Evidence-based policy needed: For cooking energy transition
The policies and strategies adopted to increase access to clean cooking energy are falling short. To be sure, affordability of clean fuels would have increased in this period due to rising incomes, but many households continue to be unable to afford the use of clean technology and fuels
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 aims to achieve universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030. And though rapid advancements have occurred recently in developing more affordable and clean technologies, nearly 3 billion people worldwide still rely on inefficient and polluting cooking systems.
The energy consumption mix of Nepal reflects the continued dominance of traditional fuels. The residential sector (space heating, cooking and lighting) accounted for 43.3% of total energy consumption in 2019/20, and 69% of the country’s population relies on solid biomass for cooking.
Improved cooking stoves (ICS), LPG and biogas technologies are among the technologies that are most effectively reducing this dependence, but the potential of electricity-based cooking is notably untapped.
In 2001, more than three quarters of the country’s population relied primarily on solid fuels for cooking fuel. Only 9.4% of households were using clean cooking fuels (LPG and biogas) for cooking. These statistics were somewhat worse in the rural areas. In urban areas, kerosene – another polluting fuel – was the most common cooking fuel (34% of urban households), followed by firewood (33% of users) and LPG (27%).
Looking across regions, the mountain region relied heavily on firewood as the primary fuel for cooking, at close to 96%, compared to 72% of households in the hill regionand 55% in the Tarai, where cow dung was an important additional solid fuel. Less than 1% of households used clean cooking fuels in the mountain region, compared to 11% and 9% in the hills and the Tarai, respectively.
By 2011, the share of solid fuel users had barely declined, to 74%, and the fraction in rural areas had actually risen slightly to 86% (from 84% in 2001).
The share of clean fuel users had risen to about 23.5%, largely due to a shift in urban areas. A similar disaggregation across ecological belts reveals that 95% of households in mountain regions still relied on solid fuels for cooking, versus 67% in the hills and 79% in the Tarai regions.
A comparison of clean and solid fuel usage in urban and rural Nepal in these 10-year intervals reveals that there has been overall progress in the usage of clean fuels, driven mostly by trends in urban areas where the increase has exceeded more than 40 percentage points. The usage of solid fuels has stayed nearly constant in the rural regions.
To extend beyond 2011 and the last census, we recently analysed trends continuing to 2017, using data from the Annual Household Survey of Nepal. These figures reveal substantial variation over time, suggesting that usage of clean fuel (mostly LPG) in urban areas rose from 72% to 80% between 2012 and 2014, but decreased suddenly in 2015 before leveling off at about 58% in 2016-17.
This dramatic regression coincided with the damaging earthquake of 2015, but had longer term effects.
The trend for rural areas, where households were only primarily using clean fuels at low levels, did not change substantially. Indeed, more than 80% of households relied on solid fuels throughout the period.
Disaggregating these results further, LPG usage was found to be dominant in the higher, fourth and fifth quintile groups, while the first three quintile groups (poor) used solid fuels for cooking. Electricity use for cooking purposes remained surprisingly low.
To ensure the promotion and development of sustainable energy, Nepal joined the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative in 2012, targeting the provision of clean energy to all by 2030. Complementing the SE4ALL intiative, in 2013, the Nepal government developed a national goal to provide Clean Cooking Solutions for All (CCS4ALL) by 2017.
The government has adopted numerous laws and policies to support these goals, for example the National Energy Strategy (2013), Forest Policy (2015), Renewable Energy Subsidy Policy (2016), Biomass Energy Strategy (2017) and National Energy Efficiency Strategy (2018). In adition, a “White Paper on Energy, Water, and Irrigation: Present Situation and Future Prospect” (2018) sets a target of increasing household electricity usage to 700 kWh and 1500 kWh in 5 and 10 years respectively, and to place electric cook stoves in all households by 2030.
Despite these good intentions, progress remains slow. One would normally expect the implementation of policies and strategies supporting clean energy use coupled with increased economic growth to accelerate the pace of increased access to clean cooking, but this has not occurred.
It suggests that the policies and strategies adopted to increase access to clean cooking energy are falling short. To be sure, affordability of clean fuels would have increased in this period due to rising incomes, but many households continue to be unable to afford the use of clean technology and fuels.
Given these challenges, there is a need for well-researched and evidence-based policies and interventions that would tackle the affordability challenges preventing most households from using clean fuels in Nepal.
Other supportive policies are also needed to enhance the resilience of supply chains for clean fuels and to help those in poor and rural locations to gain information and access to improved technology. Such interventions are all the more important given the setbacks experienced following the earthquake of 2015. Nepal is currently at risk of missing its energy access targets; it is time to act with urgency to design and test impactful interventions.
Lohani is an Associate Professor at the School of Engineering, Kathmandu University and Jeuland is an Associate Professor at Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, USA