas, can make the bovine waste resource inadequate to meet cooking energy needs even when the bovine-human population ratio may seem satisfactory. In such situations, the use of community biogas plants to generate electricity is worth considering, particularly because it is an ideal fuel to run an engine that can then drive a generator and generate electricity. It is particularly useful in the context of dual fuel (diesel and biogas) engines.7

It was against this background that a decentralized biogas electricity system was established and demonstrated at Pura Village (Kunigal Taluk, Tumkur District, Kamataka State, South India) as an alternative for providing rural electricity. Since September 1987, the traditional system (Figure 8.1) of obtaining water, illumination, and fertilizer in Pura Village has been replaced with a community biogas-plant electricity-generation system. This new system consists of the following activities (Figure 8.2):

· Pura's households deliver cattle dung to the biogas plant in the mornings (24 per cent of the dung is delivered by women, 27 per cent by girls, 27 per cent by boys, and 22 per cent by men);

· The dung delivered is weighed and recorded in the owner's passbooks and the plant's ledger books;

· Processed sludge is returned to those who want to withdraw sludge;

· The dung is mixed with water in a 1:1 ratio (by volume) and the biogas plant is charged by the dung-water mixture;

· The resulting slurry is poured onto the sand-bed filters for filtration and production of de-watered sludge;

· Biogas is released from the plant and fed to the engine, along with the requisite amount of diesel, in order to start the dual-fuel engine and the electrical generator;

· Electricity is supplied for illumination of homes and for running the submersible pump that will bring borewell water to the overhead tank;

· The biogas plants and their surroundings must be kept clean;

· The households must be visited to receive payment for electricity services and to make payments for the dung received;

· Plant records and accounts must be maintained.

Apart from the delivery of dung to the plant and the withdrawal of sludge, which are performed by the households, all activities associated with the operation of the biogas plant, electricity generation and distribution, and water supply are performed by two village youth, who have been employed by the project.

Figure 8.1 - Traditional System of Obtaining Water, Light and Fertilizer

Figure 8.2 - The Existing Community Biogas Plant Systems at Pura

Impact of the Biogas System

When the community biogas-plant electricity-generation system was introduced, the village of Pura had already been electrified by the Karnataka Electricity Board grid. But in India, the mere fact that a village is electrified does not mean that individual homes within that village have electricity. In general, only 20 to 30 per cent of the homes are electrified in electrified villages, but in Pura, 43 per cent of the homes were electrified before the new system was installed. By July 1994, 59 per cent of homes had grid electricity, with some having both grid and biogas; the remaining 41 per cent (36 homes) all had biogas electricity (see Table 8.1 for some basic statistics on Pura Village in 1987, 1991, and 1994).

Even the steps toward limited grid electrification that took place in Pura may soon not be possible in other villages. This is true for a number of reasons:

· electricity has become scarce and expensive in India;

· apart from the recent efforts to provide electricity to irrigation pumpsets, rural areas have been neglected in conventional electricity planning, e.g., in Karnataka state, only 20 per cent of the total electricity flows to rural areas;8

· the situation is aggravated by the fact that there are enormous costs and losses involved in transmission and distribution lines (e.g., transmission and distribution losses are about 21,5 per cent in Karnataka);

· electricity has become extremely unreliable in rural areas, both with regard to duration (there is frequent load-shedding) and voltage; and

· even in electrified villages, it is not accessible to most of the people.

As grid electricity becomes scarcer, the need for biogas plants becomes even greater. The remainder of this paper deals with the technical, economic, and managerial aspects of the community biogas-plant system. The future of such systems is dealt with in other writings.9

Table 8.1 - Basic Statistics on Pura Village

July, 1987







Cattle population




Human/cattle ratio




No. of Households




Households with grid electricity









Households with grid + biogas electricity







Households with only biogas electricity







Households with private watertaps








Water consumption (litre/cap/day)



The Technical Subsystems of the Pura Biogas-Plant System

The community biogas-plant system of Pura consists of the following subsystems:

a) biogas plants in which bovine waste is anaerobically fermented to yield biogas,

b) a sand-bed filtration subsystem to filter the biogas plant slurry output and deliver filtered sludge with approximately the same moisture content as dung,

c) the electricity generation subsystem,

d) the electricity distribution subsystem for the electrical illumination of homes,

e) the water supply subsystem.


In order to digest industrial effluents and other wastes with low concentrations of total solids (less than about 3 per cent), a number of advanced designs have recently been developed in industrialized countries.10 These include anaerobic filters, anaerobic baffler reactors (ABRs), anaerobic contact digesters, and upflow anaerobic sludge blankets (UASBs).

However, these advanced designs were not exploited in Pura, which instead utilizes digesters that can handle the type of high-solids-content wastes found in typical village situations, that is, highly concentrated bovine dung, other animal wastes, and agro-wastes.11 The two most popular conventional digesters for this type of waste available in developing countries are: a) the Indian floating-drum biogas plant,12 and b) the Chinese fixed-dome biogas plant.

In the Indian design, an inverted drum with a diametre slightly less than that of the cylindrical digestion pit (usually, but not necessarily, below ground level) serves as a gas holder and provides the anaerobic "seal" while floating up and down depending upon the amount of biogas stored. Such a plant delivers gas at uniform pressure, provides a good seal against gas leakage, is highly reliable and robust, and has a proven performance for bovine dung digestion. Its drawback is that the gas holder is usually made of steel or ferrocement and is, therefore, comparatively costly in addition to requiring regular maintenance.

The Chinese fixed-dome type biogas plant can be constructed locally with standard building materials, such as cement. It is relatively cheaper because it is less materials-intensive. On the other hand, it is skill-intensive and is prone to gas leaks (despite epoxide coatings of mortar on the inside surface) if the construction is not of high quality.

A plug-flow biogas reactor is useful for high volumes of gas production rates relative to typical fixed-dome and floating-drum plants. Its construction is similar to these two types of plants or a combination of both; however, to ensure true plug-flow conditions, the length has to be considerably greater than the width and depth. Although plug-flow biogas reactors may turn out to be appropriate to developing countries because of their low capital cost, they are still in the initial stages of dissemination in these countries.13 Plug-flow reactors may not display special advantages in the case of the digestion of bovine dung, but they permit continuous gas production from bio-mass sources that tend to float, for example, water hyacinth and other aquatic weeds.

Figure 8.3 - Sectional Elevation of the Biogas Plant at Para

The Pura system used Indian floating-drum biogas digesters modified to reflect the cost minimization theory developed earlier14 and realistic residence times based on observations under similar conditions. The dimensions of each digester in Pura are 4.1 m diametre and 4.2 m depth. In addition, the system used low-cost construction techniques (Figure 8.3).15 This modified design has the following salient features:

· The ratio of gas produced per unit volume of the digester is as high as in plug-flow reactors, i.e., 0.5 compared to 0.2 to 0.3 in conventional fixed-dome and floating-drum plants.

· The biogas plants perform better than the original Indian-design plants, i.e., they produce 14 per cent more biogas at ambient temperature in spite of the 40 per cent reduction in digester volume.

· The plants are shallower and wider compared to conventional Indian-design plants, thereby accelerating the rate of gas release from the production zone to the gas holder; hence, the modified plants are easier to construct wherever the ground-water table is high.

· The Pura plants are as much as 40 per cent cheaper than conventional Indian-design plants.

In order to increase the reliability of the system, two plants (each with half the rated gas production capacity) with a common inlet tank were constructed instead of a single plant.

The maximum input to the two biogas plants combined is 1.25 tons of cattle dung per day mixed with 1.25 cubic metres of water per day At this maximum loading, the influent slurry mixture contains 212 kg dry matter (8.5 per cent) having a volatile matter of 177 kg (7 per cent). The carbon content of this mixture is 57 kg (27 per cent of dry matter); the nitrogen content, about 3.6 kg (1.7 per cent); and the carbon to nitrogen ratio, 16.

At an average ambient temperature of 25-26° Celsius, the plants can produce a maximum of 42.5 cubic metres of biogas per day, having a composition that is approximately 60 per cent methane (CH4) and 40 per cent carbon dioxide (CO2). In addition to the gas, the charging of the combined dung and water slurry would displace about 2.45 cubic metres per day of digested slurry; after filtration of the water, this yields about 1.2 tons of sludge per day. This sludge contains 164 kg (6.67 per cent) dry matter having 109 kg of volatile matter, 39 kg carbon, and 3.6 kg nitrogen, i.e., the same amount of nitrogen as in the input. Hence, the carbon to nitrogen ratio is 11.

Human Waste as an Input. Unlike China, India does not have a tradition of using human excrement directly on the fields as a fertilizer. Thus, the community biogas plant in Pura does not use human excrement as an input.

Direct use of human waste material is frequently associated with the risk of spreading intestinal parasites and other pathogens. Chinese biogas plants largely eliminated this risk because their settling chambers at the bottom have long detention times (about six months), which destroys more than 90 per cent of intestinal parasites and other pathogens. Thus, in China, biogas plants perform an important environmental (sanitary) function.

However, Indian biogas plants have short detention times. These are unlikely to destroy intestinal parasites, which are widely prevalent in rural areas of India. As a result, if the biogas sludge were used as a fertilizer, it would likely increase the spread of intestinal diseases. Moreover, since it is not the tradition in India to use human waste as a fertilizer, the "contamination" of the sludge with human waste would have created resistance to acceptance of the sludge fertilizer.

Sludge Fertilizer From Biogas Plants. Since nitrogen does not volatilize during anaerobic digestion, the effluent sludge displaced from the biogas plant contains the same mass of nitrogen as the input slurry. However, the nitrogen increases as a percentage of total solids (since the percentage of total solids decreases from 8.6 per cent to 6.67 per cent); furthermore, the nitrogen is converted into a form that is more available (readily usable) to plants. Hence, biogas plants are often called bio-fertilizer plants.

In fact, anaerobically digested biogas sludge has a higher nitrogen content than farmyard manure obtained by composting bovine dung. The explanation for this difference lies in the traditional practice of putting bovine dung into open-air compost pits before transferring it as farmyard manure to the fields; because of the aerobic decomposition that takes place in open air, the nitrogen in farmyard manure decreases from an initial value of 1.7 per cent on a dry weight basis to a constant value of 0.9 per cent in about ten days. In contrast, the nitrogen content of biogas plant sludge decreases from an initial value of 2.2 per cent to a constant value of 1.9 per cent in about three days in open air.16 Thus, biogas sludge (with 1.9 per cent nitrogen) stabilizes with double the nitrogen content of farmyard manure (0.9 per cent nitrogen after aerobic decomposition). The greater nitrogen content of biogas sludge relative to farmyard manure implies a saving of energy that would, otherwise, have to be used to manufacture an equivalent amount of nitrogen in the form of artificial fertilizer.

Based on their seven years of experience, the farmers of Pura assert that weed growth is far less with biogas sludge fertilizer; they, therefore, use it for premium purposes such as raising nurseries. Whereas farmyard manure "sows" the seeds of the weeds that are ingested by bovine animals and passed through their digestive systems into their dung, the biogas plant either destroys these seeds or makes them less fertile through anaerobic digestion.

The anaerobic process of digesting cattle dung also has an environmental protection function. Unlike cattle dung undergoing aerobic decomposition, biogas sludge does not smell or attract flies and mosquitoes. The people of Pura even say that biogas sludge repels termites, in contrast to raw dung (farmyard manure), which attracts termites that harm the plants. For this same reason, they prefer digested slurry to fresh dung for plastering their threshing yards.


These multiple benefits make sludge fertilizer a particularly attractive part of community biogas plant systems. The households in Pura refused to sell the dung to the biogas plant; they agreed to "loan" it to the plant so that it can be used for anaerobic digestion, but insisted that the sludge be returned to them on a pro-rata basis. The dung, which has 17 per cent solids, is charged into the plants after being mixed with an equal amount of water. The resulting digested slurry is a diluted effluent, with about 6.5 per cent solids. This watery effluent was unacceptable to the villagers because they could not transport it back to their homes.

Separating the solids and liquid in the slurry effluent is not possible with sewage-type sludge sand-bed dryers. Thus, it was necessary, for a number of reasons, to develop a filtration system for biogas plant effluent:

· to facilitate transportation of digested sludge from the biogas plant back to the homes and compost pits,

· to mix the filtrate, which contains some anaerobic microorganisms,17 with the input dung, thereby enhancing gas production marginally, and therefore

· to reduce the water requirement for charging biogas plants.

To meet these needs, a simple, but effective sand-bed filtration system, was developed for filtering digested slurry. The 11 filters constructed at Pura Village together can handle as much as 1.7 cubic metres of slurry per day. Each filter of 4 square metres (4 m × 1 m) consists of three layers: 5 centimetres of gravel at the bottom, then 3 centimetres of sand, topped by wire mesh. Digested slurry effluent is poured to a height of 10 centimetres above the wire mesh.

About one square metre of filter is required for every 100 litres of the digested slurry effluent. The maximum amount of time for filtration varies with the season, but is about 72 hours in the rainy season and about 60 hours in the summer. Thus, to ensure a steady-state operation, a three square metre area is required for 100 litres of slurry effluent. The maximum recovery of water from the filter is about 70 per cent.

The lifespan of the sand beds is about a year. After that, the sand layer has to be completely removed and relaid, and the gravel and water outlet pipes have to be cleaned and relaid. The lining material, which consists of low-density poly-ethylene (LDPE) sheet, has to be repaired or sometimes replaced.

Two village youths are entirely responsible for day-to-day maintenance and operation as well as routine cleaning and upkeep of the filters. They have innovated a simple technique to prevent the dried sludge from clogging the wire mesh - they spread a thin film of wet sand over the wire mesh before spreading the slurry to facilitate easy separation of the dried slurry cake from the wire mesh.

After sand-bed filtration, the slurry displaced from the digester by the daily charging of dung-water mixture contains 17 per cent total solids (TS), i.e., the filtration takes produce filtered sludge that resembles cattle dung with 18 per cent TS. At this stage, it would have been possible to return filtered sludge to the villagers at the rate of 750 grams per kilogram of dung received. But because of the villagers' understanding of the whole biogas process and their confidence in the distribution system, they do not withdraw the sludge as and when it is ready after sand-bed filtration. Rather, they use the biogas system as a "sludge bank" and allow considerable time to elapse between the time the sludge is ready for return and the time it is withdrawn. During this period, there is further decrease in moisture content and an increase in total solids. Thus, it has become the accepted practice to return filtered and dried sludge at the rate of 600 grams for a kilogram of dung delivered to the biogas plant.


A 7 horsepower water-cooled biogas-diesel (dual-fuel) engine has been installed in a small engine room located next to the fields at the edge of the village. The engine has been mounted on anti-vibration footings and bolted firmly to the ground with foundation bolts. The exhaust pipe, attached to a residential type silencer, has been extended through the engine room wall to the open air pointed toward the fields and away from the village. Thus, the engine is hardly audible in the village.

The biogas from the biogas plants passes through a condensation trap and then enters the engine, where it is mixed with diesel to provide the fuel. The engine is coupled to a generator that can operate a submersible pump (a 5 kVA 440 V. 3-phase generator).


The lighting system was energized on October 2, 1988.18 In 1994, it consisted of 91 fluorescent tubelights of 20 watts each - 85 in homes, 2 at a public temple, and 4 in the biogas plant complex. Homes have chosen varying levels of light; 46 households have 1 tubelight, 18 have 2, and 1 has 3. (In addition, since 1993, Pura has supplied electricity for 17 tubelights in the 13 homes of a neighbouring housing colony situated about a kilometre from the center of the village.) The load is distributed equally over three phases, with 36 tubelights in each phase. The low power factor of 0.43 of the tubelight system (consisting of the fluorescent lamp and the choke) has been improved to 0.72 by connecting each tubelight with a 4 microfarad capacitor in parallel; as a result, the power consumption for each tubelight decreased from 31 watt to 27 watt.


The water supply system has been in operation since September 1987. It consists of a 3-phase, 3 HP submersible pump that generates 6.75 cubic metres of water per hour. The pump is fitted into a bore well and lifts water from a 50-metre depth to an overhead tank. The water is then distributed by gravity through nine street taps located at various sites around the village. The villagers themselves decided the location of the taps; one of the taps is for livestock and one tap is in the biogas plant compound. In addition, since September 1990, there has been growing demand for private water tap connections, and there are now 75 private taps inside households. That is, 85 per cent of households have private water tap connections.

A 1977 study of the traditional system of water collection for domestic purposes showed that, on an average, a family used to make two trips per day, taking 1.5 hrs (45 minutes per trip) to cover 1.6 kilometres, to transport 104 litres (4 potfuls) of water; this yielded a per capita consumption of water for domestic purposes of 17 litres per day.19 Another survey in September 1987 showed that water consumption had not changed to any significant extent. However, between September 1987 and September 1988, when a 24-hour supply of piped water became available through public taps, per capita consumption jumped immediately to 22 litres and then slowly stabilized at 26 litres. After the villagers took over the management of the community biogas plant system, they imposed restricted timings for water supply (three times in a day) and the consumption came down to 22 litres between October 1988 and August 1990. The 5-litre increase between 17 and 22 litres is partly attributable to the fact that the bovines are allowed to drink the piped water.


Biogas plants are normally designed on the basis of either the minimum dung available or the maximum gas consumption that is required. Gas production depends upon the amount of cattle dung and the ambient temperature.20 This temperature dependence is the reason for the universal complaint that biogas plants produce very little gas in winter and other fuels are necessary to supplement biogas. But, at Pura Village, for the last nine years, the gas production has been virtually uniform throughout the year. In fact, if there is any reduced output, it is in summer, not in winter.

The amount of dung available to the biogas plant depends upon the number of bovine animals and the fodder intake of these animals. In the case of free-grazing bovines, their fodder intake depends upon the grass cover in the pasture lands, which, in turn, depends upon the rainfall, which is seasonal.

The dung yield varies by a factor of two between the seasons, which means that the loading rate (that is, digester volume × total solids concentration) also varies. The ambient temperature also has seasonal variations. Interestingly and fortunately, the shifts from minimum to maximum and vice-versa in both dung yield and ambient temperature are gradual (not sudden), and the peak of dung yield (loading rate) coincides with minimum temperature and vice versa, i.e., in summer, the temperature is highest, but the dung yield (loading rate) is lowest, and in winter, the temperature is lowest, but the dung yield is highest. Earlier findings have emphasized that the response of biogas plants to these variations in loading rates, ambient temperature, etc., is slow and gradual.21

The other important process parametre, i.e., pH, is uniform throughout the year. The dung loaded through higher loading rates in winter stays for a long time in the digester due to lower loading rates in summer and contributes to gas production even in the summer. Hence, the bigger the biogas plant, the slower the response and the more uniform the gas production. The gas yield (gas/unit weight of input) also increases with the size, diametre, and depth of the plant." At locations where, despite the economies of scale in biogas plant costs, the cost of the plant is not as important as the availability of dung, long residence times of even up to a year can be recommended.

These findings are relevant to the future design of cattle dung plants in South India. It has turned out, quite surprisingly, that the dung available for loading the biogas plant/cattle/day at a particular place in the summer is the most important parametre for plant designers.


The biogas plants require periodic maintenance to keep functioning properly. For example, the gas holders must be painted once every two years with chlorinated rubber black paint to prevent corrosion. The material was designed to be rust free (that is, it was primed with a non-corrosive primer followed by two coats of chlorinated rubber paint). Nevertheless, despite corrosion-prevention measures, after five years of operation, corrosion was observed at the joint, where side sheet and top sheet are welded.

In addition, sand and mud tend to settle at the bottom of the digester in spite of efforts to keep the charge free of sand. When the plant was renovated after four years of operation - following a temporary suspension - the plants were found to have about 0.3 metre of accumulated sand and mud that had to be removed.

The electricity generation sub-system is maintained by the same two village youths responsible for operating and maintaining the biogas plants and the electricity and water sub-systems. An evaluation of maintenance during the first 44 months (4,521 hours), that is, the period from September 1987 to April 1991, found the following:

1. The engine-generator set required no major repairs. In the case of the engine, the fuel injection nozzle was cleaned once and replaced once, and the filter was changed once. In the case of the generator, the rectifier, carbon brushes, and field coil each were replaced once.

2. The minor repairs were mainly in connection with the engine accessories, viz., foundation bolts, radiator, silencer, etc.

3. The daily operation and maintenance activities of the operators have been made simple and routine by means of a flow chart and a problems-causes-remedies chart.

4. In addition, the operators carry out preventive engine maintenance and minor repairs after every 50, 200, 500, and 800 hours of engine operation.

5. The system has contributed significantly to the village by providing training and skills to the operators and increasing the technical awareness of the villagers.

6. Unlike pure diesel, biogas bums clean and, therefore, causes little or no pollution.

7. The dual-fuel engine proved to be reliable for biogas electricity generation systems.

Administration, Organization, and Institution-Building

For community technologies to work, they require proper administrative arrangements, first creating organizations and then building them into appropriate and sustainable institutions.

The key administrative arrangement contributing to success in the Pura biogas electricity generation scheme was payment of a dung delivery fee that went primarily to women. This ensured the involvement of the village women, who are the principal beneficiaries of the water supply and the electric lights.

In terms of organization, the key measure was the establishment of the Village Committee consisting of those who are leaders in traditional community activities such as conducting festivals and dramas. This committee was responsible for overseeing the maintenance and operation of the rural energy center, the contribution of dung, the collection of payments for the supply of biogas outputs (e.g., electric lights and water) to the home, and the formulation and execution of plans for the further development of the rural energy center. The Village Committee achieved a 93 per cent collection of dues from November 1988 to April 1991 - an outstanding performance compared to the dismal record of the large electric utilities in the states of India.

The Pura Community Biogas Plant is held together and sustained by the convergence of individual and collective interests. It is customary to discuss the problem of individual gain versus community interests in terms of the famous "Tragedy of the Commons"23 - the personal benefits that each individual/household derives from promoting the further destruction of the commons (i.e., community resource) are larger and more immediate than the personal loss from the marginal, slow, and long-term destruction of the commons. Hence, each individual/household chooses to derive the immediate personal benefit rather than forgo it and save the commons.

Experience with the factors holding together and sustaining the Pura Community Biogas Plant system appears, however, to illustrate a converse principle that may be termed the "Blessing of the Commons"24 - the price for not preserving the commons far outweighs whatever benefits there might be in ignoring the collective interest. In other words, the "Blessing of the Commons" is based on the coincidence of self-interest and collective interest. Thus, in the case of Pura, non-cooperation with the community biogas plant results in a heavy individual price (access to water and light is cut off by the village), and this is too great a personal loss to compensate for the minor advantage of non-cooperation with the community and non-contribution to collective interests.

There must have been many examples of the "Blessing of the Commons" that contributed to the survival of Indian villages for centuries in spite of the centripetal forces tearing them apart. Among those examples must have been the maintenance of village tanks, common lands, woodlots, etc. It is important to discover and utilize such examples for the design of rural development projects in general, and rural energy centers in particular. It is important to use the principle of the "Blessing of the Commons" as a heuristic device for designing rural energy centers. Since it subjects individual initiative to local community control, it is a distinct alternative to the privatization (deregulation) option being offered as a solution to the defects of state control and regulation of the commons.


1 Amulya K.N. Reddy is President of the International Energy Initiative, Bangalore, India. P. Rajabapaiah is Technical Officer, and H.I. Somasekhar is Senior Scientific Assistant, of the Centre for the Application of Science and Technology to Rural Areas (ASTRA), Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore India.

This chapter is based on a paper prepared for the workshop on Biogas Technology for China, at the China Center of Rural Energy Research and Training, Beijing, November 2994. The workshop was organized by the Department of Environmental Protection and Energy, Ministry of Agriculture, Beijing, and the Working Group on Energy Strategies and Technologies of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development.

2 In fact, it has become essential not to limit planning only to supply options, but to extend the list of alternatives for energy decision-making to include energy efficiency improvement and other conservation options. These options of energy saving are outside the scope of this paper. They are, however, dealt with in Reddy, Sumithra, P. Balachandra, and A. D'Sa, "Comparative Costs of Electricity Conservation and Centralized and Decentralized Electricity Generation," Economic and Political Weekly, June 2, 1990, pp. 1201-1216.

3 K.C. Khandelwal and S.S. Mahdi, Biogas Technology - A Practical Handbook (New Delhi: Tata-McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited, 1986).

4 Biogas in Asia and the Pacific, Report of the Regional Expert Consultation on Biogas Network, October 28 - November 1, 1986, Bangkok, Thailand; A Chinese Biogas Manual, translated from Chinese by Michael Crook and edited by Ariane van Buren (London: Intermediate Technology Publications, Ltd., 1979); Diffusion of Biomass Energy Technologies in Developing Countries (Washington: National Academy Press, 1982); and R.C. Sekhar and C. Balaji The Biogas Programme for Rural Development: Some field Based Reflections (Anand, India: Institute of Rural Management, March 1989).

5 J. Goldemberg, T.B. Johansson, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, Energy for a Sustainable World (New Delhi: Wiley-Eastern Limited, New Delhi, 1988).

6 M. Maniates, "Community Biogas Plants: Social Catalyst or Technical Fix?" Soft Energy Notes, Vol. 6, No, 2 (1983).

7 Diesel engines are suitable for this purpose for several reasons: (1) the low flame velocity of biogas is best suited to low-speed diesel engines, (2) they have a high thermal efficiency compared to other type of engines, (3) they are more extensively used in rural areas than other types of engines, (4) the normal working life of a diesel engine (4-8 years) is more than other types of engines, (5) they are reliable and simple to maintain, (6) they can be easily converted to the dual-fuel (biogas-diesel) mode, which is the most practical and efficient method of utilizing biogas, and (7) in case of a shortfall in biogas supply during an important operation, the engine switches over smoothly without interruption to conventional diesel operation. Thus, the use of biogas in biogas-diesel (dual-fuel) engines is ideal for electricity generation in rural areas because it is a clean fuel for combustion in engines with little or no pollution, unlike diesel; it is a locally available and renewable source of energy; it can be produced locally with indigenous technology; it can be produced cheaply; it can provide employment to local people and it makes the rural electricity systems self-reliant.

8 A.K.N. Reddy, Gladys D. Sumithra, P. Balachandra, and Antonette D'Sa, "A Development-Focused End-Use-Oriented Electricity Scenario for Karnataka," Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 26, No. 14 (April 6,1991), p. 891-910, and No. 15 (April 13, 1991), pp. 983-1001.

9 P. Rajabapaiah, H.I. Somasekhar, and A.K.N. Reddy, Scenarios for the Future of the Pura Community Biogas Plant (in course of publication).

10 H.C. Arora, and Chattopadhya, "Anaerobic Contact Filter Process: A Suitable Method for the Treatment of Vegetable Tanning Effluents," Water Pollution Control (G.B.) 79 (1980), pp. 5-6; A. Grobicki and D.C. Stuckey, "Performance of the Anaerobic Baffled Reactor under Steady-State Shock Loading Conditions," Biotechnology and Bioengineering 37 (1991), pp. 344-55; LA. Roth and C.P. Lentz, "Anaerobic Digestion of Rum Stillage," Canadian Institute of Food Science Technology Journal 10 (1977), pp. 105-8; I.W. Koster and G. Lettinga, "Application of the Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Bed (UASB) Process for Treatment of Complex Wastewaters at Low Temperatures," Biotechnology and Bioengineering 28 (1985), pp. 1411-17.

11 David Stuckey has brought to our attention (personal communication) the fact that ABRs can handle wastes up to 5 per cent total solids in animal manure.

12 The Indian design is also known as the Khadi and Village Industries Commission or KVIC design.

13 According to David Stuckey (personal communication), "there have been full-scale (120 m3) plug-flow reactors for almost twenty years (e.g., at Cornell University in the United States) and the small-scale ones developed in Taiwan have been operating for fifteen years. They are easy to install and operate, and relatively economical, although they have not diffused to a large extent probably because they take up more land area than below-ground units."

14 D.K. Subramanian, P. Rajabapaiah, and A.K.N. Reddy, "Studies in Biogas Technology: Part II - Optimization of Plant Dimensions, Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences C2 (1979), pp. 365-76.

15 The low-cost techniques adopted by ASTRA included the following: (a) based on structural analysis, the minimum thickness used for the 4.2 m high digester wall is just 120 mm, compared to the 360 mm of the conventional digesters; (b) ordinary plastering for the interior of the digester wall (because the dung slurry itself is a good sealant) in contrast to the multi-layer plastering with a coating of leak-proofing compound, and (c) precise excavation to the size of the digester plus walls to enhance the strength of the wall as well as to minimize the refilling and thereby reduce the cost.

16 Unpublished results referred to in P. Rajabapaiah, K.V Ramanaiah, S.R. Mohan, and A.K.N. Reddy, "Studies in Biogas Technology: Part I - Performance of a Conventional Biogas Plant," Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences C2 (1979), pp. 357-64.

17 Unpublished laboratory data of Stuckey (personal communication) suggests that "almost all the anaerobes are attached to the solid lignocellulosic particles, hence recycling liquid saves water, but would not increase cell concentration in the reactor." Chanakya and Ramaswamy (personal communication) have both found anaerobes suspended in the filtrate also, although most of them are attached to the solid particles.

18 October 2 was chosen to inaugurate the illumination of homes because it is celebrated in India as the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who urged the country to "wipe every tear from every face." To an implementor of energy plans, Gandhi's call translates to illuminating homes that are an "area of darkness" (the title of VS. Naipaul's novel).

19 ASTRA, "Rural Energy Consumption Patterns: A Field Study," Biomass, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1981), pp. 255-80.

20 The range of temperatures in South Karnataka, where Pura is located is 34.2-20.9°C from March to May, 27.6-20.1°C from June to August, 28.0-18.7°C from September to November, and 29.1-216.1°C from December to February.

21 P. Rajabapaiah, K.V. Ramanaiah, S.R. Mohan, and A.K.N. Reddy, "Studies in Biogas Technology: Part I - Performance of a Conventional Biogas Plant," Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences C2 (1979), pp. 357-64.

22 This observation is applicable to digesters with a depth greater than 0.5 m, i.e., almost all conventional digesters.

23 G. Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science 162 (1968), pp. 1243-48.

24 A.K.N. Reddy, "The Blessing of the Commons," presented at the International Conference on Common Property, Collective Action and Ecology, August 1992, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, with support from the Social Science Research Council (New York), the Smithsonian Institution (Washington), and the Ford Foundation (cf. Report by Subir Sinha and Ronald Herring, Economic and Political Weekly, July 3-10, 1993, pp. 1425-32).

9. Biomass Plantation Energy Systems and Sustainable Development


Biomass today accounts for over one third of all energy used in developing countries (see Figure 9.1). It has been called "the poor man's oil" because its direct use by combustion for domestic cooking and heating ranks it at the bottom of the ladder of preferred energy carriers.2 Existing biomass-using technologies are relatively inefficient; thus, biomass provides less energy service than the proportion of total energy it represents, and women and children in rural areas spend considerable time collecting daily fuelwood needs. Biomass energy use today also contributes to indoor air pollution and associated negative health impacts. (Editor's Note; see chapters 2 and 5 in this volume.) Furthermore, most biomass energy today comes from natural forests, contributing to deforestation in some countries.

Biomass has the potential to provide a much higher level of energy services in developing countries, in environmentally friendly ways, if the production and conversion of biomass is modernized.3 A recent assessment of the potential for renewable energy, prepared as input for the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), found that sustainable biomass energy systems could be the largest single contributor to global energy supply; the study found that under a "Renewables-Intensive Global Energy Scenario" (RIGES), biomass could provide as much as 35 per cent of the total demand for primary energy in 2050 (see Figure 9.2a).4 A "sustained growth scenario" developed by the Shell International Petroleum Company's Group Planning Division found biomass' potential contribution to total energy supplies in 2050 to be similar (about 210 EJ - one Exajoule is 1018 joules) (see Figure 9.2b).5

Such visions of large contributions by biomass to global energy supply are plausible because ongoing technological advances offer the promise of being able to turn biomass into more desirable forms of energy (such as electricity and liquid and gaseous fuels) in ways that are both environmentally friendly and economically competitive with fossil fuel alternatives. These technological advances are of comparable significance to the fundamental technological developments (steam turbines and internal combustion engines) that were largely responsible for the expansive growth in global fossil fuel use that began late in the nineteenth century.

In the RIGES, the majority of biomass energy supplies come from high-yielding energy plantations covering some 430 million hectares worldwide, or an area equivalent to roughly one fourth the area currently used for agriculture worldwide. Africa and Latin America would be the two largest biomass producing regions (Table 9.1).

Figure 9.1 - Estimated Energy Use Distribution in Developing Countries, Industrial Countries, and the World, 1987

Source: Reprinted, with permission, from D.O. Hall, F. Rosillo-Calle, R.H. Williams, and J. Woods, "Biomass for Energy: Supply Prospects," Renewable Energy: Sources of Fuels and Electricity, p. 595. 1993. Published by Island Press, Washington, DC, and Covelo, California.

Figure 9.2 - Two Biomass-Intensive Future Global Energy Scenarios

Sources: Part A is the renewables-intensive global energy scenario (RIGES) of T.B. Johansson, H. Kelly, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, "Renewable Fuels and Electricity for a Growing World Economy: Defining and Achieving the Potential," Chapter 1, pp. 1-71, and "A Renewables-Intensive Global Energy Scenario," Appendix to Chapter 1, pp. 1071-1142, in T.B. Johansson et al. (eds.), Renewable Energy: Sources for Fuels and Electricity (Washington: Island Press, 1993).; the historical data are from J. Davis, "Energy for Planet Earth," Scientific American (September 1990). Part B is the "Sustained Growth Scenario" developed by the Shell International Petroleum Company's Group Planning Division in P. Kassler, Energy for Development, Selected Paper (London: Shell International Petroleum Company, Shell Centre, August 1994).

Note that in both scenarios, the total contribution of biomass in 2050 is approximately 210 EJ.

The RIGES envisions that initial major markets for commercial (monetized) biomass would be primarily for electric power generation since advanced technologies for power generation from biomass at scales of 20 to 150 MWe (gasifier/gas turbine systems) will be commercially available by the year 2000; these can be expected to be competitive with new and much larger coal-fired power plants and, in some cases, with hydroelectricity.7

The RIGES further envisions that as oil and natural gas prices rise, domestic and export markets for transportation fuels (e.g., methanol and hydrogen) will provide further opportunities for continued rapid growth of biomass energy industries. Under this scenario, developing countries (especially in Latin America and Africa), thus, have rural-based domestic sources of commercial fuels, and thereby, new opportunities for rural development. Moreover, energy markets for biomass would provide economic incentives for afforestation of degraded and marginal lands and, in the longer term, foreign exchange earnings.

This paper examines potential land availability for a biomass-intensive energy future, some of the economic and social implications of such a future for rural development of developing countries, and some key environmental issues associated with extensive biomass energy production.

Table 9.1 - Total Biomass Supplies for Energy (EJ/year) for the Renewables-Intensive Global Energy Supply Scenario (RIGES)


YEAR 2025

YEAR 2050



Energy Crops




Energy Crops











Latin America









S&E Asia









CP Asia













































OECD Europe









Former CP Europe









Middle East


















Source: T.B. Johansson, H. Kelly, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, "Renewable Fuels and Electricity for a Growing World Economy: Defining and Achieving the Potential," Chapter 1, pp. 1-71, and "A Renewables-Intensive Global Energy Scenario, "Appendix to Chapter 1,pp. 1071-1142, in T.B. Johansson et al. (eds.), Renewable Energy: Sources for Fuels and Electricity (Washington: Island Press, 1993).

Potential Land Availability for Biomass Energy

Because populations are growing, an important question is whether there are sufficient land resources to both feed future populations and sustain the magnitude of biomass energy development implied in the RIGES and the Shell scenario.


To help insure a minimum of competition between agriculture and energy production, a number of analysts have proposed that developing countries target degraded lands for energy production.8 Grainger and Oldeman et al. have estimated that developing countries have over 2,000 million hectares of degraded lands, and Grainger estimates that some 621 million of these are suitable for reforestation.9 This is consistent with estimates that previously forested area suitable for reforestation amounts to 500 million hectares, with an additional 365 million hectares available from land in the fallow phase of shifting cultivation.10

Worldwide interest in restoring tropical degraded lands is growing, as indicated by the ambitious goal of a global net afforestation rate of 12 million hectares per year by 2000, set in 1989 at the Ministerial Conference on Atmospheric Pollution and Climate Change.11 This is comparable to the rate at which biomass energy plantations would have to be established in the first quarter of the twenty-first century for Africa, Latin America, and centrally planned Asia to meet the goals envisaged in the RIGES.

Energy industries might provide the capital needed to finance land restoration activities since advanced biomass conversion technologies like gasifier/gas turbine systems are expected to be highly economically attractive. In principle, energy industries would have an incentive to restore lands in sustainable ways because they would require secure supplies of biomass feedstocks throughout the lifetimes (twenty years or more) of their capital-intensive investments in energy conversion facilities. Such supply security could be assured only if the plantations were managed sustainably.

The main technical challenge is to find a sequence of plantings that can restore ground temperatures, organic and nutrient content, moisture levels, and other soil conditions to a point where crop yields are high and sustainable. It appears feasible to overcome this challenge.12 Other difficulties that must be surmounted reflect general conditions in many developing regions, for example, complex or disputed land ownership, lack of roads or other means to transport biomass to processing facilities and biofuels to markets, and the fact that growers in poor areas cannot wait the three to eight years that is typically required for cash returns on short-rotation tree crops. Despite these technical, socio-economic, political, and other difficulties, however, proof of the potential for growing energy crops on degraded lands can be found in the many successful energy plantations that already exist in developing countries.13

Nevertheless, intensive research, development, and implementation programmes are needed to accelerate the rate of plantation development. Such programmes should lead to the development of region-specific restoration plans that take into account local bioclimatic and socio-economic conditions. Restoration activities involving both outside experts and local farmers should be investigated. Also, restoration plans that can lead to commercial energy crops should be demonstrated. Such demonstrations might be conducted as joint ventures among local agricultural producers and equipment supply firms, local and multinational energy companies, and local and international organizations interested in land restoration.


The use of degraded lands offers an important opportunity for growing biomass energy crops, but other possibilities should be examined as well. This, in turn, requires careful examination of the potential land requirements for agriculture.

Waggoner argues that a world with twice the present population could be fed with no increase in cropland, largely because of expected continuing increases in yields.14 A cursory examination of historical trends in grain yields suggests this may be reasonable. Worldwide average grain yields have been increasing at an average linear rate of 40 kilograms per hectare per year since 1960 (see Figure 9.3). To provide constant per capita levels of grain using the same amount of land as at present, as suggested by Waggoner, would require an average global increase in yields from 2.6 metric tonnes per hectare per year in 199315 to 4.5 tonnes per hectare per year in 2050 and 5.2 in 2100.16 The implied linear growth rate is 33 kg/ha/yr from 1993 to 2050, and 14 kg/ha/yr from 2050 to 2100, both slower than the average growth rate of 40 kg/ha/yr from 1960 to the early 1990s. The target yield of 5.2 tonnes per hectare in 2100 is about 94 per cent of the 1993 U.S. yield, 30 per cent higher than China's 1993 average, and 18 per cent above the 1993 South Korean yield.

Figure 9.3 - Average Cereal Yields for the World, the United States, Brazil, Asia, and Africa, 1960-1990

Note: Over the period 1972 to 1990, yields increased a total of 28% in Africa, 77% in Asia, 49% in Brazil, and 33% in the United States.

Sources: Country and regional data are Food and Agriculture Organization data cited in C.I. Marrison and E.D. Larson, "A Preliminary Estimate of the Biomass Energy Production Potential in Africa for 2025," Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, March 23, 1995. World data are from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), "Production, Supply, and Distribution Database" (diskette), Economic Research Service, USDA, Washington (September 1994).

While such a global analysis is encouraging, it may prove difficult in practice to maintain agricultural land use at present levels on a regional or sub-regional basis. In a more detailed analysis aimed at a preliminary country-level quantification of potential biomass energy production, Marrison and Larson estimate the land availability and associated bioenergy production potential for fifty African countries in the year 2025. 17 Their analysis assumes that food crop yields in Africa grow at the same linear rate between 1990 and 2025 as average cereal-crop yields grew there from 1972 to 1990 (13.8 kg/ha/year). Average crop yields in 2025 would then still be below Brazil's 1990 level, and far below the 1990 U.S. level (see Figure 9.3).

Marrison and Larson use U.N. baseline population projections, which suggest that Africa's population in 2025 will be 2.5 times the 1990 level. They assume that food imports do not increase beyond the absolute 1990 levels, and that per capita calorie supplies grow to correct current undernourishment. With these assumptions, the cropland requirements for Africa in 2025 will be 451 million hectares, or 2.4 times the present cropland area. Marrison and Larson assume that new cropland would be established on land that is presently not cropland, not natural forest, and not wilderness (including desert areas). After meeting cropland needs, any remaining land that is not cropland, forest, or wilderness is assumed to be available for other uses, including biomass energy production. There will be a variety of competing uses for this available area that must be examined on a region-by-region basis when considering the establishment of biomass plantations.

Marrison and Larson project biomass energy crop yields on the potentially available land on the basis of annual nationally averaged precipitation and a yield-precipitation correlation for modern commercial eucalyptus plantations in Brazil. Figure 9.4 shows the percentage of non-crop, non-forest, non-wilderness area in 2025 that would be needed in Africa to produce 18.9 EJ of biomass energy in 2025 - the amount specified by the RIGES for Africa in Table 9.1. The percentage of available land required in each country producing biomass is shown as a function of the bioenergy plantation yield below which, biomass production is assumed to be uneconomic, i.e. the cut-off yield. Only 15 per cent (or 38.7 million hectares) of non-crop, non-forest, non-wilderness land in the producing countries (i.e., those with average yield higher than the cut-off level) would be needed to meet the RIGES target, if a cut-oft yield of 10 dry tonnes per hectare per year is assumed.

Marrison and Larson's analysis suggests that land resources are sufficient to support a biomass-intensive energy future in Africa without compromising food production needs. Subsequent analysis suggests similar conclusions for Latin America and Asia.18 That Asia could become a major bioenergy producer without compromising food production needs is surprising. It results form the high rate of growth in crop yields between 1972 and 1990 (see Figure 9.3). Marrison and Larson assume that yields continue increasing at the same linear rate (65 kg/ha/year for grains) from 1990 to 2025. With this assumption, crop yields in 2025 in Asia (5.4 t/ha/yr for cereals) are about the same as in the United States in 1993 (5.5 t/ha/yr). Thus, despite growing populations, increased crop yields mean that the land needed for agriculture in Asia in 2025 is the same as in 1990, which leaves some 1,300 million hectares of available land for other uses. An independent and more detailed analysis focusing on India (see next section) appears to support Marrison and Larson's conclusion. Nevertheless, because it is contrary to conventional thinking about land use constraints in Asia, more detailed country-level assessments are warranted.

Figure 9.4 - Land Area Required for Biomass Production in Africa as a Function of Cat-off Yield

Note: The cut-off yield is the yield below which it is assumed that biomass production would not be economically viable. This figure shows the percentage of non-crop, non-wilderness, non-forest land that would be needed in Africa in 2025 to produce a continent total of 18.9 EJ of biomass energy. The percentage of land required in each country that produces biomass goes up with increased "cutoff" yield because the total number of countries in Africa with yields above the cut-off yield drops with increasing cut-off yield.

Source: C.I. Marrison and E.D. Larson, "A Preliminary Estimate of the Biomass Energy Production Potential in Africa for 2025," Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, March 23, 1995.


The preceding section suggests that land resources are sufficient to support a significant biomass energy industry globally. However, detailed country and sub-country assessments are needed to determine the feasibility of implementing biomass plantation energy systems on an extensive basis. Two studies are reviewed here; one for northeast Brazil, a region with high per capita land availability, and one for India, a country with low per capita land availability.

Brazil. The nine states comprising the northeast region of Brazil account for 18 per cent of Brazil's land area, or nearly 10 per cent of South America. The northeast region has the lowest population density among the three most populated regions in Brazil. The only significant conventional energy resource in the region is hydroelectric power, the full economic potential of which will have been tapped by the end of the decade.

Given the high per capita land availability and the looming shortage of conventional energy sources, the utility responsible for electricity in northeast Brazil (Companhia Hidroeletrica do Sao Francisco - CHESF) began to examine the region's potential for biomass energy production over a decade ago.19 The CHESF studies mapped key physical aspects of the region (soil type and quality, rainfall, topography, elevation, etc.) to define five bioclimatic regions. For each of these, CHESF estimated the potential yields and costs of producing biomass based on experience with industrial eucalyptus plantations in other regions of Brazil. The CHESF studies took account of potential competition for land, and considered for biomass energy production only land that was judged suboptimal for most other uses, including agriculture.

The CHESF study estimated the land area potentially available for biomass plantations to be some 50 million hectares, or one third of the region (see Figure 9.5). Biomass yields were estimated to range from less than 3 dry tonnes per hectare per year on the worst lands to over 20 t/ha/yr on the best sites, with 12.5 t/ha/yr the average yield. The total potential biomass production on 50 million hectares in the northeast region is estimated to be some 12.6 EJ per year.20 By comparison, total primary energy use in the northeast in 1990 was only about 1.1 EJ.

That the biomass energy production potential of the region is so large is surprising because a large part of the region is considered semi-arid. Furthermore, roughly half the area identified by CHESF as suitable for plantations is characterized as having soil that is being degraded to some extent by wind erosion, water erosion, or chemical deterioration.21 A smaller percentage of area has also been characterized as susceptible to desertification, based on physical characteristics (soils, water resources, etc.), social conditions (e.g., land ownership structure), economic criteria (e.g., present use of land), and other indicators.22

Given the encouraging analysis of the biomass energy production potential in northeast Brazil, CHESF is now developing plans for implementing a biomass-electricity generating programme. Some potential social implications of such a programme are discussed below.

India. Recent analysis suggests that India, a country with a population density sixteen times greater than that for Brazil, may also have substantial potential for establishing biomass-plantation energy industries.

Ravindranath and Hall observe that total area under crops in India was roughly the same in 1990 (around 125 million hectares) as it was twenty years earlier, despite population growth averaging about 2.4 per cent per year during these two decades.23 (Cultivable non-cropland has also remained stable at about 40 million hectares.) In looking to future land requirements for agriculture, Ravindranath and Hall note that the average yield of India's most important crop, rice, is 1.7 tonnes per hectare per year, or about one half the Asian average, one third the yield in China and Japan, and one fifth the yield in South Korea. On the other hand, in some states in India (Tamil Nadu and Punjab), the rice yield is double the Indian average.

From these data and an analysis of the barriers to increasing crop yields and intensities (i.e., cultivation of at least two crops per year through irrigation), Ravindranath and Hall conclude that the prospects for doubling or tripling average annual yields in India are good. Thus, food production might be doubled or tripled without increasing cropped area, leaving substantial amounts of land for other uses.

Ravindranath and Hall propose using degraded lands in India for biomass energy production. They cite three estimates of degraded land area in India that range from 66 to 106 million hectares. (Total land area is about 300 million hectares.) Excluding degraded land presently under cultivation reduces these estimates to a range of 61 to 71 million hectares.

This land area can be put in perspective by considering its biomass energy production potential relative to present energy use in India. Assuming an average biomass yield of 10 dry tonnes per hectare per year (and a biomass energy content of 20 GJ/dry tonne - one GJ is 109 joules), 65 million hectares would produce 13 EJ of energy. India's total primary energy consumption in 1991 was under 11 EJ (26 per cent of which was in the form of biomass).24

Figure 9.5 - Land Potentially Available for Growing Biomass in Northeast Brazil

Note: The shaded areas on the large map are identified by CHESF as available and suitable for establishing biomass energy plantations in Northeast Brazil; they amount to approximately 50 million hectares. The inset positions the northeast region of Brazil within South America.

Source: A.E. Carpentieri, E.D. Larson, and J. Woods, "Future Biomass-Based Electricity Supply in Northeast Brazil," Biomass and Bioenergy 4(3) (1993), pp. 149-73.

Potential Role of Biomass Plantation Energy Systems in Promoting Sustainable Development

What roles could large-scale biomass plantation energy systems play in promoting sustainable development? The case of biomass electric power generation, the likely initial major market for new biomass energy supplies, is considered here as a concrete example.


In order to succeed, biomass power systems must be economically competitive with conventional fossil fuel alternatives. Since plantation-grown biomass is more costly than traditional residue biomass sources, the technologies used to convert the biomass into electricity must be more efficient and/or lower in capital cost than traditional biomass-electric technologies, which today typically use residues as fuel. (Traditional biomass-electric technologies would not be competitive with conventional energy sources when more costly plantation biomass is the fuel.) At a scale of 20 to 150 MWe, biomass-gasifier/gas turbine (BIG/GT) systems that will be commercialized by the turn of the century promise efficiencies that are roughly double those for traditional (steam-turbine) biomass power systems; moreover, they would substantially lower capital costs.25 BIG/GT technology should make it possible to deliver electricity to consumers from biomass-plantation energy systems at costs that are competitive with electricity from new coal-fired steam-electric plants. BIG/GT electricity is also likely to be able to compete with hydroelectric power in some situations.26


In part, because of the availability of low-cost electricity, rural industrial-scale biomass energy systems might act as magnets for a variety of income-generating activities, leading to the creation of employment that could help stem urban migration.

The most direct income-generating activity would be managing the plantations. In regions where climate is especially suitable for biomass growth and labour costs are relatively low, such as in parts of Brazil, biomass production costs from plantations are less than US$2/GJ.27 If biomass is sold at $2/GJ, and yields are 10 to 15 dry tonnes per hectare per year, a plantation could generate gross revenues of $400 to $600 per hectare. This is comparable to the revenues generated from soybean production in Brazil today.28 Yet the cost of inputs (such as fertilizer and herbicides) for biomass energy production (especially for woody crops with 3 to 8 year rotations) are likely to be substantially lower than those for an annual crop like soybeans (see Table 9.2). Moreover, unlike Brazilian soybeans, which are largely exported, biomass would be used locally to generate electricity, which, in turn, could be consumed by additional income-generating industries within the legion.29

Carpentieri et al. estimate that large-area (contiguous tens of thousands of hectares) commercial plantations in Brazil generate 1.9 to 3.6 direct jobs per square kilometre. While this level of employment is relatively modest, it could be important locally. Furthermore, the availability of low-cost biopower could attract other employment-generating activities to the area. Energy-intensive industries, with their well paying jobs, might be especially attracted.

Table 9.2 - Typical Fertilizer and Herbicide Application Rates and Soil Erosion Rates for Selected Food and Energy Crop Production Systems in the United States

Cropping System

N-P-K. Application Rates (kg/ha/year)

Herbicide Application Rates (kg/ha/year)

Soil Erosion Rates (tonnes/ha/yr)

Annual Crops









Perennial Energy Crops





Short-rotation woody




a Based on data collected in the early 1980s. New tillage practices used today may lower these values

b The nitrogen input is inherently low for soybeans, a nitrogen-fixing crop.

c Not including nitrogen-fixing species.

Source: W.G. Hohenstein and L.L. Wright, "Biomass Energy Production in the United States: An Overview," Biomass and Bioenergy (1994), pp. 161-73.

One concern with such a rural industrialization strategy is that it may first require a sufficient amount of already existing electricity-consuming industrial activity to justify building any power plant. While this may be desirable, it is not essential. Initially, if there is insufficient local demand to utilize all the electricity being generated, the excess could be transported by wire to urban centers (as hydroelectricity is transported from remote sites in many countries today). Although this electricity would not be as cheap as that made available near the plant site, the extra electric transmission costs should not be prohibitive; transmission lines would tend be operated at high capacity factors, thus, reducing unit costs. (This is in contrast to the opposite situation in which centralized power generation near urban centers provides electricity for rural consumers; in this case, the lines are often poorly utilized because of sporadic demand patterns of rural electricity consumers.)


It is often assumed that contiguous, large-area plantations are required: a) to take advantage of economies of scale that can make biopower competitive, and b) to make a large contribution to global energy supply, such as those envisaged in the RIGES. However, large plantations may not be necessary for biomass to play major roles in the energy economy. An alternative small-scale biomass supply system - farm forestry - shows great promise and is increasingly being implemented in Brazil.30 Similar activities have been reported elsewhere.

In a typical farm-forestry programme in Brazil, a forestry company provides the material inputs and technical know-how for establishing trees on a farmer's land (1 to 50 hectares of trees per farm) and contracts with the farmer to buy some or all of the first harvest for an agreed upon price that incorporates repayment for the initial inputs and services. The inputs include saplings (usually some species of eucalyptus), fertilizers (applied at planting), herbicides (applied at some point after planting), and pesticides. The company samples the farmer's soil and provides fertilizers and species "tuned" to that soil.

Because of the sophisticated material inputs and the careful tending provided by the farmer, the biomass yields reported from small-farm plantings are not much below those reported for large-scale plantations owned and operated by forestry companies, and yields can be expected to increase as both farmers and their contracting companies learn improved methods and approaches (most programmes in Brazil started less than a decade ago). Moreover, any yield reductions are often offset by substantially lower costs to companies for establishing farm forests. Limited survey data indicate that the per hectare cost for farmer-contracted land ranges from 2 per cent to 42 per cent of the cost for company-owned land (see Table 9.3). The limited data suggest that delivered costs for biomass do not differ much between farm-forests and large-scale plantations.

Farm forestry is growing rapidly in Brazil, with encouragement from the private sector; from federal, state and local governments; and from farmers. Several hundred thousand hectares have been established without fanfare in less than a decade. This compares favourably with the estimated 6 to 7 million hectares of large-scale plantations established in Brazil since the 1960s. Farmer-owned plantations account for as much as 20 per cent of some forestry companies' total planted area (Table 9.3), and some companies have a goal of raising this fraction to 50 per cent or more.

Table 9.3 - Some Corporate Farmer Forestry Programmes in Brazil (based on information provided by individual companies)









Bahia Sul

Location (state)



Minas Gerais

R. Grande do Sul

Minas Gerais

Sao Paulo


Bahia, E. Santo

Company-Owned Land

Total area (hectares)









Area planted (hectares)









Average establishment cost for new plantings2 ($/ha)









Average productivity of planted area (dry tonnes/ha/year)3









Average delivered cost of wood ($/dry tonne)6









Farmer-Forestry Program

Year programme was started









Total number of farmers









Average total farm size (ha)









Primary activity of farm


cattle, corn, coffee, citrus





cattle, crops


Total area contracted for trees (ha)









Average per-farm area planted with trees (ha)









Average productivity of planted area (dry tonnes/ha/year)









Average establishment cost to company ($/ha)









Average delivered cost of wood to company ($/dry tonne)e









Per cent of farms intending to commit total area to trees









1 Based on data collected in the early 1980s. New tillage practices used today may lower these values.

2 Includes land rent, sapling production, land preparation, planting, fertilizers, herbicides.

3 Yield data were originally provided in solid cubic meters. Typical species of eucalyptus in Brazil have a density of about 0.5 dry tonnes per solid cubic meter.

4 Includes only stem wood with diameter 7 cm or larger.

5 Starring from the total yield at harvest (in solid m3/ha) provided by the company, this has been calculated assuming a 6-year rotation and a wood density of 0.5 dry tonnes/m3.

6 Calculated from costs in $/solid m3, assuming a wood density of 0.5 dry tonnes per cubic meter.

7 Pains has a goal of contracting over 56,000 hectares under their farmer forestry programme, which would involve some 4,000 farmers.

Source: E.D. Larson, L.C.E. Rodriguez, and T.R. de Azevedo, "Farm Forestry in Brazil," presented at BioResources '94: Biomass Resources, A Means to Sustainable Development, Bangalore, India, 3-7 October, 1994.

Three recent developments are spurring the growth in farm forestry: 1) the federal tax incentives introduced in 1966 in Brazil to encourage tree planting were eliminated in 1988, making it much less attractive for forestry companies to expand their own plantation areas; 2) in regions where natural forests were being cut for wood (especially the states of Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo), natural forests within reasonable transportation distances have essentially been completely cut, with insufficient replanting to meet local needs; and 3) objections of environmentalists and others (largely on aesthetic grounds) to "overplanting" of trees have discouraged expansion of large tracts of company-owned plantations. (In the state of Espirito Santo, for example, Aracruz Florestal, a private company, is now prohibited by law from purchasing additional land for eucalyptus planting.)

The overall result of the small-farm forestry programmes has been minimal changes in land ownership and use patterns, while local wood supplies at reasonable costs have increased, and farmers (including formerly subsistence farmers) have gained a revenue source.


Private biopower systems in rural areas could provide a substantial tax base for supporting rural infrastructure development, if the tax is structured to use at least most of the revenues this way, rather than diverting them to the urban sector.31 Tax revenues could help finance a wide range of infrastructure, including that needed to attract energy-using industries and to provide such public services as schools, hospitals, etc. As biopower plants attract power-consuming firms to rural areas, these firms would further add to the rural tax base.

In many developing countries, privatizing power generation would lead to higher electricity prices. At present, most electric utilities are publicly owned, and electricity prices are often kept below economically efficient long-run marginal cost levels on the assumption that low electricity prices are needed to stimulate development. As a result, revenues typically are insufficient to provide the capital needed for financing new power plant construction.32 Privatizing power generation and opening it up to independent power producers would overcome this problem, and the resulting competition would keep electricity prices in line with long-run marginal costs.

Box 9.1

Taxing Rural Industries: An Illustration of the Potential

There are a variety of approaches that could be considered for taxing rural industries to pay for infrastructure development. Without passing judgement on the relative merits of one taxation instrument over another, consider the following illustration of the potential revenue base that might be generated from a taxation strategy.

In the United States, property taxes on businesses and homes are levied to support much local infrastructure building. A property tax levied on a rapidly-growing, capital-intensive industry, such as the electric power industry, could provide an enormous tax revenue base. To illustrate this, suppose that a 1.5 per cent property tax were levied on biopower production facilities. (A 1.5 per cent per year tax on the installed capital cost is a typical rate for investor-owned power plants in the United States.) Such a tax applied to a first-generation 26 MWe BIG/GT power plant would account for only 6 per cent of the busbar cost (see Table 9.4), but the tax revenues would mount to $0.5 million per year or $15 million over the 30-year life of the plant.

Consider the implications of this calculation for a particular developing country, say India. In the mid-1980s, only about one sixth of electricity generated was provided to rural areas of India, even though nearly three-fourths of the population is rural. Suppose that a concentrated effort were made on the part of policy-makers to accelerate rural industrialization and that:

· for the country as a whole, installed electrical generating capacity grows 5 per cent per year;

· one-third of all new electrical generating capacity is sited in rural areas;

· the average installed cost for new generating capacity is $1300/kWe (the estimated cost for first-generation, mass-produced BIG/GT systems - see Table 9.4); and

· all rural power is provided by private power producers, who pay annual property taxes equal to 1.5 per cent of the installed capital cost.

Assuming an estimated installed generating capacity in India of 100 GW in 1994, then over the 30-year lives of all the power plants installed in a single year at the time this new policy is adopted, property tax revenues would amount to about $1 billion per year:

(30-year plant life) × (0.015/year) × ($1300/kWe) × (1/3) × (0.05/year) × (100,000,000 kWe) @ $109/year.

Electricity so produced could be a powerful instrument for rural development if taxation instruments are used creatively. The methods of taxation should reflect cultural preferences, as well as considerations of economic and administrative efficiency. Taxes on capital, for example, might be especially effective with a capital-intensive industry like power generation (see Box 9.1).

Tax revenues could be used to promote several kinds of infrastructure development, including that which will attract employment-generating industries to rural areas, and that which can contribute to meeting basic human needs in communities that remain outside of monetized economies.


A strategy to develop bioenergy at industrial scales in rural regions could be launched immediately using commercially available technologies (e.g., steam turbines) in markets with large under-utilized biomass residues available at low cost (e.g., in the cane sugar industry33). But biopower production cannot expand substantially unless such initial markets are supplemented by much larger markets based on the use of more costly, but much more widely producible feedstocks grown on dedicated plantations - markets that require high-efficiency technologies that have low per unit capital costs (e.g., BIG/GT).

Such advanced technologies can be either developed indigenously or transferred from abroad, or some mixture of both. If technology is transferred, it should be accompanied by local technological capacity-building; moreover, there should be safeguards to ensure that the technology itself, and the way it is transferred, are compatible with sustainable development goals.34 Multinational corporations (MNCs), in particular, might be considered instruments for technology transfer; for example, BIG/GT technology might be transferred via independent power companies that are joint ventures between local companies and MNCs.35

One frequently voiced criticism of MNCs is that the technologies transferred often do not serve the best interests of the host countries. While this undoubtedly has been true, it is not an intrinsic problem. Developing countries may need MNCs, but MNCs need developing-country markets even more. MNCs must "grow or die." Since many industrialized-country energy markets are growing only slowly or not at all, most prospective markets for multinational energy companies are in the developing countries. If developing countries make known their preferences and dislikes about alternative technologies and put into place appropriate institutional safeguards to prevent abuses, MNCs will have to orient their business activities accordingly. At the same time, however, MNCs will generally have to be convinced that potential bioenergy markets are large and worth pursuing.36

Table 9.4 - Busbar Electric Generation Cost in India for First-Generation BIG/GT Technology1

Cost Component

Cents per kWh





Property Tax4


Labour for Plant Operation5










1 The first-generation BIG/CC system is assumed to be a 34.0% efficient (HHV), 25.9 MWe directly-heated, atmospheric-pressure biomass gasifier (TPS) coupled directly to a gas turbine/steam turbine combined cycle based on an aeroderivative gas turbine (GE LM-2500) [Larson and Consonni, 1994], for which the installed capital cost in mass production is estimated to be $1300/kWe [Elliott and Booth, 1993].

2 Assuming a 10% real discount rate and a 30-year plant life the capital recovery factor is 10.61% per year. Baseload operation @ 75% capacity factor is assumed.

3 The annual cost of insurance is assumed to be 0.5% of the installed capital cost.

4 As is typical for the US, the annual property tax is assumed to be 1.5% of the installed capital cost.

5 It is assumed that 7 operators are needed to run the power plant, as in a US situation (see note f, Table 3, in Williams and Larson [1993]). However, unlike the US, where the cost of labour is assumed to be $22.55/hour, the cost of labour is assumed here to be $5/hour.

6 The annual maintenance cost is assumed to be 2% of the installed capital cost (see note g, Table 3, in Williams and Larson [1993]), with 40% accounted for by labour and 60% by materials.

7 The annual administrative cost is assumed to be 30% of labour costs for operation and maintenance (see note h, Table 3, in Williams and Larson [1993]).

8 For a fuel price of $1.5/GJ (HHV basis) (930 Rs/t for wood with a HHV of 20 GJ/t and an exchange rate of 31 Rs/$). That this is a reasonable cost comes from the assessment by Carpentieri, et al. [1993], who estimate that eucalyptus could be grown on 4 × 106 ha of available relatively good lands in the Northeast of Brazil at an average annual yield of 20.7 t/ha/year at a cost (including 85 km of transport) of $1.23/GJ (1991 $). To this should be added a chipping cost of $5.13/t ($0.26/GJ) (cost estimate for the US [Perlack and Wright, 1995]), bringing the total cost to $1.5/GJ for wood chips delivered to the conversion facility.

If MNCs are convinced that bioenergy technologies have large potential markets and are competitive alternatives to fossil and nuclear energy technologies, they will inevitably become agents of development through technology transfer. And, via the rural industrialization promoted by the deployment of bioenergy systems and the tax base these systems would provide, they will contribute to rural infrastructure-building.

Environmental Issues

Many people consider large-scale cultivation of biomass for energy a massive assault on nature. Environmentalists are critical of the intensive agricultural management practices that biomass energy plantations require; they are concerned about chemical contamination of groundwater, loss of soil quality, aesthetic degradation of landscapes, and loss of biological diversity. Unless such concerns can be effectively addressed so that there is wide public support for biomass energy production, it will be difficult for large-scale biomass energy systems to play a major role in the world's energy future.

Biomass can, of course, be grown for energy in ways that are environmentally undesirable. However, production of biomass for energy can also improve the land environmentally relative to present use. The environmental outcome depends on how the biomass is produced, an issue that is beginning to receive attention in a variety of fora.37

Consider first the challenge of sustaining the productivity of the land. Since harvesting biomass removes nutrients from the area planted, care must be taken to ensure that these nutrients are restored. With thermochemical processes for biomass conversion (such as BIG/GT power production), it is feasible to recover all mineral nutrients as ash at the biomass conversion facility and to return the ash to the plantation as a fertilizer. However, nitrogen lost to the atmosphere at the conversion facility must be replenished.

This can be done in a number of environmentally acceptable ways. First, when trees are the harvested crop, the leaves, twigs, and small branches in which nutrients are concentrated can be left at the site to reduce nitrogen loss; this also helps maintain soil quality and reduce erosion. Second, biomass species that fix nitrogen in the soil can be selected for the plantation or for interplanting with the primary plantation species to eliminate or reduce to low levels the need for artificial fertilizers. Biomass production for energy allows much more flexibility than agriculture in meeting fixed nitrogen requirements this way. In agriculture, the market dictates the choice of feedstocks within a narrow range of characteristics. Thermochemical energy conversion technology, on the other hand, puts few restrictions on the choice of biomass feedstock, aside from the requirement of high yield, which is needed to keep costs at acceptable levels.

Energy crops also offer flexibility in dealing with erosion and chemical pollution from herbicide use - problems that occur mainly at the time the energy crop is planted. If the energy crop is an annual crop (e.g., sorghum), the erosion and herbicide pollution problems would be similar to those for annual row-crop agriculture; cultivating such crops - for energy or for agriculture - should be avoided on erodible lands. However, potential biomass energy crops also include: a) fast-growing trees that are harvested only every three to eight years and replanted perhaps every fifteen to twenty-four years, and b) perennial grasses that are harvested annually, but replanted only once in a decade or so. Both of these alternatives tend to sharply reduce erosion as well as the need for herbicides (see Table 9.2).

Another concern is chemical pollution from the use of pesticides. Experience with plantations in tropical regions shows that careful selection of species and good plantation design and management can be helpful in controlling pests and diseases, thereby minimizing or even eliminating the use of chemical pesticides. A good plantation design will typically include areas set aside for native flora and fauna to harbour natural predators for plantation pest control, and subsections of the plantation planted with different clones and/or species. If a pest attack breaks out in one such subsection, a now common practice in well-managed plantations is to let the attack run its course and to let predators from the set-aside areas help halt the outbreak.

Biomass plantations are sometimes criticized because the range of biological species they support is much narrower than for natural forests. While this is generally true, the criticism is not always relevant. It is true if a biomass plantation replaces virgin forest. However, if a plantation is established on degraded lands, it generally can support a more diverse ecology than was possible before restoration. Similarly, if biomass energy crops replace monoculture food crops, the effect on the local ecology depends on the plantation crop species chosen, but in many cases the shift will be to a more ecologically varied landscape.

As already noted, establishing and maintaining natural reserves at plantations can be helpful in controlling pests while providing ecological benefits. However, preserving biodiversity on a regional basis will require, inter alia, land-use planning in which patches of natural vegetation are connected via a network of undisturbed corridors (e.g., riparian buffer zones, shelterbelts, and hedgerows between fields), thus, enabling species to migrate from one habitat to another. Regional-level land-use planning and landscape design can also help address aesthetic concerns sometimes expressed about extensive, contiguous monocultures.


Biomass plantation energy systems could make important contributions toward sustainable development in developing countries. Land resources appear to be sufficient to support significant biomass energy production. Restoring degraded lands (of which there are several hundred million hectares in developing countries) by converting them to biomass energy plantations is one promising approach to establishing plantations on a large scale. But other land resources might also be exploited without compromising future agricultural production requirements.

Coupled with advanced conversion technologies, such as biomass-gasifier/gas turbines for electricity production, large-scale biomass-energy plantations could contribute to sustainable development in a variety of ways. In addition to the direct employment provided by plantations, the economically competitive electricity that could be produced by such systems would act as a magnet to draw other employment- and income-generating activities into rural areas, especially energy-intensive industries that offer well-paying jobs. Privatized biomass-power generation and the industrial activities it attracts could provide a tax base to help finance rural infrastructure building that would serve to attract additional economic activities. Such tax revenues could also be used to subsidize the provision of basic human needs to communities that are currently outside of the monetized economy.

The establishment of contiguous, large-area plantations have been criticized in some regions for socio-economic disruptions, including displacing small-scale farmers from their land. Such plantations may not be essential, however, for modernized biomass production and conversion systems to play an important role in the energy economy. Small-scale farm forestry is a promising alternative approach that is growing rapidly in Brazil. In this approach, forestry companies would loan their know-how and some capital to local farmers to help them establish tree crops. Farmers are, thus, able to grow trees on some or all of their land with high yields, while reducing costs for the forestry companies. Farmers thereby maintain control over their land and gain a revenue source, while forestry companies benefit from the increased local supply of wood.

Environmental concerns must be addressed if biomass energy systems are to make important contributions to sustainable development. Such concerns include the potential impacts of intensive plantation management practices, such as chemical contamination of groundwater and loss of soil quality. The characteristics of plantations required to insure environmental sustainability will vary with local bioclimatic and socio-economic factors, but biomass energy crops - especially those that would be converted into other energy carriers via thermo-chemical processes (like gasification) - would have some inherent advantages relative to conventional annual agricultural crops in dealing with environmental concerns. These include the flexibility to mix species within stands (e.g., nitrogen-fixing varieties might be included), reduced rates of soil erosion and herbicide application due to multi-year implanting of root systems, and reduced pesticide application through use of natural predators inhabiting non-harvested natural vegetation areas adjacent to harvested stands.


1 Eric D. Larson is Research Engineer, and Robert H. Williams is Senior Research Scientist, at the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University.

2 J. Goldemberg, T.B. Johansson, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, Energy for a Sustainable World (Delhi: Wiley-Eastern, 1988).

3 R.H. Williams, "Roles for Biomass Energy in Sustainable Development," Industrial Ecology and Global Change (Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 199-225.

4 The assessment was prepared as input to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The study was commissioned by the U.N. Solar Energy Group for Environment and Development (UNSEGED), a high-level group of experts convened by the United Nations under the mandate of General Assembly Resolution A/45/208, December 21, 1990. That resolution requested that UNSEGED prepare a comprehensive and analytical study on new and renewable sources of energy aimed at providing a significant input to UNCED. The study was published in 1993 as a book of 1160 pages, with 23 chapters reviewing the state-of-the-art and future of renewable energy sources and technologies: Thomas B. Johansson, Henry Kelly, Amulya K.N. Reddy, and Robert H. Williams (eds.), Renewable Energy: Sources for Fuels and Electricity (Washington: Island Press, 1993). The energy supply projections in Figure 9.2a are for the Renewables-Intensive Global Energy Scenario (RIGES) described in the Appendix to Chapter 1 in that volume. For the RIGES, the demands for electricity and for solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels were assumed fixed at the levels of demand in the "high economic growth, high energy efficiency" scenario of the Response Strategies Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change: The IPCC Response Strategies (Washington: Island Press, 1991).

5 Analyses of Shell's Group Planning Division are used as input for long-term decision-making in the worldwide Royal Dutch/Shell group of companies.

6 E.D. Larson, "Technology for Electricity and Fuels from Biomass," Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, Vol. 18 (1993), pp. 567-630; R.H. Williams and E.D. Larson, "Advanced Gasification-Based Biomass Power Generation," in Thomas B. Johannson et al., Renewable Energy, pp. 729-85; and T.P. Elliott and R. Booth, Brazilian Biomass Power Demonstration Project, Special Project Brief (London: Shell International Petroleum Company, Shell Centre, 1993).

7 E.D. Larson and S. Consonni, "Biomass-Gasifier/Aeroderivative Gas Turbine Combined Cycle Power Generation," presented at BioResources '94, Bangalore, India, October 3-7, 1994; R.H. Williams, "Roles for Biomass Energy in Sustainable Development;" and A.E. Carpentieri, E.D. Larson, and J. Woods, "Future Biomass-Based Electricity Supply in Northeast Brazil," Biomass and Bioenergy 4(3) (1993), pp. 149-73.

8 T.B. Johansson, H. Kelly, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, "Renewable Fuels and Electricity for a Growing World Economy: Defining and Achieving the Potential," Chapter 1, pp. 1-71, and "A Renewables-Intensive Global Energy Scenario," Appendix to Chapter 1, pp. 1071-1142, in T.B. Johansson et al. (eds.), Renewable Energy; D.O. Hall, F. Rosillo-Calle, R.H. Williams, and J. Woods, "Biomass for Energy: Supply Prospects," in T.B. Johannson et al. (eds.), Renewable Energy, pp. 593-652; R.H. Williams, "Roles for Biomass Energy in Sustainable Development;" N.H. Ravindranath and D.O. Hall, Biomass, Energy and Environment: A Developing Country Perspective from India, manuscript submitted to Oxford University Press, September 1994.

9 A. Grainger, "Estimating Areas of Degraded Tropical Lands Requiring Replenishment of Forest Cover," International Tree Crops Journal, Vol. 5 (1988), pp. 31-61; A. Grainger, "Modeling the Impact of Alternative Afforestation Strategies to Reduce Carbon Emissions," Proceedings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Conference on Tropical Forestry Response Options to Climate Change, Report No. 20P-2003 (Washington: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Policy Analysis, 1990); and L.R. Oldeman et al., World Map of the Status of Human Induced Soil Degradation, International Soil Reference and Information Center and United Nations Environment Programme (April 1991).

10 R.A. Houghton, "The Future Role of Tropical Forests in Affecting the Carbon Dioxide Concentration of the Atmosphere," Ambio 19(4) (1990), pp. 204-09.

11 Ministerial Conference on Atmospheric Pollution and Climate Change, "The Noordwijk Declaration on Atmospheric Pollution and Climate Change," Noordwijk, The Netherlands (November 1989).

12 Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) of the U.S. Congress, Technologies to Sustain Tropical Forest Resources and Biological Diversity, OTA-F-515 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1992); WE. Parham, P.J. Durana, and A.L. Hess (eds.), "Improving Degraded Lands: Promising Experiences from South China," Bishop Museum Bulletin in Botany, Vol. 3, The Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii (1993).

13 D.O. Hall et al., "Biomass for Energy."

14 P.E. Waggoner, How Much Land Can Ten Billion People Spare for Nature? (Ames, Iowa: Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, February 1994).

15 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), "Production, Supply, and Distribution Database" (diskette), Economic Research Service, USDA, Washington (September 1994).

16 These figures assume the most recent published World Bank population projections, which show population growing from 5.52 billion in 1993, to 9.58 billion in 2050, to 11.0 billion in 2100. See E. Bos, M.T. Vu, E. Massiah, and R.A. Bulatao, World Population Projections, 1994-95 Edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

17 C.I. Marrison and E.D. Larson, "A Preliminary Estimate of the Biomass Energy Production Potential in Africa for 2025," (submitted to Biomass and Bioenergy), Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University, March 23, 1995.

18 E.D. Larson, C.I. Marrison, and R.H. Williams, "CO2 Mitigation Potential of Biomass Energy Plantations in Developing Regions," forthcoming report (Princeton: Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University, May 1995).

19 Divisao de Projetos de Fontes Alternativas, Estudos de Florestament no Semiarido Nordestino, Companhia Hidroelectrica do Sao Francisco, Recife, Brazil, (November 1985); and A.E. Carpentieri et al., "Future Biomass-Based Electricity Supply in Northeast Brazil."

20 A.E. Carpentieri et al., Future Biomass-Based Electricity Supply in Northeast Brazil."

21 L.R. Oldeman et al., World Map of the Status of Human Induced Soil Degradation, International Soil Reference and Information Center and United Nations Environment Programme (April 1991).

22 D.G. Fereira, H.P. Melo, F.R. Rodrigues Neto, P.J.S. do Nascimento, and V. Rodrigues, A Desertificacao do Nordeste do Brasil: Diagnostico e Perspectiva, Nucleo de Pesquisa e Controle da Desertificacao do Nordeste, Universidade Federal do Piaui, Teresina, Piaui, Brazil (1994).

23 N.H. Ravindranath and D.O. Hall, Biomass, Energy and Environment.

24 World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994-95 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

25 T.P. Elliott and R. Booth, Brazilian Biomass Power Demonstration Project; and R.H. Williams and E.D. Larson, "Advanced Gasification-Based Biomass Power Generation."

26 E.D. Larson and S. Consonni, "Biomass-Gasifier/Aeroderivative Gas Turbine Combined Cycle Power Generation."

27 A.E. Carpentieri et al., "Future Biomass-Based Electricity Supply in Northeast Brazil."

28 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average revenue per hectare for soybean production in the United States between 1990 and 1992 was $486/ha (Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1993, 113th edition, Washington 1993). The revenue might be similar in Brazil, since state-of-the-art yields for soybean production in Brazil are probably comparable to U.S. yields.

29 The comparison of soybeans with biomass production does not imply that the two would compete for the same land. In fact, as discussed elsewhere, it might be desirable to target degraded areas for multi-year rotation biomass energy production. Such areas may not be suitable for an annual crop like soybeans.

30 E.D. Larson, L.C.E. Rodriguez, and T.R. de Azevedo, "Farm Forestry in Brazil," presented at BioResources '94, Bangalore, India, October 3-7, 1994.

31 Establishing rural biopower systems would require at least the minimum level of infrastructure development associated with biomass plantations. Where industrial plantations have been successful today, the concomitant development of some infrastructure serving all locals is cited as one of the most important reasons for their success. See C. Sargent and S. Bass (eds.), Plantation Politics: Forest Plantations in Development (London: Earthscan Publications, 1992). However, such development would be relatively minor compared to the infrastructure development that could be supported through tax revenues, as discussed here.

32 The demand for new generating capacity in developing countries from 1989 to 1999 was expected to grow at an average rate of 6.1 per cent per year, with new capacity in this period added at an average rate of 38 GWe per year. See E.A. Moore and Smith, "Capital Expenditures for Electric Power in the Developing Countries in the 1990s," Energy Series Paper No. 21, Industry and Energy Department (Washington: World Bank, February 1990), with an associated present value capital requirement of over $0.2 trillion (assuming $1000/kW installed cost and 10 per cent discount rate).

33 High-pressure steam-turbine-based cogeneration systems have already been installed in some cane sugar factories worldwide. See E.D. Larson, R.H. Williams, J.M. Ogden, and M.G. Hylton, "Biomass-Gasifier Steam-Injected Gas Turbine Cogeneration for the Cane Sugar Industry" in D.L. Klass (ed.), Energy from Biomass and Wastes XIV (Chicago: Institute of Gas Technology, 1991).

34 T.B. Johansson et al., "Renewable Fuels and Electricity for a Growing World Economy," and "A Renewables-Intensive Global Energy Scenario," Appendix.

35 Alternatively, MNCs might be involved only as vendors selling technology to locally-based power companies, but this model may be a less effective instrument for technology transfer. The alternative proposed here, of involving MNCs as partners in independent power companies, gives the MNCs "cradle-to-grave" responsibility for helping manage the technologies being transferred and would facilitate access to internationally based maintenance services, if and as needed.

36 Despite the advances being made with modernized bioenergy technologies, the notion that biomass can come to play major roles in the overall energy economy flies in the face of conventional wisdom in the fossil energy circles where most MNCs move. In these circles, it is generally believed that because of (i) the low efficiency of photosynthesis and (ii) the low energy density of biomass compared to conventional fossil fuels, biomass will always remain a minor energy source.

37 J. Beyea, J. Cook, D.O. Hall, R.H. Socolow, and R.H. Williams, Toward Ecological Guidelines for Large-Scale Biomass Energy Development, Report of a Workshop for Engineers, Ecologists, and Policymakers Convened by the National Audubon Society and Princeton University, May 6, 1991; J. Davidson, Bioenergy Tree Plantations in the Tropics: Ecological Implications and Impacts, IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK, 1987; L. Gustafsson (ed.), "Environmental Aspects of Energy Forest Cultivation," special issue of Biomass and Bioenergy, 6(1/2) (1994); OTA, Technologies to Sustain Tropical Forest Resources; J. Sawyer, Plantations in the Tropics: Environmental Concerns, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK (1993); Shell and WWF, Shell/WWF Tree Plantation Review, Shell International Petroleum Company, Shell Centre, London, and World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Surrey, UK (June 1993); World Energy Council, New and Renewable Energy Sources: A Guide to the Future (London: Kogan Page, 1993).

10. Converting Biomass to Liquid Fuels: Making Ethanol from Sugar Cane in Brazil


Considered simply from the standpoint of a renewable-intensive energy future, biomass would be a widely used fuel of choice.2 It would be grown on a sustainable basis, and converted with high efficiency to fuels or electricity. However, the possible effects of widespread use of biomass must be analyzed from a broader perspective, including aspects not usually within the scope of conventional economic analyses.

The most commonly cited benefits of biomass use are reductions in air pollution and carbon dioxide, and diversification of fuel supply. An important additional consequence of biomass utilization for energy is related to its ability to promote jobs in rural areas, even for unskilled workers.

This case study analyzes the "large-scale" production of fuel ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil from the perspective of job creation. It is estimated that ethanol production corresponds to nearly 700,000 jobs in Brazil, 75 per cent of them direct jobs. Technological and economic issues make so-called "large scale" biomass conversion to energy in fact a large collection of small-scale systems; in the Brazilian case, this corresponds to the scale of agriculture generally. The socio-economic differences among ethanol-producing regions in Brazil give each of the regions different equilibrium points in the trade-off between job quality and number of jobs.

The ethanol programme has been an important factor in creating job opportunities, in both more and less developed regions of Brazil. In some regions, it has been remarkable at evolving from lower to higher-quality jobs, reducing seasonal unemployment, increasing wages and social benefits, and introducing new technologies in a timely way.

The Fuel Ethanol Programme

One of the largest commercial efforts to convert biomass to energy anywhere in the world today is the substitution of sugar-cane-based ethanol for gasoline in passenger cars in Brazil.

Fuel for cars and light vehicles in Brazil is either neat-ethanol (94 per cent ethanol, 6 per cent water) or gasohol (78 per cent gasoline, 22 per cent ethanol). The programme to promote ethanol production was established in 1975 to reduce the country's dependence on imported oil, and to help stabilize sugar production in the context of cyclical international prices; it includes government-sponsored incentives to promote private production. By 1989, production reached 12 million cubic metres annually and continues at that level.

The creation of new skilled and unskilled jobs was an important part of the programme's objective from the start. Additionally, the programme is almost entirely based on locally manufactured equipment, helping to establish a strong agro-industrial system, with a significant number of indirect jobs. It has demonstrated technological developments, in both agriculture and cane processing, leading to lower ethanol costs and the possibility of a large surplus in biomass-based (bagasse and trash) electricity. This could contribute to creating a carbon-dioxide-free energy source.

The two-decade-long experience has been important in its many positive aspects as well as in its shortcomings. It has helped to reduce oil imports, to stabilize and promote the growth of the sugar industry, to create quality jobs, and to reduce automobile pollution in urban areas. It is a model for biomass-to-energy programmes in Brazil and elsewhere. It has provided valuable information about the trade-offs in using land for food or energy, as well as about the number and quality of jobs the renewable energy industry can create.3

Converting Biomass to Energy

The size of any biomass-based energy production system is determined by at least two factors: the energy conversion (industrial) unit must have a minimum size to achieve a reasonable efficiency, but transportation costs set an upper limit to how much biomass is efficiently available. This is very important for wood-to-electricity systems (leading to development of wood gasifiers and gas turbines), for higher efficiencies at low power levels); and it is also true for sugar cane to ethanol systems.

Thus, the so-called large-scale ethanol production system in Brazil is actually composed of a large number (approximately 400) of industrial units, with cane production areas in the range of 5,000 to 50,000 hectares. This much smaller-scale system is further decentralized by the fact that sugar cane is produced by more than 60,000 suppliers. External suppliers produced approximately 38 per cent of the sugar processed in 1986, with mill owners themselves providing approximately 62 per cent.4

The seasonality of sugar cane production has a big impact on its ability to create high quality jobs. Climatic conditions and agronomic characteristics of the crop limit the harvesting season to six months out of the year in Brazil. The amount of manpower needed during the harvesting and the off season is largely determined by the level of agricultural technology employed. Because the work associated with sugar cane production is highly seasonal, jobs tend to be temporary; this, in turn, leads to high turnover, difficulty in training and, consequently, low wages.

The large number of cane growers (varying from small to very large in terms of production area), the seasonal nature of the jobs, and the fact that two thirds of the cost of ethanol comes from the cost of the sugar cane mean that employment in this sector resembles that in the conventional agricultural sector in Brazil. In fact, employment levels, costs, and wages are always compared to those of "other crops."

Analyses conducted in 1990 showed that, on average, direct labour and social taxes made up 21 to 24 per cent of the total cost of sugar cane production (including land, capital charges, and other fixed and variable costs). After including all the costs (capital, commercial, labour, and social taxes) associated with processing the cane into ethanol, direct labour and social taxes account for 20 to 25 per cent of the cost of producing ethanol (both growing and processing it). Agricultural labour and social taxes account for more than 60 per cent of total labour costs.5

Wage and training levels in the sugar cane processing industry are equivalent to those in other medium to large food industries. As in agriculture, the number of jobs and their quality are strongly influenced by the technology level (regional differences in Brazil can be very large). The distribution systems for ethanol are identical to oil-based fuel distribution; they contribute to job creation in proportion to the amount of fuel utilized. (In recent years, approximately 50 per cent of the fuel utilized by light vehicles, including automobiles, is ethanol, 50 per cent gasoline.)

Thus, in terms of job creation and the quality of jobs created, large-scale ethanol production from sugar cane acts like a large number of small to large agribusiness units. The result is a much larger number of jobs per unit of energy produced than in conventional oil-based fuel production systems; these jobs are also more diversified and decentralized than jobs in the oil sector.

The Labour Market in Brazil

An assessment of employment in the ethanol sector in Brazil must consider the context (labour conditions in the agricultural sector, and in the food industry). Wages, family income, seasonality, and other factors must be examined in relation to comparable activities.

Official unemployment rates in Brazil have been low. The average for the 1980s was 5 per cent (with a low of 3 per cent in 1989, and a high of 8 per cent in 1981).6 However, the disguised unemployment rate during the same period was high: in 1988, 44 per cent of workers in agriculture, 6 per cent in industry, and 15 per cent in services received less than the official (reference) minimum wage (at that time, US$53 per month). Only 20 per cent of workers in industry and services, and 5 per cent of agricultural workers, received more than US$265 per month.

There are significant regional differences; among the main sugar cane producing areas, Sao Paulo, which produces approximately 60 per cent of Brazil's sugar cane, has the highest salaries. Although both the official minimum wage and the actual wages received are higher today than in 1988, this analysis uses the 1988 data when analyzing jobs in the ethanol industry during the same period.

In 1988, 36.1 per cent of the population in Brazil had a family income of less than US$106 per month; 67.3 per cent had less than US$265 per month; and 94.3 per cent less than US$1,060 per month.

Job Creation

Sugar and ethanol production have in common the costs of sugar cane production, delivery to the mill, cane preparation, milling, and utilities. Although the figures used here are for the sugar cane industry as a whole, they serve as an adequate proxy for the costs of ethanol production. As mentioned before, more than 60 per cent of the sugar cane produced today is for ethanol.

The state of Sao Paulo has the highest technology level and produces 60 per cent of Brazil's sugar cane.7 Estimates indicate that every 1 million tonnes of sugar cane processed per year generates 2,200 direct jobs (1,600 in agriculture, and 600 in industry). Agricultural supervisors and skilled industrial workers account for 30 per cent; medium-skill workers (e.g., truck and tractor drivers) account for 10 per cent; and unskilled labourers (doing planting, cultivating, and harvesting, and low-level industrial work) account for the remaining 60 per cent.

Another 660 indirect jobs (equipment manufacture, engineering, repair and maintenance in external shops, and chemical supplies manufacture) are created for every 1 million tonnes of sugar cane processed. In Sao Paulo, where 140 million tonnes of sugar cane are processed every year, this leads to the creation of a total of 380,000 jobs.8

For Brazil as a whole, estimates of the number of jobs created are higher, because in the Northeast and some other regions, the amount of labour per unit of cane processed is much higher. Lower land productivity and differences in worker efficiency and technology levels mean up to three times as many jobs per unit of cane processed may be created. One estimate suggests that sugar cane agribusiness in Brazil as a whole created 800,000 direct jobs and 250,000 indirect jobs in 1990; two thirds - or 700,000 - of these jobs can be attributed to ethanol production.9

These figures are impressive in themselves, but their impact is even greater because the jobs are dispersed in a large number of places. In 1991, an average of 15.6 per cent of the new jobs in the 357 towns with ethanol distillery projects (8 per cent of the municipalities in Brazil) were associated with ethanol production; in the Midwest region, today's expanding agricultural frontier, up to 28 per cent of new jobs are associated with ethanol production.10

Regional differences in the labour market, particularly in technology, account for differences in the number of jobs created per unit of energy produced, differences in wages, and in the overall quality of the jobs created. For example, the competition for manpower among various sectors of the economy in Sao Paulo led to higher wages and better working conditions for the cane cutters; however, the number of jobs per tonne of sugar cane is much smaller than in the Northeast because of greater efficiency (training, equipment) and mechanization. Similarly, gradual automation, higher rates of productivity, and conversion efficiencies lead to fewer industrial jobs in producing and processing cane.

In the mid-1980s, a study by the University of Sao Paulo examined the effect of ethanol production on fifteen towns located in the three main ethanol producing regions. In all cases, job creation induced population growth, in most cases reversing migration to large urban areas. Only two places showed land ownership concentration. Also, in only two places was sugar cane substituted for food production. Overall, the impact on population was considered highly positive (more jobs, taxes leading to better infrastructure) in the central and southern parts of Brazil, but smaller in other regions.11

The Quality of the Jobs Created

Job quality must be assessed in the context of other employment sectors. In Sao Paulo, the job responsible for the largest proportion of unskilled labour (cane cutting) generated an average income of US$140 per month. This is higher than the average salary of 86 per cent of agricultural workers, 49 per cent of industrial workers, and 56 per cent of workers in the service sector in Brazil as a whole.

Borges estimates that the family income of cane cutters is $220 per month.12 This is 50 per cent higher than the average family wage in Brazil. But the seasonal nature of the jobs means that during the harvesting season average family wage is $280 per month; during the off season, it is only $160 per month. Special legislation has mandated that 1 per cent of the net sugar cane price and 2 per cent of the net ethanol price be used for assistance in improving services for sugar cane workers (e.g., medical, dental, pharmaceutical, better sanitary conditions).

The seasonal nature of agricultural jobs makes systematic training and career development difficult. The seasonality coefficient for agricultural workers in sugar cane, defined as the ratio between manpower in the harvesting season and in the off season period, was estimated at 2.2 at the end of the 1970s in Sao Paulo.13 At that time, coffee was the only major crop in Sao Paulo with a lower seasonality index (2.0).

Many factors contributed to lowering the seasonality coefficient of Sao Paulo's sugar cane workers throughout the 1980s. Three are particularly noteworthy. First, more labour was required during the off-season to grow food crops in alternative rotation. Second, harvesting workers were increasingly used for off-season jobs in maintenance and conservation. Third, a smaller number of workers was required during the harvesting season, both because the yield from manual cutting was increasing (from 4.5 tonnes to 7 tonnes per person per day) and because of increased mechanized harvesting (in 1992, 15 per cent of the total area harvested in Sao Paulo). By the end of the 1980s, the seasonality coefficient was estimated to be 1.8.14 More recently, the average seasonality coefficient for eight sugar mills in Sao Paulo was estimated to be only 1.3.15

The trend is quite clear. With increased mechanization of harvesting and increasing yields for manual cutting, it seems possible that eventually most agricultural jobs will be permanent. This will promote training and career planning, and lead to much higher wages (but fewer jobs). This trend is not as evident in some other regions. In the Northeast, for example, labour costs are lower and technical issues make mechanization more difficult.

In Sao Paulo, 23 per cent of the cane cutters, which comprises the largest category of unskilled workers, are women.16 In the Northeast, the proportion is similar and comparable to that in other unskilled job categories.

The balance between mechanization and the number and quality of new jobs created by the ethanol industry is likely to be a key issue for the coming years.17 A law requiring the cutting of unburnt sugar cane could accelerate mechanical harvesting, as could increasing labour costs. Already, in the state of Sao Paulo, the labour market cannot supply the required amount of unskilled workers.

Seasonality has a smaller impact on industrial workers, who make up less than 30 per cent of the total number of workers associated with ethanol production. Industrial workers are used in-house during the off season for repair and maintenance jobs.

Investing in Job Creation

Estimates of the amount of investment needed for job creation in the ethanol industry reflect regional differences in wages, employee productivity, and technology. Values as low as US$11,000 per job have been reported.18 These are probably appropriate for the Northeast region. However, for Sao Paulo, analyses indicate that investments of $23,000 per job are needed (not including the investment in land) up to $45,000 per job (including the investment in land and achieving full employment).19

In comparison, the average investment needed for job creation in the 35 main sectors of the Brazilian economy in 1991 varied from $10,000 to $125,000 per job, thus, averaging $41,000.20 Even including land costs, only 14 sectors would provide jobs with lower investment than the ethanol industry. When the less developed areas are considered, the investment cost per job in the ethanol industry becomes much lower than the Brazilian average.

Biomass Energy Generation in the Future

In the sugar-cane-to-ethanol industry, a large portion of the potential jobs are in the growing of sugar cane. Cane harvesting can be handled by a number of processes, varying from manual cutting of burnt cane (by far, the most used in the world) to almost entirely mechanized harvesting. The cost of labour is the key to determining the balance between manual and mechanized harvesting, with mechanization resulting in fewer, but higher quality, jobs. This is the trend in the Sao Paulo region.

A number of developments, however, could change the picture considerably. The worldwide practice of burning sugar cane fields prior to harvesting in order to improve productivity has been severely questioned for environmental reasons. Although there seems to be no real reason for concern (carbon dioxide from burning is entirely recycled, and local environmental problems consist only of the nuisance created by carbon particles), another argument must be considered: the renewable energy lost in burning could be used if suitable harvesting and transportation systems could be designed to handle the green cane and trash economically. Such a more efficient use of biomass for power generation could impact larger areas besides Brazil and would have important consequences for job creation and quality in many places.

The subject has been extensively analyzed.21 Technologies for converting trash to energy could include conventional high pressure steam cycles, working year-round with stored trash (or bagasse). In the short term, ethanol production from the ligno-cellulosic material or even power generation with advanced gasification/gas turbine cycles has been considered. It has been demonstrated that it is possible to design sufficiently low cost (US$1 per GJ) trash recovery systems to make power production from trash economically feasible in Brazil.22 Such systems could greatly improve the economics of producing energy from sugar cane.23

The implications for the labour market are the following: First, harvesting would be mechanized; much higher (unskilled) manpower would be needed for the manual cutting of unburnt cane than is available in Sao Paulo today. In some countries, it may be possible to keep manual cutting; however, the increased seasonality index (and necessarily low wages) would result in low-quality jobs.

Second, mechanization would not be as simple as the use of today's green cane harvesters; it would include trash recovery, transportation, and conditioning.

Third, the power generation sector of the cane processing units would operate for at least eleven months out of the year (the accepted standard for this industry). Seasonality would be reduced; jobs would be created for bagasse/trash handling, storing, and power station operation.

Studies on the potential reduction of jobs due to mechanized harvesting in Brazil are not conclusive, except for some specific regions. They usually consider only the loss in unskilled jobs (cane cutting); this is a realistic approach if trash is left in the field without further utilization. However, the use of trash for energy would create a new industry consisting of fewer, higher quality jobs.

One recent analysis of job losses due to mechanical harvesting concluded that if mechanization increases from its current level of 15 per cent to 46 per cent in Sao Paulo, it would result in a 15 per cent loss of jobs. One specific region (Ribeirao Preto), already 30 per cent mechanized, would lose 31 per cent of the jobs if mechanization reaches 60 per cent of the total. Again, no consideration is given to higher quality job creation.24

In 1991, Borges estimated that if 85 per cent of the total sugar cane area in Sao Paulo is mechanized, the number of jobs will drop 25 to 30 per cent. He assumed that an unburnt cane harvester could replace 50 workers (with 1990 technology and an average productivity of 7 tonnes per person per day in Sao Paulo). He estimated that the number of truck drivers and other equipment operators would increase by 25 to 80 per cent, depending on the technology used (trash bailing and independent transportation, or cane with trash transportation). Not included were the permanent higher quality jobs created in the power generator sector or the indirect jobs for equipment production and maintenance. Although these figures are preliminary and based on hypotheses that are changing with new technology inputs, they provide a useful first estimate.25


The ethanol programme in Brazil shows that large-scale biomass systems can have strong positive impacts on job creation and quality. Adjustments in the relationship between job quality and the number of agricultural jobs can be made to fit the local labour market; new technologies make it possible to use more skilled workers, reducing the number of workers for the same job. The trend in Brazil is irreversibly toward better technology and higher quality, but fewer jobs.

The ethanol programme has helped reverse migration to large urban areas and increase the overall quality of life in many small towns. During its nearly twenty years, the programme has been extensively analyzed, criticized, and improved in many aspects (legal, tributary, technological).

In designing large-scale decentralized programmes to convert biomass to energy (such as the proposed biomass gasification - gas turbine power generation systems), other countries should examine Brazil's experience in order to gain maximum benefit.


1 Isaias de Carvalho Macedo is Technology Manager at Centro de Tecnologia Copersucar, SPaulo.

2 T.B. Johansson, H. Kelly, A.K.N. Reddy, and R.H. Williams, "Renewable Fuels and Electricity for A Growing World Economy," in Renewable Energy Sources for Fuels and Electricity (Washington, D.C: Island Press, 1993).

3 For a detailed description of the ethanol programme's social and political dynamics, including its purpose; the incentive structure; the relative positions of government, the automotive industry, the oil industry, and ethanol producers; legislation; market forces; and current trends and evolution, see J. Goldemberg, L. Monaco, and I. Macedo, "The Brazilian Fuel-Alcohol Programme, in Renewable Energy Sources for Fuels and Electricity (Washington: Island Press, 1993).

4 J.M. Borges, "The Brazilian Energy Programme: Foundations, Results, Perspectives," Energy Sources, 12: 451-461.

5 Funda GetVargas, Sistema Custo/Pre- cool Hidratado (SPaulo: Autas, 1994).

6 J.M. Borges, "Gera de Empregos na Agro-Inda Canavieira," in Desenvolvimento em Harmonia com o Meio Ambiente (Rio de Janeiro: Funda Brasileira Para a Conserva de Natureza, 1992).

7 J.M. Borges, "The Effect on Labour and Social Issues of Electricity Sales in the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry," Proceedings of the International Conference on Energy from Sugarcane (Hawaii: Winrock International, 1991).

8 Borges, "The Effect on Labour and Social Issues."

9 J. Magalhaes, R. Machado, N. Kuperman, Polcas Econas, Empr e Distribui de Renda na Amca Latina (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Vozes, 1991).

10 J. Magalhaes, R. Machado, N. Kuperman, Polcas Econas.

11 B. Johnson, T. Wright. Impactos Comunitos do Pro-cool, Report to Secretaria de Tecnologia Industrial - Ministo de Industria e Com- Faculdade de Economia Administra, Universidade de SPaulo (SPaulo, 1983).

12 J.M. Borges, "The Effect on Labour and Social Issues."

13 Assoc. Indas de Aar e cool (AIAA), Aar e cool: Energia para um Crescimento Econo Auto-Sustentado (SPaulo: Datagro, 1991).

14 J.M. Borges, "The Effect on Labour and Social Issues."

15 J.C. Marques, Copersucar Economic Advisory, SPaulo (personal communication, 1995).

16 J.C. Marques (personal communication).

17 J.M. Borges, "The Brazilian Alcohol Programme"; A Veiga, Z. Santos, M. Otani, and R. Yoshii, "Anse da Mecaniza do Cone da Cana de Aar no Estado de SPaulo," Informas Econas, 24:10 (SPaulo, 1991).

18 AIAA, Aar e cool.

19 J.M. Borges, Gera de Empregos.

20 J.M. Borges, "The Effect on Labour and Social Issues."

21 Centro de Tecnologia Copersucar, Relat Tico Interno: Convo EletrobrCopersucar: Alternativas de Co-gera (SPaulo: Piracicaba, 1991).

22 Centro de Tecnologia Copersucar, Brazilian Biomass Power Generation: Sugar Cane Bagasse Extension, Report to the GEF/UNDP (SPaulo: Piracicaba, 1993).

23 J. Ogden and M. Fulmer, Assessment of New Technologies for Co-Production of Alcohol, Sugar and Electricity from Sugar Cane, PU/CEES Report No. 250 (Princeton: Princeton University, 1990).

24 A Veiga, Z. Santos, M. Otani, R. Yoshii, Anse da Mecaniza do Corte da Cana de Aar.

25 J.M. Borges, "The Effect on Labour and Social Issues."



Energy and Atmosphere Programme

Sustainable Environment and energy Division, BPPS

United Nations Development Programme

One United Nations Plaza

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