By Jessica Alderman – Director of Communications & PR
When people think of clean fuels, for many liquified petroleum gas (LPG) – a fossil fuel – is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, LPG is one of the few clean cooking options that has proven health, environmental and cost savings benefits compared to traditional and unimproved biomass cooking methods. Because it is derived from petroleum, many environmentally focused funding programs immediately disregard LPG cooking solutions. Instead, they prefer cooking solutions focused on biomass (wood and charcoal) because they can be harvested renewably if properly managed, however trees are rarely harvested sustainably in areas that rely on biomass to cook.
But what if LPG wasn’t a dirty word, and restricting funding for LPG projects is halting the development of clean cooking?
LPG IS CLEANER THAN BIOMASS
LPG is a byproduct of the refinement of crude oil and burns cleanly without soot, emitting 50 times less pollutants than biomass burning stoves(1). Life cycle assessments by Bruce et al. demonstrate LPG actually contributes little or no net warming effect due to its low Carbon-to-Hydrogen ratio, efficiency and completeness of combustion, and the continued high performance of LPG stoves. In addition, replacing biomass with LPG removes the burden of harvesting wood, which prevents deforestation(2). While studies are still being conducted to determine the health impact of biomass stoves, LPG has had clear results as one of the only fuels with emissions below the World Health Organization guidelines, demonstrating decreases in respiratory and other infections(3).
In high-income countries the majority of people cook with electricity or piped natural gas. Cooking with solid fuels such as wood or charcoal still happens, but is almost always done by choice. In the markets where Envirofit works, people cook with solid fuels because it is the only fuel they can afford which matches their earning abilities and spending habits. Cooking over biomass is time consuming and takes hours from women each week that could be spent on productive activities or leisure. Given the option, almost every person who cooks with biomass would use LPG if they could, and for the same reasons it’s used elsewhere. LPG is a cookfire at the click of a button – it is faster, easier and cleaner.
The biggest barrier to universal LPG adoption is affordability. However, this barrier is getting lower every day thanks to household energy solutions that use cutting edge technology to address energy poverty.
LPG IS MORE DESIRABLE THAN BIOMASS
Envirofit’s new SmartGas™ service was designed to reduce LPG’s access and affordability barriers. This is accomplished through the Envirofit SmartGas meter, which is equipped with mobile and IoT technology to dispense fuel on-demand. In doing so, SmartGas enables customers for the first time to Pay-As-You-Cook™ for LPG at a price comparable to cooking with charcoal or other purchased biomass fuels. The system also notifies customers and Envirofit when the tank is low so that the delivery of a full tank can be scheduled before the customer ever runs out.
Between July 2017 and April 2018, Envirofit conducted the first SmartGas™ pilot programs in Kenya and Ghana. We began by speaking with current LPG users and dedicated charcoal users in both countries to assess potential interest. During initial canvassing we spoke with over 1,000 households and 100% of the people we spoke with were interested in the SmartGas service, with 80% willing to sign up on the spot.
After five months of using the Envirofit SmartGas service, 99% of families reported that they would recommend it to friends and family. 97% of the families expressed a desire to continue using the product post-pilot, reporting it was convenient, saved money, saved time, and was safe to use. These numbers indicate that if given the option to use clean burning LPG fuel, customer adoption would be high as they welcome the chance to do so.
LPG SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN THE TRANSITION UP THE ENERGY LADDER
Creating access to modern energy at scale is difficult, as 3 billion people worldwide still cook with biomass. While some groups are hesitant to embrace LPG as a viable clean fuel, governments like India, Indonesia and Ghana have recognized the role LPG can play in helping families cook cleaner. Bilateral organizations like SE4ALL and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) are proponents of LPG, and the need for greater global access has been taken up by the UN and their Sustainable Development Goals, of which SDG #7 is “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”
What this access looks like around the world will differ depending on geography and other factors. For many people in low- and middle-income countries living in rural areas, wood is free and accessible and will be for years or even decades before the infrastructure exists to be able to make LPG available. Given the diversity of global need, multiple solutions are needed to address it. Biomass stoves will continue to serve a critical role in improving cooking efficiency until modern cooking solutions are widely available, however efforts should not impede the transition to modern energy.
Envirofit’s Pay-As-You-Cook™ model was introduced to help lower the barriers of accessibility and affordability for scalable, clean household energy. By working with organizations such as GACC and the WLPGA’s Cooking for Life Campaign we hope to reach communities living in energy poverty around the world. As LPG access becomes more widespread, the global development community needs to recognize that LPG is a clean fuel, and that by restricting funding for it they are restricting access to modern cooking solutions that communities living in energy poverty around the world deeply desire and are ready to adopt.
1. Schlag, N. and F. Zuzarte, Market Barriers to Clean Cooking Fuels in Sub- Saharan Africa: A Review of Literature, in Working Paper. 2008, Stockholm Environment Institute: Stockholm.
2. Nigel G. Bruce, Kristin Aunan, Eva A. Rehfuess. Liquefied Petroleum Gas as a Clean Cooking Fuel for Developing Countries: Implications for Climate, Forests, and Affordability. KfW Development Bank. No.7, March 2017 kfw-entwicklungsbank.de/PDF/Download-Center/Materialie/2017_Nr.7_CleanCooking_Lang.pdf
3. Smith, K., 2012. Global Burden due to Household Air Pollution from Cooking Fuel. Columbia, South Carolina, International Society for Environmental Epidemiology.
Envirofit’s SmartGas™ service was designed to reduce LPG’s access and affordability barriers. SmartGas enables customers for the first time to Pay-As-You-Cook™ for LPG at a price comparable to cooking with charcoal or other purchased biomass fuels. . Learn more – firstname.lastname@example.org