Combating Household Pollution With Clean Energy

Challenge:

Energy Access

Location:

Brong-Ahafo Region, Ghana
 

Overview:

Nearly 3 billion people around the world use traditional cookstoves and fuels. According to the World Health Organization, the resulting air pollution leads to an estimated 4 million preventable deaths per year. In Ghana, about 70% of households cook by burning biomass including wood, charcoal and crop residue in open fires. While there have been significant public and private investments in efforts to encourage the use of clean cookstoves over the last decade, new approaches are needed to achieve substantial changes in air quality and health. The project aims to increase the adoption of innovative clean cooking technologies that reduce household air pollution. The project takes a new comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to addressing the problem that (1) integrates behavioral approaches to understand and overcome obstacles to adopting clean-cooking technologies; (2) deploys an array of clean technologies, rather than providing households with a single option; (3) aims to transition entire communities to new cookware and energy sources in order to achieve significant health benefits that cannot be realized through the transition of only a few households in any given community; and (4) examines broader infrastructural and regulatory barriers to adoption in order to facilitate transitions based on community needs. The project will focus on a region within Ghana with nearly 30,000 people — with the hope of dramatically and measurably improving their public health, while also contributing to women’s empowerment in the region, economic development and improved environmental quality.  If successful, this effort should provide lessons that can be applied throughout Ghana and Africa more generally.


In Partnership With: 

Statistics:

  • 3 billion: People globally who use traditional cookstoves and fuels
  • 1/5: Proportion of all black carbon emissions that result from traditional cookstoves and fuels
  • 4 million: Estimated preventable annual deaths per year from pollution
  • 70%: Proportion of Ghanaian population that generates energy from traditional cookstoves and fuels

Team:

Background:

Globally, nearly 3 billion people use traditional cookstoves and fuels, a practice that produces one quarter of all black carbon emissions, and that leads to an estimated 4 million preventable pollution-related deaths per year. This tally includes half a million children under the age of five years. Women are also particularly affected, due to the disproportionate exposure in the home, and because the burden of collecting firewood and other fuels primarily falls on women and girls. In Ghana, about 70% of the population generates energy for cooking by burning biomass and other solid fuels in open fires. Air pollution ranks as a top risk factor for death and disability nationally, and household air pollution specifically accounts for the annual loss of just over 450,000 disability-adjusted life years (a measure of the number of years lost due to early death, disability or bad health) in Ghana, according to the Clean Cooking Alliance.

Recognizing the scale of this problem, governments, foundations and the private sector have invested significantly in efforts to encourage the use of clean cookstoves over the last decade, with a focus on promoting improved stoves or clean fuel to individual households. But these investments have not fully achieved the expected health benefits. In addition to the challenges associated with promoting the adoption of new, clean cookstoves, households that have received even the cleanest fuels in carefully monitored health studies continue to be exposed to pollution levels in their community that exceed air quality targets.

This project emerged from the Columbia World Projects Forum on energy access. Learn more about our work on this topic.

Project:

This project offers a new approach to bringing clean cooking technology to communities in Ghana — with the goal of building on past research and work to reduce pollution levels and improve health outcomes. The project’s design is based on more than a decade of research in Ghana conducted by the project leads, Dr. Darby Jack, Dr. Kelsey Jack and Dr. Kwaku Poku Asante. The project includes several innovations specifically designed to address past challenges in implementing clean cooking technology. Those are:

Integrate New Behavior Change Approaches. First, in recognition that there is a need to account for individual, household and community-level decision-making when offering clean cooking options, project staff are conducting a needs assessment in partnership with households and communities, and developing and integrating new evidence-based behavior change approaches to integrating clean cooking technologies. The approach will consider decision-making within the home and at the community level to encourage exclusive, sustained use of such technologies, while also acknowledging the crucial role played by public and private actors to support markets and supply chains.

Develop A Portfolio of Clean Cooking Options. Second, this project explicitly acknowledges that during the transition from biomass combustion (or traditional cooking) to clean cooking, a single stove-fuel combination approach has not been successful. Instead of focusing on a single “silver bullet” technology, this approach aims to develop a portfolio of clean options (fuels, stoves and practices) that together can fully displace traditional open fires and enable exclusive, sustained use of clean alternatives. This portfolio approach builds on a number of recent studies – including a set of 11 case studies commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which show that household almost always use multiple technologies to meet different energy needs.

Transition Entire Communities. Third, this approach aims to transition entire communities towards clean alternatives. Prior Columbia University research in Ghana, as well as research in India and elsewhere, suggests that even households that embrace clean fuels experience high pollution exposure if neighbors continue to cook with traditional biomass fires. Therefore, a community-centered model is necessary to achieve significant health benefits.

Identify Broader Energy System Changes. Fourth, the project attempts to identify broader energy system changes that support and sustain household- and community-level transitions. This entails a careful review of the current regulatory, infrastructural and financial environment and of the potential for targeted investment to encourage an energy system that favors clean cooking.    

The project draws on an interdisciplinary team of academics and practitioners with the goal of substantially reducing household air pollution in communities in the Kintampo North and South Districts in the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana. While the project focuses on identifying and assessing solutions that are scalable in Ghana, it is hopeful that the general approach can be applied in other countries working to facilitate clean household energy transitions.

If successful, this project will support the transition to clean household energy technologies for nearly 30,000 individuals and contribute to material improvements in public health, while also supporting improvement to women's empowerment, economic development, and improved environmental quality in Ghana and throughout Africa.