Household Fuel Transition: A Country Level Analysis

Charcoal smoke, Tondo Manila_Adam Cohn_2014_www.flicker.com/photos/adamcohn/14518492208_Unmodified.

Charcoal smoke, Tondo Manila, Adam Cohn, 2014, Unmodified

By Alexa Schindel, Elena V. McLean, Julia Ravenscroft, Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, John D. Atkinson, & Sharon Hewner

Published August 17, 2018

Solid fuel combustion – in the form of biomass and coal – is a dominant energy source for household heating and cooking in low and middle-income countries. As a result, nearly 3 billion people worldwide are exposed to household air pollution, causing four million premature deaths annually.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 seeks to increase access to cleaner fuels and technologies by 2030. However, the World Bank contends the total number of people who rely on solid fuels will likely remain unchanged without substantial policy initiatives.

In low- and middle-income countries, indoor air pollution primarily affects women and children who experience prolonged exposure to harmful pollutants largely from poorly ventilated rooms with cookstoves. Several health problems are linked to household air pollution, including respiratory infections in young children, and stroke, heart disease, pulmonary disease and lung cancer in adults.

Indoor air quality improves as households transition from solid fuels to cleaner alternatives1. Our interdisciplinary team of researchers at UB is investigating the transition from solid to cleaner fuels in households through a variety of cross-disciplinary and methodological lenses.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 seeks to increase access to cleaner fuels and technologies by 2030. However, the World Bank contends the total number of people who rely on solid fuels will likely remain unchanged without substantial policy initiatives.

Our team has set out to identify enabling and inhibiting characteristics of clean fuel use policies. Specifically, we question: When do households transition from solid fuels and adopt cleaner alternatives? While prior studies have examined localized case studies of fuel transition, few examine external factors that may catalyze widespread and sustained fuel transitions at national or regional levels.

Our first step in this process involved identifying determinants of clean fuel transitions. We conducted an analysis of data from Demographic and Health Surveys in 69 countries. Our analysis identified that the most significant and predictive factor explaining a country’s solid fuel use is economic development (measured as GDP per capita). Thus, as GDP rises, there is a reduction in solid fuel use. Two additional significant factors in the transition from solid to cleaner fuels are production of electricity and population size.

Our research2 also identified that government’s energy policies within countries had a strong predictive correlation in household transition. These policies included gas subsidies and improvements in energy efficiency, access, and sustainability.

As a next step in our analysis, we examined predictive factors in fuel transition in Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic. We will be drawing from this analysis as we move towards case studies of fuel transition across multiple contexts within one country where we explore how gender, income, and work may intersect as households make fuel transition decisions.

[1] See http://www.who.int/airpollution/guidelines/household-fuel-combustion/en/

[2] Research article currently under review.