Learning from the UK? Pt 1

In these three related blogs, I would like to explore the history and current use of energy for cooking in the UK, as a indicative lessons for our work in Sub Saharan Africa.  I am going to suggest that there are three key aspects:-

  • The rise and fall of solid fuel (which in our case meant coal), took 160 years – time which we dont have for our current climate change agenda.
  • The amount of energy households use for cooking has approximately halved over the last 40 years!
  • Much of the savings at a household level come from pre-prepared food, and the overall energy to prepare the food has likely remained the same.

rise and fall of coal

Roger Fouquet of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), has done some cool work on historical energy transitions.  The bad news is that he has this table, which suggests that major shifts in energy, take about 50 years at best!

fouquet transitions

It seems to me bad news because as a world, the climate change scientists tell us we dont have that much time ‘to get our act together’.  I can only hope that with the pace of change in our modern world we might be able to get it down to 20 years, or even 10 years at best?

Interestingly  in October 2013, Sustainable Energy for All and the World LPG Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and both organisations committed to accelerate access to LPG for one billion people in developing countries by 2030. – so thats an ambition of 17 years.   We also have a similar ambition to shift 1 billion people onto modern energy (including both LPG and electricity, for cooking) by 2030, and since we are starting now’ish, that means 12 years.  (and we hedged our bets a bit by acknowledging fuel stacking).

12 years is not long.

I reflect on Mobile Money, which I was involved with.  The early research in Africa was around 2000, and then pilots  in 2005, launches in 2007/8 and then gradual majority uptake over last 6 or 7 years, meaning that GSMA now talks about 670 million users and 1$1 billion a day going through the systems.  A great example of a landscape change – but need to keep in mind that it took 18 years!

So my point is – while we can get excited about a landscape shift towards electricity and modern energy for cooking, we need to keep reality in mind – that it will be at a minimum ten years of hard effort before the early adopters shift into the majority.  Fouquets work suggests that long time horizons are needed.

Actually Fouquets work also has a really interesting insight into the role of price elasticities.  The speed of uptake of new technologies and energy transitions is influenced by the rise in demand for energy services.  Faster growth (due to high income elasticities and rising incomes) is likely to imply a faster potential energy transitions. This also suggests that energy transitions may be more demand-led. Alternatively, when income elasticities are low, demand may be less of a driver of energy transitions. When income elasticities are low, such as at high levels of economic development, energy transitions may have to be led by supply-side transformations. Thus, the policy drivers for stimulating energy transitions in developing economies and post-industrialised economies may be very different.”  

For each individual energy transition, the technology or new energy source that emerged and would eventually become dominant started as a niche product. A small group of consumers were willing to pay a premium for the energy services attached to the new technology. A successful new energy source or technology provided the same service (i.e. heating, power, transport or light) with superior or additional characteristics (e.g. easier, cleaner or more flexible to use). For instance, electric lighting in the late nineteenth century, which was more costly than gas lighting, offered a novelty factor that expensive restaurants and theatres were willing to pay for. Over time, economies of scale subsequently improved the technology and the price of the energy source, driving down the cost of generating energy services, making it competitive with the incumbent energy technology and source.
However, the price of the energy service is crucial for achieving a full energy transition. If the price of the service fell sufficiently (either because the energy efficiency improved or the price of energy declined), full transitions could occur.”  Fouquet 2016

The example of electric light over gas lighting is one of my favourites.  I found this graph 4 years ago, and just watch what happens when the price of electric gets cheaper than gas.  Now imagine what will happen when eCook gets cheaper than charcoal production!

Fig 1

Fig 2


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