Putting the Cook Before the Stove – a User-Centred Approach to Understanding Household Energy Decision-Making
Globally, 1.4 billion people lack access to electricity and an estimated 2.7 billion rely on
traditional biomass – wood, charcoal, animal waste and agricultural residues – for cooking
and space heating. Roughly one third of this population lives in rural India. Over the past two
decades, considerable efforts have been made to introduce improved cookstoves and/or
cleaner cooking fuels in India, but as in other countries, these interventions have largely failed
to bring about a large-scale transition towards cleaner, more “modern” cooking technologies.
It has been argued that a central problem with most efforts has been that they paid too little
attention to users’ needs and cultural contexts, but rather over-emphasised technical factors
such energy efficiency and emissions reductions.
This study seeks to better understand the most important influences over household energy
choices, in order to identify practical ways to support communities shifting to cleaner energy
use. We use a qualitative “generative” research methodology to investigate energy use and
dynamics in four villages in Haryana State. Our results indicate a range of social, cultural and
financial factors that influence the way people make decisions about energy and cooking,
including the availability and flexibility of traditional fuels, the type of dishes prepared, the taste
of food, problems with smoke, the aesthetic appeal of stoves, and how users perceive
alternatives. These findings have implications for efforts to design effective cookstove
interventions, most notably the Indian Government’s ambitious National Biomass Cookstove
Initiative, which aims to provide all Indian households currently using inefficient stoves with
“next-generation” biomass stoves.