Clean energy solutions that achieve benefits in health

Energy access is a basic requirement for human development and well-being, but it is vastly different for the poorest 3 billion people on Earth than it is for the richest 1 billion. The top billion consume 50 per cent of available fossil energy while—more than two centuries after the industrial revolution—the poorest 3 billion are still forced to rely on traditional fires (fueled by wood, dung, agricultural waste, charcoal and coal) to cook and heat their homes. One third of them are also forced to use kerosene and candles for lighting. This imbalance in access to modern energy comes at enormous costs to human health and the environment, and creates further disparities in how the effects of those costs are experienced.

In their use of fossil fuels, the top 1 billion contribute more than half the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming. If they (and the middle-income 3 billion) continue current rates of fossil fuel consumption, the world will witness warming of 2°C or more in a few short decades. The brunt will be borne by the bottom 3 billion, who live on the edge of subsistence and are most vulnerable to the resulting droughts or other changes in weather and climate.

At the same time—through being limited to using inefficient cooking fires and lamps—the poorest 3 billion are exposed to large quantities of soot (or black carbon) and brown carbon. Once emitted, black carbon particulates both escape into the atmosphere and contribute to household health risks. They are unquestionably deadly. About 4 million people die each year from the toxic smoke emitted by household fires and lights. Exposure to household air pollution kills more people than malaria, TB and HIV combined.

Such household emissions may also contribute as much as 20 per cent to black carbon emissions worldwide. This is vastly significant because black carbon (from stoves and other sources) is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide and leads to crop loss, deforestation and the melting of glaciers, threatening critical food and water sources.

About 4 million people die each year from the toxic smoke emitted by household fires and lights. Exposure to household air pollution kills more people than malaria, TB and HIV combined.

The consequences of energy imbalance are dire.

But the new United Nations initiative Sustainable Energy for All, which aims to provide access to sustainable and renewable energy sources to everyone, is unprecedented and extremely productive.

The health benefits of providing energy to the bottom 3 billion would be far ranging, and the climate benefits would be felt by all.

Project Surya, which we lead, focuses on clean energy solutions for the poorest that achieve benefits in health, climate and sustainability by employing clean cooking and lighting technologies that reduce smoke emissions by 90 per cent or more. One chronic issue with these advanced technologies—which still use locally available solid biomass— is that with the added performance comes additional cost. The costs—typically, about six weeks of income for rural households—along with the lack of robust supply chains, inhibit scaling up the technologies to the hundreds of millions of households where they are needed.

Yet the use of advanced energy technologies enables us to leverage the link between household pollution and climate change. Surya now provides users of advanced improved stoves with the credit they deserve for mitigating climate change. Households that employ them generate quantifiable reductions in black carbon and carbon dioxide, with direct positive impacts on the climate—and so should be able to sell the resulting credits in a market. Much as a company can sell carbon credits for cleaning up its operations, we believe individual women should also receive financial benefits for their actions to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and black carbon.

Generating carbon credits for switching to improved stoves is nothing new. After all, burning firewood leads to 1-2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. The contributions from each household do not reflect the total potential climate mitigation achieved, although improved stoves also help to reduce deforestation. But quantifying the black carbon reductions—which work separately from carbon dioxide—reveals that their true carbon savings are two to three times greater. Moreover, including black carbon may bring new investors and buyers to carbon markets because reducing it has more immediate climate mitigation impacts than cutting carbon dioxide and has clear health and sustainability benefits. So this new approach could catalyze new funds to support energy access at scale.

While this seems straightforward in principle, there are some formidable challenges. One example of these is verifying the use of clean stoves on a house-by-house basis. Another is accurately translating stove usage to “climate credits”, saleable via a carbon market (or results-based financing mechanism), which encompass reductions in both carbon dioxide and black carbon particulates from adopting the cleaner energy technology.
And a third is distributing the financial credits to the women using the stoves, or the stove distributor.

Project Surya’s Climate Credit Pilot Project (C2P2) combines cutting-edge air pollution and climate change science with pioneering wireless sensor technologies to work towards universal access to advanced cook stoves and solar lighting systems. Through an international partnership that includes NGOs, private donors, academics, government banks, The Gold Standard Foundation’s Voluntary Carbon market, rural entrepreneurs, village chiefs and small women’s groups, Surya uses wireless sensors integrated into kitchens to document climate credits generated by using improved stoves. Close to a quarter of households now use the improved stoves for 50-100 per cent of their daily cooking needs. Each household that uses the stove for all cooking could earn approximately $35 per year (assuming an estimate of $6 per tonne of CO2 equivalent). Carbon markets ensure a level of transparency and standardization of methods for verification and validation that will be important if this initiative is to scale up beyond Surya or any single institution. Surya is now working to expand this carbon market approach to encourage the adoption of clean lighting, as well as cooking, technologies.

Through this work, Project Surya is celebrating and rewarding the role of the poorest women in the world as climate warriors.

We acknowledge the contributions of Tara Ramanathan in leading the Nexleaf Analytics cookstove programme in the field and significant contributions from Omkar Patange in India. We thank Charlie Kennel and Ellen Lehman, Mac McQuown, Qualcomm Wireless Reach, UK AID, and the United Nations Environment Programme for their explicit support of C2P2.

Source: Credit Where it’s Due

Clean energy solutions that achieve benefits in health

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