Sunday, March 22, 2015

On Cooking

This started out to be a very very very very snarky take on why Bjorn Lomborg, Roger Jr. and assorted others are just dangerous when they go on about how coal electrification is needed to eliminate indoor pollution in Africa and Asia, but indoor pollution from cooking and heating using biomass or coal is a huge problem, killing many each year, and among many there is a dangerous naivety.

Further, this problem is no secret, and there is a considerable literature, easily found, but allow Eli a few moments to lay it out.

The first point is that the issue is not fuel, but ventilation.  Many bunnies have, or have prior experience with wood stoves and the older amongst us with coal stoves.  While there are issues with external air pollution, a good chimney moves the problem out of the house.  Of course, if your house is a hut or less, a good chimney is well beyond the cost of your house.

The second point is that the poor will always use the cheapest fuel, that is why they are called the poor, so substituting a more expensive fuel such as LPG or natural gas and certainly not fossil fuel generated electricity simply does not work.   It has been tried.  Further, in poor places, an entire infrastructure has been developed to provide biomass fuel of all types, if you forbid burning of biomass, many people who were making a bare living providing the fuel no longer have an income.

The third point is that a better, more efficient stove has value, the value is in lower pollution because the burning is more efficient, less fuel needed, e.g. less deforestation, etc., but the problem, of course is that better stoves are more expensive and unfamiliar.  There have been successes, but these involved subsidies for the stoves, creating local industries to manufacture the stoves, and careful attention that the stoves were not far removed from what people were used to cooking on so that there was no culture shock. Improved cookstoves designed in a laboratory for maximum efficiency and minimum pollution without consideration of convenience and how people cook simply are rejected even when handed out for nothing. Solar cookers run headlong into this problem.

OK?  Eli will turn the snark machine on again, but do go do some reading.  Here is a review article.


Mike H said...

The problem is not that Lomborg, Ridley, Pielke et al raise what are real concerns about the poor's access to energy, it is that they only raise those issues as a stick to beat climate science with.

When Labor and the Greens introduced a carbon price in 2011, special provisions were made to compensate the less well off because of the regressive nature of carbon pricing.

Lomborg has been asked to address Australian diplomats and aid staff on Monday by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. This is a government that as well as denying climate science, destroying Australia's world class carbon mitigation program and attempting to sabotage international climate discussions, has made $11 billion in cuts to Australia's aid program and sends refugees to concentration camps as part of its "Pacific Solution"

The hypocrites are made for one another.

Russell Seitz said...

Ashok Gadgil deseres a lot of credit for doing for African cooking stoves what Ben Franklin did ofr hone neating in Pennsylvania.

JamieB said...

Have any of them actually bothered to do a rough costing? How much would it actually cost per capita to give each home in a rural village a 2kW (for example) electric hob, sockets cables and fuse box, connect each home to a new distribution substation and then connect the substation to the transmission grid? Then there are the electricity prices themselves. First hit on google for sub-saharan africa suggests about $0.14 per kWh so that hob costs $1 for every 3.5 hours of use. Isn't the poverty threshold still $1 per day?

Fernando Leanme said...

Look at the photograph on the right side:

andthentheresphysics said...

What is your point? That there is extreme poverty there? That there's corruption?

EliRabett said...

Eli is shocked! Shocked!

Fernando Leanme said...

The point? There are hundred of millions of Africans living in such urban slums. They expect to have electricity (see the wires?). Their lives are very different from the little collections of huts in tiny villages we see described in utopian opinion pages.

This is an incredibly hard problem. I chose a link to the Equatorial Guinea page because that's a country with pretty decent oil income, but it's terribly mismanaged. The top line item should be to try to get corruption fixed. But there's no will power. That sob who rules EG is a serial human rights abuser, and yet he gets a wink and a nod from european countries. As regards the usa. I don't think they care either way, as long as the country pumps oil.

EliRabett said...

Ah yes, things are just peachy keen in that area, and everybunny is cooking with electricity.

jrkrideau said...

There are wires in the picture but the caption reads something like 'lacking reliable access to electicity'.

Just because there are some ramshackle wires does not imply that they work either at all, or reliably enough to depend on for cooking even if you are smart enough to illegally[1] tap into them.

1. The chances that someone in that slum can afford regular electricity bills is close to zero.

snarkrates said...

Having actually spent a night or two in smoky huts, and having actually built a couple of improved cook stoves, I can pretty confidently dismiss centralized electrical generation as a solution to respiratory distress in developing countries.

The difference between a 3-stone fireplace and a real cook stove is amazing, especially when the fuel is cheap (e.g. dung).

And anyone who thinks a coal-fired power plant will improve air quality has clearly never been to India or China.

Fernando Leanme said...

rideau, it´s uneven. In some countries they just steal the electricity. In others they have a communal meter. And in others they do have to pay.

I can confidently agree that it may not be possible at this time to deliver a lot of electricity to those teeming millions. But it´s evident that solar power will deliver a lot less. And not everybody lives in a shanty. I showed you that particular photo because it demonstrates the very poor do get electricity. Life in Africa isn´t exactly as many of you think. Quite a few people will use kerosene or propane. Others use cowpatties, charcoal, or wood. So it´s kinda silly to generalize.

The best solution at this time for the urban population (hundreds of millions of Africans do live in urban settings) is to assist them to have hydropower and high efficiency coal plants. And if you don´t like the idea then close the equivalent coal burning plant elsewhere. Try the Germans. They can afford to keep their nuclear plants working.

EliRabett said...

Yep, hundreds of millions of Africans live in urban settings, and hundreds of millions of those do not have a dime to pay for electricity, even if they had electricity. More hundreds of millions of Africans have access to sunlight and don't use it to cook also.

C'mon Fernando, get real. No one uses electricity to cook if they have a cheaper fuel.

JamieB said...

No one doubts the desire for access to electricity but what's it being used for in that photo? As soon as you start using electricity to deliver heat for cooking you ratchet up consumption by orders of magnitude compared to LED lighting, communications etc.

snarkrates said...

First, where are poor countries in Africa supposed to get high-efficency coal plants? They are much more likely to get low-tech plants burning locally produced dirty coal. I've seen this in India. It is not an improvement over village life.

Second, copper wire is not exactly common in Africa.

So, since we will have to import pretty much everything anyway, why not sell them a 21st century power system, not a dirty 19th century one.

Unknown said...

Solar cookers are the obvious choice for cooking in Africa.

In other area bio-gas powered cookers are working.

Solar powered lights are useful too.

Who needs expensive and easily disrupted centralized power? Only the people who want to sell it and the fuels to power it.

Unknown said...

I posted the above comment on solar cookers etc.

Ian Forrester

Fernando Leanme said...

Snark. Exactly. Where the hell are African nations going to get high efficiency coal plants? In countries willing to finance their construction in Africa to reduce their guilt factor. Hell, some people are willing to discuss buying solar panels for Congolese (where the sun doesn´t shine much because its cloudy most of the time), but they can´t even think about a high thermal efficiency plant for Durban?

EliRabett said...

Ah, and Fernando plays the old coal peddler

Comes a fellow everyone knows.
It's the old coal peddler,
Spreading joy wherever he goes.
Every evening you will find him,
Around our neighborhood.
It's the old coal peddler
Doing well by doing good.

He gives the kids free samples,
Because he knows full well
That today's young innocent faces
Will be tomorrow's clientele.

EliRabett said...


Solar cookers have been tried, but you have to get them past a huge cultural barrier. People simply know how they cook, and unless your cooker is pretty much the same, they ain't gonna use it.

There is a lot of sad history behind that simple truth and without some mechanism solving that problem, all that solar cookers are good for are wilderness hikers.

Fernando Leanme said...

E, most of you live in houses fed coal generated electricity. Go shut one down and buy an equivalent plant in Africa. They are going to get built anyway. This would be funny if it weren´t so tragic. I´m going to go write something funny to balance all this bad karma.

EliRabett said...

Coal fired power plants in the US are being shut down, over 10 GW in 2012 alone, so keep on sputtering Fernando. The drivers are emission regulations and low natural gas prices.

But we were talking about cookstoves, so this has little to do with the subject at hand. Keep trying tho.

Bryson said...

Thanks for the Tom Lehrer reference. One of our favourites...

Tom said...

This is a good post. (Tom Fuller here.) It is also good to note that for some,the ritual nod to the problems of the poor is rhetorical and not matched by any actions.

In India, where the cost of transmission grid connection runs about $1 million USD per mile, village solar has helped somewhat with modest lighting, radio access, etc. But it does not help with cooking or heating. That's why India has committed to spend $500 million (?) on a solar rural electrification program, something that has been successful around the world since the mid-80s.

167 million families across rural India use dung for cooking and kerosene for lighting/heating--when they can afford it.

Your argument about the ventilation being the problem rather than the cooking is true, but really reminds me of what a SF comedian used to say--'Guns don't kill people. It's those darn bullets.'

EliRabett said...

For venting, even a small fan run off solar electricity in the wall near the cooker could make a significant contribution.

Russell Seitz said...

At Willard Tony's place, Rabbetts are always on the menu