The Adoption Gap: Design, Development and Diffusion of Household Energy Technologies
Over 3 billion people rely on solid fuels burned in inefficient devices to meet their cooking and heating needs with profound social and environmental consequences. There is strong evidence indicating that Household Air Pollution (HAP) caused by poor combustion of biomass and other solid fuels contributes to acute lower respiratory infections in children, low birth weight and stillbirth, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, as well as cataracts and tuberculosis. As a result, HAP is the fourth leading cause of illness and death worldwide. Poor combustion of household solid fuels is also a major source of short-lived climate forcers including black carbon aerosols and methane. There are also concerns that solid fuel use contributes to forest degradation, which adds to climate impacts of household energy and causes local environmental problems.
Since the 1970s, researchers and development practitioners have attempted to design and disseminate improved household technologies to reduce fuel consumption and HAP emissions, catalyze the development of cottage industries, increase opportunities for skilled labor, and promote women’s empowerment. However, the results of these programs have been highly variable and long-term acceptance of new technologies and behaviors has proven elusive. In this way, clean cookstoves are similar to other simple, inexpensive technological and behavioral changes that have been promoted to address critical development challenges, but are adopted and used at surprisingly low rates. Other examples include health-improving technologies like insecticide-treated bed nets and condoms, agricultural technologies like high-yield crop varieties and fertilizer, and financial savings instruments such as insurance.
At a recent global forum on clean cookstoves organized by the UN Foundation in Phnom Penh in March 2013, a broad range of experts convened. Among the themes discussed at the forum was the admission that while great gains have been made quantifying the health and environmental impacts of HAP, increased efforts were still required to achieve large-scale adoption and long-term use of cleaner burning stoves among at-risk populations. Closing the so-called “adoption gap,” between successful small-scale efforts in a few hundred households and long-term, financially sustainable and culturally appropriate solutions for the hundreds of millions who are at-risk requires much more engagement between technical experts and social/behavioral scientists. In response to this challenge, this workshop brings together a small group of development practitioners and academic researchers to discuss ways to better understand and overcome the barriers to successful technical and behavioral change at the household level.
Workshop Goals and Projected Outcomes Include:
- Create dialogue between social and behavioral science researchers with public health experts and engineers to identify opportunities and barriers for the dissemination of HAP-reducing technologies;
- Articulate complementary and competing relationships within varying models of household technology diffusion;
- Generate a consensus statement, which identifies a research agenda for reducing HAP as well as recommendations for fruitful collaboration across the disciplines and sectors committed to its reduction.