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UNEP joins global initiative for clean energy cook stoves

Source: UNEP

New York, 21 September 2010 - The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has joined a new international alliance that aims to cut the estimated 1.6 million to 1.8 million premature deaths linked with indoor emissions from inefficient cook stoves by boosting the efficiency of around three billion cook stoves across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves was launched, Tuesday, during the 65th session of the UN General Assembly, as part of the Global Clinton Initiative and spearheaded by the UN Foundation.

The initiative can also make a contribution to reducing deforestation by curbing the large quantities of wood and other biomass used to make charcoal or by households switching to alternative fuels including cookers powered by solar energy.

Other fuels include liquified petroleum gas (LPG) and a new one called "gel" fuel consisting of ethanol and organic pulp. Community-based biofuel projects could be developed to make the gel fuel, thus saving households money, generating employment and offering alternative livelihoods.

Health Benefits - Climate Benefits Too

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "In addition to meeting the health targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially among women and children who are often the most exposed to indoor air pollution, the Alliance may have wider and indeed global benefits."

"Inefficient cooking stoves are estimated to be responsible for approximately 25 per cent of emissions of black carbon, particles often known as soot, of which 40 per cent is linked to wood burning", he added.

"According to research under the UNEP-supported Atmospheric Brown Cloud (ABC) project, black carbon could now be responsible for a significant level of current climate change", explained Mr. Steiner.

Indeed, recent studies by the Project ABC team have put the responsibility at between 10 to 40 per cent of current climate change.

Emissions of black carbon may also be accelerating melting rates of glaciers in mountain ranges such as the Himalayas, with the dark particles absorbing sunlight and raising ice temperatures.

In addition, black carbon - a key component of brown clouds in some parts of the world - is contributing to dimming and reducing the amount of sunlight hitting the ground in polluted parts of the globe.

For example, some major cities in Asia may be up to 25 per cent dimmer or darker than they were half a century ago. Reductions in visible light may also be harming agriculture - again with implications for poverty and combating hunger under the MDGs.

Areas of UNEP Involvement- Global Cook Stove Alliance

Rural Energy Enterprise Development Project

UNEP has around 10 years' experience working with partners, including the UN Foundation, in catalyzing the penetration of renewable energy systems in developing countries.

The African Rural Energy Enterprise Development (AREED) - along with sister initiatives in Brazil and China known as BREED and CREED, respectively - has also compiled a number of lessons learned in terms of cook stoves.

AREED's most successful project to date has been in Ghana where start-up funding and support has been provided to a local company called Toyola Energy.

The company manufactures a stove which uses charcoal 40 per cent more efficiently than conventional cook stoves.

Through AREED, Toyola and its two founding entrepreneurs first received business advisory services in order to formulate its business plan. The plan was then backed with funding totaling US$270,000.

Mr. Steiner said: "From its beginnings as a simple tree-sheltered operation in a community outside Ghana's capital Accra, Toyola Energy has grown dramatically, increasing sales from 3,000 to over 35,000 units per annum within four years."

"By 2010 the company had supplied over 50,000 households in six regions of Ghana with improved energy-efficient stoves and expanded their market to neighbouring countries," he added.

The company has also generated 200 jobs, directly and indirectly while its stoves have reduced C02 emissions by around 15,000 tonnes annually.

Mr. Steiner said there were multiple factors behind the company's success which may be key to similar successes under the new Alliance. These include:

* A highly motivated entrepreneur with a vision and determination to succeed;

* Capacity of the local AREED partner - the Kumasi Institute of Technology and Environment working in close collaboration with the international energy enterprise investor E+Co to deliver high quality business development services;

* A large potential market

* The ability of the entrepreneur to communicate with rural people, cultivate and retain the trust of individual households, and develop innovative marketing and sales skills.

Other key factors include identifying a partner such as UNEP with the ability to raise donor awareness and co-funding as well as provide policy reforms needed to assist small- to medium-sized enterprises.

* Strong government support is necessary and must focus on: a) creating/expanding markets for cook stoves, and b) identifying and removing barriers to energy enterprise development and growth;

* Multiple donors that may be active in a country should carefully coordinate amongst themselves at all stages in the project/programme design cycle to avoid conflicts, enhance complementarities/build synergies;

* An effective and efficient mechanism for monitoring and evaluating enterprise performance needs to be put in place, continuously and periodically feeding back lessons learned into progressive improvements in tools and services rendered to entrepreneurs.

Solar Loan Experience in India - Making it Affordable

Clean energy systems, including more efficient cook stoves, can be too expensive for the rural poor despite fuel savings, despite the multiple health and environmental benefits.

A cook stove can cost US$0.80 to US$5 and in some cases much more which can be too costly for someone living on less than US$2 a day.

UNEP was confronted with a similar reality when looking to bring solar power to rural India where at the time many banks considered loans to the rural poor too risky.

With support from the UN Foundation and the Shell Foundation, this project brought down the cost of solar loans to an affordable price.

Between 2003 and 2008, there were 100,000 stoves in areas with no electricity grid which were able to acquire solar power and the initiative proved so successful it is now self-financing. Today 20 banks with networks of 2,000 branches are offering competitive solar loans.

The success of the initiative shows that well targeted investments and strong partnerships can prove transformational.

Similar strategies, either via banks or through such initiatives as Bangladesh's Grameen Shakti's microfinance project for solar heating, could be useful in scaling-up the use of more efficient cook stoves.

As the Ghanaian AREED project has shown, spin-offs include local employment prospects. In the case of the Grameen initiative, some 20,000 "green" jobs, many of which have been for women, have been generated and are expected to reach 100,000 by 2015.

Cook Stoves and Climate Science

This new initiative offers an opportunity to also advance the science of black carbon as it relates to environmental change.

UNEP's Project ABC, which is led by Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution in La Jolla, California, and includes researchers from countries such as India and China, has established a network of ABC observatories throughout the Asia-Pacific region that are now operated by national scientists. Plans are underway to extend the network into Africa and beyond.

UNEP is already supporting a black carbon and cook stoves demonstration project called "Project Surya" in rural areas of India.

Surya aims to provide sustainable, effective and incentive-based action plans as well as infrastructure and technologies to switch to cleaner technologies such as efficient cooking stoves.

A pilot phase of Project Surya has been implemented in a rural village in India with 500 households and a population of 2,500 people.

The pilot phase, with Professor Ramanathan as the Principal Investigator and The Energy Resource Institute (TERI) as the Indian implementing agency, tested several available commercial cook stoves for climate and health benefits and fuel efficiency using specially designed cell phones capable of collecting and uploading data on pollutant exposure and cooking time periods, wireless technology and the establishment of indoor air quality sensors as well as an outdoor climate monitoring tower.

The pilot phase also included gathering baseline socio-economic data, and assessing different technological options for cooking as a way to evaluate the acceptance of the stoves by the public.

With the successful implementation of the pilot phase, Surya is embarking on the demonstration phase, which will last two years and will involve two to three rural areas, each with a population of 15,000 people spread from north to south India.

Pilot phases of Surya are also being developed for other developing countries such as Bhutan, Nepal and Kenya.

It is hoped to link the declining emissions of black carbon, both indoor and outdoor, with the reduced impact on the regional climate as detected by the monitoring tower and satellites taking the pollution levels of the atmosphere.