[Stoves] Modern intermediate technology (Was Rwanda charcoal)

Nikhil Desai pienergy2008 at gmail.com
Wed Dec 6 08:55:33 MST 2017


Cecil -- and all those of a certain age who remember "intermediate
technology" in UK (Steve Joseph, et al.), USAID projects, Eindhoven and GIZ
research (Europe, southeast Asia), Indian stoves work, China stoves and TVE
research or FAO, World Bank research and projects (all roughly between 1975
and 1995):

A reassessment of the whole "intermediate technology" paradigm is
warranted. Intermediate technology is not for all groups everywhere.
Thinking of our customer base as the nameless teeming three billion without
giving them the labels of cooking and eating habits, living environments,
or a few villages and districts and then generalizing, is a central error
of designing stove projects. (Which is why urban charcoal stove projects
have succeeded but generic "primary biomass" stove projects have failed to
scale up. There is no silver bullet.)

But I insist that the notion of "intermediate technology" should be revised
drastically to reflect the changed and changing realities of the physical
environments of the poor, previously locked into their "land" and
unreachable. All depends on varying customs and desires.

IT need not be quaint. Now we have logistic networks to permit mass
manufacturing of stoves under high-tech production facilities and deliver
them - with use and maintenance manuals and servicing capacities - to main
towns practically everywhere in the world.

Some artisans have stopped their work and moved on to more lucrative
occupations. Availability and affordability of food ingredients have
changed. Families and their internal dynamics have changed. Above all, more
women are educated and are having fewer children or dying young. Even in
situ mason stoves can now be designed with modern materials and tools. The
"intermediate" CAN go high-tech for at least some elements of the fuel and
stove supply value chains.

Intermediate technology approaches need not be limited to just solid fuel
combustion but all other technologies, including for household water.
Availability of water and seasonality of water have great influences on
what is cooked and how. Now that access to water has expanded, village
women's time allocation patterns (when, how long) have changed. Cost and
quality of primary biomass have changed and even some biomass production -
crops and parks - have gone high tech.

Think 2030, not 1930 or 1980.

All this came to me wandering in Rwanda with an old IT man. I told him,
"Hey, IT now needs to go IT (information technology)!"

There need be no quarreling in the abstract. There are enough challenges
and opportunities for everybody. (In 2010, a Berkeley PhD working in Bhutan
told me of marketing of "grid-interactive" electric rice pots. At the time
it was limited to a green,yellow or red light depending on grid peak and
singaling whether the cook should wait a few minutes. This is an old idea
from electricity DSM.)

Robert and I stopped our quarreling when I argued that the way to think
about improved stoves was to sell it as a Demand Side Management program
for distributed supplies. (I drew parallels between Rwanda electricity
crisis at the time because of over-drawing of water from dams. Conceptually
the same as over-exploitation of wood resource.)

For all my criticism of EPA mindset and TC-285 "cart before the horse"
exercise, I do like the "technology push" ideas, just not exclusively and
devoid of contexts, expert-centered and not user-centered.  (I learned that
lesson in the context of another EPA drive - in coal power plants emission
reduction.)

None of this should surprise anybody. The "intermediate" has to move on
with the times. The tragedy is that not only are these supposed three
billion cooking with 19th Century fuels and technologies, between a third
and a half (my guess) of them are living and working in 19th Century
conditions and merely a stove changeout is not only going to do much,
projects aimed at mere changeout for them - the multi-dimensionally poor
with fragile asset base of natural, financial and human capital - are
likely to keep failing. IT is not the answer at the two extremes of incomes
and assets among these three billion. So I propose a "modern" IT. (Anil
cc'd because many of his engineering innovations have that spirit. As do
the "wood gas" or "pyrolitic wood gas ideas of Paul, Ron, Gordon, others).

Nikhil



On Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 7:36 AM, Cecil Cook <cec1863 at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear stove development colleague,
>
> You do go way my friend,
>
> I worked with David French and someone - perhaps Jonathan ?? - named
> Goldberg in the Africa Bureau. I had several meetings with Norman Brown but
> he was not well by then. I had written half of the motivation to create the
> National Ctr for AT on behalf of a star studded planning committee formed
> by a last gasp of the the Kennedy-johnson OEO/War on Poverty including the
> likes of Fritz Schumacher, Lola Redford & Armory Lovins which ended up in
> Butte MT because retiring Speaker of the House Mike Mansfield delivered the
> 3.5million $ needed to launch NCAT somewhere on planet earth. Learned many
> valuable lessons about the serious short comings of utopian planning with
> access to big federal budgets. Worked with Dick Saul who was an upper level
> planner at OEO who overlapped with Kissinger at Harvard Law School.
>
> I was a utopian blue sky consultant on a mission to capture the commanding
> high ground of money and authority in the DC swamp to technologically
> rebirth the developmental state!! ....both at home and overseas.
>
> The antipoverty "do gooders" and policy activists of the mid 1970's in DC
> were desperately trying break down the farsical wall of China between
> domestic and international AT service providers and communities of AT
> "experts" and activists.
>
> Ted Owens from within USAID worked closely with Clarence Long - Chairman
> of the House Committee on Foreign Relations - decided they wanted to create
> their own version of NCAT which was eventually funded through a cabal of
> staff in Long's Office and USAID careerists and DC body shops like
> Transcentury Corporation. I recall it was DAI (Development Alternatives
> Inc) that provided the professional critique of USAID's approach to
> development: to short term and VITA added the missionary and nobless oblige
> attitude that insufficient  America knows best to justify the need for
> American financed AT projects overseas that had to be kept completely
> separate from domestic AT projects, consulting companies, and organizatons
> providing training and project manacement services addressing home grown
> poverty inside the USA ..... It was called AT International (ATI ) and
> later Enterprise Works. IMO we are still troubled by the bogus separation
> of nationals from internationals in the AT business!
>
> More to follow...just warming up!
>
> Cecil "the dim sighted"
>
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