Chapter 4:

The Future Role of Wood Energy


4.1 Introduction

The previous chapter shows that fuelwood contributes up to more than 90% of the energy requirements of households in the RWEDP member-countries. This situation is heightened by the fact that households account for more than 50% of these countries total final energy consumption.

This situation is not expected to change significantly even in the long term as many of these countries, though struggling to advance, are still at the bottom of the development ladder. In other words, woodfuels will in the future continue to be a key household energy source. It can be said safely, however, that with steady economic growth, the contribution of woodfuels (and traditional energy sources for that matter) will follow a downward trend even if slight.

Yet, several interrelated factors influence the extent of the future role of wood energy. These factors are at the national level (macro factors) and at the level of the specific locality or household (micro factors). The macro factors include economic performance, population growth and rate of urbanization, technological advancement, environment/health concerns, and gender issues. The first three of these factors have been the key determinants of energy demand patterns at the national level. The growing concern about the environment and health impacts associated with energy use has also influenced the choice of fuels or energy sources at the policy level. National energy policy is now oriented towards the use of cleaner fuels or, otherwise, minimizing the negative impacts of using dirty ones. Alongside the concern for the environment, gender issues have taken a prominent place in energy development because women have been found to play a crucial role in households energy decision-making, particularly in developing countries where households comprises a huge portion of final energy consumption.

The macro factors influence household energy consumption patterns at the aggregate level and indirectly. The direct determinants of household energy consumption patterns are found precisely at the level of the households. An examination of household energy consumption surveys shows that energy use and the choice of fuels in the households depend on most or all of the following interrelated variable (Leach and Gowen, 1987):

Supply variables

Demand variables

These variables had been gathered from a "cross-section" of sample surveys and the analysis attempted to establish the relationships between these variables and household energy consumption at some point in time. Over time for a particular household, these relationships will still be true but some of the identified demand variables would not be a critical determinant of the energy consumption pattern. Temperature, precipitation and cultural factors are not expected really to vary over time, except for the seasonal variations during the year. It is true, however, that these two factors will vary from one place to another. Household size has been observed to be sometimes a more important determinant of household energy consumption than income. This factor has been shown to be responsible for the higher total energy consumption in high income households. In other words, high income has been associated with more family members (more people contributing to household income), thus increasing total household consumption. However, this relationship was observed from a cross-section of households. Over time, for a particular household, there will be a limit to the number of family members even if income could still grow. That is, the number of family members cannot always increase with income. Thus, among the demand variables, only household income and cost and performance of end-use devices could vary significantly over time and so influence future wood energy use in households.

The micro factors are very much interrelated and influenced by the macro factors. For example, the level of household income influences fuel preferences and to some extent depends on the country’s level of economic growth (taking into account equity). Technological advancement influence the cost and performance of end-use devices and even the availability and affordability of fuels. Population growth exerts pressure on fuelwood supply and therefore determines to some extent scarcity even if experts agree that there are a host of factors affecting scarcity. Fuel preference is an important variable in urban energy use, given that urban households are offered an array of fuel choices and can in fact afford to choose among competing fuels.


4.2 Macro factors affecting wood energy consumption

4.2.1 Economic Performance

The level and structure of energy demand is affected by economic performance. High energy consumption is associated with higher income. High income countries consume more modern than traditional fuels. In these countries, households take a smaller portion of total energy consumed than transport, industries, and services. In contrast, households take a substantial portion of the total final energy consumed in low income developing countries. These countries, moreover, rely on traditional fuels, of which woodfuels play a more prominent role.

Wood energy consumption, therefore, is related to economic performance. As shown in Figure 4.1, the contribution of fuelwood to total final energy consumption tends to be higher in the low income countries. This is exemplified by Cambodia, Bhutan, Lao, Myanmar, Nepal, and Vietnam. Corrolarily, the numbers also indicate that dependence on wood energy tends to decrease with higher level of economic development. The economies of Malaysia and Thailand illustrate this point.

Figure 4.1

 

 However, there are exceptions because wood energy use also depends on the availability or supply of fuelwood (resource endowment). Pakistan, for example, has a per capita income comparable to Bhutan, but the contribution of fuelwood to total final energy consumption in Pakistan (27%) is less than a third of that in Bhutan (85%). In Pakistan, substantial energy contributions come from the other biomass fuels (animal dung and crop residues). This is partly due to the fact that Pakistan’s forests (and agricultural resources) are not as rich compared to those of other countries in the region. Bhutan, for example, has close to 60% forest cover, while Pakistan’s is not even 3% (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2

That fuelwood consumption is substantial in low income countries is also explained by the fact that in these countries households, where most fuelwood go, account for the bulk of total final sectoral energy mix (see Figures 4.3 and 4.4).

Figure 4.3

 

Figure 4.4

 

The implication of the above trend on wood energy share to the total final consumption is fairly straigthforward. Even if the share of fuelwood to total household energy consumption remains constant, fuelwood share in the total final energy consumption would decline with improving economic performance as households take a smaller portion of the final sectoral energy mix. But fuelwood share in households remaining constant is unimaginable at the aggregate level because households will shift their preference to modern fuels with higher income. Thus, as income increases, fuelwood share to total household energy consumption will tend to decline and its contribution to total final energy consumption will tend to go down by a larger proportion.

Yet, these relationships are only true at the aggregate level. The gross measures of economic performance (i.e. GNP per capita, GDP growth rate) are averages and do not reflect properly household income. The picture could change tremendously if income distribution is taken into account. In an earlier section, it was shown that more than 40% of household income go only to the top 20% households, while the bottom 20% households get only less than 10% of income. Data show that during the last 20 years or so, income distribution in the RWEDP member countries has not improved significantly. It has in fact deteriorated in Thailand and Malaysia (Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5

 

What has this to do with wood energy consumption? Even if in the aggregate, per capita income improves and economies attain high level of growth in output, poor income distribution will exert a downward pressure on improving economic performance. Many people will continue to be poor. In other words, many people will continue to rely on fuelwood and traditional fuels because they just could not afford to shift to modern fuels even if these are available. This also indicates that disaggregate information, for example, household income are needed if more precise assessment of the future role of wood energy is to be made.

4.2.2 Population Growth and Urbanization

Increasing energy consumption is associated with population growth. For example, Figure 4.6 shows the population of China increasing from 916 million in 1975 to 1.2 billion in 1994. On the other hand, during this period, per capita energy consumption in China jumped from 342 kgoe to 647 kgoe (Figure 4.7). That is, while China’s population was growing by 1.39% per annum, its per capita energy consumption was increasing at an average annual rate of 3.41%.

Figure 4.6

 

Figure 4.7

 

Urbanization is basically the growth in urban population, which always tends to be higher than total population growth. The urban areas attract people from the rural areas because of generally better income opportunities and higher standard of living that comes with higher income. In eight RWEDP member countries, urban population is growing at least twice faster than total population (Figure 4.8). Despite this trend, urban population comprises only at most one-third of the total population in these countries (Figure 4.9).

Figure 4.8

 

Figure 4.9

 

The urbanization process has important implications on household energy consumption patterns in general and wood energy use in particular. Urban households energy consumption operates in a formal market, in which fuels are commodities that are traded and bought and compete with substitutes. In this situation, price is not the only factor influencing consumer behavior, the decision to buy or choose a particular fuel. Urban households will have strong preference for cleaner, more convenient, and more efficient fuels even if fuelwood remains as the cheapest option.

In any case, population growth could also mean increased competition for available resources, especially if the supply of these resources is not adequate nor increasing at least proportionately with demand. In most cases, however, the problem is equitable distribution of resources. The poor have always had limited access to resources. Population growth, therefore, would not only mean increased wood energy consumption in absolute terms but also increased pressure on the availability of fuelwood in areas where fuelwood supply is not abundant. But, the tendency to place the entire blame on population growth for fuelwood shortages is not at all correct because, many authorities on the subject agree, there are many other interrelated and complex issues which are not easy to pinpoint causing these shortages.

Nevertheless, a growing population will contribute to continued reliance on wood energy and other traditional fuels until people can afford to shift to modern fuels. This could be the case for many of the developing countries in Asia which have relatively high forecasted population growth (see Figure 4.10). The relative contribution of fuelwood, however, would decrease if supply, in the aggregate, become scarce which would lead people to turn to other biomass fuels. Localized fuelwood shortage, on the other hand, would increase the cost to people of securing fuelwood by increasing the time and effort for collecting the fuel from other areas or by shifting to available but more expensive commercial fuels.

Figure 4.10

 

4.2.3 Technological Advancement

A third important determinant of energy demand at the macro level is technological advancement. An indication of this factor is energy intensity. In particular, technological advancement is responsible for the declining energy intensity observed especially in developed countries. Energy intensity, which measures energy consumption per unit value of economic output, tends to decrease over time indicating higher efficiency in energy use, because less energy is needed to produce the same unit value of economic output.

Technological advancement and decreasing energy intensity are associated with higher income levels. Thus, the trend is readily observed in high income countries which have reached the saturation point in terms of energy consumption. In developing countries, in which energy consumption tends to grow fast because there is just more than enough room for this growth, energy intensity will tend to increase because the change in energy consumption tends to be proportionately higher with higher income.

Increasing energy intensity is, therefore, observed in the RWEDP member countries (Figure 4.11). This is true even for the more developed countries (compared to the others) of Malaysia and Thailand. However, it can be noticed that the increase in energy intensity in these two countries is much slower than the rest, indicating, most likely, gains in energy efficiency and maybe to some extent technological advancement.

Figure 4.11

 

It is also no coincidence that the shares of fuelwood in total final energy consumption in Malaysia and Thailand are less than 10%, the lowest among the other countries under study. These countries have had better access to the more energy efficient modern fuels and at the same time can afford to use them.

4.2.4 Environmental/Health Concerns

Woodfuel consumption has both positive and negative environmental impacts. The positive impact comes from planting more trees in forests (to replace old grown or cut trees) and non-forest lands, particularly plantations dedicated to supply fuelwood. Forest and trees as source of fuel are said to be carbon neutral because the same amount of carbon is emitted during combustion and absorbed by trees while they grow. If growth pattern exceeds use and decay, then trees serve as carbon sink, absorbing more carbon than what is released to the atmosphere. In fact, the presence of plants (in general and including trees) provides the natural balance of carbon dioxide in the environment (ignoring for the moment the carbon emissions from other man-made sources such as industrial and power plants). It is only when this balance is disturbed by man’s excessive use of trees that environmental problem arises.

Aside from this, trees have other ecological benefits. Trees conserve soil, preserve soil nutrients, and safeguards watersheds and biodiversity (FAO, 1995).

However, woodfuel consumption itself has been shown to have significant negative environmental and health effects. Burning woodfuel causes a number of solid, liquid, and gaseous substances to be emitted into the environment. The gases emitted are a mixture of carbon, nitrogen, and sulphur oxides, and low-molecular organic compounds (e.g. methane, ethane, etc.). Tar aggregates, inorganic particles (ash) and water together form what is generally called smoke. The composition of the emitted substances varies depending on the original chemical composition of the fuel, ambient and combustion temperature, air flow to the fire, mode of burning, and shape of the fire place. Some data show that cooking using firewood in open fire stoves emit 10 to 180 grams of carbon monoxide per kg of firewood (Ellegard and Egneus, 1992). In addition, 7.7 g of particulate matters are emitted. One kg of charcoal used for cooking in metal stoves emit 250-380 g of carbon monoxide, but less (2.4 g) particulate matters.

These pollutants accumulate especially in poorly ventilated households. Prolonged exposure to these substances has been identified as one of the major causes of widespread health problems in some countries, for example, acute respiratory infections in children and chronic lung disease and cancer in women in Nepal (Barnes et al., 1994).

Woodfuel burning also causes the emission of carbon dioxide which is the principal source of global warming. Moreover, it also emits greenhouses gases called products of incomplete combustion (PIC) which are more powerful sources of global warming. These PICs include methane, carbon monoxide, and the higher hydrocarbons.

Traditional cookstoves, because of their very low efficiency, may emit more than 10% of their carbon as PIC, whereas improved cookstoves emit mainly carbon dioxide and water (Barnes et al., 1994). This could have important policy implications that eventually impact on the use of woodfuels in particular. First, international sponsors should find more reason for supporting improved cookstoves program. Second, substitution of fuelwood by modern fuels, especially in areas where fuelwood supply is not sustainable should be encouraged. Third, efforts should be made to improve inefficient charcoal kilns and encourage charcoal users to shift to other fuels because charcoal emit substantial quantities of PICs.

But there is another environmental impact of wood energy use that has already received considerable attention. Fuelwood gathering and use could reach beyond sustainable levels¾ in fact, it has already in certain areas¾ that people, for example, turn to other biomass fuels, the use of which also has associated environmental problems. Fuelwood use is partly responsible for forests depletion in some areas and thus resulting in localized fuelwood shortages. However, sometimes the issue of sustainability does not necessarily imply actual lack of supply. Often, it shows itself in more time spent and greater distance travelled in collecting fuelwood. These issues will be dealt with more details later. But it suffices to say that the problem has reached a global scale¾ it affects many countries and many people¾ and should be addressed at the national policy level.

In fact, already, many governments have recognized the problem and have done something about it at the highest policy level. In India, for example, fuelwood gathering from forests has been banned since the 1980s, and this was the main reason for the decline in fuelwood supply coming from forests. The Pakistan government has made the national effort of increasing fuelwood supply from small private farms by encouraging farmers to do so. In many developing countries with many people and communities leaving in forest areas, the governments have launched community or social forestry programs that have also the intention of protecting forest resources, though the primary aim is to enhance the livelihood of people in these areas. It is also easy to imagine that these two and many other countries would have in the future strict regulations precisely aimed at reducing forest depletion.

Two general policy directions can be identified that directly address the environmental and health impacts of woodfuel use¾ fuel switching and use of improved cookstoves. On one hand, government promotes the use of cleaner fuels and improve peoples’ access to these fuels. On the other hand, government promotes improved cookstoves to increase efficiency of energy use and at the same time reduce harmful emissions. The second option is attractive in cases in which people have poor access or could not simply afford to shift to the more expensive modern fuels. This is the case of the majority of people dependent on wood energy. In urban areas, the policy focus would be to encourage the use of modern fuels because people would have better opportunities for higher income and thus a choice among the many competing fuels in these areas.

The extent of influence of these two policy options on fuelwood consumption will depend on how successfully these policies are implemented.

4.2.5 Gender Issues

The consideration of the gender dimension started precisely with the understanding of issues associated with household energy consumption which was in turn closely related with wood energy use. This was a result of the unsuccessful implementation of improved cookstoves program that had ignored the important role of women as cook (thus the first user of fuelwood and the cookstove) and as manager of household energy consumption. The recognition of this role marks the beginning of the consideration of women’s issues in wood energy (Nathan, 1996).

Indeed, a number of studies have shown that one of the components of successful improved cookstoves program is the active participation of women in stove design (see for example Barnes et al., 1994). After all women are the primary users of cookstoves and thus the most familiar with the situation in the kitchen. In other words, for the successful diffusion of more efficient stoves women preferences should be taken into account.

Women (and children) are also the ones primarily involved in fuelwood collection particularly in the poorest rural households. In this case, women’s time and labor could partly explain the energy consumption pattern of households. The availability or excess of women labor and time in some developing countries is precisely the reason why energy transition is not happening in these countries (Pacudan, 1997). For example in rural Pakistan, the poorest could afford to switch from biofuels to kerosene, but the shift was not happening because of the availability of unpaid women’s labor.

Several studies also make a connection between agroforestry and social forestry programs and the role of women. For example, a study for Bangladesh cite the important role of women in collecting fuels and planting and cultivating trees as one of the conditions that must be taken into account for the successful implementation of the improvement of homestead agroforestry system in the country (Leuschner, 1987). Borlagdan (1988) describes the integrated social forestry program in Cebu (Philippines) and how women were integrated into the project. It addresses three gender-related issues that should be at the core of social forestry programs or projects anywhere else. The first refers to land security. The stewardship system was thought of as not providing enough security of land tenure to women because the stewardship was awarded to the "head of the family." This stemmed from a lack of understanding of the role of women in forest communities, which is essentially the point of the second issue: women as a vital resource. Because the project focused on men, it ignored the valuable contribution of women for the successful implementation of the project such as promotion of upland development technologies. The third issue is precisely related to efficiency of technology promotion. For this to be effective or successful, the project should have a knowledge of the beneficiaries, the main users and implementors of technology. On this women played an active role as well as the men.

This connection is important because social forestry and agroforestry programs also address sustainability of fuelwood supply in conjunction with other development objectives. Hall (1982) has suggested the better use of forest resources and agroforestry as one of the possible technical solutions to the woodfuel shortage. These points will be taken up in more detail in a later chapter.


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