Globally, an estimated 2.4 billion people rely on biomass fuels – wood, charcoal and animal dung – to meet their domestic energy needs. These fuels are typically burned in simple, inefficient traditional stoves or open fires, which creates serious health, socio-economic and environmental consequences, and can also be hazardous and time-consuming to collect.

Catalyzing major changes in energy practices towards more efficient stoves and/or cleaner fuels has been an objective of governments and development organizations for years, but in practice it has been difficult to achieve. Despite more than three decades of interventions in local markets across Africa, Asia and Latin America, there are very few examples of large scale uptake or true market transformation.

Ingrained social and cultural norms, combined with economic considerations, often provide strong barriers to change. The livelihood needs and financial limitations of local stove fabricators constrain their opportunity to experiment with stove design, and financial constraints also limit experimentation on the household side, discouraging them from purchasing new stoves when their performance is unknown.

SEI and its predecessor the Beijer Institute have been engaged in household energy studies and assessments for nearly four decades. Our goal is to generate new knowledge and analysis that can support successful policy interventions and programmes to expand energy access for the poor, improve livelihoods and reduce environmental impacts from household energy use.

We focus on the kinds of actions likeliest to help households reduce their biomass fuel use and/or switch to cleaner sources of energy. By nature such actions could address a technical gap (e.g. more efficient stoves/fuel production systems), a financial barrier (e.g. micro-finance) and/or a policy need (e.g. changes in government subsidies, or pricing reform in the electricity sector). This brief outlines key themes in our research, describes some of the methodologies we have used, and offers key insights for policy-makers and practitioners.

Download the research synthesis brief (PDF, 659kb, or print-quality, 2.21MB)