Is clean cooking affordable? A review

Journal Paper
Annelise Gill-Wiehl, Isha Ray & Daniel Kammen
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 151 (2021) 111537
Publication year: 2021

2.9 billion people lack access to clean cooking fuels and technologies. This review analyzes the literature on affordability as a barrier to adoption and consistent use of clean cooking stoves and fuels. We find diverse frameworks, definitions and metrics in use, and frequent discussions on stove price, fuel costs, microfinance, and smaller procurement quantities. We recommend that financing strategies to mitigate unaffordability be based on how low-income households actually earn, spend, and save their money, and that affordability frameworks be expanded to account for gender divides, rural/urban divides, and stove stacking behavior. Our review thus aims to reflect the nuances of a low-income household’s ability to pay for clean fuels. Affordability must make sense within the lived experiences of the poor if clean cooking is to achieve universal access.

The refill gap: Clean cooking fuel adoption in rural India

Journal Paper
Bodie Cabiyo, Isha Ray & David Levine
Environmental Research Letters (in press)
Publication year: 2020

From 2016-2019, the Indian Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) distributed over 80 million Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) stoves, making it the largest clean cooking program ever. Yet, evidence shows widespread continued use of the traditional chulha, negating the potential health benefits of LPG. Here we use semi-structured interviews with female and male adults to understand the drivers of LPG usage in Mulbagal, Karnataka, the site of a proto-PMUY program. We find that respondents perceive the main value of LPG to be saving time, rather than better
health. We also find that norms of low female power in the household, in addition to costs, delay saving for and ordering LPG cylinder refills. Namely, female cooks controlled neither the money nor the mobile phone required to order a timely refill. These factors together contribute to the “refill gap”: the period of non-use between refilling cylinders, which may range from days to even months. Our work reveals how gender norms can amplify affordability challenges in low18 income households.

Power quality and modern energy for all

Journal Paper
Veronica Jacome, Noah Klugman, Catherine Wolfram, Belinda Grunfeld, Duncan Callaway & Isha Ray
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA,
Publication year: 2019

“Modern energy for all,” an internationally supported initiative to connect populations to electricity services, is expected to help reduce poverty-induced vulnerabilities. It has become a primary strategy for meeting sustainable development goals, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. However, when electricity is supplied by a capacity-constrained grid to a resource-constrained population, the service quality can vary both spatially and temporally. This research explores the quality of electricity services based on a case study of Unguja, Tanzania. Using 1) open-ended interviews, 2) detailed electricity-systems monitoring, and 3) household surveys, we show how voltage quality varies significantly, even within highly localized settings. Fluctuations result in dim lights at best and power outages and broken appliances at worst, denying many Unguja residents the expected benefits of access to modern energy. By combining an extensive understanding of the physical system together with interviews and surveys, this work presents a unique mapping of voltage quality in a system that is financially and physically constrained and highlights the consequences of poor-quality service for poor users.

Supplementary information can be downloaded here

The prepaid electric meter: Rights, relationships and reification in Unguja, Tanzania

Journal Paper
Veronica Jacome and Isha Ray
World Development. DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.01.007
Publication year: 2018


Sustainable Development Goal 7, with the light bulb and power button as its symbols, in effect promotes the universal right to basic electricity services. Access for all demands both affordability and cost-recovery, and utilities (and donors) increasingly require users to shoulder the greater burden of cost-recovery. We argue that the electricity system is underpinned by a set of relationships among user, provider and the service itself: these relationships are mediated by the meter, the technology of commodification. Using a constant-comparison approach, and based on a year of interviews and document analysis, we compare postpaid and prepaid meter regimes in Unguja, Tanzania. We ask: what difference does the mode of payment make to the (residential) user, the utility, and to the prospects for meeting SDG 7? We find that the prepaid meter becomes reified with its automated monitoring and measurement mechanism, rendering the once-familiar meter reader obsolete, and shutting off the flow of electricity as soon as the customer’s “units” have run down. Reification makes the utility more invisible to the customer, who now blames the meter rather than the utility for poor service or high bills. Our interviews reveal broad support for the prepaid meter, however, because economically vulnerable users expressed greater fear of debt than of the dark, and were willing to cede control of their consumption to the new meter. These findings undermine the common accusation of a “culture of nonpayment” in Africa. We also find that prepaid meters may incentivize the partial return to biomass-based fuels when cash is not available – exactly the behavior that universal access to electricity is supposed to prevent. We conclude that, if access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa becomes entirely contingent on payment prior to use, this is not fully compatible with a commitment to universal basic access.

Influencing attitudes towards carbon capture and sequestration: A social marketing approach

Journal Paper
Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, Hadi Dowlatabadi, Tim McDaniels & Isha Ray
Environmental Science and Technology, 45: 6743 – 6751
Publication year: 2011


Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), while controversial, is seen as promising because it will allow the United States to continue using its vast fossil fuel resources in a carbon-constrained world. The public is an important stakeholder in the national debate about whether or not the U.S. should include CCS as a significant part of its climate change strategy. Understanding how to effectively engage with the public about CCS has become important in recent years, as interest in the technology has intensified. We argue that engagement efforts should be focused on places where CCS will first be deployed, i.e., places with many “energy veteran” (EV) citizens. We also argue that, in addition to information on CCS, messages with emotional appeal may be necessary in order to engage the public. In this paper we take a citizen-guided social marketing approach toward understanding how to (positively or negatively) influence EV citizens’ attitudes toward CCS. We develop open-ended interview protocols, and a “CCS campaign activity”, for Wyoming residents from Gillette and Rock Springs. We conclude that our participants believed expert-informed CCS messages, embedded within an emotionally self-referent (ESR) framework that was relevant to Wyoming, to be more persuasive than the expert messages alone. The appeal to core values of Wyomingites played a significant role in the citizen-guided CCS messages.

The role of social factors in shaping public perceptions of CCS: Results of multi-state focus group interviews in the US

Journal Paper
Judith Bradbury, Isha Ray, Tarla Rai Peterson, Sarah Wade, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi & Andrea Feldpausch
Energy Procedia 1: 4665 – 4672
Publication year: 2009


Three of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships analyzed community perspectives on carbon capture and storage (CCS) through focus groups and interviews in five communities. These perspectives were analyzed in the context of each community’s history and its social and economic characteristics. The results were considered for their insights into specific concerns within each region, as well as to assess inter-region commonalities. In all cases, factors such as past experience with government, existing low socioeconomic status, desire for compensation, and/or perceived benefit to the community were of greater concern than the concern about the risks of the technology itself. This paper discusses the findings from the joint review of the focus groups and the potential lessons for application to CCS deployment.

Community perceptions of carbon sequestration: Insights from California

Journal Paper
Gabrielle Wong-Parodi & Isha Ray
Environmental Research Letters, 4
Publication year: 2009


Over the last decade, many energy experts have supported carbon sequestration as a viable technological response to climate change. Given the potential importance of sequestration in US energy policy, what might explain the views of communities that may be directly impacted by the siting of this technology? To answer this question, we conducted focus groups in two communities who were potentially pilot project sites for California’s DOE-funded West Coast Regional Partnership (WESTCARB). We find that communities want a voice in defining the risks to be mitigated as well as the justice of the procedures by which the technology is implemented. We argue that a community’s sense of empowerment is key to understanding its range of carbon sequestration opinions, where ’empowerment’ includes the ability to mitigate community-defined risks of the technology. This sense of empowerment protects the community against the downside risk of government or corporate neglect, a risk that is rarely identified in risk assessments but that should be factored into assessment and communication strategies.

How to use technology to spur development

Other Writings
Renee Kuriyan, Isha Ray & Daniel Kammen
Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2008: 70 – 74
Publication year: 2008

Merging technology and entrepreneurialism to meet the needs of the poor and improve their productivity has obvious appeal, but such efforts need more careful study and planning to deliver on their potential.

Environmental non-government organizations' perceptions of geologic sequestration

Journal Paper
Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, Isha Ray & Alexander Farrell
Environmental Research Letters, 3.
Publication year: 2008


Environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been influential in shaping public perceptions of environmental problems, their causes and potential solutions. Over the last decade, carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as a potentially important technological response to climate change. In this paper we investigate how leading US NGOs perceive geologic sequestration, a potentially controversial part of CCS. We examine how and why their perceptions and strategies might differ, and if and how they plan to shape public perceptions of geologic sequestration. We approach these questions through semi-structured interviews with representatives from a range of NGOs, supplemented by content analysis of their documents. We find that while all the NGOs are committed to combating climate change, their views on CCS as a mitigation strategy vary considerably. We find that these views are correlated with NGOs’ histories of activism and advocacy, as well as with their sources of funding. Overall, most of these NGOs accept the necessity of geologic sequestration, while only a small fraction do not.