The energy balance of most developing countries is dominated by traditional solid fuels, particularly traditional solid biomass fuels such as fuelwood, crop residues, charcoal and dungcakes. Estimates show that about 890 million people, or 80% of the population, in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) depend on traditional solid biomass fuels as their primary energy sources for cooking. About 600 million people have no access to electricity, and therefore rely heavily on fossil fuels for lighting.
“This overreliance and unsustainable use of solid biomass fuels in inefficient traditional open-fire cookstoves has been among the major drivers of deforestation, forest degradation and emission of CO2 in the SSA-region,” PhD candidate Yibeltal Tebikew Wassie says.
Increased access to electricity
Access to modern, affordable, and reliable energy and clean cooking facilities is critical for Ethiopia to drive its economic development, reduce poverty and curb the negative environmental and health impacts of traditional and unsustainable use of solid biomass fuels.
“The government of Ethiopia has devoted considerable efforts in recent years to improving rural access to electricity,” Wassie comments.
This means dissemination of household biogas systems, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and improved biomass cookstoves.
Transition to renewable energy
“In my PhD, I have examined the nexus between renewable energy access and household energy transition in rural sub-Saharan Africa in the face of climate change,” he explains.
His research has been carried out mainly in four rural districts of Southern Ethiopia and data were collected from a comprehensive cross-sectional study (survey) of sample households, direct field assessments, and energy consumption measurements.
Little use of biogas
Wassie’s results show that small-scale renewable energy technologies (SRETs), such as biogas, improved biomass cookstoves, and solar PVs, have considerable potential for reducing household consumption of traditional fuels; thereby lessening forest degradation and the subsequent CO2 emissions at local level.
However, despite growing efforts, the uptake and utilization of biogas technology is yet very low. He explains that the low rate of utilization and impact from household biogas systems signifies the need for thorough re-examining of existing dissemination approaches and operational practices.
Biomass cookstoves increase sustainability
He has also examined the potential fuel savings, economic and environmental co-benefits of three different improved biomass cookstoves. His findings show that compared with the traditional open-fire tripod, the biomass cookstoves could reduce household fuelwood consumption on average by 1.72 to 2.08 tons per stove per year.
It has also revealed that promoting the use of ICSs is a viable option and an essential component of the strategy for reducing deforestation, mitigation of climate change, and sustainable use of biomass in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The results clearly show that the nexus between access to modern and renewable energy; and household energy transition in rural sub-Saharan Africa is complex and non-linear,” Wassie says.
He continues with explaining traditional biomass fuels will likely remain the primary energy sources of even the wealthiest households that are connected to the grid.
Growing demand for biomass fuels
“Solid biomass-energy dependent countries like Ethiopia need to critically address the growing demand for biomass fuels.”
He adds that this needs to be done through developing sustainable and diversified bio-energy sources, energy-saving and affordable cooking technologies, and decentralized renewable rural hybrid energy systems alongside the current efforts of improving rural access to grid electricity. “Although the data for my PhD are primarily from rural southern Ethiopia, the conclusions and policy implications drawn can have a wider application in the broader context of rural sub-Saharan Africa,” he concludes.
Yibeltal Tebikew Wassie will defend his PhD thesis "Effects of access to renewable energy sources and technologies on rural household energy use and the environment in Ethiopia”, on 4 November 2020. The defense can be followed live on Zoom. Read more about that here.