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Replacing traditional stoves with advanced alternatives that burn more cleanly has the potential to ameliorate major health problems associated with indoor air pollution in developing countries. With a few exceptions, large government and charitable programs to distribute advanced stoves have not had the desired impact. Commercially-based distributions that seek cost recovery and even profits might plausibly do better, both because they encourage distributors to supply and promote products that people want and because they are based around properly-incentivized supply chains that could more be scalable, sustainable, and replicable.
The sale in India of over 400,000 “Oorja” stoves to households from 2006 onwards represents the largest commercially-based distribution of a gasification-type advanced biomass stove. BP's Emerging Consumer Markets (ECM) division and then successor company First Energy sold this stove and the pelletized biomass fuel on which it operates. We assess the success of this effort and the role its commercial aspect played in outcomes using a survey of 998 households in areas of Maharashtra and Karnataka where the stove was sold as well as detailed interviews with BP and First Energy staff. Statistical models based on this data indicate that Oorja purchase rates were significantly influenced by the intensity of Oorja marketing in a region as well as by pre-existing stove mix among households. The highest rate of adoption came from LPG-using households for which Oorja's pelletized biomass fuel reduced costs. Smoke- and health-related messages from Oorja marketing did not significantly influence the purchase decision, although they did appear to affect household perceptions about smoke. By the time of our survey, only 9% of households that purchased Oorja were still using the stove, the result in large part of difficulties First Energy encountered in developing a viable supply chain around low-cost procurement of “agricultural waste” to make pellets. The business orientation of First Energy allowed the company to pivot rapidly to commercial customers when the household market encountered difficulties. The business background of managers also facilitated the initial marketing and distribution efforts that allowed the stove distribution to reach scale.
Thurber, M. C., H. Phadke, S. Nagavarapu, G. Shrimali, & H. Zerriffi (2014) ‘Oorja’ in India: Assessing a large-scale commercial distribution of advanced biomass stoves to households, Energy for Sustainable Development 19:138-150.