The Energy Ladder
Stephen Gitonga October 11, 2002
Experience: My personal experience in East Africa shows that the energy ladder cannot be generalized and is not a straight path as was explained in the 1980’s. It has both horizontal and vertical trends with several fuel mixes as one moves from one poverty level to another. It is highly influenced by people’s response to cultural, economic and social values within their environment. It is not purely a movement from poor and clean fuels as one gets more resources but a form of coping strategy. The coping strategy therefore differs from one level of affordability to the next but all have similar characteristics.
Fuel mixes: I have drafted the table below, to cut a long story short. Generally, the very poor use dominantly the loose biomass materials, as they graduate upwards, they start using more of firewood but still maintain some level of use of loose biomass fuels. As they get more resources, they start to use more firewood, complemented with, charcoal, and still keep some minimal use of loose biomass fuels. The situation continues with charcoal becoming the dominant fuel. Later kerosene, lpg and finally electricity.
1) Supply of LPG is not always assured, so kerosene and electricity is used when there is not adequate supply of LPG.
2) Electricity supply is not predictable and power cuts are common. In this regards, LPG, charcoal, kerosene are used on standby depending on the preference of the user.
3) There are some cultural foods that requires one to have multiple types of stoves, and therefore fuels
4) Fuels might be easy and cheap to get but prices of equipment (eg gas cookers, electric cookers) is expensive. This has a bearing on lpg and electric cookers
5) Charcoal is so versatile that it is not only used for cooking or heating but also for house warming
6) Electricity cost is very high relative to other fuels and therefore, when cooking hard foods that take long to cook, and when boiling water, charcoal is preferred even by the ones endowed with resources.
So as Rob Bailis mentioned, the Mexican case is very close to what you find in East Africa. I would urge you to be careful in using the energy ladder concepts that were developed in the 1980’s without modifying them to fit with your country’s social, cultural and economic perspectives in relation to use of energy.
|State of poverty||Energy mixes|
|Dominant to less dominant|
|Very poor||Loose biomass fuels, firewood|
|Firewood, loose biomass fuels|
|Firewood, charcoal, loose biomass fuels|
|Charcoal, firewood, Loose biomass fuels, kerosene,|
|Firewood, charcoal, kerosene|
|Charcoal, Firewood, kerosene, LPG|
|Charcoal, kerosene, LPG, electricity|
|Kerosene, lpg, charcoal, electricity|
|Charcoal, lpg, electricity|
|Lpg, electricity, charcoal|
|Rich||Lpg, elect city|